I congratulate the Bill's promoter, Mr. Jones, on getting into the home straight. He is nearly home and dry. That in itself is an achievement. In all the time I have been in the House, I have never had the good luck to be in the top 20 of the ballot for private Member's Bills. I was, however, on one occasion able to amend the law when I was a member of the Committee amending licensing legislation. I suggested that the 10-minute drinking-up time be increased to 20 minutes. Much to my astonishment, the Conservative Minister said that there was no answer to my arguments and he accepted the amendment. So if I am remembered for nothing else, I am the person who gave people 20 minutes to drink up in pubs at closing time.
We all have to start somewhere. The hon. Member for North Durham has shown himself to be expert at guiding the Bill. I hope that he has more success in the ballot in future.
I welcome Lords amendment No. 1 because it improves the Bill. I commend my amendments (a), (b) and (c) because they would improve it even further. However, I have a query on the rather strange wording of the Lords amendment. Proposed new subsection (1) states:
"Where a shop which is prohibited by section 1 from opening on Christmas Day is located in a loading control area, the occupier of the shop must not load or unload, or permit any other person to load or unload, goods from a vehicle at the shop from before 9 a.m. on Christmas Day".
So far, so good. It was as a result of pressure from Opposition Members that the Bill's promoter agreed to the amendment being made in the other place. However, the proposed new subsection goes on to say:
"in connection with the trade or business carried on in the shop".
I am baffled as to why those words are necessary. Do they mean that if the owner of a large shop wants to bring in demolition contractors at 6 am to knock about the inside of his shop because he is redesigning it, they would be exempt from the provision? If that is the case, the words run a coach and horses through what we are trying to achieve. We want to ensure that people who live near a large shop do not suffer noise nuisance before 9 am on Christmas day. Why is that peculiar phrase included in proposed new subsection (1), which would be more effective without it? I hope that my fears can be allayed, because it seems that the owner of a shop could carry out redevelopment work at an earlier hour on Christmas day.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I would be grateful for your clarification of something that, given my position in the House, I should know the answer to, and I am ashamed that I do not. Are we embarking on a stand part debate or are we merely debating the amendments? Will you see fit to hold a stand part debate later, because my right hon. Friend is trying to introduce something that should be discussed then?
Perhaps this is a na-ve question to which there is an obvious answer, but if the shop is prohibited from opening on Christmas day, why on earth should it want to load and unload on Christmas day?
That is a logical question. I hope that most shops would not want to load on Christmas day. However, a shop that wishes to launch a presentation with gusto after the Christmas holiday may decide that the only way it can do that is by getting provisions delivered on Christmas day. Opposition Members, in particular my right hon. Friend Mr. Forth, who unfortunately cannot be with us, were concerned that the Bill may stop large shops trading on a Sunday, but deliveries could still take place. It has been accepted that that is a possibility. Remote as the possibility may be, however, the purpose of Lords amendment No. 1 is to ensure that it does not occur before 9 am.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that that is especially relevant this year because Christmas day is on a Saturday, which is obviously followed by a Sunday? The temptation for a large shop to take deliveries early on Saturday morning so that the shop is fully stocked ready for Monday morning—perhaps for a sale—would be great, and the Bill will prevent that from happening.
My hon. Friend makes his point well. That is precisely the scenario that we envisaged when we asked the Bill's promoter to consider inserting a clause on loading.
Christmas is important, whatever one's religious beliefs. It is a holiday that has been observed since 336, when the Christian Church in Rome observed the feast of the nativity on
I fear I have to correct my right hon. Friend. The holiday was not observed in the period of the Commonwealth which was one reason why, when the Commonwealth finally foundered, people were so heartily glad it was gone.
I am glad that that is one decision that was reversed. While we are trading stories about Christmas day, I can tell the House that on Christmas day, 1830, the first regularly scheduled passenger train in the United States began operations. I mention that en passant.
Amendment (a), in my name, would mean that loading could not take place on Christmas day before 10 am, rather than 9 am. I think 10 am a more appropriate time because on Christmas day, just as at weekends, many families like to have a lie-in. They do not want to have to get up at the hour they normally do during the working week. I know that most families with children would say that the last thing they get on Christmas day is a lie-in; because of the excitement they get woken up even earlier. I know that my hon. Friend Mr. Leigh is an expert on that, because it used to be said in the Conservative Whips Office that he had so many children that he was the only Member who paid income tax at the higher rate on his child benefit.
My hon. Friend will well know the problems of having young children when Christmas day comes round, but there are many families and couples who do not have children and who like a lie-in on Christmas day. Why should they be woken up at 9 o'clock by the sound of vehicles loading and unloading at a nearby supermarket? The Lords amendment refers to 9 am, but if a supermarket were seeking to load provisions on Christmas day, the vehicle would probably arrive at 8.45. We all know that these are heavy goods vehicles with diesel engines, and we can imagine the scenario: the driver leaving his engine running while the gated area at the rear of the supermarket is unlocked.
I had better declare an interest as the director and major shareholder of a family retail business. I have not worked out whether it comes under the definition of a large store. It does when it comes to rates, I think, but at the moment, not when it comes to turnover.
My right hon. Friend is being rather optimistic in thinking that these lorries will arrive only a quarter of an hour before their allotted time. My many years of experience suggests that they arrive hours before, and not only do they keep their engines running, especially in the winter, but when they reverse into the yard there is the "beep, beep" noise of the safety warning, so I am not sure that, even with a start time of 10 o'clock, we would avoid the problem.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing his experience to bear in this debate. His remarks make the case for my amendment even more compelling. If the start time is 10 o'clock, however early the delivery vehicles arrive, it will at least be an hour later than it would have been under the Lords amendment, so I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House are convinced that the 10 o'clock start is better.
These vehicles will, of course, be loading as well as unloading. The reason for that came to my attention through a constituent who is a bit of a character. I saw him after Christmas day one year and he said that he had had a wonderful Christmas, with all sorts of provisions on the family table that he could not have afforded, but he had come across them for nothing. I asked whether he had a benefactor, and he said, "No, I went past my local supermarket and saw the shop assistants skipping some wonderful food items because they would have been out of date after the holiday. When they had gone, I emptied the skip. I took the food home and we had a wonderful Christmas." I do not know whether he was committing theft. I suppose that if the supermarket owner had skipped the items, one could argue that they had been abandoned.
My hon. Friend Mr. Randall rightly referred to the noise that would likely be made by an arriving vehicle, but very typically, rather understated his case. Ought we not also to take into account the great probability that radios or CD players would also be in operation, possibly playing music of a very discordant character, which would be very unsettling?
Indeed. That, too, would be unsettling at an hour when one was seeking to have a lie-in.
Returning to my eccentric constituent who, it appears, committed theft, I have noticed, since he told me about his behaviour, that every supermarket I have seen now has a compound, and the area where they dispose of their goods is behind locked gates, presumably to stop such behaviour. It is not, therefore, simply a question of a vehicle arriving, pulling up to the loading bay and starting to unload; often the gates have to be unlocked and the vehicle has to be reversed into the yard. As my hon. Friend Mr. Randall said, most heavy goods vehicles emit a beep to warn pedestrians which is very piercing and annoying.
I know that because, a few years back, I took part in a classic car run during which I found myself in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst. I stayed at a rather upmarket hotel in his constituency, and at about 6 am I was rudely awoken by a heavy goods vehicle beeping as it reversed into the yard. I do not understand why, but it seems that every person I have come across who is involved in loading and unloading takes relish in making the loudest, most prolonged noise possible. Trays are thrown on the floor, loading racks are rattled and doors are slammed. That is why such activity should not take place before 10 am on Christmas day.
I am sorry to be unhelpful to my right hon. Friend, but does he have any evidence that this is a problem at the moment? Given the costs of overtime and people's natural unwillingness to work on Christmas day anyway, is there any evidence that large numbers of our fellow citizens are being inconvenienced by loading and unloading on Christmas day?
When one is framing legislation, one should not always wait for a problem to be so acute that people are driven mad by it before one legislates. We are changing the law, and it is right and proper that in doing so we seek to pass good legislation that takes account of areas in which nuisance may be caused to nearby residents.
Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that it is the practice of those who celebrate Christmas to attend midnight mass, which is followed by a long peal of bells, and perhaps a service early in the morning which is similarly celebrated? Does he believe that that is not a nuisance, but loading is?
At Christmas, one should have a charitable attitude towards those who are using the day for religious purposes, which is how it all started.
My right hon. Friend is being generous in giving way. One consideration, which he may have been about to come to, is the people who would have to do the unloading. They might want to have a lie-in, rather than being at work at 9 o'clock, or they might welcome an opportunity to go to the early morning service beforehand. After all, the whole point of the Bill is to give shop workers, which includes those who do the unloading, some rest on Christmas day.
The point that has just been made is critical. If the Bill's purpose is to prevent large supermarkets from forcing their workers into work on Christmas day, which it was greatly feared they would do, and they could still carry out administrative, maintenance or unloading work on that day, that purpose would be circumvented.
I am interested in the right hon. Gentleman's argument about loading and the related noise occurring before 10 am. On behalf of those who believe in Father Christmas, may I ask whether he will be covered by the legislation in respect of the sleigh bells that ring through the sky on Christmas morning, and so be prevented from going about his task?
I think that most presents are in place before midnight, so Santa Claus will be exempt from the provision.
The Government have acknowledged that the noise made by vehicles reversing is a problem. The website of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister has a page relating to development areas. Under the heading "Controlling Environmental Effects", the ODPM states that, to reduce noise,
"Management controls should be used to reduce vehicle movements within sites and provide alternatives to reversing alarms . . . minimise the impacts of vehicle movements", and
"minimise 'drop-height' of material and use chutes/conveyor covers."
The Government are already on the case of reducing unnecessary noise, and I welcome the action that they have taken. That is why I do not think that the provision is over the top. I think that it is necessary and will be welcomed.
The state of California has similar provisions. Ordinance No. 166,514,EFF1/24/91 sets restrictions to prevent people loading and unloading at certain hours of the day. The provisions prohibit the operation of
"any dollies, carts, forklifts, or other wheeled equipment which causes any impulsive sound, raucous or unnecessary noise within 200 feet of any residential building."
We are not going as far as California has.
My right hon. Friend draws attention to the ODPM website, but does he accept that it is Government regulation that requires such noises to be emitted by reversing vehicles? If the Government removed that regulation, the problem would be solved, but the ODPM seems to want to have it both ways, by suggesting that it is against the provisions that the Government themselves have imposed.
What is new about one Department of the present Government not knowing what another is doing? The recent transport White Paper reveals that the Government want to expand Stansted on the grounds that there are no houses there—
I was, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I was using the example to illustrate yet another area in which one Department does not know what another is doing. None the less, I live in hope that the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, Mr. Sutcliffe, will be able to pull all the threads of argument together and change the regulation that requires heavy goods vehicles to emit a piercing beep when they are reversing.
It would be stretching even my ingenuity to argue that airports come within the scope of the provisions, but I take my hon. Friend's point.
On Gloucestershire county council's website, I found reference to the lorry watch scheme, which is
"A scheme operated using local observers, to detect the misuse of weight restricted routes by heavy goods vehicles in local towns and parishes."
I commend the council on its action in encouraging members of the community to "rat" or "grass" on any lorry that—
That is what I was about to do. The lorry watch scheme seems excellent to me, and to ensure that the legislation is effective, perhaps there should be an ignorant loader or unloader watch scheme, so that when a vehicle arrives hours early and the driver leaves the engine running and plays loud music, causing nuisance and annoyance, neighbours are encouraged to report such behaviour to the local police or trading standards department, just as Gloucestershire county council encourages people to report when lorries deviate from their proper route.
Action is needed, and I believe that my amendment (a) will make Lords amendment No. 1 even better than it already is. Amendment (b) would add a new subsection to the Lords amendment so that a local authority could vary the time at which loading or unloading may start. That is necessary because, in some areas, even 10 o'clock may be too early. A local community might feel as a whole that loading should take place only in the afternoon. The Bill extends to Wales, and I can envisage communities there feeling that Christmas morning should be kept free for chapel and that those who would otherwise be doing deliveries should go to chapel, so loading should take place only after 2 pm. My proposed subsection would allow the local authority to determine what time it considers appropriate.
Is my right hon. Friend, as a Conservative Member of Parliament, really in the business of giving local authorities even more powers to interfere in the proper conduct of local businesses?
There are many good local authorities. I would much prefer to give power to local authorities, which tend to be in tune with the local community, than to some large regional assembly. I think that it is Conservative policy to allow local authorities to serve their local communities in the manner that they deem appropriate.
I think that my hon. Friend Mr. Leigh is genuinely troubled on philosophical grounds, because he thinks that the amendment does violence to Conservative principles. I put it to my right hon. Friend, by way of underlining his argument, that the diffusion of power to the localities in the way recommended in his amendment is wholly consistent with Burke's idea of "the little platoon" of people at local level determining their own fate. Furthermore, the amendment's excellence lies in the fact that it will deter businesses that are considering behaving badly. Those that do not plan to behave badly can hardly complain that the provision entails an additional burden: palpably, it does not.
It is ridiculous for my right hon. Friend to say that. He is opening up a whole new area of local government. Do we really want local government to tell businesses—
I advise my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough to calm down and re-read amendment (b), which says:
"A local authority may vary the time at which loading or unloading goods under subsection (1) may commence."
This is not a matter of great moment. I am simply saying that if there are local reasons why 9 am, if amendment (a) is rejected, or 10 am, if it is accepted, are not applicable the local authority can vary the time. I should have thought that my hon. Friend would welcome amendment (b) with open arms.
Can my right hon. Friend confirm that amendment (b), which I, too, have signed, would not give local authorities the power to prohibit unloading altogether?
That is indeed the case. The word "prohibit" does not appear in the amendment, which simply says that local authorities "may vary the time". Doing so does not amount to a prohibition.
I must take issue with my right hon. Friend. Is he claiming that a local authority in, for example, Wales may wish to vary the time because people want to go to chapel? That is a fatuous argument. Cannot he do better?
That was merely an example, and there may be a host of reasons why people in a particular locality prefer peace and quiet, and do not want loading or unloading to take place in the morning.
I want to raise a local concern. Tesco has submitted a planning application for a megastore that will be open 24 hours a day, and wants to put 220 dwellings on top. That is a prime case of the need for variation, because people are literally living above the shop.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. May I refer my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough back to my California example? The state has a 200 ft rule, and such activity cannot take place at certain times if the large store or supermarket is within 200 ft of a residential building. I assume that the dwellings that my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge spoke about would be within 200 ft of the large supermarket. My amendment therefore has merit and should be supported.
I ask the Minister and the hon. Member for North Durham whether Lords amendment No. 1 will be effective, whether or not my amendments are accepted? Could the Minister tell the House how the provision will be policed? Will it be a matter for the local police or for trading standards officers? I am concerned that even if there is effective policing, that will not act as a deterrent. The Lords amendment offers a disincentive to offend, which is why I tabled amendment (c). Yesterday, I looked at the recorded profits of some of our largest supermarkets. Sainsbury, which has been having a difficult time recently, made a whopping £125 million last year. Morrisons made £198 million and Tesco, £822 million. Large stores therefore make significant profits, but Lords amendment No. 1 would merely impose a level 3 fine on transgressors.
There is no limit on the size of a fine imposed when someone is convicted by the Crown court. Magistrates courts, on the other hand, are limited to the maximum level provided by statute for the offence of which a defendant is convicted. The standard scale of maximum fines was introduced by the last Conservative Government in the Criminal Justice Act 1982, and was designed to rationalise maximum fines and make inflationary increases easier to implement. The maximum level 1 fine is £200; the maximum level 2 fine, £500; the maximum level 3 fine, which the Lords deemed appropriate to impose on large, profitable supermarket chains, £1,000. It is a sure bet that magistrates would impose a fine significantly less than the maximum, and may fine stores half—£500—for loading or unloading outside the permitted hours, which is no more than a slap on the wrist. I question, therefore, whether a level 3 fine will act as a deterrent for stores that believe they will enjoy bumper sales the day after Christmas, and may do their damnedest to load stock early on Christmas day. I therefore propose imposing a level 4 fine with a maximum of £2,500, which is two and a half times as much as the level 3 maximum. I thought about proposing a level 5 fine with a maximum of £5,000, but I decided that it was better to err towards the more reasonable punishment of a level 4 fine.
My right hon. Friend said that he was minded to err on the side of being reasonable, but it could be argued that he is erring towards being feeble. Given that he alerted the House to the possibility that a large store in anticipation of a bumper day immediately after Christmas might take the view that breaking the law was commercially worth while, would not a more sensible basis for determining the level of fine be the expected profits on that bumper day?
That is a good point, but my hon. Friend will know that politics is often the art of the possible. We are dealing with a fairly narrow Lords amendment, so I believed that it would be possible only to substitute a different fine level rather than open up the basis on which fines are imposed in magistrates courts. My hon. Friend has offered an excellent argument for a criminal justice Bill, and if he is lucky enough to reach the top 20 of private Members' Bills next year, I hope that he will run with it.
My right hon. Friend has been very patient with me, and I shall try to be polite, but does he really think that reputable companies such as Sainsbury and Tesco are likely to break the law? The publicity would be bad, so they simply would not do so. There would be a further regulation, fine or imposition on business. Is that what he really wants?
I clearly do not have the same faith that commercial operators will obey the law as my hon. Friend. If the end result is profit, there is always a temptation to break the law, which is why we need to legislate in Parliament.
It may be helpful for my right hon. Friend to know that before Sunday trading was allowed, the laws against it were regularly flouted by large supermarkets and retail outlets. They happily broke the law and paid the derisory fines that were imposed when the local authorities bothered to prosecute them.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I do not know whether my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough wants to leave the Chamber to digest his words in the light of that intervention.
I have concluded that level 3 is inadequate and that level 4 is appropriate. I hope the House will agree that amendment (c) is by no means over the top and should be supported.The other Lords amendments seem to be consequential only. I should be grateful if the Minister would confirm to the House that there is no item of substance in those amendments, which all seem appropriate.
We welcome Lords amendment No. 1. It would be improved by the addition of my amendments (a), (b) and (c), which are sensible, fair, appropriate and reasonable.
My right hon. Friend has not dealt with the concern which those opposed to the amendments have expressed: that if the amendments were passed, the entire Bill would be put in jeopardy. If the House passed the amendments, the Bill would have to go back to the other place, which might result in the Bill being lost, which I am sure my right hon. Friend would not wish to happen any more than I would.
When one is debating legislation, one needs to argue for and support what is right. Procedural matters are secondary. I am telling the House what I believe is the right and proper way to proceed. I therefore commend my amendments to the House.
Hon. Members seem rather timid about joining in the debate. They are still digesting the fantastic speech of my right hon. Friend Mr. Knight. They are probably torn, as I am, between recognising the logic of his arguments in support of his amendments—would it not be good to go for those amendments?—but they may be slightly inhibited because they are worried that, were we to go for the amendments, we would jeopardise the entire Bill.
I supported the Bill originally because it is relevant to the upcoming season. With Christmas day falling on a Saturday and Christmas eve on a Friday, and with the ordinary Sunday trading rules applying on the Sunday and the prospect of bank holidays after that, there might be a great temptation for large stores to open on the Saturday. The temptation for them to start loading and unloading in anticipation of that long period when people would be able to shop—people who may not have had time to go shopping before that—would be very great.
I do not want the Bill to be lost, and although I have signed the amendments tabled by my right hon. Friend and wholly support them, I am nervous about the knock-on effect. The Minister may be able to help us, and the promoter of the Bill may be able to share with us any insights he has into the prospects of the Bill being completed successfully before Prorogation if the amendments were passed in the House and found favour in the other place.
One thing has emerged clearly from the debate. This is the first occasion for many years when we have had what we call a private Members' Friday after the long summer recess. The advantage of that is that it enables Bills that have gone through this place and have been considered in the other place to be considered again in the light of any Lords amendments. Much private Members' legislation has gone on to the statute book imperfect because Members in the other House were of the opinion that it was better for it to be imperfect than not to be passed at all. They felt that were they to amend the Bill, there would be no opportunity for it to be debated again here and it would effectively be ditched. So I hope the Government will ensure that in future we can have one of the private Members' Fridays after the summer recess.
Next year or the year after, there might be more Lords amendments to consider. It is probably a little late in the day to consider ab initio Bills that come from this House, but Bills that have been through the other place and been subject to amendment could properly be considered. Even though he knew that we had the opportunity today to consider the amendments, the noble Lord who is promoting the Bill in the other place was inhibited about allowing the amendment because he feared that the consequence would be to place the entire Bill in jeopardy. I hope that the message has got across. I commend the promoter and his colleague in the other place for trusting that we would be able to deal with the Bill effectively today and improve it as their lordships have done.
I am grateful to the promoter and the Government for responding so positively to the concerns that we expressed on Report—again, a good example of the House at its best. My right hon. Friend Mr. Forth, who is sorely missed today—
As I understand it, he is away on parliamentary business. I do not know where he is as I have not received any postcards from him, but he may well be outside the country. If he were in the country, I am sure he would have made every effort to be present today.
I note my hon. Friend's suggestion. I am not sure whether he has gone east or gone west, but as we know, he is very much here in spirit. He will be disappointed not to be present this Friday. Perhaps on future occasions he will have to adjust his annual calendar to accommodate the fact that we will have a private Members' Friday in October, rather than finishing the whole process in July, as has been the case hitherto.
Will my hon. Friend not leave this part of his speech without paying tribute to the Minister? He has been unique in the Government in that he has listened, heard forceful arguments and been willing to amend the Bill in the light of those arguments. He should be commended and we hope he goes far.
Certainly. I hope the Minister goes as far as he can prior to the general election. That is as far as I am prepared to go along with my right hon. Friend's comments. Seriously, though, we are grateful to the Minister. It makes so much difference to the way in which legislation is dealt with in the House whether Ministers listen and are reasonable, or whether they become rather arrogant and defensive and say, "We have a large parliamentary majority. This is what we are doing and so be it." As a result of the Government's flexibility, the Bill will be better than it would otherwise have been.
On the substance of the amendments, I strongly support the Lords amendment. Loading and unloading outside large shops is a serious problem, particularly for adjoining residences. Although the amendment states that the regulations should apply only before 9 am, that is a great deal better than the situation would be without any regulation at all. I supported the amendment that would have extended the restriction to 10 am.
If the prohibition runs till 9 o'clock, people attending the 9.45 service will probably already be getting out of bed by 9 o'clock, so they will not be disadvantaged. If the prohibition extended to 10 o'clock, people intending to attend the 11.15 service would probably be all right. Without the amendment extending to 10 am, people intending to attend the 11.15 matins on Christmas day might find that their sleep was disturbed earlier in the morning than they would have wished. No doubt that is small beer compared with what might happen if they were disturbed in the early hours of the morning.
One problem relates to transport and logistics. Policy on haulage and deliveries is largely forced by conditions on the roads. Those of us who have to leave London on Friday afternoons experience the nightmare of traffic congestion. A heavy goods vehicle travelling 100 miles from a distribution depot to a supermarket at that time will consume much more fuel, create much more pollution, cause its operator much greater cost and detain an expensively paid lorry driver for much longer than a vehicle travelling in relatively free-flowing conditions. One can thus understand the temptation for logistics companies and the large supermarkets, which are their employers, to make their lorries go to their destinations, as much as possible, through the middle of the night. I have no objection to that; it makes good common sense, but when we consider the impact of such a policy on the sanctity and peace of Christmas, I begin to be concerned.
The amendment addresses a problem that arises from the congested roads over which the Government preside and to which they contribute further congestion by refusing to implement reasonable improvements to the road network. Until those improvements are made, the incentive for heavy goods vehicles to travel in the early hours of the morning will be very great indeed.
Other Members may have received a copy of the Transport for London five-year investment programme, which came out this week—interestingly after the elections for the Greater London authority. I do not know what the Mayor and the authority had in mind in the paragraph that states:
"A sustainable freight distribution project is designed to reduce the impact of freight deliveries in London. It will include freight information on the journey planner and legal loading information."
That could mean anything, so it is important that the House accept the amendment, which is precise in its application, so that everyone knows where they stand. That will not only be good for people living near supermarkets; it will put less pressure on people employed by supermarkets to supervise the delivery process—the unloading, checking and so on. It will also put less pressure on lorry drivers to work over Christmas eve and Christmas day to fulfil their obligations to their employers. Much good will come from the amendment.
The amendment does not address loading and unloading at large shops that are exempt under the Bill—a point that we might address on a future occasion. The Minister will correct me if I am wrong, but my recollection is that when we discussed the measure on Report we were concerned that large shops that were exempt from the provisions of the Bill would be open on Christmas day and would attract deliveries. I think it was the intention of some of the people who spoke then that there should be some control over the delivery process for large shops that could already legitimately open on Christmas day. Perhaps the Minister would comment on that. It could be a problem as heavy goods vehicles are even more likely to be making deliveries to large shops that are in that category than to those that are not.
Can my hon. Friend shed any light on the words to which I referred in my opening remarks? Lords amendment No. 1 refers to loading
"in connection with the trade or business carried on in the shop".
Does he share my concern that that could enable a coach and horses to be driven through the restrictions? If, for example, a shopkeeper was carrying out major construction work inside the shop, would not it mean that the delivery of materials that were not connected with the trade or business carried on in the shop would be exempt?
I note my right hon. Friend's point, but if we removed that limitation we might as well say that all activity should be restricted on the morning of Christmas day.
I do not support that. Christmas day, when shops are closed, may give people an opportunity to carry out improvements to their shops if they want to do so. My right hon. Friend may think I am being uncommonly open-minded. I am not sure about the scope issue, but arbitrarily to prohibit on Christmas day or Sunday any vehicular activity at a shop that is not connected with the trade or business being carried on there would be rather draconian.
Refurbishment could already be covered by the measure; it could be argued that that was in connection with the trade or business, as it would presumably be designed to enhance the business or trade. That could apply to maintenance work, too, unless it was essential maintenance, so I think that my right hon. Friend Mr. Knight may be worrying unduly, as my hon. Friend Mr. Chope is right to point out.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that point. He has probably read the provisions rather more carefully than I have, and the concerns of my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire should be allayed by what he said.
Might not the concern of our right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire be grounded in the possibility that a large store of that kind could be planning to take loads with a view to operating a mail-order business that would not be undertaken from within the physical confines of the shop? That is a possible get-out clause and we should be alert to it.
Yes, that may be so. In this ghastly internet world, that sort of thing might happen. My hon. Friend may be described as a moderniser, but he certainly anticipates the ghastly things that might happen in the future. Perhaps if he is successful in the private Members' ballot, he may want to bring forward a measure to address those awful developments. He is right to draw the House's attention to that concern.
As one of the few Members of Parliament who holds a heavy goods vehicle operating certificate and who has had to organise for such vehicles to deliver, I can tell the House that drivers prefer to get up early in the morning and reach their destination at the earliest possible time. There could thus be a scenario where there is not simply one lorry at 9 o'clock in the morning but a queue of several lorries, so amending the time from 9 am to 10 am would have considerable benefits for local residents.
My hon. Friend has been rather reticent. We did not realise that he had such expertise in these matters and I hope that we will benefit further from it. He refers to the problems of lorries queuing up and although I am instinctively against regulation, we may need further regulation in future.
In the United States, there is a contractual arrangement whereby a lorry has a 20-minute window of opportunity only, so it has to be at the gates on time. If it is not, it loses its slot and has to come back several hours later.
My hon. Friend is exactly right and that is precisely what happens in this country. If a lorry is not there on time, it loses its slot and the driver is told that, if he is lucky, he can come back later in the day. If he is not lucky, he loses the slot altogether.
I am sure that my hon. Friend was addressing his remarks to the situation on Christmas day. If he is right and such distinct slots are used—I know that the slot system is used in north America, but I did not realise that it is used in this country—the question is: what should vehicles do that arrive early in anticipation of reaching their destination? The problem will probably not be so great on Christmas day because, as I have said, in general the traffic on that day is much lighter and therefore more predictable. So there should be no need for vehicle operators to advise their drivers to allow a two or three-hour margin in case of possible motorway congestion, or of a motorway's being closed to all traffic because of an incident.
The situation on Christmas day is probably not as serious as on other days, therefore, and for that reason I agree with you, Madam Deputy Speaker, that there is a distinction to be drawn here that appears to favour keeping the Bill in its current amended form, rather than adopting the 10 o'clock provision. As Members can tell, I am slightly in two minds about this issue. Obviously, 10 o'clock would be better than 9 o'clock, but I am worried about losing the benefit that the Bill will bring.
The points that my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire made about penalties and deterrents are very important indeed. My hon. Friend Mr. Grieve reminded us just how cavalier a large commercial organisation can be when inconvenienced by the problem of fines. In the case of Sunday trading, in the end it was necessary for local authorities to seek injunctions—involving effectively unlimited penalties and the possibility of imprisonment—in order to bring these large organisations to book. So there is a need for a deterrent penalty, and probably even more so on Christmas day. We do not necessarily want to have to employ a huge number of police officers on Christmas day, and people from local trading standards departments probably do not want to be got out of their beds on that day. If a deterrent penalty can be established that is likely to result in greater compliance with the law, so much the better. Indeed, on that issue, it might be in the spirit of Christmas day to say that no speed cameras will operate on that day, for example. As a result, people from the—
Okay, Madam Deputy Speaker. Perhaps that subject will have to be dealt with through a separate private Member's Bill on another occasion. On the importance of deterrents, I am far from convinced that the level 3 fine will succeed, but let us hope that it does. If there is compliance, there will be no need to amend the provision. But if compliance is not forthcoming, or if it appears that one of the large companies is collectively intent on defying the law, we should consider the possibility of obtaining an injunction against it.
I am enthusiastic about the Lords amendment and I am delighted that we have enabled such an amendment to the Bill by sitting on this Friday in October. I am also delighted that their lordships trusted that this House would not try to destroy the Bill in bringing it back here. I hope that, in terms of its future progress, its promoter or the Minister will advise us on the consequences of accepting one or more of the amendments.
Lords amendment No. 1 arose from our discussions on Report and the efforts of Mr. Forth, who, sadly, cannot be with us today. In the course of piloting the Bill through this House in the past few months, I have had the benefit—on balance, it is a benefit—of getting to know the right hon. Gentleman very well. I should point out that his public and private personas are very different. He has played a very constructive role on this Bill, and he, Mr. Knight and the hon. Members for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) and for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) argued the case for the amendment—that a provision on loading and unloading should form part of the Bill—genuinely. In the spirit of the good will and good-natured debate that took place on Report—indeed, there have been good contributions and some good-natured debate throughout the Bill's passage—I gave a commitment to introduce an amendment, with the Minister's help, that deals with the loading and unloading issue. That is the process by which we arrived at the amendment before us.
I congratulate the Lords on the amendment, which does improve the Bill and is clear and tightly defined in its dealing with loading and unloading. I have listened carefully to today's discussion, and although I am flattered by the praise that has been offered for my piloting of the Bill through this place, as I said on Report and Third Reading, in order to get a private Member's Bill through one has to keep the definitions within it very tight. Some of the suggestions made today would widen the Bill's scope tremendously and thereby create problems not just on Christmas day, but in respect of other issues. That said, those suggestions were genuinely argued, and issues such as noise do arise, but I doubt whether this is the Bill in which to deal with them.
The Lords amendment introduces a core prohibition of loading and unloading before 9 am in loading and unloading control areas designated by a local authority, unless the large shop concerned has the local authority's consent, which might be subject to conditions. Subsection (2) of the amendment applies paragraphs 3 to 8 of schedule 3 to the Sunday Trading Act 1994 to clause 1. Paragraph 3(1) concerns a local authority's ability to apply conditions to consent given to loading and unloading. Paragraph 3(2) concerns the local authority's ability to vary the conditions under which consent was granted, and its giving notice of any variations made.
Paragraph 4 of schedule 3 deals with the procedure for applying for consent to load and unload in a designated area. It requires the applicant to apply in writing and to include the relevant information, which is the information that the local authority regards as fit to assess the application. Paragraph 5 is concerned with the fee payable. An applicant must pay a reasonable fee, which is determined by the local authority in question. Paragraph 6(1) establishes the grounds on which a local authority might refuse consent—namely, that loading and unloading has caused, or would be likely to cause, annoyance to local residents. As has been argued this morning and on Report, that is the core reason why the Lords amendment is needed. Indeed, the hon. Member for Canterbury argued the case for such a provision very eloquently on Report.
We have had a fascinating discussion on the issues raised this morning and on the amendments before us. I come back to the fact that the amendment is tight—deliberately so—and we need to ask whether it is ever possible to have an amendment that covers every aspect of a problem. I am not sure that we can. In this instance, we are dealing with large shops trading on Christmas day, though we have posed a range of other issues around noise and, fundamentally, the way modern society is structured.
The right hon. Member for East Yorkshire explained that the point behind his amendment (a) was to restrict other activities in the shops and he referred particularly to demolition. I know from my days in local government that much of that would be covered by building control regulations and, in the case of noise nuisance, by anti-noise legislation. Many local authorities, including mine at the time, had what was called a considerate contractors' contract, where one of the key aims was to ensure that no nuisance was caused to neighbours. Thus I believe that other provisions cover the point and there is no need for the amendment.
The amendment started out as a question: why were the words
"in connection with the trade or business carried on in the shop" included in Lords amendment No. 1? It seemed to me that the provision would remain perfectly lucid without those words, so my main point was to ask why they were deemed necessary.
They were included in order to relate specifically to the activity of trading and trading activities in a store. Bringing into the scope of the Bill the broader issues around other activities such as building works would present difficulties.
To shed a little further light on the point, the issue is about the scope of the Bill and the wording is a direct lift from the Sunday Trading Act 1994. Other issues are relevant—for example, someone might be living above a shop and want to move on Christmas day. My hon. Friend's position would stop that person from doing that, but does he really want to stop that sort of activity? The technical drafting of the Bill relates, as I said, to the Sunday Trading Act 1994.
I am grateful to the Minister for that point. The broader issues—noise from delivery vehicles, for example—present a whole feast of material for future private Members' Bills. I have learned from what I have heard this morning that some Conservative Members have some exciting hobbies—hanging around loading bays, watching lorries delivering their goods and listening to the noise.
Yes, the hon. Gentleman with his anorak on is quite a thought.
I am grateful to the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire, because I now know that there is a website called Lorry Watch. I know that as soon as hon. Members leave the Chamber today, they will rush to go online to discover that website. Equally, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister website includes material on noise nuisance and other issues. Overall, the issues have been well argued, but in order to preserve the Bill and maintain its relationship to the 1994 Act, I am inclined to reject the amendments.
On that point, does my hon. Friend believe that it would be a great tragedy if the amendments to the Lords amendment were accepted and that, as a consequence, the Bill were wrecked on account of running out of time. We are trying to pass a Bill designed to stop shops trading on Christmas day. The Bill has much support and people in the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers have worked particularly hard to support it.
I totally agree with my hon. Friend, but it is not just USDAW. As has been said on other occasions, the churches, for example, support the Bill and I know from the letters I have received that many members of the public support it. It would also be very sad from the point of view of the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst. He is not in his place today. Wherever he is in the world or in the UK, he may be watching our debate and it would be tragic for him to see the Bill fail after all the hard work that he has put into it over recent months.
I have got to know the right hon. Gentleman rather well over the last few months and I have to say that I quite like him, though it may be a sin to say so for some of my hon. Friends. He has not yet, however, got to sending me postcards from wherever he is in the world. When I start receiving postcards from him routinely, I shall seriously start questioning my judgment on certain issues.
It is clear in the Bill that it is down to the local authority to appoint inspectors to enforce the provision. The costs were raised when we debated the money order. The Minister will correct me if I am wrong, but I do not envisage armies of inspectors lurking around the loading bays of Tesco on Christmas day. There may be some volunteers, along with the hon. Member for Uxbridge. What I envisage is inspectors dealing with any complaints raised by the public, as occurs already with noise and other problems.
On amendment (c) and the issue of the level of fines, I agree with the point so eloquently made by Mr. Leigh when he said that large supermarkets do not want to upset their local communities, which they rely on for their custom. The idea that they would flagrantly flout the law does not convince because that convention acts as a deterrent in itself. I would not want to make the fines as onerous as £1,000 to £2,000. Frankly, I do not think that it would make much difference. The deterrent is already there and, at the local level, stores do not want to upset local people. The big multiple retail outlets spend millions of pounds a year not just advertising their products, but on building up their image in local communities.
I fear that the hon. Gentleman's generosity of spirit is getting the better of him. Is he not open to the possibility that a large store might calculate that the number of people whom it would offend by breaking the law would be outweighed by the number of people to whom it would be able to make successful sales and that the logic of the hon. Gentleman's belief that the company would not transgress, even if the fine were modest, is therefore flawed?
I do not accept that and I shall explain why. Sunday trading is different in the sense that what the Bill proposes is a popular outcome that many people really want. I am well aware from the large retail stores in my own constituency of the amount of effort that they put into winning the trust of communities. All credit to some of them who put money directly into local community groups and building partnerships. I am not convinced that the stores want to jeopardise that for the sake of being able to load up on a Christmas morning. I am sure that the hon. Member for Uxbridge could tell us about the ways in which the supply chain could be organised without upsetting local residents. If the local Tesco were to flout the law in my constituency, I am sure that the local newspapers would know about it and the stores would receive much bad publicity.
I said earlier that the Bill has widespread support. I give credit to hon. Members on both sides of the House who have genuinely tried to improve it. The Lords have succeeded in doing so with this amendment. I have made it clear that, in seeking to get the Bill passed, I was prepared to accept reasonable amendments. This is a reasonable amendment. I also give tremendous credit to my hon. Friend the Minister, who has worked hard—sometimes against internal opposition—to ensure that this amendment could be considered. I hope that we can ensure that the Bill becomes law today. To that end, I ask the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire to withdraw his amendments. They were well and passionately argued, but if they were accepted the Bill would fall at this very late stage. That would be sad, given the hard work that has been done by right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House to get to where we are today.
As Mr. Jones, who introduced the Bill—which commands widespread support—has just indicated, we are between a rock and a hard place. I take the mood of the House this morning to suggest that tremendous sympathy is felt for the amendments tabled by my right hon. Friend Mr. Knight, with good reason. Their Lordships went part of the way down the road and many, both in and outside the House, would like to go further or, indeed, much further. I am one of them.
This is not the place for a Second Reading debate and I shall not rehearse all the arguments. I am sure you will be relieved to hear that, Madam Deputy Speaker. The opposition of some of us even to Sunday trading, never mind Christmas day trading, goes back a long way. We bear the scars—honourably, I hope—to prove it. Mine is one of the names on the apocryphal list in the black handbag after some 60 Conservative Back Benchers voted against the then Government to defeat the first Sunday trading Bill. We did so because we believed passionately that it was a bad thing. We believed that the Lord's day should be available for observance and held as a day of rest and recreation for those of other faiths who did not choose, need or feel obliged to go to church.
It was a glaring omission that Christmas day was inadvertently omitted from the precautions in the legislation that finally went through the House. The hon. Member for North Durham has done a tremendous job—I pay tribute to him—in seeking to redress that imbalance. The amendments are about peace and quiet. I do not share the view that because some large stores, which are exempted by the legislation, need to take deliveries on Christmas day in order to open on Boxing day that they should be allowed to do so. Indeed, I do not share the view that they should be allowed to open on Boxing day.
I am told that there are some sad people who have nothing better to do on the day after Christmas than go shopping. I recall a remark by Mr. Foulkes, a longstanding friend of mine, who was standing almost exactly where I am standing today. He said—hon. Members should bear in mind the social sentiments of that time—that there were coffee table books called "The Joy of . . . ", such as the "The Joy of Music" and "The Joy of Sex", but that he had the feeling that if someone published "The Joy of Shopping" it might not be a bestseller. I subscribe to that view myself.
Some people wish to go down that road, but it is still not necessary to deliver on Christmas day. The people who drive the lorries have as much right to that day of rest as anybody else. We all accept that some key workers and some people who work in television and newspapers, as well as those who keep the trains running and the roads clear in the case of snow, have to work on Christmas day. Most particularly and honourably, that includes those who work in the medical professions. But why should a lorry driver have to drive at all on Christmas day, whatever time he arrives, just to ensure that a store can open on Boxing day? I do not accept that that is necessary and I would dearly like to vote against Lords amendment No. 1. Failing that opportunity, I would like to be able to support the amendments tabled by—
I have followed my hon. Friend's argument as far as his conclusion. He wants to vote against Lords amendment No. 1, but that would create a free-for-all in which loading could take place at any time on Christmas day. If he wants to discourage unloading on Christmas day, the amendment would at least be a step in that direction.
I indicated in an earlier intervention my less than mastery of procedure, but this is where we are between a rock and a hard place. Were I and others to chuck out the Lords amendments, the Bill would have to go back to the other place. That would provide the opportunity to re-amend the Bill. Unfortunately, because of the procedures of the House, which are arcane and less widely understood than we would wish, that is not possible. The amendments tabled by my right hon. Friend are an improvement on the Lords amendments, if only by one hour. I would have gone further. Indeed, I could have gone further and tabled an amendment to the effect that unloading would not be allowed until midday.
The difficulty that we have is that if we follow our natural inclination and vote as we believe we should—that is, with my right hon. Friend if he chooses to press his amendment—we would kill the Bill. It would have to go back to the other place and because, for reasons unknown to most of us, the House will not sit next Friday, we would have no further opportunity to consider an alternative Lords amendment and the Bill would fall, as will, it has to be said, many other Bills on the Order Paper today, including my own Criminal Justice (Justifiable Conduct) Bill. It will go the way of all private Member's Bills at this stage. We have run out of parliamentary time in this Session.
We are faced with a stark decision: we can run with the Lords amendments as they stand or lose the Bill, and none of us wants that to happen. There are issues that arise from the Lords amendments that have not been mentioned. It is the provision that gives the power to local authorities to vary the provisions of the amendment—the 9 o'clock rule. What worries me is that we could end up with a wide variation across the country in the restriction or lack of restriction that local authorities impose. That is unsatisfactory. If we are to make a law, it should be constant, universal and understood by everybody. I do not want lorry drivers to have to drive at all, but given that they will have to do so, we cannot have a situation in which a road haulier is in breach of the law because of a local authority variation of which he may be unaware. That provision is highly undesirable, but we are stuck with it. We keep it or we lose the Bill.
I might have been under a misapprehension. I thought that the power of discretion allowed for later unloading. If, as my hon. Friend suggests, the discretion could be used to allow unloading to take place earlier than 9 am, I would be very alarmed.
My reading of the Lords amendment makes it fairly clear to me that the variation must apply to the period before 9 am, so the local authority is being given the power to allow for earlier deliveries upon application by the trader. I certainly do not read it as a device to enable local authorities to delay beyond 9 am.
My hon. Friend is much wiser in law than I, and if that is his reading I bow to his knowledge. I am sure that he is correct, so that makes matters worse rather than better. It means that the local authority can ride roughshod over the 9 o'clock rule and say, "Well, if you want to drive in at 4 o'clock in the morning on Christmas day, you can."
We should not leave this issue without pointing out that there was a great deal of consultation on the Bill, for the reasons that have been outlined by my hon. Friend Mr. Jones, and that many of the major retailers wanted to see the Bill as a pre-emptive strike to prevent them from operating on Christmas day. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will look upon what we are trying to achieve in that spirit.
I am grateful to the Minister, and accept what he says, but the fact is that that paragraph in the Lords amendment could make matters worse. We would be voting for a 9 o'clock rule this morning. The Lords carried that amendment, so fine—although it is not what we would all like. We would prefer 10 o'clock, as my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire suggests in his amendment to the Lords amendment, or midday, as I might have suggested myself. However, I have not made that suggestion, because we know that we would lose the Bill if we went down that road. That paragraph, however, could negate the provision of the Lords amendment, so we are pretty much back where we started.
Surely any local authority worth its salt will listen to the local people, who will have a big impact on what it does. It would be a brave local authority that rode roughshod over local people's views and imposed a 4 am rule if that caused them nuisance. In my experience of local government, that does not happen.
I am aware—I suspect that deep in his heart, the hon. Gentleman is aware too—of local authorities controlled by all three major political persuasions that cheerfully ride roughshod over local people's wishes when it suits them. If a local authority were placed under duress by a major retailer, I think it highly likely that it would say, "Yes, that's all right; not many people live in that area." I do not care whether many people live in the area. This is about quality, not quantity, and if even one person lives in the area, that person has a right to rest on Christmas morning, and that is just as significant in principle as if 100 or even 1,000 people were affected.
I entirely agree with what my hon. Friend has said. Is it not also important to give a voice to the voiceless when we debate such matters? I have a young son who will celebrate his first birthday at the beginning of December. Customarily, my wife and I expect little Oliver to start making a noise from about 7 in the morning—although it is conceivable that on Christmas day he will be minded to do so somewhat earlier. The thought that he might have his sleep wrecked by some unconscionably inconsiderate corporate lorry driver at 4 o'clock on Christmas morning is unacceptable to me, and I feel sure that it would be unacceptable to him.
My hon. Friend is probably right, at least in saying that his and his wife's sleep is more likely to be disturbed by the raucous behaviour of young Oliver at 4 o'clock on Christmas morning than by the horrendous reversing noises that we heard described earlier, from multinational supermarkets' vehicles outside.
I have made my point. We are in a difficult situation. I have the greatest desire to support the amendment moved by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire, but I have an even greater desire to see this modest, just and necessary measure go through the House and reach the statute book. We cannot have both, so with great reluctance I have to say to my right hon. Friend that I hope that he will concur with what I suspect will be the majority view and, when the time comes, see fit to withdraw his amendment.
In this brief contribution I shall first say that I am pleased to follow Mr. Gale, who has a very distinguished history of contributing to the campaign to keep Sunday and Christmas day special. I concur with the conclusion to his argument, because we can all see how important it is that the Bill should complete its passage today. The hon. Gentleman is right: further tinkering and attempts to make further changes can only put it at risk.
I have been following the debate closely and have some sympathy with the arguments of Mr. Knight and others. However, as the debate has shown, they open up large areas of territory for consideration, which, as my hon. Friend Mr. Jones said, could be the subject of other private Members' Bills, or even Government legislation, which would be popular with the public.
This is a very good Bill, and I join in the commendation of my hon. Friend's great work. He has made a great contribution and has worked with the representations that have been made to him and carried public opinion with him. He has the overwhelming support not only of shop workers and the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers but of the general public. Those who think that they could make the Bill more perfect by tinkering with it further are making the perfect the enemy of the good. It is an excellent measure, and the House should send it forward to a successful conclusion today.
Perhaps I should repeat my earlier declaration of interest—although as there will be thousands of people listening live to the debate or watching it on the Parliament channel, that might be seen as unfair advertising, so I shall simply refer to that declaration of interest.
I worked in a retail outlet for 18 years, and contrary to what Labour members might think, I worked upwards, and worked on delivery vans and as a shop assistant. I have great sympathy for shop workers, who have had a rough deal over the years. Our business has been in operation for more than 100 years—110, I think—and one sees cycles come and go. I can look back at earlier eras when opening hours were much longer, but because of shop workers' legitimate rights, the hours became shorter. I can remember when we first closed on Wednesday afternoon, and then all day Wednesday. That has now ceased because of public pressure and the pressure of competition.
I nearly lost a vote at the general election when someone said that they would vote for me, although they would not normally vote for my party, because they liked the fact that our shop never opened on a Sunday. I nearly lost the vote by replying, "Unfortunately, in this world you can never say never." However, I can categorically say that I would never open on Christmas day.
I have great sympathy with the amendments tabled by my right hon. Friend Mr. Knight, but there are forces at work here, and they come from the public. The public say that they do not want something, but in fact they are happy to take advantage of it. I have to hold my hand up and say that when Sunday trading started I was absolutely opposed to it, yet I now find myself buying things on a Sunday.
It is a fact of life; it is more convenient. I, with a young family, could not see myself wanting to go shopping on Christmas day, but I can understand that, sadly, there are people who do.
I want to approach the situation from the viewpoint of those who have to go to work on Christmas day. The point that I tried to make with regard to the amendment tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire about the later hour of unloading is genuine: people will have to come in, and they might not want to be there at 9 o'clock, because in fact they will probably have to be there just before. But equally it could be that the sooner they get on with it, the sooner they can go home. The snag is that it is impossible to legislate for that. It is actually down to the good will of the people who are doing these operations.
Most of the concerns we are talking about are responsible. However, sometimes, to get one step ahead of the competition, they are inclined to do things that perhaps they should not, and it becomes a bit of a bidding war about which days they open and at what time. Who would have thought a few years ago that we would have 24-hour opening in supermarkets? I still cannot quite get my head around who wants to go shopping at 3 o'clock in the morning, but I have found people who have done it because they thought there would be shorter queues or something, and I can understand that.
My wife does not let me go shopping very often because I tend to—
I am extremely sorry, Madam Deputy Speaker, and of course I will revert to the unloading time.
Although I have a great deal of sympathy with those who would like to change the hour, bearing in mind also the result that Mr. Smith has just mentioned and which other colleagues have talked about, I do not think that it will make much difference, because even if the large lorries are not to be unloaded at 10 am they may still arrive at 8.45, and it would be virtually impossible to legislate for that. It is a great pity that, for example—I hope this is still in order—there are plans in my constituency for a very large supermarket, and they are planning to put housing on top of it. We all know that we want housing, but those people who are living on top of that supermarket will have to—
Would not large lorries delivering to a store and leaving their engines running for an hour beforehand be covered by complaints that local residents could make under, for example, noise legislation? That is clearly not covered by the Bill, but surely it would be covered by other powers that local authorities have and could enforce?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. Noise of that level would probably not be covered. I am not an expert on the subject. It has nuisance value. There is a lot of ambient noise around—it seems to have increased over the years—but it probably is not covered by noise regulations, because it must be pretty loud to be covered.
I believe that the Bill should be welcomed by us all. I am sad in a way that it has to be necessary; I had hoped that people would realise that there are times when perhaps one should resist the urge to go shopping. I will try not to be sidetracked into discussing one of my favourite subjects, Madam Deputy Speaker. However, when I saw the hon. Gentleman on Parliament square this morning surrounded by Father Christmasses, my heart melted and I thought to myself that we must ensure that the Bill passed today. Therefore I will be urging my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire to withdraw his amendment.
Although in an ideal world the local authority takes consideration of matters such as lorries sitting with their engines running, I am worried about the variation that we have just been discussing. A case could be made for unloading earlier, and very often, unfortunately, the decisions are taken not by councillors but by council officers, who are not directly reliant on their electorate's votes. I know of decisions that have been taken which I think the elected representatives did not want, but which the officers sometimes felt to be appropriate; that is the politest way I can put it. Therefore I do not think on this occasion we should give councils those powers.
My hon. Friend has great experience in this area and I think the House would value hearing from him at what times vehicles load and unload at his own shop premises. What is the earliest he will accommodate deliveries at his business and what is the latest hour in the day? That would help to give us a picture of how one large shop operates.
We have a system which my hon. Friend Mr. Clifton-Brown alluded to, which we call "booking in", so that we know in advance who is coming in. Because we are not such a large store, that will be done by and large by morning or afternoon on a particular day, in order not to have too much to unload all at once. I know from my experience of bigger stores that some of them have a very narrow window of opportunity. We open to the public at 9 o'clock. At 8.30 there are enough staff there to unload, and on many occasions I have unloaded myself when I have arrived. But—this is the point that I was trying to get to earlier—very often I will arrive at 8 o'clock in the morning to find Cricket Field road in Uxbridge clogged up with large vehicles waiting to deliver.
I understand that of course, Madam Deputy Speaker, but the point is that, whether it is Christmas day or any working day, drivers who want to do their job properly and be there on time will always try to get there early, and if they find that there is another lorry in front of them early, there will be clogging up. I have to say also that if they have come from abroad, as happens quite a lot these days—
On the Autobahn, yes, and various other ways into Uxbridge. We do even find them coming in the night before, so it is an incredible logistical problem, which is why it leads me to think that, whatever legislation we try to put in, and whatever times we try to put in, it will be very difficult to achieve the optimum, which would be some protection for the workers who are unloading, and of course the residents. I simply hope that those stores that might have been covered by such a provision will read the report of the debate and realise that there is a very real need to be responsible—to ensure that their delivery drivers and those unloading do it in a sociable way at sociable hours, do not play the radio too loudly, and do not too often shout "up your end" or "down that bit" or whatever delivery drivers are taught to say at an early stage.I think that if we were to support this amendment, unfortunately it would have the net effect of killing off an admirable private Member's Bill.
I do not want to be the Scrooge of today's debate. I am personally very happy with the Bill; I think I spoke in favour of it and I think I originally voted, much to the disgust of other members of the no turning back group, against the Sunday Trading Act 1994. So I do not come to the House as the voice of big business and certainly have no commercial personal interest in road hauliers or big retailers. I live on Horseferry road in London, where I am driven crazy by people unloading at 5 am and so on, so I am very sympathetic to all the arguments that have been made today, but I feel duty bound, in this short debate, to strike a note of caution. That is why I think it right that somebody like me should come along and give the alternative point of view. That is what debate is all about, after all.
I often think that if normal Government legislation were debated as thoroughly as private Members' Bills are on Fridays, we should have much better legislation. We have very good debates on Fridays. One of the reasons for my occasionally taking the trouble to turn up on Fridays is that I think it right to give scrutiny to Bills generally, and particularly right to give scrutiny to Bills like this and other Bills that we consider on Fridays. They tend to be regulatory.
I hope my colleagues will forgive me for saying that there is a tendency for those who come along on Fridays to wrap themselves in moral fervour and, dare I say, play to the gallery. They tend to forget that we live in a commercial nation, and that those who run businesses, often in very difficult circumstances, have a right to be heard.
I am afraid I must tell my right hon. Friend Mr. Knight that I do not support his amendments. The obvious point has been made repeatedly this morning that if he forced them to a vote, that would effectively kill what is clearly a popular Bill. There is, however, another reason for opposing the amendments: they go too far. To be honest, I am not even very happy with the Lords amendments. I go along with the tenor of the Bill because there is plainly public support for the idea that shops should not be allowed to open on Christmas day, although I agree with my hon. Friend Mr. Randall that people are very divided on that. As I have said, we can wrap ourselves in moral fervour and say that it is outrageous for shopkeepers to be forced to work on Christmas day, and ridiculous that anyone should want to go and shop on Christmas day. In fact, though, many people do want to do that.
I am worried about the Lords amendments. The Bill is fine, but they impose another layer of regulation, control and difficulties on businesses. I think that the point about loading and unloading poses a particular difficulty. As others have pointed out, Lords amendment No. 1(1) contains a confusing phrase. It states that the occupier of a shop prohibited from opening on Christmas day must not load or unload
"in connection with the trade or business carried on in the shop, unless the loading or unloading is carried on", and so forth.
To be fair to businesses, there may be circumstances in which, while they do not want to cause unnecessary inconvenience to the public, they have to do some sort of work in their shops on Christmas day. At an early point in my right hon. Friend's speech, I said that I did not really understand what was going on here. If a shop is prohibited from trading on Christmas day, why on earth should the occupier want any loading or unloading to be done? My right hon. Friend's immediate riposte was that he might be preparing to open on Boxing day, and why should he not do so? He is running a business.
Are we not pushing things too far? We have already made the point that people are to be prevented from trading on Christmas day. Fair enough: there is public support for that. But do we want to go on adding, like decorations on a Christmas tree, more and more bits to make it more and more difficult for people like my hon. Friend to run their businesses? They are not in the business of deliberately inconveniencing the public, and for all sorts of reasons it may be necessary for loading and unloading to take place on Christmas day.
My hon. Friend has just used a very infelicitous phrase. He said that it might be necessary for a business to load or unload on Christmas day "for all sorts of reasons"—over which, I am sorry to say, he then glossed. How many reasons are there? What are they? We ought to be told. I am not convinced.
As I said, a business might want to open on Boxing day, or to have stock delivered. There might be a fault in the shop, or preparations might have to be made. I do not know—there are all sorts of reasons.
I do not necessarily want to side with my hon. Friend, but I can give some examples. Our shop was broken into on several occasions on Christmas eve; I had to go in on Christmas day and clear up, and—although we do not open on Boxing day—to get everything ready for the following day. I can envisage circumstances in which the occupier would need to be on the premises, and to get more stock in.
It is useful for us today to hear from someone who has practical experience of working in retailing for 20 years. He has told us that he would never open on Christmas day. He is a local trader, completely in touch with his local community. I must tell my hon. Friend Mr. Bercow, however, that there may be reasons for him to want to go in on Christmas day—perhaps to do some work on his shop—and in such circumstances loading and unloading may be necessary. Why, when so many problems confront people like my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge, should we impose another layer of control, regulation and difficulty on them?
I am very dubious about the Lords amendments, but I accept that they are now in the Bill. If I forced a Division, there would probably not be a quorum. Even if I had my way, the whole Bill would be killed. Therefore, I shall not push my argument.
Is it not important for the quality of life of those living near supermarkets to be at least enhanced on Christmas day by a requirement for no loading before a designated hour? That is all that the amendments seek to do. What is wrong with that?
That is an entirely fair point, but for reasons given by my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge, in the real world a shop owner is not always in control of his suppliers and when they will arrive. Ensuring that they arrive at a certain time is just another thing to worry about. Now my right hon. Friend wants to make the situation even more prohibitive and difficult for such people.
The fact is that the Lords amendments will be passed, but why does my right hon. Friend want to impose even stiffer fines? He says that these are big businesses which can afford to pay. My hon. Friend Mr. Grieve says that there is a history of people deliberately flouting Sunday trading regulations—but as Opposition Members have pointed out, most retailers want to operate with public support. They do not want bad publicity. What worse publicity could there be than being caught breaking the law on Christmas day? Is Sainsbury's or Tesco going to flout the law deliberately? I do not think that that is a fair point.
Even worse, my right hon. Friend wants to involve local government. My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham has a romantic view of local government as the voice of the local community, but surely, as a Conservative MP, he knows that that is not always the case.
Someone running a business does not want the burden of worrying about whether a delivery will turn up at 8.45, 9 am or 9.45. Now a local authority, perhaps playing to public opinion, may make the delivery even later. It does not add up.
For all these reasons, I hope that my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire will accept that he is proposing a bridge too far, or a loading bay too far. I hope also that he will withdraw his amendments and give a fair run to business. Further, I hope that he will accept that it is our duty in the House not just always to support what seems to be what public opinion wants, but to remember that behind public opinion are those who are trying to run their businesses and provide a service to the public.
I, too, urge Mr. Knight to withdraw his amendments. I understand all the issues relating to noise on Christmas day. However, we are debating issues about noise because of the amendment to the original private Member's Bill, which basically seeks to prevent trading on Christmas day. It would be sad if we were diverted into other issues that could be the subject of another private Member's Bill, and in doing so wreck the original Bill.
I congratulate my hon. Friend Mr. Jones on his skill in steering the Bill through this place to this stage. He has put in an enormous amount of hard work and made a huge commitment of his time to so doing. The Bill will be only the third private Member's Bill to be passed this Session. I understand that all of these Bills have been introduced by Members who came into the House in 2001. That is quite a record.
I supported the original Sunday trading Bill. The retail sector provides about a third of the jobs in my constituency, so it is extremely important. I am one of those sad people who have been known to shop on Boxing day. I feel that when we debated the Bill originally we did not think about Christmas day; we were focused on Sunday trading. I do not believe that the House would ever have wished Christmas day to become a day like any other. It is a national holiday and we must preserve it as such. I entreat the right hon. Gentleman not to prejudice the passing of the Bill, which in a few minutes could become law. That would be an historic occasion. I ask him not to put to a vote amendments that are tangential to the Bill.
In considering the Lords amendments, we are thrice blessed. We are blessed by Mr. Jones, to whose assiduity and careful preparation I enthusiastically pay tribute. We are blessed, secondly, by the presence and participation of my right hon. Friend Mr. Knight, who has given careful thought to the questions of loading and unloading. I discussed these issues with him at some reasonable length earlier this morning—it was some time before 9 o'clock. It is particularly welcome that my right hon. Friend has been prepared to take an interest, to become involved and to be present in the Chamber today.
I am not sure that we are very good at paying tribute to our right hon. and hon. Friends. I want to do so because my right hon. Friend's celebrity in this place should not be understated. He is a former Deputy Chief Whip. The fact that someone who has been a senior member of the Government machine can, nevertheless, trouble himself to come to the House on a Friday and take part in a narrow but important debate, in terms of the impact on human life and the local environment, is much to his credit.
I said thrice blessed because I was concerned that proper recognition would not be paid to Mr. Smith. It is extremely welcome that the former Secretary of State for Work and Pensions—a prominent Brown ally and a man of noted significance in the House—should take part in a debate on loading and unloading.
Of course, Madam Deputy Speaker. I was referring to personality only, as you will readily concede, I am sure, as a prelude to the observation that the right hon. Gentleman has a substantial retail and industrial set of facilities within his constituency. Therefore, he speaks today not only out of parliamentary consideration for others but on the basis of some background knowledge and concern.
Let us be clear. In thinking about the issues that are raised by the amendments, we on the Opposition Benches face a peculiar dilemma. That dilemma has been animadverted to periodically by several of my right hon. and hon. Friends. On the one hand, we are the party of free enterprise, individual initiative, entrepreneurship and capitalism. On the other hand, we are the party that has a particular regard for national tradition, the significance of Christmas and the legitimate demands of quietude. In that sense, it is quite difficult to know on which side of the argument we should fall.
On this occasion, I do not agree with my hon. Friend Mr. Leigh. I usually do so but not on moral matters, on which my hon. Friend is almost invariably wrong. I think that he has jumped to the wrong conclusion. He is concerned that the effect of the regulation on loading itself, and at least as importantly, if not more so, the effect of the amendment that would allow for the exercise of discretion and variability as to time—discretion to be exercised by local authorities, to which my hon. Friend is extremely hostile—means that we are getting into the business of over-regulation.
The basis for my hon. Friend's concerns about the loading and unloading amendments is derived from the legendary and generally wise observations of our noble Friend Lord Lawson of Blaby. Although I have not discussed loading and unloading with him, he probably more pithily than any other colleague, living or dead, encapsulated the Conservative attitude to government and business. He famously said that, as far as Conservatives are concerned, the business of government is not the government of business. As eloquently described by the American observer, Walter Lippman, in a different way—
I certainly will, Madam Deputy Speaker; I am itching to do so.
In a free society, the state does not administer the affairs of men and women, but it does administer justice among men and women who conduct their own affairs. That is the basis for the belief that, now and again, the state can legislate properly to protect the local or national interest.
There is a good argument for having a restriction on loading. It strikes me as very unsatisfactory that we should leave open the possibility that such conduct should take place on Christmas day. If, in fact, there is a real risk that such behaviour will be widespread, we are entirely justified—in a sense, as an anticipatory and preventive measure—in legislating against it. We know that we are anticipating legislating against, and helping to prevent or deter, what would otherwise be a widespread and socially unacceptable practice.
If, on the other hand—as I think is the sense of the point expressed by my hon. Friend—it is not very likely that the activity will take place on a significant scale, my conclusion would be: what conceivable objection can businesses have to our including a modest amendment with no significant costs in a Bill that we otherwise agree is very good? The regulatory impact assessment is of the essence here. If we consider the issue in the way that the Government and Opposition traditionally do in terms of the regulatory impact-assessment—what the consequences for business will be and what the costs imposed will entail—it is pretty clear that the impact will be extremely modest.
When I spoke, my hon. Friend appeared to share my concern about the powers of the local authority under the Lords amendment. My hon. Friend Mr. Randall painted a lovely vision of queues of German lorries trailing back down the side roads of Uxbridge waiting for the gates of Randall's to open. I had an even lovelier vision of slumbering German lorry drivers being awoken at 4 o'clock in the morning by young Oliver Bercow banging his first Christmas drum. However, to put that to one side, has my hon. Friend any concept of how long the unloading process will take? I see a situation in which a local authority varies to an earlier hour and there is a cacophony of sound from unloading from the early hours of the morning until possibly midday on Christmas day.
As is usually the case, my hon. Friend, whose perspicacity in the House is legendary, has effectively expanded the parameters of the debate. I am grateful to him for doing so. On the basis of the evidence that I have thus far adduced, it is more likely that little Oliver will be making a speech on Christmas day than banging a drum. There is an element of heredity in these matters, and he is more likely to copy me in that respect. I have no drum-playing skills of note.
My hon. Friend has highlighted the important point that there may not be enormous abuse around the country, but it is perfectly possible that there will be concentrations of activity in particular areas. That is perfectly sufficient to irritate and disrupt the lives of many people on Christmas day. Many right hon. and hon. Members might be inclined to wear their halos and say, "What are Conservative Members bothered about? No large retailer in my constituency would dream of behaving in this way for fear of provoking local consternation and damaging business, causing undue and adverse publicity." We know as legislators that it takes only a relatively small number of recalcitrants to cause untold misery.
As far as the Uxbridge area is concerned, from my fairly regular experience of the A40, travelling to and from my Buckingham constituency, I can well imagine that there could be a substantial gathering of vehicles moving towards the intended destination to load or unload, and that the noise would be considerable. I do not think for one moment that my hon. Friend Mr. Randall would be a willing sponsor of such antisocial behaviour, but I can perfectly concede that others might be. We must have—I say this as a passionate believer in free enterprise capitalism—a protective cloak of legal regulation that guards against the danger that those who have no regard for the interests of others will abuse a loophole in the law to advance their own interests.
In passing, if Oliver does want a drum lesson, I am happy to give him a free one.
Will my hon. Friend put our hon. Friend Mr. Gale right when he says that the problem is primarily one of unloading? The scope of the problem includes loading and many large shops have waste to remove, such as food that is out of date. It is not just a case of big vehicles unloading.
I am grateful for the offer of the free lesson, but I will not dwell on it because I would probably incur your disfavour, Madam Deputy Speaker. The thought of your usually shining countenance being transformed into an expression of disapproval is something that I find too unattractive to contemplate.
I am glad that my right hon. Friend has drawn attention to the possibility of loading. The omission by my hon. Friend Mr. Gale was entirely inadvertent. My right hon. Friend is right that loading can take place. I had not thought of the other unattractive accompanying consequence of a considerable and possibly potent smell. That is the ugly spectre that he conjures up, and I do not like the sound or the smell of it. It certainly could happen and we should legislate to avert that eventuality.
On amendment (b), which deals with discretionary hours, I hope that my right hon. Friend will not think that I am abandoning him. I said, although I do not feel bound by it, that I was minded to support the amendments, but I was under a misapprehension. I thought that the variability amendment on hours was variability allowing for later loading or unloading. The thought had not occurred to me that it might be possible, under the aegis of this otherwise well intentioned discretion-based amendment, for loading to take place substantially earlier. That is simply not acceptable to me and I think he will find that it is not acceptable to a good many other Members either.
Variability is down to the local authority. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that paragraphs 7(a) and (b) of schedule 3 of the Sunday Trading Act 1994 contain powers that enable the local authority to revoke consent, first, if the applicant has committed an offence in breach of its conditions, and, secondly and more importantly, if the local authority is satisfied that consent given to loading and unloading has caused undue nuisance to local residents?
That is welcome, though precisely what its practical impact would be is rather uncertain, to put it mildly. I was keen to underline that it should be possible—I believe that it is—to take a mixed view on the merits of the amendments. I was a little concerned by the general drift of the argument of the hon. Member for North Durham, ably supported by Ms Coffey, which was that we ought simply to accept the Bill, and any attempted amendment would risk the Bill being lost, with all the sad consequences that would flow from that.
I do not think that we ought to legislate in haste on this matter; it is more important to get the Bill right. Although, as I have indicated, one of the amendments I do not think desirable, and it may be desirable to amend it or substitute another for it. Amendment (a), which would shift from 9 am back to 10 am the permitted time at which loading or unloading could take place, seems thoroughly sensible. I therefore hope that the hon. Member for North Durham, in his legitimate and thirsty quest for legislative satisfaction, will not conclude that anyone who offers a differential view on the various amendments before us is somehow threatening the advance of his Bill. I would like nothing more than to be able, metaphorically or actually, to pat the hon. Gentleman on the back and congratulate him on the successful passage and translation into law of his Bill, but we must get it right and he must not be too impatient.
I concur with the hon. Gentleman: we must get the Bill right. Certainly, on Second Reading and on Report, I, as the promoter, have been conscious of the need to take on board the points made in debate. That is why we are considering a Lords amendment. The spirit in which I have tried to ensure the Bill's passage has been one of trying to compromise where possible.
My hon. Friend is making a speech of the highest order, but will he address my concerns about his remarks on amendment (b)? Surely the local authority in any area is the body best placed to make a decision about what will be acceptable to people who reside in the area. Amendment (b) is loosely drafted precisely to give local authorities that freedom. It may be that because of some event in the locality a local authority wants all loading carried out in the morning, rather than dragging on into the afternoon.
I accept with due humility the possibility that my right hon. Friend is right and I am not. My only concern on this point derives from my belief that there is a great difference between the quality of local government to be found in the county of Buckinghamshire and that which is regularly on display, to its considerable discredit, in other parts of the country. I know that I will have enthusiastic agreement on this matter from my hon. Friend Mr. Grieve.
I do not want to make the point too forcefully—I am not a member of the council, so I am not in any sense congratulating myself—but Aylesbury Vale district council, under which my constituency falls, is an authority of the highest order, and its good burghers would not dream of behaving in an antisocial way. The same might also be said of Buckinghamshire county council. Some local authorities, however, seem inclined to make decisions of such bewildering stupidity and antisocial character that there is something to be said for Parliament adopting a belt-and-braces approach to deny them the opportunity to do so.
My right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire might not like my answer or think it satisfactory, but it is an answer, and a clear and honest one at that. I do not wish to tax your patience, Madam Deputy Speaker, or that of other right hon. and hon. Members, and I am sure that they will all be pleased to know that my speech is now at an end.
It can, I am sure, be said that scrutiny of this Bill has not been lacking in thoroughness. As Mr. Jones knows, his Bill enjoys the blessing and support of the official Opposition, because we believe that it was a mistake to fail to deal properly with Christmas day opening when Sunday trading was debated and the Bill goes a long way towards rectifying that mistake.
Today, we have carefully examined the Lords amendments to the Bill. It seems to me that they are in spirit extremely well intentioned. However, I share some of the concern that my right hon. and hon. Friends have voiced about whether Lords amendment No. 1 covers well enough the mischief that needs to be addressed. The argument is that the drafting leaves loopholes whereby a large number of deliveries could take place at a store because the goods in question are not part of
"the trade or business carried on in the shop".
That argument has some force. The difficulty is that we must not be unfair to those who run stores.
My hon. Friend Mr. Randall touched on the point that sometimes it will be necessary urgently to carry out works or bring supplies to a store on Christmas day because some problem has arisen. I recollect that at least one of the really notable snowstorms that took place during the 19th century occurred on Christmas eve. Although such events might be a thing of the past owing to global warming, they could reoccur and result in damage being caused to premises that require repair. To prevent a person from bringing to a store a load of tiles to replace those that had been ripped off the roof by a high wind would clearly be undesirable. Although the new clause makes provision for getting the local authority's consent to operating at an earlier hour than the one set down, it is stretching credulity to imagine that in the early hours of Christmas morning it will be easy to get the local authority to take a rapid decision in one's favour on altering the regulations.
One of the difficulties of our procedure is that it is now almost too late to deal with the problem. However, we could have resolved it by inserting after
"trade or business carried on in the shop" the words "on that day". Doing so would have prevented people from loading or unloading before 9 am simply to facilitate that day's delivery, but allowed them to deal with leaks or disasters.
It may indeed be too late, because the House must reach a decision on whether it wishes to prolong the debate and thereby lose the Bill. However, I do not entirely agree with my hon. Friend. Inserting the words "on that day" would mean that there should be no activities relating to the Bill taking place on that day, because the Bill prohibits Christmas day trading except for certain exempted premises. We would thereby create a loophole. In addition, I am not sure that the words he suggests would add much to the Bill. If I have misunderstood my hon. Friend's point, I am sure that he will intervene to clarify it.
The amendment proposed by my right hon. Friend Mr. Knight to change from 9 to 10 o'clock the hour at which such activities may commence seems to me to have a considerable degree of force. However, it must be seen in the context of whether such a late amendment, carrying with it the near certainty that the Bill would be lost, is justified. I must tell my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire that any resulting improvement would be wholly negated by losing an extremely important measure, and I hope that he considers that carefully before pressing his amendment to a vote.
Another of my right hon. Friend's thoughtful proposals, amendment (b), allows a local authority to
"vary the time at which loading or unloading goods under subsection (1) may commence."
However, it does not add very much to the Lords amendment. His concern that the fine for loading is only set at level 3 on the standard scale has much more force. I agree wholeheartedly that a fine of £1,000 is derisory, given the commercial activities that take place in large retail premises. Indeed, even a level 4 fine of £2,500, as was suggested, may be inadequate. I am afraid that I must part company with my hon. Friend Mr. Leigh, who takes an elevated view of the morality that prevails among people who run large commercial organisations. My own professional experience of undertaking a considerable amount of enforcement work for local authorities in the planning and regulatory sphere persuades me that that morality is, generally speaking, non-existent if people can make a neat calculation that the fine is far less than their profit from continuing with the activity in flagrant violation of the law. I witnessed such behaviour on many occasions, and I hope that I do not digress if I say that it is a problem that the House will have to tackle in future. While there is indeed provision to secure injunctions against repeat offenders, the procedure is ponderous and difficult. It is only used as a last resort and is extremely costly, so many local authorities hesitate to invoke it. We need to look again at simplifying the system, so that if someone commits two or three offences an automatic injunction can be granted somewhere other than the High Court, violation of which would lead to imprisonment. If the Government introduced such proposals, many hon. Members and I would welcome them, because I am afraid that the law is repeatedly violated in a number of regulatory areas.
The House therefore faces a choice. Commendably, the Lords amendment has gone some way towards meeting the criticisms on Report that loading is not included in the Bill. We have performed the valuable exercise of highlighting other ways of approaching the problem, and the Minister's advisers and people who work in back offices considering matters suitable for future legislation may find it useful. However, I very much hope that my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire will not find it necessary to put his amendment to the vote. I hope that he and the House accept the Lords amendment, enabling the Bill to complete its passage and become law.
It is a privilege and a pleasure to join the debate and speak on behalf of the Government on the Bill. I congratulate my hon. Friend Mr. Jones on securing the opportunity to introduce the Bill and on the immense amount of work that he has done, which is evident not only in today's proceedings, in Committee and on Report, but from his deep involvement with many organisations and bodies that he consulted on the scope of the Bill. I refer particularly to my hon. Friend's work with the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers and other representative bodies that had an interest in the Bill.
I put on record my thanks to the many right hon. and hon. Members who contributed throughout the lifespan of the Bill, and especially today—Mr. Knight, to whom I shall return, Mr. Randall and Mr. Clifton-Brown, who is no longer in his place. It was interesting to hear them speak from their technical knowledge of these matters. I, too, was once a shop worker for two years after leaving school, so I can speak with some knowledge of the issues. We have had a wide-ranging debate on the Lords amendments and those tabled by the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire.
I thank the business managers for ensuring that the Bill was afforded sufficient time to be amended, debated and returned to the House for consideration. The agreement reached on those procedural matters demonstrates a shared concern in both Houses to preserve the special nature of a tradition that the majority in this country value highly.
As I said in our previous discussion of the Bill, the overwhelming support expressed in the House and the other place is further evidence of the desirability of the Bill, and reflects its popularity among the public, as has been said. Given the rapid and wide-ranging pace of change in many spheres of modern life, I am not surprised that the preservation of something that provides a collective sense of identity and shared experience should resonate with the public. Maintaining the special nature of Christmas day contributes to that nationally and at a more personal and local level provides the opportunity to unite both the immediate and extended family. That is a social good which it is important to preserve.
On Report Opposition Members tabled a number of amendments, two of which were discussed in some depth. Those who were present may recall that the amendments were not accepted at that time, for what could be described as technical reasons. I signalled a preference to take an informed look into the possible consequences, were the amendments to be accepted in one form or another. I therefore undertook to consider the two proposed amendments and make changes accordingly subject, of course, to parliamentary time and with the benefit of consultation.
The first amendment, which was proposed by the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire, was to include large pharmacies in the list of exemptions to a prohibition on opening. In particular, he proposed that where there was currently an exemption for pharmacies whose trading consists solely of medicinal or surgical appliances under the Sunday Trading Act 1994, that should be amended to read "mainly" those products. In assessing the practical implications of the amendment, my Department made some limited inquiries and found that currently no pharmacies match this description.
It is interesting that the type of shops that I believe the right hon. Gentleman had in mind are not in favour of the proposed amendment. For example, Boots expressed a preference to continue opening its pharmacy counters while cordoning off the remainder of the store. This is what Boots currently does on Sundays and what it has signalled that it will continue to do on Christmas day. Hon. Members may recall that my main concern was that pharmacy services should continue to be delivered on that day, and I believe that that will still happen. By maintaining the status quo, not only is that achieved, but the potential for undermining the purpose of the Bill is averted.
The second amendment at that time was proposed by Mr. Forth and related to loading and unloading at large shops on Christmas day. I miss the right hon. Gentleman's presence during the debate. He demonstrated a lively involvement on Report and I add my congratulations to those of my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham. During the discussion that day, it was remarked that private Members' Bills allow for detailed scrutiny, for whatever motivation may drive right hon. and hon. Members to do that. I acknowledge the role that the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst has played.
The regulation of loading and unloading by large shops was covered by the Sunday Trading Act 1994 but was not carried over into the Bill. In discussing the right hon. Gentleman's amendment, I recall that the House agreed that it was not only consistent with the aims of the Bill, but was an extension of the logic of preserving the special nature of Christmas day. That is why the Government amended the Bill in the other place and we all agreed on the merits of the proposal.
The core amendment would simply prohibit loading and unloading before 9 am on Christmas day in areas designated by the local authority as loading control areas. They would be the same as those designated under section 2 of the Sunday Trading Act 1994. A person contravening such a prohibition would be liable to a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale, currently £1,000. Debate centred on the relevance of that amount.
To achieve that prohibition, several minor consequential amendments were made, such as changing the long title to include the words "loading or unloading". The principal benefits of the amendments, and indeed the reason that many consider Lords amendment No. 1 an improvement, is that they would reduce the risk of Christmas morning becoming a noisy affair for people living in close proximity to large shops. Like Sunday, when such provisions already apply under the 1994 Act, Christmas day is always considered a day when ordinary weekday sounds are not welcome. We have heard some good examples this morning of the type of sounds that people feel are unwelcome—the banging of drums and so on. Most of us would not relish waking to the sound of pneumatic road tools on a Sunday and we would also agree that the noise emitted by lorry engines, refrigeration units and manoeuvring forklift trucks would be an unwelcome feature of Christmas morning.
Although the provisions of the 1994 Act are not widely applied by local authorities, nor do many large shops open on Christmas day at present. As has been said, the Bill is a pre-emptive measure and giving local authorities the power to prohibit loading and unloading on Christmas day must also be considered as such. Although most local authorities from our consultation sample confirmed that they had not used the provisions under the Sunday Trading Act, they none the less all believed that the proposal was a good and sensible idea. That is certainly the case when one considers that in preparation for the busy sales period beginning on Boxing day many large shops will, in practice, be tempted to load and unload before 9 am.
The Lords amendments are both necessary and worth while and I thank the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst for raising those matters on Report.
We believe that they maintain the scope of the Bill. There is a direct link to the provisions of the Sunday Trading Act and, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham pointed out earlier, we would be going beyond that if we changed the words significantly. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman accepts that.
I noted the right hon. Gentleman's points about the change from 9 to 10 o'clock, but again we were asked for consistency—joined-up government. A change would make the position different from that in the Sunday Trading Act.
It seems to me that those words—
"in connection with the trade or business"— are the correct ones, because they cover bringing in not only goods that are to be sold but also hoardings, advertising material and other related things. They would not cover—properly—the need to bring in bricks or material to repair the structure if it had been damaged during the night.
Exactly. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making those points and to the Opposition for their support for the Bill.
Under the legislation, it will be small shops that are exempt. I refer the hon. Gentleman to the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham about the existing restrictions and regulations that local authorities can apply. There would be no significant move away from that.
The key point is the pre-emptive nature of what we are trying to achieve. If one big store opened the rest would feel obliged to do so, too, and that is why the legislation is vital.
I was asked who will deal with enforcement. Clearly, the various local authority departments, including trading standards departments, will deal with that issue. Fines will be consistent with those in the Sunday Trading Act 1994.
I am grateful to Members for the way in which they have discussed the Lords amendment and the amendments tabled by the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire. I am also pleased that we discussed shop workers being disadvantaged at Christmas time—even though we did not focus on that issue—when the rest of us are able to enjoy the festivities. This is a major Bill affecting shop workers, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend Ms Coffey and my right hon. Friend Mr. Smith for their comments on them.
I respectfully ask the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire to withdraw his amendments, as he has been urged to do by Labour Members and many of his colleagues, notwithstanding the sincerity with which he tabled them. I ask the whole House to support the Lords amendment and to give the Bill good passage.
We have had a very good debate and there have been a number of powerful speeches, including in particular those by my hon. Friends the Members for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) and for North Thanet (Mr. Gale). Mr. Jones also made an excellent contribution, as did Ms Coffey and my hon. Friend Mr. Bercow. My hon. Friend Mr. Leigh made a very passionate speech, although it will come as no surprise to him to learn that I do not agree with his conclusions.
I want also to pay tribute to the Minister. When we were last here debating this subject, I raised a number of issues with him, as did my right hon. Friend Mr. Forth, whose ghost, I feel, is with us, even though he is not. [Hon. Members: "Where is he?"] I understand that he is on a Commonwealth Parliamentary Association visit, looking at trading practices overseas.
Yet our right hon. Friend is the man who constantly derides the rest of us for not being in our place and for not being good parliamentarians.
I am grateful to you for your protection and suggestion, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
I pay tribute, as I said, to the Minister. The concerns that we raised with him when we were last here were genuine, and he undertook to look at them. Most unusually for this Government, he did indeed do so. He also said that he would contact me, which he did, and he also contacted my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst. Indeed, he went even further. Where he thought it appropriate, he acted on the concerns expressed by arranging for an amendment to be moved in another place. I hope that I will not blight his future career in saying that he has behaved impeccably throughout this process. We are delighted that he has done so.
I did have a number of concerns about the wording of the Lords amendment, particularly, as I have mentioned several times before, the inclusion of the phrase
"in connection with the trade or business carried on in the shop", but the Minister and my hon. Friend Mr. Grieve have convinced me that I need not worry about that, so I am happy with the scope of the Lords amendment.
Most commonly in this place, one tables an amendment or new clause and argues why it is necessary, only to hear the ministerial response and realise that one's concerns are unfounded. Of course, one is then happy and willing to withdraw it. What has happened today has not quite followed that usual procedure. Conservatives have argued why amendments (a), (b) and (c) should be accepted, and those arguments were overwhelming. The Minister has done nothing to make me think that they are any less compelling.
Secondary issues are not normally our main concern in this place, because we are legislating and seeking to get such legislation right. But I accept that our procedural rules could cause a difficulty for the Bill that might prove fatal, were I to press my amendments to a vote. Someone said earlier that the hon. Member for North Durham is a political virgin. Well, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I do not want to put myself in the way of his first consummation, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Lords amendment agreed to.
Lords amendments Nos. 2 to 6 agreed to.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Earlier this morning, a point of order was raised with your colleague about the publication of a report on housing in the east of England. You will be aware, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in view of the location of your constituency, of the importance of that report. Your colleague was asked whether any Minister had expressed a wish to discuss the report before the House. The answer was no. Can you tell the House whether, by now, any indication has been given to Mr. Speaker that a statement will be made on Monday?
I am afraid that I know nothing that I can add to what has already been said from the Chair. I am not aware that any notification has been given. If there were any intention to make a statement to the House, no doubt a request to do so would reach Mr. Speaker on Monday.