I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
I will start by setting out the context of the Bill. The opportunity to host the 2012 London Olympic and Paralympic games is a unique, once-in-a-lifetime national event, and we have to make the most of the opportunities that hosting them will bring. The games will attract significant numbers of visitors from around the world to the UK, and consequently the economic benefits to the UK are expected to be considerable. By way of contrast, the Australian 2000 games attracted 1.6 million additional visitors, and Beijing 4.4 million. We have had an independent estimate that about 6 million additional visits will be made to the UK as a consequence of the games.
The UK retail sector stands to be one of the prime beneficiaries of the additional demand, and the Bill will give retailers the flexibility to capitalise on the commercial opportunities presented by the games.
I will happily give way, but may I first finish my introduction? Hon. Members know that I am always generous with interventions. I will take the hon. Gentleman’s in a few seconds.
The Government recognise that plans to relax temporarily the restrictions on Sunday trading between
I know that the Secretary of State is trying to outline the broad principles of the Bill, but I would like to ask him a simple question. Telford is 150 miles away from where the Olympics will be held. Why should shop workers in Telford have to work longer during the Olympics on Sundays, when they want to be at home with their families watching the games?
They will not have to. We are discussing how individual workers can opt out, should they wish to do so or have a conscience, and to make that as easy as possible for them. As I will say later, though, there will be many opportunities across the UK, not just in London, for people to enjoy the benefits of the games.
I have some sympathy with the point made by David Wright, but will the Secretary of State explain the difficulties there would have been with introducing a hybrid Bill, making exceptions for particular parts of London and other areas where the Olympics will be held? In comparison, this Bill will provide for a temporary measure that could apply to the whole of the UK but which, obviously, is unlikely to be utilised in areas outside where the Olympics will take place.
Undoubtedly, there are practical difficulties in defining geographical boundaries, but actually that is not the real reason. The reason is that we believe that the whole of the UK will benefit, and we want the potential benefits of flexibility in the retail sector to apply.
In the light of that answer, what sort of assurance can the Secretary of State give the House that the Bill, or the experience of deregulated trading during the Olympics, will not be used as a Trojan horse to introduce wider deregulation measures? Will he promise the House that that will not happen?
The Trojan horse was invoked several times in the earlier debate, but I can give the right hon. Gentleman an absolute assurance that this is not a precedent. I shall dwell later on how we will reinforce that absolute commitment.
I am extremely grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way. He is being extremely generous very early on in his remarks. Will he give me some reassurance? What protection will be in place for, say, volunteer sports coaches or church workers with commitments on Sundays, if their volunteer commitments are threatened by having to work extra hours?
Of course, they could opt out of the commitments, as is already provided for under existing legislation, which means that they will receive all the protections subject to unfair dismissal legislation.
The different companies will avail themselves of the Bill to varying degrees and in various parts of the country. The whole purpose is not to provide a blanket provision; it is to provide flexibility, both in time and in different parts of the country.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend knows that I have been opposed to Sunday trading since day one. I voted against it under Margaret Thatcher, and I am still opposed to it. Can he give the House an absolute assurance that under this Government—he cannot bind a future Government—the Bill will not be used to introduce a more permanent arrangement thereafter?
Yes; I have already given that assurance to Mr Smith, and I can repeat it to the hon. Gentleman. That is absolutely not the intention of the Government. I do not think I need to repeat it again, but I am happy to do so—
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way, and I have a lot of sympathy with the comments that David Wright made. Some moments ago, the Minister of State, my hon. Friend Mr Prisk gave a commitment that the legislation would not go beyond September. However, that commitment appeared to be a personal commitment, albeit well meant. Ministers come and go, and I am sure that my hon. Friend is likely to be promoted upwards from Minister of State. Indeed, even Secretaries of State come and go. I wonder whether the Secretary of State will put it on the record that it is the commitment of the Government not to go beyond
I will take further interventions later if hon. Members still have unanswered questions.
Let me say a little about the benefits. It is difficult to quantify them in a very precise way, but the Centre for Retail Research has estimated that an additional benefit to the UK economy of something in the order of £190 million will be generated by the games. Using old Department of Trade and Industry methodology, we estimate that the effects of today’s change will generate something in the order of £175 million, although we recognise that these figures are extremely imprecise.
As I have mentioned, the flexibility provided by the Bill will boost sales for retailers. Longer opening hours will be an effective showcase for British retailers, allowing visitors to sample the outstanding shopping we offer at a time that suits them. For shop workers, the Bill will create a welcome opportunity—for those who wish to take it—to earn extra money by doing more shifts, while at the same time protecting the right to opt out from Sunday working for those who wish to do so. In addition, it is likely that the suspension of Sunday trading restrictions will increase the opportunities for temporary employment. For consumers, the Bill will allow flexibility over when to go shopping, enabling individuals to combine it with attending Olympic events or watching the coverage on television as they wish. The Bill applies across the country, as was raised in an earlier intervention. The games are a national event, not just a London event. We want families, whether they live in the east of London or the east of England, to have the freedom to plan their weekends so that they can participate in the 1,000 events that will happen right across the country.
The Secretary of State has been kind in allowing interventions. He has said twice in his opening remarks that workers will have the opportunity to opt out. However, the date by which they would have to do so is
We are reducing the period to two months, in order to give everybody the opportunity to opt out before the games period begins, and we are talking to employers about how to ensure that they communicate to their work force the fact that that opportunity is available to them.
I very much support the Government with this Bill. However, if the Secretary of State believes it is right for shoppers and workers to have the right to shop and work any time they wish on a Sunday during the Olympic games, can he explain why he does not think the same people should have exactly the same rights to shop and work when they choose outside the time scale of the Olympic games? I do not understand why there is this great distinction.
All the interventions so far have made a clear distinction between a temporary exception and a permanent change. I know that the hon. Gentleman feels strongly about the need for a permanent liberalisation, and there may be others in the House who do so too, but they will have to make that case separately, should an opportunity arise. This Bill does not reflect on the argument for a permanent change.
I share the concerns expressed about the way in which the work force will be treated, but I want to turn the Secretary of State’s attention to the economic argument. I have received representations from those running small convenience stores in my constituency who have told me that the extra hours will simply mean the larger stores—the main supermarkets—hoovering up any extra business, thereby damaging the smaller stores’ marginal profits in that period. Has the Secretary of State taken that into account in his economic assessment of the benefits of the Bill?
Yes, we have indeed taken into account the Association of Convenience Stores, which has submitted some impressive evidence. The point that we have made back is that it is not simply a question of switching demand from one type of shop to another; rather, there will be substantial additional shopping and other activity. We believe that there will be net benefits, although they are very difficult to quantify.
I think those 60,000 shopkeepers—that is indeed the number—are probably being too pessimistic. As I have said, there will be two effects. One will be an increase in demand, with more visitors and more shopping opportunities. At the same time, there will be some degree of switching. Looked at as a whole, the change will have considerable benefits for the British retail sector.
An hon. Member no longer in his place made a valid point, even though I come at this from completely opposite directions. The Secretary of State is responsible for business and enterprise in this country. He has said that there will be a huge economic benefit from the Bill even outside London during the Olympics and Paralympics. If he is correct and we see however many hundreds of millions of pounds-worth of economic growth outside London, is he saying that, as someone who is responsible for the economic growth of the country, he will be willing and able to resist the inevitable pressure to extend the measure, irrespective of when the Olympics takes place? Will he be able to resist all those pressures, especially in the current period of austerity?
We will return in more detail to the areas outside London, but the Centre for Retail Research, to which I have referred, estimated that something in the order of 40% of the additional retail spending would take place outside London and the south-east.
Let me address the concerns that have been expressed. The Government are aware that the temporary suspension of Sunday trading is causing anxiety for some groups of people. Let me try to address those concerns. First, there is the suspicion, which we have already had aired, that the Bill is a Trojan horse preparing the way for a permanent relaxation of the rules. It is not: the Bill sets out clear time limits and contains a sunset clause. It is worth noting that Germany, which—for people who worry about these things—has notoriously tight restrictions on Sunday trading, eased its restrictions during the football World cup and then re-imposed them. They have remained in place subsequently. Any move towards the abolition of the UK’s Sunday trading laws would require new legislation, a full consultation and extensive parliamentary scrutiny. Let me repeat, therefore, that the Bill is not a signal of the Government’s intent on the broader issue of Sunday trading; rather, it is motivated by a desire to capitalise on the unprecedented benefits that accrue from the privilege of hosting the Olympics.
Have the Government given any consideration to the impact of this proposal on drunkenness, in view of the fact that one of the major contributions of the big stores is to sell booze at less than cost price? Is it not likely that, given the celebratory atmosphere, they will do so even more? I am a strong supporter of the Olympics and the Paralympics, but I am fearful that in many town centres this proposal will be more about people getting paralytic than about the Paralympics.
That was a good pun, but the right hon. Gentleman will know that the licensing of alcohol is governed by separate provisions overseen by local authorities, so the Bill will not have the negative effect that he describes.
The Secretary of State has talked a great deal about capitalising on the Olympics and showcasing the UK. Surely we ought also to be showcasing the tourist opportunities in our countryside and coastal resorts, where we do not, on the whole, find the large shops whose opening hours he is talking about liberalising. Is the Bill not going to draw people away from other trading and employment opportunities in the countryside and in our tourist resorts on the coast?
I am just as great a fan of Welsh tourism as the hon. Lady, but as she says, large shops do not exist in many of the coastal areas of Wales, and they will therefore not be competing with the small shops either.
Of course I cannot commit Her Majesty the Queen or the processes of the House in deciding on its business. I can say absolutely unequivocally that it is not the intention of the Government to proceed to permanent liberalisation.
It might come as a shock to the Secretary of State and to the House to learn that this will be my second London Olympics, although I was swaying in a bassinet in Queen Charlotte’s hospital in 1948. If the Secretary of State will not accept that the Bill represents a win, win for Westfield and the end of the line for the convenience stores, will he tell us what the great body of consumers will be so desperate to purchase during the Olympics that they cannot purchase at the moment? What evidence does he have of a vast pent-up longing to go out and buy goods in east London that is not being met at the moment?
The evidence for the pent-up demand comes from the additional number of visitors; it is as simple as that. We need to ensure that the retail sector can be as flexible as possible.
The Secretary of State has gone to great pains to state that this will be a temporary position, and that it is not part of a longer-term Government strategy. I have sympathy for him as someone who has been the victim of briefings from the Treasury, but does he acknowledge that there would be less concern about the measure if the Treasury had not briefed that this would provide an opportunity to determine whether there was demand for further liberalisation in the future?
I am not aware of any such separate briefing from the Treasury. I am working alongside my colleagues on this; it is a Government initiative, not one from any particular Government Department.
Let me turn from the Trojan horse issue to the very genuine religious concerns that have been expressed. The Government are sensitive to the fact that, for many people, Sunday has particular religious significance as a day that is set aside for worship. We have therefore consulted the Churches in advance of the Bill—the Church of England, the Roman Catholic Church and the Church in Wales; Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own separate arrangements—in order to emphasise the temporary nature of the changes. I should add that the Lords Spiritual in the other place did not oppose the measure when they were reassured that this would be a one-off change.
I will endeavour, through my eloquence, to persuade my hon. Friends to vote for the Bill on its merits, and I am sure that they all will. This is an important piece of Government legislation designed to ensure that the games are a success.
I want to move on to the issue of workers’ rights. There is a worry that the temporary relaxation of the rules will water down the right of most shop workers to opt out of Sunday working. That is a unique employment protection that is not shared by the vast majority of the work force. It is also worth remembering that most workers in the retail sector do not come within the existing protections, and that many people choose to work on Sundays. That is their choice.
I want to stress that the Bill is not a charter for retailers to exploit their workers during the Olympics. Indeed, in response to concerns raised in the first instance by the Opposition, the Government tabled an amendment, which was accepted in another place, in order to ensure that the opportunity to exercise existing legal rights would not be in any way adversely affected should the Bill become law. The amendment reduces from three months to two months the notice period for some employees exercising their right to opt out of Sunday working. Shop workers for whom a one-month notice period already applies—which is the case in several leading chains—will be unaffected by the change.
If the Bill is passed, the suspension period will run from
Perfectly normal contractual arrangements will apply in respect of holidays. We are speaking extensively to the main employers to ensure that they respect and support workers who wish to opt out, and protect their employment rights in the process.
Will the Secretary of State explain the practical effect of the change in the notice period for employees giving notice of their wish to opt out? For the benefit of those outside the Chamber, will he tell us how long the notice period would last if notice were given on, say,
I am trying to understand the logic of the hon. Gentleman’s question. As I understand it, if notice is given in good time within the two-month period, a worker will be covered for the whole of the period of the Olympic games. I would be happy to clarify that in writing if he wishes.
I am very supportive of many elements of the Bill, but one aspect that concerns me is the fact that the two-month notice period will mean that shop workers will have only 21 days before
We are giving the message very strongly to employers that they should communicate that to their work force. There is now adequate time for workers to opt out of Sunday working, should they wish to do so. I want to make that absolutely clear; that is the purpose of the reduction of the notice period from three months to two months.
Is the Secretary of State aware of the survey carried out among 20,000 members of the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers? It showed that 78% opposed extending opening hours during the Olympics, that 51% of staff already felt that they were being forced to work on Sundays when they did not want to, and that 73% said that the measures would add more pressure on them to work on Sundays in the future. That is what is happening in the real world. If the Secretary of State is serious about people being able to give notice of their wish to opt out, is it not incumbent on the Government to inform employees about that, rather than employers?
I am not sure what is meant by saying that 73% of people believe this will affect future rights. These provisions are temporary and, as we have made clear, they do not extend beyond the period of the Olympic games. We have made it absolutely clear that existing rights are fully protected.
Does the Secretary of State recognise that the average retail worker in London is a woman who has a family? Does he also recognise that when we are on holiday in continental Europe and want to go shopping we often find the shopkeeper having a siesta? Why does he think that those visiting London are not able to shop between 11 am and 4 pm on a Sunday when they can shop for hours on six other days? Are these people so stupid that they cannot work out our current laws?
I understand that, as I occasionally go on holidays across the channel. Several European countries are very pragmatic about how they deal with this. For example, the centres of major tourist areas are de-restricted in order to enable retailers to take full advantage of the provisions. Of course I am aware that most shop workers are women and have family responsibilities. That is why it is important that all workers, particularly women in this case, have the right to opt out.
I shall move on now and take further interventions later.
The provision that I have described will ensure that, following Royal Assent, any shop worker who wishes to exercise the right to opt out so as to avoid the possibility of having to work on Sundays during the games will be able to acquire the right not to work on Sundays by the start of the suspension period. We have been working with employers—we are talking about 6,000 large stores—to help ensure that employees are aware of this right and of when they can use it. We know that many employers are talking to their staff about this Bill and how they can all take advantage of the benefits it offers in a way that suits all parties. In addition, the Government have given an undertaking to publish guidance for employers and employees outlining what the suspension means for them in respect of the right to opt out of Sunday working.
For the record, I am a Democratic Unionist, not an Ulster Unionist. In an earlier response, the Minister said that he was not sure what 73% of shop workers were after. What they were saying was that they were concerned about legislative change being made permanent for the future. The issue they were worried about was changing Sunday trading for ever.
If that was the worry, we have dealt with it effectively, making it absolutely clear that this is a one-off, temporary and very specific change.
No, they are not legally obliged, but we are working with them to ensure that they do. I think most will welcome the commitment and loyalty of their work force, and they will take good measures to ensure that they are informed. There is no legal compulsion.
For the sake of clarity, given that employers will not be required to set out the new arrangements, will the Secretary of State set out the rights of those who have already opted in to Sunday working, but who do not wish to work the extra hours that would be required as a result of the legislation?
We have heard many negative interventions, expressing worry about the impact, but for most people, whether they be workers or consumers, the Bill provides wider opportunities. I am grateful to the hon. Lady for stressing an obvious, but much neglected point in the debate.
Will the Secretary of State tell us what legal advice he has had about what will happen if, in the period between now and the Olympics, someone decides to mount a legal challenge? Will that lead to a delay in implementation, or will it go ahead regardless?
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is talking about a legal challenge to the Government, or a legal challenge to an individual employer. If the latter, there will no wider ramifications.
Well, if the trade unions or others wish to make legal challenges, applying for a judicial review or through any other mechanisms, they are perfectly entitled to do so. We are not aware of any significant problem in that respect, but we will wait to see what happens.
I have already allowed the right hon. Lady one intervention, so I hope she will not mind if I move on.
Let me return to the question of the wider impact on the rest of the UK. Some have argued that the provisions should apply only in London or only in those areas hosting Olympic and Paralympic events. We believe that that would be the wrong approach. We believe the games are for the whole country and not just for London, so the benefits should be shared as widely possible. As I said in response to an earlier intervention, research suggests that 40% of the benefit would accrue outside
It would make no economic sense to relax the rules purely for London, which would merely extend the competitive advantage the capital enjoys in comparison with regional retail centres. Let us say we use the M25 to demarcate where the suspension would apply. It would mean that the Bluewater shopping centre, just outside the M25 could open late, whereas the Lakeside shopping centre just the other side of the Dartford crossing would be barred from extending its opening hours on a Sunday. [Interruption.] Moreover, tourism will not be confined to London.
Let me finish this point. Then I will take hon. Members’ interventions, as I have done throughout the debate.
Tourism will not be confined to London. Sports events are taking place in a number of locations: football in Cardiff, Manchester, Newcastle and Coventry; sailing in Weymouth; mountain biking in Essex; rowing in Eton Dorney; Paralympic road cycling at Brands Hatch; and canoe slalom in Hertfordshire. In addition, big screens are being put up in towns and cities around the country to enable people to get together to watch the games. We want tourists and visitors right across the country to be free to take advantage of longer shop opening hours.
Like many others, Stockport town centre is struggling. Can the Secretary of State tell me what on earth the benefit will be to Stockport town centre to have the shops at Old Trafford open for extended hours on a Sunday, thus dragging shoppers out of Stockport. What is the economic benefit to Stockport there?
There will be significant additional activity in the Manchester area. I cannot decide at this stage—and I am sure the hon. Lady cannot decide either—how the benefits will be distributed between north, south, east or west Manchester.
What economic impact assessment tells the Secretary of State that all these visitors in London for the Olympics want to travel to Bluewater to shop on a Sunday? What does that say to the independent traders in my high street in south-east London who will be decimated if Bluewater can open for longer hours during that period?
We have covered that already in our earlier discussion and I have provided figures on economic benefit. There is no question of traders in the hon. Gentleman’s area being decimated, but there is a genuine issue about how much shopping will be displaced from one type of retail outlet to another.
Why was it not considered appropriate to change our rules for the Commonwealth games in Manchester? When I was responsible for Liverpool as the city of culture, we did not think it important to change our rules for that city. Why are we reducing the Olympics to a culture of shopping, when it is supposed to be a celebration of sport and family life? How is this going to do justice to British culture; is it all about a shopping mall?
I know that the hon. Gentleman is, like me, a strong supporter of the Commonwealth, but I am sure he agrees that the Commonwealth games did not constitute an event on anything remotely like the same scale as the Olympics. However, it is possible that an opportunity was missed in Liverpool: perhaps we should have taken the same action then.
The Secretary of State is being very generous in allowing Members to make their points. The headquarters of Nisa Today’s, a major supplier to convenience stores, is in my constituency. Research conducted by the Association of Convenience Stores shows that each convenience store will lose £1,500 a week as a result of the Bill. What has the Secretary of State to say to those small businesses, which are the backbone of the country?
I am familiar with the research carried out by the Association of Convenience Stores, which has done a significant amount of work. I am sure the hon. Gentleman agrees that it is fair to say that its calculations were based on the most pessimistic assumptions. In other words, the ACS assumed that the bigger stores would take the maximum possible advantage of the opportunity, and that there would be the maximum possible switching of shopping from its stores to the supermarkets. I think we agree that, in the real world, we are probably not dealing with the extremes.
I will take two more interventions, one from each side of the House. I am sure that other Members who wish to ask questions will be able to ask them during the main part of the debate.
I think many of us feel that, 25 years ago or thereabouts, we reached a sensible compromise over Sunday trading, which would benefit smaller businesses while imposing certain restrictions on the large supermarket chains. I support the Bill, especially because the west end shopping organisations desperately want its provisions to be adopted. However, I fear that the lobbying has been carried out solely by the largest supermarkets. I broadly support what those supermarkets do in general, but does the Secretary of State recognise that there is an overwhelming feeling that they not only maintain a dominant position in many of our high streets, but will use the Bill as a precedent for the future?
First, those supermarkets will not be able to use the Bill as a precedent, because we have made it clear that it is not a precedent. Secondly, many other stores—not just supermarkets—will benefit. We have already explained, in some detail, that a large number of consumers and workers will be able to take advantage of the Bill.
Given that I represent Twickenham, I think that I have some sense of the impact of major sporting events, and no one has suggested that the legislation should be changed specifically for rugby union events.
I want to end my speech now. I have taken a great many interventions, and there will be further opportunities for Members to intervene later.
The Government have listened to the concerns expressed about the proposal to suspend temporarily the restrictions on Sunday trading, and we have made every effort to consult and work with a wide range of interested parties. We have spoken not only to the Churches, but to large businesses including supermarkets and other retailers, and to representative bodies such as the British Retail Consortium, the CBI and the British Council of Shopping Centres.
No, not on this occasion.
We have also spoken to representatives of small businesses such as the Association of Convenience Stores, the National Federation of Retail Newsagents and the Federation of Small Businesses, and to trade unions including the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers and Unite. We believe that the Bill strikes the right balance between stressing the legitimate concerns expressed by those groups and securing the flexibility that is needed to ensure that British retailers can take full advantage of the opportunities presented by the Olympic and Paralympic games, such as the opportunity to showcase the United Kingdom’s skills, talents and businesses to the rest of the world.
The games will be an occasion for unparalleled entertainment, and we want to make certain that everyone can take advantage of them to the full. Allowing UK retailers extended Sunday trading is a small change that could have a significant impact on the enjoyment of the games, on the national economy, and on our international image. I commend the Bill to the House.
I am a London boy and very, very proud of it. I believe that the richness, the dynamism and the energy and drive of this city are unrivalled. We were all immensely proud when, on
Does my hon. Friend recall hearing, at the same time as the announcement of the fantastic news of the bid’s success, the announcement of a synchronised shopping trolley event? If it happened, I missed it, but the Secretary of State seems to be suggesting that it is the new Olympic sport.
Let me now make a serious point. What would my hon. Friend say to workers up and down the country who have tickets for a Sunday Olympic event, and who now know that they will not be able to attend other than through the back door or through devious means because their employers will not let them go?
I do not recollect any mention of synchronised shopping trolleys. I will deal with my hon. Friend’s point about workers shortly.
I am minded to support the Bill, although I feel sad about the fact that I will not be in the same Lobby as many of my colleagues. Can my hon. Friend tell me whether there have been discussions with the Government, and specifically with the Secretary of State, about an Olympic premium for those who will be expected to work on a Sunday and to give up much more of their time than they have had to give up hitherto? I am particularly worried about the fact that it seems likely that there will have to be two lots of shift patterns on Sundays, and that there will not be enough staff to work those shifts on a voluntary basis.
At what point did the Government raise the issues in the Bill with Opposition Front Benchers? How much notice was given? Does my hon. Friend not find it rather strange that there has been week after week of Back-Bench business when the Government could have presented the Bill and we could have had a proper debate, but it is being rushed through the House in a single day?
I was coming to that point.
With the bid won, our party, in government, proceeded to work in close collaboration with others to make a success and a lasting legacy of this once-in-a-lifetime event for the United Kingdom. The stability and transparency of the cross-party working to which my hon. Friend has referred was crucial to the success of our Olympic planning. It was therefore a huge disappointment that the first we heard of these measures was in the omnishambles that was the pre-briefing of this year’s Budget in the Sunday newspapers during the weekend before the Chancellor’s Budget statement. That was the first that we, and others, heard of the proposal to suspend the restrictions on Sunday trading between
I am a former Sports Minister who sat on the Olympic Board, and a former consumer Minister who had to deal with the issue of Sunday trading. I wonder whether my hon. Friend knows the origin of the motivation for this proposal. I certainly never heard anyone call for it during my time on the board, and when, as consumer Minister, I talked to organisations such as the Association of Convenience Stores and the Federation of Newsagents, no one said that they wanted it. Where has it come from?
My hon. Friend poses a good question, and I refer him to a piece written by Nadine Dorries in which she mentions the vigorous Treasury pre-briefing on this matter.
It is interesting that this Bill has been introduced so very recently. Never has a major legislative proposal emerged so quickly, especially when the opposition to it is so very strong. I have received many e-mails, letters and constituent complaints about it. It is causing a great deal of stress to all small shopkeepers, who are the very people who keep our local communities alive. Only a Liberal Democrat could have invented the idea of giving power to Walmart in America—and with that company’s scandal in Mexico!
I have not received a single representation in favour of this Bill, but I have received many opposing it.
This proposal was briefed and released with no advance warning, consultation or negotiation with either us or relevant affected stakeholders. That breaks with the previous spirit of collaborative working. Since taking office, the Government have had many months to plan for the games, and preparations had already been well advanced by my right hon. Friend the shadow Olympics Minister and other colleagues when we were in office.
Some time ago, the Prime Minister said that
“from here on I want a family test applied to all domestic policy. If it hurts families, if it undermines commitment, if it tramples over the values that keep people together, or stops families from being together, then we shouldn’t do it.”
I know my hon. Friend does not have much time for the Prime Minister, but does he not think that that is reason enough to abandon the Bill?
My hon. Friend is being characteristically generous in taking interventions. He has tabled a number of amendments that would significantly improve the Bill. It is telling that we are dealing with this Bill on the final day of what has been a two-year parliamentary Session. That tells us everything we need to know about the coalition. Does he agree that this Bill speaks volumes, as it shows that in the coalition’s view, working people are for the economy, rather than the economy being for working people?
That is certainly the view of many outside this House, too.
One has to ask why the Secretary of State and his colleagues have introduced this legislative change so late in the day when they have been in office for almost two years. That raises a further question: what other matters have they forgotten to consider in advance of the Olympics? It is worth reminding the House that the Government brought the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games (Amendment) Act 2011 before Parliament six months ago, after the ten-minute rule Bill to which the Secretary of State referred. Would not the more competent and sensible course of action have been to deal with this matter then, instead of thrusting it on us now, out of the blue, in this rather rushed and haphazard fashion?
Despite the concerns that have been expressed, the reality is that this measure is likely to end up being something of a damp squib. Many shops will not open. Does the hon. Gentleman not accept the Secretary of State’s assurances that no precedent will be set and that this measure will definitely last for only a short period, and that Members will have the opportunity to hold all supermarkets to account to ensure that Sunday trading is not extended beyond sensible limits in years to come?
The problem in this respect is that the silence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer on these matters has been deafening. If he had said something publicly to reassure people, many of the questions the Secretary of State is having to deal with may not have been posed in the first place.
I mentioned the sensitivities that arose from tampering with the existing settlement under the Sunday Trading Act 1994. Given those sensitivities, it would have made sense for this Bill to have been considered in a more timely manner. Because of the sensitivities, the convention has been for there to be a free vote on these matters, and I have said that that is how the Labour party is treating tonight’s vote. We do so not least because for some the Bill raises important issues of conscience.
Will my hon. Friend say to those people who will be affected by these measures that, even if the Government get this appalling legislation through, our party will resist any erosion of the rights of retail workers in this country and that we will fight tooth and nail to ensure that the Government will not make this a long-term change?
Did my hon. Friend notice that when the Secretary of State was explaining why he considered the Olympic and Paralympic games to be a special case, he referred to the football World cup in Germany, which is a completely different event? Does my hon. Friend share my concern that this Bill will set a precedent for future sporting and cultural events in this country, and open the door to far wider changes to the Sunday trading laws?
We in Tyneside have a long history of putting on large, huge participation sporting events, such as the great north run—and St James’s park is full most weekends. The great north run has taken place annually for the past 30 years or so, and there has been no great demand for the shops to be open on the Sunday while it takes place. Where is the demand for this change coming from? I cannot see it.
I agree. As I have said, no representations have been made to me arguing in favour of the measures in the Bill.
I was talking about those who may object to the Bill as a matter of conscience. For many, Sunday is a day of worship, but for many others, it is not. For everybody, however, Sunday is more than a day of rest. It provides us with something no amount of money can buy: quality time with friends, family and loved ones. Members may have an unhealthy fascination with Sunday political television programmes such as the Marr and Murnaghan shows, but we do not let that get in the way of a good slap-up Sunday roast with our nearest and dearest.
My hon. Friend makes a very valuable point. We should also think about those workers who currently work on Sundays. Does he agree that the Bill allows for a doubling of the number of hours—and, therefore, shifts—that can be worked on Sundays in the big stores, and that that may well lead to a doubling of the number of people involved? Does he agree that it is utterly disingenuous to suggest that the measures will be a matter of choice for those workers?
I could not agree more. That is precisely why we have tabled an amendment to ensure that working times on Sundays will be capped.
I am trying to make up my mind whether the Government have been caught napping and forced to ramrod this legislation through the House in a single day or whether they are just trying to avoid scrutiny. In making up my mind, I would be interested to know whether the Secretary of State has indicated that he will accept any of my hon. Friend’s good amendments, which would mitigate the measure.
Unfortunately, our amendments were rejected in the other place and I have had no indication that they will be supported in this House.
On the family point, does the hon. Gentleman not agree that if larger shops open for longer, that will allow for more flexible time, giving many families the opportunity to enjoy spending more time together during the Olympics period?
I do not know about the hon. Lady, but when I spend time with my family on a Sunday, we do not necessarily go shopping in large stores, although I suppose that there may be those who do. The point that we seek to make, which I think is appreciated, is that whether people object to the Bill as a matter of conscience or whether they do not have a great religious affinity, we all regard our Sundays as special, regardless of our creed or background. For that reason, when the noble Baroness Thatcher sought to end Government regulation of Sunday trading through the Shops Bill in 1986, she was defeated; unfortunately, that represented her only defeat in the House of Commons during her time in office, despite the best efforts of my party.
There was, however, a relaxation of the law in 1994, and it allowed large stores to open on Sunday for a maximum of six hours between 10 am and 6 pm. Small shops are not subject to those restrictions and can open when and for as long as they like. Our small shops estimate that they do 15% to 20% of their trade on Sunday, so they see the current rules as an important way of levelling the playing field with their much bigger rivals. That point has been made forcefully by the Federation of Small Businesses and the Association of Convenience Stores.
There have been consultations on changing the permanent Sunday trading settlement. We consulted on it in government, but the response always indicated little desire, if any, for an alteration of the permanent settlement. That situation does not appear to have changed. The Government have twice consulted on the matter, in their retail growth review and the red tape challenge, and neither of those consultations elicited evidence of a desire for change. Likewise, in a GfK NOP poll for the Association of Convenience Stores in 2010, 89% of the public opposed further liberalisation of Sunday trading laws.
I will say it again: as a point of principle, and given the importance that we all attach to our Sundays, we would strongly resist any attempt to alter the existing Sunday trading regime on a permanent basis, and there is clearly no desire for that change. As the Secretary of State said, the Government have introduced the Bill as a temporary measure in light of the exceptional event that will be happening on our shores. He and the noble Lord Sassoon have said that the Bill will not be used as a Trojan horse to effect any permanent change. As I said, the Chancellor has not been forthcoming with a reassurance in that regard, but if he were to seek to use the success of a temporary relaxation of restrictions in the Bill as justification for permanent change, he would be wrong. As the former Olympic athlete Baroness Grey-Thompson said on Second Reading in the other place last week, given the completely and utterly exceptional nature of the games, the temporary measures in the Bill could not be treated as an accurate trial of whether such a relaxation would work or be justified on a permanent basis.
As has been said, the rationale advanced by the Government for the relaxation on a temporary basis is primarily economic. The Government say that the Bill presents an opportunity to show that Britain is open for business. As was pointed out in the other place, that would tend to suggest that at the end of the eight-week period, we will be shut for business, but that is surely not the message that we intend to convey.
We asked the Government to publish their impact assessment for the Bill so that all could see it. Unfortunately, they did so only after Second Reading in the other place last Tuesday, although thankfully this House had the benefit of seeing it before today’s debate. It is clear from the assessment that although it would be foolhardy to deny that substantial economic benefits are likely to flow from London’s hosting the 2012 Olympic games, it is far from clear what economic benefits will flow from the measures in the Bill.
The impact assessment states:
“The unique nature of the Olympics and Paralympics makes an accurate assessment of the potential impact difficult”.
It is not clear how many large shops will choose to take advantage of suspension or how shopping patterns and demand will change. I suspect that the substantial economic benefits that we are likely to derive from the games will, in the main, be unaffected by the Bill. Notwithstanding that, and at the risk of contradicting myself, we do recognise that a temporary lifting of Sunday trading restrictions during this historic and exceptional event does at least deserve consideration; the fact that it is difficult to discern the economic benefit does not mean that there is not any. That is why, on pragmatic grounds, we agree to the fast-tracking of the Bill and have sought to reach a constructive consensus on the way forward.
At this juncture, I should point out that all along, we have approached negotiations on the Bill in good faith in the interests of ensuring that the country gets the maximum benefit from the games. In fairness to the Secretary of State, the Minister—Mr Prisk—and the noble Lord Sassoon, although the handling of the Bill has been somewhat wanting, I believe that they have approached the matter in good faith as well, for which I am grateful to them.
That said, we were clear from the outset that, if we were to recommend support for the Bill, we would need to be satisfied that sufficient employment protections would be put in place. Of course, it is the employees who would be required to work on the Sundays in question, and who otherwise might not be required to do so, who stand to be most adversely affected. In particular, we would need to be satisfied that those employees would be free to choose and would not be forced into working on those Sundays given that they, like everyone else, may want to be able to enjoy what the Olympics will offer.
I asked the Secretary of State a question earlier and was a little baffled by the response; perhaps my hon. Friend could be clearer. Is it misleading to suggest that individuals could simply opt out of working on a Sunday during the period? Would they be able only to apply to opt out, it being up to the employer whether to grant that application?
On the first part of the question, I should say as a former employment lawyer that, notwithstanding the technical rights in the Bill and in legislation, the reality of the situation may be different. The employee may have rights, but they may feel under pressure to agree to a request to work. In relation to my hon. Friend’s second point, if somebody has served notice to opt out and objects to working on a Sunday, the employer legally could not force them to do so.
My constituents have been going to their employers saying, “We need extra hours because we lose our tax credits unless we do 24 hours.” Does my hon. Friend agree that it is totally unrealistic to expect them to say that they do not want to work on Sundays because they object to losing their family time?
It is reasonable for any employee to object to working on a Sunday so that they can spend more time with their family.
Members on both sides of the House will have been contacted by USDAW, the shop workers’ union, on this issue. USDAW does an excellent job for its members and we are proud to be associated with it. Its members power one of our most successful and internationally competitive sectors. In short, its 400,000 members are wealth creators and we should celebrate and take notice of them. USDAW has surveyed more than 20,000 members, and some 78% of those surveyed oppose longer opening hours on Sundays during the period of the operation of this Bill; 51% said they already felt pressurised to work on Sundays against their will; and 73% said that longer Sunday opening would lead to pressure on them to work on Sundays against their will.
It is already clear that many shop workers feel pressure to work on Sundays, despite the legal protections enshrined in the original Sunday Trading Act 1994, which are totally ineffective. Does it not say much about the Tories that Mrs Grant argued that this Sunday trading would give more flexibility to families without realising that the families of many shop workers would have their Sunday time destroyed by this Bill? Do they not also deserve time with their families at the weekends?
Of course I agree with my hon. Friend that those workers deserve time with their families; she is absolutely right about that.
The group of employees who stand to lose most under this Bill are those who started employment after the provisions of the 1994 Act came into effect and who, under their contracts of employment, not only work on Sundays but can be required to do so in addition to working other days of the week. So we have asked for two things. The first relates to the fact that, in general, there is no statutory minimum period of notice that must be given by employers to shop workers notifying them of a request to work on Sundays. The only thing an employer is required to do is to give new employees a written statement within two months of the start of their employment telling them that they could be asked to work on Sundays and explaining their right to opt out. Importantly, there is no requirement for employers to tell their employees when they will exercise their right to require them to work on Sundays after they have started employment. It would be unreasonable, as well as a breach of trust and confidence under the employment contract, not to give any notice, but the point is that there is no prescribed minimum period of notice that employers must give.
Many employees will have received the written statement I have just mentioned a very long time ago. They may not even realise that they can be made to work on Sundays and that they can subsequently object, because it has never become an issue before. Because of the exceptional nature of the Olympics and the fact that a relaxation of trading restrictions on Sundays will inevitably lead to increased demands on shop workers to work on the Sundays concerned, we feel that it is not unreasonable to require employers to give employees two months’ notice of a request to work on any of the Sundays in question. To put it simply, how will employees know that the law has temporarily changed, that they can object to working on Sundays and that they should object in time if proper notice of a request to work on those Sundays has not been communicated to them by their employer?
The hon. Gentleman said that 78% of USDAW workers did not want to work extra on a Sunday. Given that the Labour party has been banging on about how it wants the Government to do things that will create extra jobs, it is ridiculous to see that party equivocating on something—liberalising Sunday trading laws—that would create extra jobs. Why does he want to prevent the 22% who do want to work extra on a Sunday from doing those extra hours? When I worked for a supermarket chain and asked people in the store to work overtime, I found that the easiest time to get them to work extra hours was on a Sunday, because that suited so many people. Why is his party equivocating about something that is good for those employees and would create more jobs if it were rolled out permanently?
I have worked in several shops and I do not recall everybody rushing to work on a Sunday. I have already referred to the Government’s impact assessment, and it is far from clear that liberalisation on a temporary basis will create lots of jobs. I have seen no economic evidence to suggest that an overall liberalisation would create loads of new jobs if the permanent regime were changed.
Is not the point here that Sundays are perhaps easier to fill because many employers pay a premium to have staff working on a Sunday? When I worked in Woolworths for five years, I received time and a half on a Sunday. Is not the reality—[Interruption.] There should be no laughter about the demise of Woolworths, because it was a great store for pick ‘n’ mix, among other things. Labour Members fear that this measure will act as a Trojan horse and that we will be on a slippery slope whereby we end up with those rights being diminished, and with time and a half or time and a third arrangements going completely.
My hon. Friend is quite right, and of course that is the great concern.
I was about to deal with the notice of objection required from employees. Under the existing regime, they can object and opt out of working on Sundays by giving three months’ notice to their employer, as the Secretary of State mentioned. The effect is that they can be forced to work during the three-month period but not after its expiry. The late introduction of this Bill means that it would not be possible, under the current arrangements, for employees to give notice to object within the three-month time frame, so the Government have agreed to reduce the notice period to two months during the period of the suspension of the usual arrangements.
That is good, but it is not sufficient. Ideally, we would like the notice required from employees in this instance to be reduced to one month. The late passing of this Bill and the close proximity in time to the Sundays in question mean that the two months that the Government have agreed to will allow very little time for employees to consider their position—a notice period of one month will afford them a little longer.
A further issue has been brought to our attention during the passage of the Bill. It has been mentioned today and it was raised during the Committee stage in the other place. We make no apologies for not raising it earlier; had the Bill been brought forward at a much earlier stage, we would have been able to flush out and deal with these issues in a timely fashion, in the usual way, in advance. The temporary relaxation of trading restrictions on the Sundays concerned is rather open-ended; the affected stores can open for as long as, and until as late as, they like. That is clearly unsatisfactory and some kind of limit should be imposed so that workers are not exploited. Our amendments propose that the opening runs until an 11 pm limit, allowing workers such as those in London, for example, to make their way home before the tubes and the trains stop. As my right hon. Friend Mr Lammy has said, many of these workers are women.
My hon. Friend will be aware that although London has been blessed with a good public transport system, other areas of the country do not have anything more than a basic Sunday service. Getting to work is already a struggle for a lot of workers on Sundays, but getting to work on a bus service that is very haphazard is almost an impossible ask.
I completely agree with what my hon. Friend says, which is why we have tabled our amendments. Again, I do not believe that they make an unreasonable request. If the Government were to agree to our amendments, that would reinforce the message that this is not a Trojan horse for permanent change and it would, in part, help to keep Sunday special. The Government have already indicated that they will oppose our amendments, which is a great shame.
In conclusion, I appreciate what the Government are seeking to do with this Bill. I do not think the proposed measures are as straightforward as they sound in the first instance, and the relative merits and adverse effects of the Bill are finely balanced. One would have thought that the Bill would command the support of the large stores that it purports to seek to help, but the House may wish to reflect on the comments of the chief executive of Sainsbury’s, Justin King, who also sits on the board of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games. When asked whether he supported the temporary relaxation of Sunday trading restrictions in The Sunday Telegraph at the beginning of this month, he responded:
“We don’t believe in, have not campaigned for and will not campaign for a general relaxation of the Sunday trading laws
Our customers aren’t asking for it. I’ve never had a letter from a customer saying, ‘Please campaign for longer opening hours on Sundays’. The compromise that’s been reached is essentially to keep Sunday special. If you want to do your shopping on Sunday, you can.
You can do it unhindered in small shops but only for six hours in big shops. That seems to us to be the happy British compromise. We’re content that Sunday is special and we don’t see customer demand for a change in the current law.”
So this is not a straightforward issue and, again, I am not clear where the support for the Bill is.
As I said, Labour is treating this matter as a free vote, but in the absence of ground being given on the issues I have mentioned, and taking account of all the thoughtful and considered views that have been put to us by business, employee and other groups, we do not feel able, on balance, to recommend to Opposition Members that, in exercising their free vote today, they support this Bill. Notwithstanding whether it passes, the House should be in no doubt that Labour Members are incredibly excited about London 2012 and have no doubt it will be a huge success for our country.
I begin by declaring my long-standing support for the retail trade. It would be very strange if I did not, because I have been associated with different aspects of the retail trade for most of my working life. When I left school in 1964 at the age of 16—hon. Members can do the maths—I went to work in the stock room of my local Woolworths store in Chatham. As I was a parliamentary candidate in Luton South in 2001, Gavin Shuker and I have at least two things in common, but of course he is a lot younger than me, and would not be aware of the conditions in shops when I first started out. In those days, we worked five and a half days a week, with only Wednesday afternoons and Saturdays off. That experience made me appreciate the special nature of Sundays. Even today, as a Member of Parliament, I try hard not to work on Sundays. Many in the retail industry would love an opportunity to do the same, but sadly, for all sorts of reasons, they do not have the choice of treating Sunday as a special day of the week.
I take it that my hon. Friend has never worked in the retail industry, so he would not understand that often people have no choice other than to work on a Sunday. Let me give one small example. My wife had a couple of small shops, one of which was in a shopping centre. The contract stated that she had to open on a Sunday. That meant that she had to work on a Sunday, though she does not do so now. People might not be forced by their employer to work on a Sunday, and might have a choice, but they are often forced to do so due to circumstances, because the shop is open.
My hon. Friend rightly says that some people do not want to work on a Sunday, and I certainly respect their right not to do so, but does he accept that many people want to work on a Sunday? Why does he think that people should not be forced to work on a Sunday, but want to deprive people who do want to work then of the chance to do so? We already have fully liberated hours in Scotland, and the sky does not appear to have fallen in there.
I accept that there are people in the retail trade who want to work on a Sunday, and of course those people already have the opportunity to do so. [Interruption.] Yes, I do. Stores are allowed to open on a Sunday for six hours between the hours of 10 am and 6 pm. Major stores are open. Small stores of under 3,000 square feet are allowed to open any time on a Sunday. If people in retail want to work on Sunday, there is always the opportunity to do so. We are not talking about that; we are talking about relaxing the rules still further.
I could not agree more. The special nature of Sunday was recognised by the Sunday Trading Act 1994, which restricted opening hours to the times that I mentioned. It is worth pointing out that in recent years, some larger stores have tried to bend the rules by opening an hour earlier for what is called browsing time, during which time shoppers can fill up their baskets but cannot put those goods through the till. It is such tactics that make many workers suspicious of the proposals to suspend Sunday trading restrictions during the Olympics and Paralympics. I fear that many retail chains will feel that the proposals give them the green light to campaign more vigorously for restrictions to be dropped permanently.
I am old enough—perhaps the hon. Gentleman is, too—to remember when the big stores opened on Sundays illegally, before we had the legislation. That is another reason for a lack of trust when it comes to the motives that some of them have.
I cannot say that I remember that, and I go back a long way, albeit out in the sticks; perhaps the practice was prevalent in London. It certainly was not prevalent in the Medway towns, or in Sittingbourne and Sheppey, where I live now.
I am probably old enough to remember when there were no stores to open. I have some sympathy with what my hon. Friend says, but does he recognise that the relaxation will apply for eight weeks, and that there is no proposal to extend that? Does he very much welcome the fact that we are talking about an eight-week period, and does he hope that we would think long and hard before there was any suggestion of extending the period?
Before Gordon Henderson responds, may I remind Members to face the middle of the Chamber when they speak, so that the microphones pick up what is said, and so that I can hear what is said?
I take the point made by my hon. Friend Glyn Davies, but the 1994 Act recognised that Sunday is special. Perhaps he should explain why Sundays during the Olympics and Paralympics are any less special than those during the rest of the year. That is the point. This is not about opening; it is about Sundays.
One reason that we have been given for suspending the restrictions is that it would allow those visiting for the Olympics and Paralympics to shop if they so choose. Let me ask the Minister another question: why can all those visitors not buy their souvenirs and trinkets from the hundreds of small shops that are under 3,000 square feet and already have unrestricted Sunday trading hours? Indeed, rather than suspending Sunday trading restrictions to help the large stores cash in, would it not make sense to keep the restrictions in place during the Olympics? That would give a much-needed boost to small shops that are struggling to survive in the face of competition from supermarkets, which continually extend the range of non-food items that they offer.
I am puzzled as to why my hon. Friend thinks that it is important for Sunday to be kept special for workers in supermarkets, when he does not seem to think it worth keeping it special for people who work in small convenience stores. If he wishes to be consistent, surely he should want it to be special for those people, too.
I agree 100% with my hon. Friend. The point is that Sunday is special; the 1994 Act recognised that by providing for certain opening hours for large stores, and certain opening hours for small stores. I am not looking to change that; the Bill looks to change that for eight weeks this year. That is all that I am objecting to.
As I have mentioned, my wife had a couple of small shops; they closed because she could no longer face the competition from supermarkets that were moving into selling non-food goods, and the type of fancy goods and gifts that she sold, so perhaps I ought to declare an interest.
There is something else that puzzles me. We have been given assurances by the Front Benchers, but if it is true that it is important to suspend the restrictions because only large shops will be able to cater to the needs of visitors who come for the Olympics and Paralympics, why does the suspension have to take in the whole of England and Wales? I simply do not understand that. I appreciate fully that loads of visitors might stream into Stratford and the borough during the Olympics, but I cannot see that happening in Sheffield, Stourbridge, Swansea, Sittingbourne or Sheerness. Unless the Government intend to lay on buses that go from Stratford straight to Sheerness on the Isle of Sheppey, bringing thousands of people down to shop in Black Cat and other places—we would be grateful for that—I do not see why the measures have to apply nationwide, rather than being restricted to London.
I have great respect for my hon. Friend, as he is well aware, but I think he is being a little naive if he thinks thousands upon thousands of people will be streaming out of London down to the Medway towns. I hope I am wrong, but I suspect I am not.
There may be an argument for holding a debate on the principle of changing the current restrictions on Sunday trading, and that debate might convince me to support it. There might even be an argument for undertaking a trial period to test the water. But, of course, this is not such a debate, or so we are led to believe. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Minister have given assurances from the Front Bench that the Bill is a temporary measure, but frankly, I am not convinced. I believe that this proposal is nothing less than a trial run for a permanent relaxation of the restrictions. If it can be proved that sales have increased significantly during the trial period, pressure will no doubt follow for the 1994 Act to be repealed once and for all. I hope I am wrong, but I suspect I am not wrong, which is why I cannot and will not support the Bill.
Britain’s success in hosting the 2012 Olympic games provides a fantastic opportunity for people throughout the country to experience directly this world-class sporting and cultural event. Our business and tourism industry can thrive during the summer. From the beginning of the bid process there has been cross-party support to make these the best games possible for the thousands and thousands of extra visitors we are expecting. Unfortunately, the Government have handled very poorly the suspension of existing Sunday trading restrictions, resulting in confusion and anger from those directly affected—namely, shop workers and small businesses.
If the Bill is not being used as the thin end of the wedge for permanent change, why did the Government not limit the temporary relaxation of Sunday trading laws to the specifically affected areas—that is, London?
We have heard that there are events in one or two other places, but those are much smaller and they will not receive the large number of visitors that will come to London.
Does the hon. Lady agree that the problem with the idea that this is the thin end of the wedge and a trial for permanent expansion is that it would be a ludicrous trial basis, given that we will have hundreds of thousands of new visitors and customers and it would be foolish to make a judgment based on that new market?
My hon. Friend, like me, represents a constituency a long way from London. Does she agree that it is most unfair that shop workers in my constituency and hers should be forced to work on Sundays, and that convenience stores should suffer the resulting drop in trade, because the Government have decided to extend the experiment throughout the country?
That is precisely my point. If the Government had set out to undertake proper consultation, the suggested changes could have been tightly focused and would have reassured, instead of increasing bad feeling and suspicion about the Government’s intentions.
Is the hon. Lady aware that the Chancellor has said that the suspension will be a temporary measure, but that the Treasury may “learn lessons” from this experiment? What lessons does she think the Government may learn?
If the Treasury decides to come forward with that, Nick de Bois will no doubt express his strong view that it has no merit whatever.
The Association of Convenience Stores has been mentioned by a number of hon. Members already. Its poll showed that Sunday trading liberalisation is unpopular: 89% of the public were opposed to further change in the law and, as we have heard, a survey of more than 20,000 USDAW members conducted after the March Budget announcement found that 78% opposed the suspension of Sunday trading laws during the Olympic games. As it is, 51% already come under pressure from their employers to work Sundays, and 73% said that they would come under more pressure to work on Sundays if shops were allowed to open for longer. Shop workers deserve the right to enjoy the Olympics just like everybody else.
My hon. Friend is making a very good and thoughtful speech. Does she agree that there are two other concerns? If a shop worker has been lucky enough to get a ticket to an event on a Sunday, there is a risk that they will go to their employer and be told, “No, sorry, you’ve got to get rid of the ticket. You’re not going,” or that their colleagues will be upset because the employee will say to their employer, “I have a ticket.
I would like to go,” and the employer will say, “Yes, you can go, but that means one of your colleagues now has to fill your place on Sunday.”
My hon. Friend introduces just two circumstances that could occur. I shall shortly come on to others that cause me concern.
It has already been made clear that workers wishing to exercise their right to opt out of working on a Sunday under the Bill would have to notify their employer by
Without appropriate safeguards during the Olympics, extended Sunday working hours will provide an excuse for employers to move contracted weekday hours to a Sunday. Despite current Sunday opt-out rules, many shop workers are already being forced to spend that time at work. They experience difficulties getting into work on a Sunday, as we heard. Some also experience the problem of a lack of child care, which is especially hard for single parents. There is currently a demand for retail staff to be flexible with working hours. An extension of Sunday trading hours will simply add to the strain.
When I visit supermarkets in my constituency, what I hear from the staff is that many employers are issuing low-hours contracts, meaning that employees have to work whatever additional hours are available and offered, rather than what fits their own circumstances. Mrs Grant made the point that sometimes workers indeed want extra hours because they do not have a contract that gives them enough money to live on. If their contract is 20 hours whereas they would like to work full-time, they may well be offered only the Sunday hours. So the idea that there is real choice is ill-founded.
We know that in surveys workers have commented as follows:
“Large stores give you 28 days to change your contract to comply with their requests to cover the extra shifts. This is bullying because they know people need to keep their jobs.”
“Although Sunday working is optional, to ask for a Sunday off is a crime and to try and book it off as a holiday, 9 out of 10 will get refused.”
Other staff are worried about the increased risk of crime within stores, with fewer police working on a Sunday and fewer staff in the stores.
The hon. Lady and other Members have alluded to the USDAW survey and the concerns of existing employees. Is there not another issue? Given the hoped-for and anticipated increase in trade generally in the retail sector during the Olympics, people who are not currently in retail but will be over the next few months will feel under even more pressure, as they are very new employees who do not understand the difficulties of pressure in the workplace?
Of course there will be that concern for newly employed staff, but we know from existing practices that extra staff may well not be taken on. The existing staff will be expected to cover the additional time by reducing the hours worked from Monday to Friday. There are many problems. Managers in particular feel the pressure of having to work Sundays themselves, with the added pressure of having to ask their teams to cover longer hours. Like many other Members, I have been contacted by constituents and petitioners who find that very difficult.
On that point, I am not sure how many hon. Members have actually worked in a shop, but I worked for Marks & Spencer on the shop floor for seven years and know that it is physically quite a demanding job. When looking at the expectation that people will work yet more time, we need to remember that physically that will be quite difficult for some. The other issue I want to touch on is benefits. A number of these people, if they do extra hours, will go above the benefit cut-off point for a few weeks and then down again. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is potentially a bureaucratic nightmare?
I am sure that my hon. Friend is right. We know that when someone receiving benefits has flexible hours the different amounts coming in can lead to great complexity and cause them many problems.
I will make a little progress.
The Association of Convenience Stores has strong concerns about the Government’s impact assessment. Two major studies referenced in the assessment failed to make the case for a significant amount of additional spending resulting from the liberalisation. The Centre for Retail Research has estimated an overall increase in sales of £189.9 million, but the impact assessment fails to set this in the context of the sales value of the UK retail sector, which is in excess of £300 billion. It uses a limited research base and is not a sound basis for estimating the impact of the legislation. This study is just a reflection of the Government’s hasty action in introducing legislation without understanding the full implications.
The total cost for the 40,000 convenience stores across England and Wales will be £480 million over the eight weekends of the Olympic and Paralympic games, which again raises the question of why these legislative changes will apply to the whole country. The impact assessment fails to recognise that convenience stores might be strongly affected. The Co-operative group has strongly expressed the view that the legislation threatens high streets and secondary shopping locations up and down the country, rather than helping them to stay vibrant. It believes that any relaxation of the existing Sunday trading laws will have a detrimental effect on independent retailers, who make a vital contribution to sustainable and viable local communities.
I must echo some of the feelings expressed in contributions made by hon. Friends. What is this desperate need to get to a shop? Under the coalition Government, we now live in a country in which it can take two weeks to get an appointment with a GP when something is wrong, so why do they think people cannot wait a few hours to get into a large shop? I must say that the reasons for that escape me. The Government must make it clear that there will be no future attempt to change Sunday trading rules without an extensive consultation period. If these changes are purely in the interests of national and community gain throughout the period of the Olympic games, they should be subject to more vigorous scrutiny, target the specific areas of London that will be affected, assure a temporary time limit and guarantee that shop workers’ rights will be protected.
Order. Members should please resume their seats. This is a popular debate and a number of Members have indicated that they wish to speak, and of course we will have the wind-ups as well, so at this stage I appeal to Members to focus on some time restraints in order to get as many Members in as possible, and even allow time for Committee stage and Third Reading.
I want to make a few remarks about this short Bill and seek assurances on behalf of some interested parties about its scope and limits. On the whole, I believe that it makes sense for the tourists who will flock to the UK for the Olympics to be able to spend as much time as they want in shops, and at times that they find convenient. The economy needs it and I believe that we should not hamper the retail sector in taking advantage of it.
Does the hon. Lady not accept that the people who will flock to the UK also need to see the other areas that we can rightly be proud of, such as our countryside, our heritage and our cultural opportunities? These are also places where people can spend money, enjoy themselves and get a wider view of the UK than simply our large and convenient stores. Why are we not promoting our cultural, heritage and environmental opportunities, rather than just our shopping?
I could not agree more with the hon. Lady; we should be promoting other tourist opportunities in other parts of the country, as I believe we are. I am hopeful that, because we are allowing the extension of Sunday trading to other parts of the country, they might also benefit in some part. As I was saying, the Bill does not spell good news for everyone, particularly in areas to which Olympic and Paralympic tourists will not be flocking. We have heard the argument about small shops and the fear that the window of competitive opportunity will close for the period covered by the Bill.
It seems to me that, if there is no demand for extended hours on a Sunday, large shops will not open. That is highly likely, and it might well be a damp squib in much of the country, and I hope that that happens.
I totally agree. I think that many shops outside the tourist areas will elect not to open, because if the trade is predicted not to increase, why would they spread the same volume of revenue over a longer period, thereby incurring larger overheads?
I understand the hon. Lady’s argument, but is not the danger and the concern of small convenience shops that the larger stores will open for longer and, because there will be no increase in overall trade, all that will happen is that they will suck the custom away from small traders?
I have agreed with everyone who has intervened, which is probably not very politically correct. I completely acknowledge the point that the hon. Gentleman makes, but I think that sensible economic decisions will be made by the larger retailers in non-tourist areas. Indeed, the British Retail Consortium is divided on the issue, and not just along the line dividing large and smaller shops. However, small shops in the tourism areas will reap additional revenue benefits by virtue of where they are located. I do not think that it is all doom and gloom, but I do think that the potential bonanza is likely to be realised only in the main tourist areas.
I do not think that this is the time or the place for reopening the Sunday trading debate. Many small retailers fear that the Bill will pave the way for Sunday trading by the back door without consultation or protection from the groups opposed to widening Sunday trading, such as the Keep Sunday Special campaign. Organisations such as the Association of Convenience Stores and unions representing shop workers, such as the Union of Shop Distributive and Allied Workers, found that the majority of their members were also opposed to the Bill, as has already been mentioned. Of course, there is also the fact that a large proportion of shop workers are women with caring responsibilities, so it would be wrong to make anything other than temporary changes without all those affected having a proper say.
Of course, some people will welcome the opportunity for more hours of work on a Sunday, although we have heard about the USDAW workers and there has been great discussion about how employees can be pressured against their wishes into working on a Sunday. I have sympathy for anyone who is pressured into Sunday working. However, I gently remind the House that for other industries there is no legal opt-out for Sunday working because the needs of their business dictate that some staff must be there on a Sunday. I think that we need to keep a sense of proportion when considering this temporary period.
On the two-months’ notice for shop workers, I have concerns that
The hon. Lady makes a specific point, and I am aware that several Members want to speak, so I shall be brief. I can give her that assurance. That is absolutely clear. Many workers like the fact that they will be able to have a shorter notice period, because they will be the ones giving notice and they recognise that it is advantageous to them, so the hon. Lady makes a sensible point and I am happy to assure her on that basis.
I am grateful to the Minister for that assurance.
Several Opposition colleagues have mentioned the Bill’s timing. A private Member’s Bill to the effect of this Bill was brought to the House just before Christmas, and the question has been put, “Why not take forward that Bill, rather than the Government imposing their own?” I imagine the answer is that proper reflection on its implications and consultation with all parties would need to take place, and it has. Will the Minister confirm that proper consideration, not any devious motive that Opposition Members might invent, was the reason for this Bill?
My understanding is that across government the norm for consultation is 13 weeks. The Bill was first brought before the House formally on
The hon. Gentleman makes a reasonable point, but given the time scale, the fact that the Government have had to put forward their own consideration and think through implications themselves, and the short and temporary nature of the legislation, a shorter period is not entirely unreasonable.
Liberal Democrats have been banging on about a sunset clause, a phrase that has been dear to us for many years, so can the Minister assure us also that the sunset clause in this Bill will ensure that the legislation is not used as a precedent for future changes to Sunday trading laws, and that proper pre-legislative scrutiny and consultation will take place if the relaxation of such laws is ever considered again?
Unusually, but not uniquely, I did not support London’s bid for the Olympic games. I said so in the House during preparations for the bid, and I advised against it. I did so for two reasons, one of which is relevant to the debate. The first reason, which is not really relevant, is that no other UK city was allowed to compete with London for the right to represent the UK in the International Olympic Committee’s competition.
The second reason is that I simply did not believe the prospectus that London put out on the impact and cost of the games. Financially, that view has turned out to be right, as the cost of the games has increased by a factor of threefold or fourfold, the sustainability criteria have been thrown out of the plans for the Olympic games and the participation that was promised has not occurred. It has been repeated, as it was repeated during the bid, however, that the economic benefits of the Olympic games will be spread throughout the country.
I do not doubt—I am certain—that there will be economic benefits from the Olympic games. They will be felt in east London, in particular, and throughout the rest of London, but no Minister—from any party when in government—whom I have ever asked about the Blake report, which the previous Government commissioned, has answered my questions on it. The report showed that, although there would be benefits, there would also be a £4.5 billion disbenefit to the rest of the United Kingdom, meaning that the benefit to London would be even greater.
One can of course go to individual businesses and find that there will be a particular benefit. Steel will be provided for the Olympic games from Bolton, for instance, and one can go around the country and find such things, but the Blake report, which was produced at a time of economic growth, stated that overall there would be a disbenefit.
No Minister has contradicted the report, because it has been kept a great secret from them by officials or by more senior Ministers who know about it, but if one takes that analysis and places against it the Sunday trading proposals in the Bill, which will increase the Sunday trading of large stores, one sees that the impact is likely to be negative on many small stores and street traders throughout the rest of England.
I received a letter 10 days ago. It is not, as it happens, from a shop that will be affected by the legislation, but it shows the difficulties that small traders are currently experiencing—similar to many convenience stores on the street corners and high streets in our towns, cities and rural areas. The man in question runs an angling shop, which, when my 12-year-old son was into fishing, I used to visit fairly regularly. He wrote to me and—excuse the language, Mr Deputy Speaker, and the inaccurate constitutional position that my constituent took—said, “Will you sack that idiot in the Cabinet Office who has made people fill up all their cars with petrol. I used to employ four people in this shop, I am having the greatest difficulty making ends meet, I might be out of business within six weeks and trade was just beginning to increase in the spring. Now everybody’s gone and spent their money on their cars and nobody is coming into my shop.”
That shows how difficult small traders are finding things at present. If we take the fact that the Olympic games are going to have a negative impact, that overall there will be less money about throughout the regions and that people are going to go into Sainsbury, Tesco, Asda and Morrison’s at times when they could not previously go into them and spend money, we find that the Bill is going to put small businesses out of business. They will not exist, and it will have a greater negative impact on them than probably anything else at present.
That is the prime reason why I oppose the Bill, but I also urge some caution on the figures that Government Front Benchers have provided, because they are not net figures. I do not doubt that 6 million people are likely to come into the country during the Olympic games period, if that is what we are told, but the experience of many host cities is that, although people go to watch the games and to enjoy the sporting and cultural experience, many people who would otherwise visit the city—to look at the Tower of London and London’s other great tourist experiences, for example—do not do so. Los Angeles’ lowest bed occupancy in more than a decade occurred in 1984, at the time of its Olympic games.
I have been fortunate enough to go to a number of Olympics, and had Members been in Atlanta in 1996 they would not have known that the games were taking place—unless they had been in the stadiums or nearby. As many people went to those games as went to any other Olympics, but other people left the city. Even according to the impact assessment—my hon. Friend Mr Umunna did a very good job of showing how inadequate it is—the impact is unlikely to be as impressive as it might seem.
It has been said several times that this will not be a precedent. I would advise people to go and look at a dictionary. Whatever anyone says, it is a precedent, because it has not happened before. Hon. Members are saying—I do not disbelieve them; they are honourable people—that they will not use it as a precedent, but other people might do so. Nothing can stop that, and it will be extremely bad for small shopkeepers and small businesses.
My hon. Friend is right to point to the concern that this may be used as a precedent. Was he as surprised as I was that the Secretary of State, in giving an example of this, could not cite another Olympic host city but had to cite the football World cup in Germany?
It is also, as my hon. Friend says, driven by the Treasury. Ministers would not be able to give examples from other Olympic games because this has not happened in those cases.
I have been fortunate enough to go to a number of Olympic games, and the last thing that would have occurred to me at any of those games would have been to find the local supermarket and spend time in there. That did not occur to me, and I suspect that it will not occur to the people who come to London. This is about something larger—the power of very large supermarkets to change the structure of shopping in this country.
With the Olympics, we have an amazing opportunity ahead of us whereby, as many have said over the past few years, we have a shop window on the world. It is sensible that the Government are making sure that the facility is there for shops to open the doors so that people need not just look through the window but can come to spend some of their money in this country while we have them here.
When I was council leader in Great Yarmouth, it was likely that we would have an Olympic event—mountain biking—although it has now been moved and will take place in the council authority of Castle Point. At various briefings and meetings with people from Barcelona, Athens and Australia, we kept hearing about the impact in their towns, during and after the Olympics, of people returning home and talking about them. The effect of being in that shop window was absolutely phenomenal, with an increase of up to four times in the number of visitors over the subsequent four or five years. It is therefore important that the Government make sure that they do all they can to open the doors of London to every visitor in every way possible. It is logical that when visitors come over here from Europe and around the world, one of the things they will potentially think about at weekends, including Sundays, is going shopping.
My constituency is not hosting an Olympic event and is more than 100 miles away from London. However, as I suspect the Minister will outline, if there were to be some rule about this affecting only London or areas where there is an Olympic event, it is likely that there could be issues to do with competition law and other similar matters, apart from the hybrid Bill problem.
It is important that we open up this opportunity. Over the years, when I have spoken to people in various parts of London, they have talked about going to places such as Dubai, and particularly about the amazing shopping there. Shopping centres around the world are becoming destinations in their own right. That is why people went to Lakeside when it first opened, and then to Bluewater and to Westfield.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that ultimately the problem that the Bill presents is that we have to counterbalance the economic issues that he has raised with the rights of others? He used Dubai as an example, but Dubai notoriously treats its workers and employees in all those shopping centres in an absolutely dreadful fashion.
I referred to Westfield, Bluewater and Lakeside because people are making trips to shopping centres which are themselves becoming destinations. Obviously, with the Olympics, the sporting venue is central, but people will be going to events at these venues, with or without other family members, and at weekends, when they are not at those events, having Sundays available to shop gives them another opportunity to spend their money in this country at a time when I would have thought most Members would welcome that extra investment in our economy.
We must also bear in mind that we are talking about some stores potentially choosing to open for eight hours on specific days.
The hon. Gentleman is the Member for a constituency that is a small coastal resort. In my constituency, I have the resort of Porthcawl. Sunday traffic through that resort is fairly critical to the largely very small traders and shopkeepers within it. If we have this extension of Sunday trading for the large stores, are not visitors in my constituency’s coastal resort and that of the hon. Gentleman’s likely to be drawn away to the larger stores rather than spending their time enjoying our wonderful coast and perhaps spending in the ice cream parlours, the cafes and the small shops that are open?
I disagree with the hon. Lady: Great Yarmouth is the second largest seaside resort in the country, and we have large stores and small independent stores. However, I understand her point—there is a risk of that. But there is also the advantage that when a visitor is in London for the Olympics, we may be able to advertise to them the fact that while they are here they are not that far away from Norfolk and the Broads, from where they can visit the seafront at Great Yarmouth and enjoy a classic English holiday.
I have visited Great Yarmouth and it is a delightful place—just as delightful as the towns in my constituency. Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be useful for the Minister to explain why the Bill covers two Sundays when the Olympics and Paralympics are not happening—namely, 19 and
I am sure that the Minister will cover those details. One of the key reasons I am happy to support the Bill is that, as the Secretary of State confirmed, it is a temporary measure for the Olympics to open this shop door to the world. If it applied to a longer period beyond that, there would be an issue.
One of the unique selling points of small independent stores is their ability to have more flexible hours. My constituency is a mixture of big towns with all the big stores open 24 hours a day and small rural areas with village shops for which, over a longer period, this would be a real problem. When I talk to some of those small retailers, they say that they do not see the big stores in town and on the edge of the town as being as much competition as they might be in other areas. In their view, they offer a personalised service that is better than and different from that offered by the large stores. Equally, in some rural areas, they benefit from the fact that they are local to people who do not want to travel into the town or to out-of-town stores.
On Friday, I had a meeting with some local independent retailers in Great Yarmouth, all of whom had come to see me about their concerns about plain packaging. They are worried that that will massively affect their business, and I have sympathy with that. I asked them specifically about this issue, knowing that we were going to have this debate, and none of them had any great concern about the impact that it would have on them; in fact, quite the opposite. Their view was that it is a very good thing, on a temporary scale for the Olympics only, to have the shop door open; they understood the logic of it and were supportive of it.
We should support this Bill because it represents a clear economic opportunity for this country. If stores want to open, and if people want to work and take advantage of this opportunity, they can do so. It is not being imposed; it is a really good opportunity to say to the world, “We’re open and we’ve got some of the best shops and facilities in the world.”
I rise to state clearly that we oppose the change in Sunday trading and that the Democratic Unionist party, of which I have the pleasure of being a member, will divide the House on the Bill if the Labour party decides not to do that.
I have always loved the Olympics. As everyone has said, that is not the issue. We are all as pleased as punch to have the Olympics here, and pleased that there will be such a big event in London. Many of us will try to make our way over here to watch the sport. When I was younger, I stayed up late to watch the winners as they were awarded the gold, silver and bronze medals. I was always proud to see the Ulster flag or the Union flag being hoisted. Many people felt pride in their hearts for the success of our Olympians.
I am not an official Olympics sponsor by any means, but I want to lay out from the beginning my opinions, which I believe reflect those of my party and of a great many people whom we represent. They are not against the Olympics or the money, but they want the best for the workers—the theme that has run through the discussion today. Perhaps some Government Members will want to speak about that, too. As was said earlier, we all knew in 2005 that the Olympics were coming, yet seven years later, this measure is nudged in at the last. Only a matter of weeks before the Olympics, we find that the Government are trying to push through legislation that will change a great many people’s working lives.
Margaret Thatcher and the comment about a nation of shopkeepers have been mentioned several times. My father and mother were part of that nation of shopkeepers. I grew up with parents who owned the local shop. When I went into business, I was a retailer to the shops and when I owned a business, it had close connections with the shops. My son has taken over that business. Three generations of my family have been involved in the retail trade and I believe that that qualifies me to say that we need Sunday as a day of rest. We will therefore oppose the legislative change to Sunday trading.
It is impossible to function well for any space of time when working a seven-day week. That is why people have the option of working only five hours on Sundays, and why the smaller retailers feel that they can take time off or shut their businesses on that day. That view is backed up by the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers, which said that the vast majority of shop workers and retailers oppose extending opening hours in England and Wales for eight Sundays from
The Secretary of State said that he had contacted the unions. However, if we contact people and get a clear point of view, do we ignore it or do we act on it? John Hannett, USDAW general secretary, made some interesting comments:
“USDAW members want MPs to put family, sport and the Olympics first…by voting against this ill-conceived and rushed piece of legislation. The vast majority of shopworkers don’t want to work extra hours on a Sunday and they quite rightly blamed their increasingly difficult struggle to maintain a semblance of normal family on the twin demands for more flexibility and unsocial working hours. These demands also reduce the opportunity of workers and their children to participate in organised sports and leisure activities.”
As someone who has experience of trying to juggle family life with the pressure of a business—everyone in the Chamber experiences juggling family life with the pressure of work—I wholeheartedly agree with the union representatives on that matter.
Does the hon. Gentleman know that 1.4 million parents already work regularly through the weekend? The Bill will simply increase the number of parents who work on Sundays.
I thank the hon. Lady for her comments, which clearly sum up an issue that many people have mentioned. We should encourage families to sit together and watch the Olympics, not force mum or dad or both into another shift at work. People who do not want to work on Sundays are increasingly being pressured to do that. With more shifts that need workers, it will soon be impossible for them to have a Sunday with their families or at their church.
At the beginning of the debate, the Business Secretary gave us a figure of x million pounds that the Bill could generate. He gave the impression that it would perhaps turn round the UK economy. However, I am sure that my hon. Friend agrees that if the measure is passed, people will simply spread their shopping over a longer time, and that the net gain could be very small.
I thank my hon. Friend for making an important point. I sometimes wonder, when figures are bandied about in the Chamber, on what they are based. Where do £75 million or £185 million come from? Is the economy on the turn on the strength of the Olympics and nothing else? We hope so, but reality may be very different.
Does my hon. Friend agree that, in a series of shallow comments that the Business Secretary made, the most shallow was probably the contention that a few extra hours for eight weeks would dramatically turn around the prospects for the economy and increase employment? The idea that that could be realistic is absurd.
Some Government Members have said that the Bill is a recipe for changing the economy, but, as my hon. Friend states, it is not.
Some Members touched on religion and church worship. It is important that we do not simply touch on it and dander on about it for only 20 seconds of our contributions. For many people in this country, attending church on Sunday is important to their lives. It is important for their family life, their moral standing and for their life in the church and the standards that they maintain in their lives. That should not simply be brushed aside or briefly mentioned. Those who want to attend church—they have a right to do so—should be able to do that.
Clearly, I understand Ministers’ points. However, in the current economic climate, people are fearful about retaining their jobs and subsequently about annoying management. My hon. Friend Mr Campbell made an important point about young people who are perhaps in their first few months of work and are asked to work the extra hours on Sunday. They feel that they have been there only a wee while and they need the job, so they will sign up to the extra hours straight away, even though they do not believe that they should have to do that. The Government need to take account of that. The management may not strong arm those people per se, but there is a clear mentality that suggests that, if they do not do as asked, they will miss out on other shifts and get a black mark against their name. That is the thin edge of the wedge.
“the move could be a trial run for a permanent change in the law.”—[Hansard, 21 March 2012; Vol. 542, c. 860.]
“sounds suspiciously like a stalking horse for the wider deregulation for which some large retailers have been campaigning for a long time.”—[Hansard, House of Lords, 22 March 2012; Vol. 736, c. 1042.]
Not to be outdone, the Chancellor confirmed that the suspension would be a temporary measure, but added that the Treasury could “learn lessons” from the experiment. What lessons will the Treasury learn?
The point about whether the Bill is a Trojan horse has been mentioned several times. Our fears are compounded by quotes that appeared in The Sunday Telegraph, in which a senior Whitehall source was quoted as saying that
The House can understand where the fears come from because officials were giving such briefings. My hon. Friend is therefore right to highlight that.
I thank my right hon. Friend for those comments. It is an underlying issue for us all. We feel that the Bill is the thin edge of the wedge. It is little wonder that it has provoked many people outside the House, who feel that a permanent deregulation of Sunday trading is just around the corner.
We have had a Trojan horse and stalking horse—the debate is in danger of becoming too equine—but as the Secretary of State has said, and as I said in the debate on the allocation of time motion, we have no intention of making the measure permanent and have included a sunset regulation. I understand the concern that many hon. Members have expressed, but we want to make that clear. I hope that will give the hon. Gentleman some comfort, whatever equine form he intends to allude to next.
I am reminded of a comment I made last week: if it smells like a horse and looks like a horse, we do not want it to become a donkey.
We have heard the reassurance from the Government that there is no stalking horse and that no precedent is set by the measure. I spoke to a young student at the weekend who is working in a local supermarket to earn the money to pay for his university tuition fees. I asked him about the Bill, and his response was: “We were promised no rise in tuition fees. How much do you trust these offers and promises?” What does the hon. Gentleman suggest I say to that young man?
Obviously, it is not for me to say—perhaps the Minister can comment on that—but we all know what we feel in our hearts, which is clearly the issue.
Last year, two listening exercises were held on whether to repeal the current restrictions on Sunday trading. The results showed that the current settlement was proportionate and that there was no real appetite to change the law. In fact, a lot of people are opposed to any change or relaxation. Mr Anderson commented on this earlier, but an USDAW survey of 10,000 shop workers, which is a significant number, clearly illustrates their opinion. Seventy-seven per cent. oppose longer opening on Sundays during the Olympics; only 12% support it, but we are pushing ahead with legislative change. Forty-eight per cent. of staff are already under pressure to work on Sundays when they do not want to do it to start with, and 71% of shop workers believe that longer Sunday opening will lead to more pressure on them to work on Sundays against their will, which is the very issue described by my right hon. Friend Mr Dodds, which many hon. Members feel is important.
Those figures could not be clearer. What is the point of asking people and then ignoring their response? There is no point. The democratic process means that we should listen to the opinions of our constituents and represent the majority of them in the House. It would be remiss of all hon. Members not to aim to do so. The question is: if we do not allow the extra hours of trading, will retailers’ Sunday opening hours harm our reputation and ability to host the games? The answer is no, and there is no evidence to say otherwise.
Visitors will still be able to eat in a plethora of first-class restaurants and enjoy the ambiance of typical English pubs, and purchase any necessaries in the many garages that are now almost like small supermarkets. Why do we need the big stores for that? Visitors can still go to a Sunday market or enjoy an evening at the cinema or concerts. Will their view of the UK be tainted by the fact that some stores open for only a few hours one day a week? Again, the answer is no. None of that would detract from people enjoying what we have to offer or stop people returning and enjoying the long and rich British history of which we are all proud to be part.
We can be assured that people will enjoy their visit not because our supermarkets are open seven days a week, but because they are greeted with a smile in the streets, or because they see beautiful towns and thrive on our legendary hospitality in this country. The length of time that shops are open is irrelevant, and we should not change Sunday trading laws.
Any Olympian will say that the body needs rest from training. If they push too hard, they will see no benefit, but will suffer breakdown and injury. Our business people work hard and deserve their few hours off at the weekend. To take that away will only cause harm and injury to our families and individuals across the country, and I cannot support that.
The Prime Minister has said that we need to emphasise our Christianity and go back to being that Christian country that we were once famed as being. I wish that was true and I wish the evidence meant I could say, “Yes, that is exactly right,” but tonight there is a one-line Whip for Opposition Members and a three-line Whip for Government Members. Is it true, as the Prime Minister has said, that we must emphasise our Christianity? The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and we will see what happens when it comes to the vote later on. That being the case, enabling people to enjoy their family life, their attendance at church and the inspiration of their preachers, and their day of rest, is a firm foundation, and to take it away is to erode that foundation, which I wish to see retained. I believe many Members on both sides of the Chamber wish it to be retained.
I oppose the relaxation of Sunday trading legislation and urge hon. Members to consider more than profit and loss, and more than the ledger book, when casting their votes tonight.
Out of respect for the number of right hon. and hon. Members who wish to take part in tonight’s debate, I will try to keep my comments short. I congratulate the Government and welcome the introduction of the Bill, because I believe it represents a common-sense solution at a time when the eyes of the world are upon us.
Some in the House may remember that I previously proposed amending Sunday trading laws during the Olympics by introducing a ten-minute rule Bill before the summer recess, so it will come as no surprise that I am entirely supportive of this measure. People will find unacceptable the idea of visitors from all over the world finding Britain shutting up shop at 4 pm or 5 pm on a Sunday in a tough economic climate.
The USA is one example. An hon. Member asked whether other countries that have held the Olympic games amended Sunday trading laws, but many did not have to amend their laws. Sunday trading legislation in Scotland is very lax—people in Scotland can shop at 10 o’clock at night if they so wish—so saying that the proposed change in the law in England will be somehow draconian is wrong.
My Sunday Trading (Amendment) Bill had a very clear purpose. The aim was, for the six weeks of the Olympics and Paralympics, to facilitate visitor shopping in and around London and other games venues to allow them to get the most from the event. It was driven by a couple of things. First, I spoke to the Westfield shopping centre, which is right next to the main Olympic park. Westfield had concerns about the sheer volume of people who would be packed in because of the concentrated six-hour Sunday shopping period. Allowing it to flex its trading pattern would help to facilitate the movements of the vast numbers who are shopping while huge numbers are also coming in and going out of Olympic venues.
The second key driver was that three out of the four official Olympic trading venues on the Olympic site were too big to open for more than six hours on a Sunday. We would therefore have had the crazy anomaly of people travelling from all hon. Members’ constituencies to the closing ceremony or the men’s 100 metres final and coming out of the main stadium to get their merchandise and finding that the shops had shut. The practicalities did not make sense. Those were some of the key drivers in my ten-minute rule Bill.
Before entering this place, I spent 15 years in retail, so I do not lack an understanding of the sector or the pressures on shop workers. Many right hon. and hon. Members, particularly Opposition Members, have made valid points about the pressures on people in trying to maintain a home-life balance and so on—I respect them for doing so—but the Minister has made it clear, as I did in my Bill, that existing shop worker rights should not only be protected but enhanced to ensure that people are not compelled or pressurised to work longer.
The temporary relaxation of Sunday trading will come at a time when students, in particular, will be desperate for additional shifts. When I worked in stores and was trying to fill up my rota, students were always desperate for additional shifts, particularly on Sundays, because they were an awful lot easier to fit into their normal routine. Most retailers in this country, particularly larger ones, will proceed responsibly, because they will not want to upset work force relations. Unions such as USDAW have a role to play. They will be working on behalf of their workers, and if there is any hint or suggestion that people are being forced or compelled, they will not be shy—and neither will Members who have spoken tonight—in naming and shaming retailers who are going against good practice. That is one of the things that gives me great reassurance. I do not, therefore, approach the Bill with great fear or concern. People in general, and particularly those who represent shop workers, will not be shy in ensuring that the Bill is not used and abused.
Much of the policy is built on the premise that during the Olympics, there will be a retail boom—a bonanza in which millions of pounds are sloshing about—but the opposite could be true. People are creatures of habit and tend to do the same thing, but they might not. Instead of sticking to their normal shopping routine, they might stay at home to watch the men’s 100 metre final, the javelin, Tom Daley in the diving or whatever. If we see such behaviour, retail sales, rather then being maintained or boosted, might fall off a cliff. By allowing retailers to flex their trading hours, the Bill gives people the opportunity to do their shopping at an alternative time, rather than not do it at all. Although that might be less the case with food shopping—supermarkets might get off lightly—non-food retailers, particularly clothing retailers, could be hit. The Bill is a common-sense, practical solution to help address that situation.
I want to turn to small stores. Most people do not seek out small stores, particularly small independent stores on the high street. It is often the big boys—Marks & Spencer, Selfridges, Harvey Nichols and so on—that drive people into their town and city centres. As a result, they will often then visit the small independents. If people think that the high street is not open on a Sunday, they will be less likely to visit, but if they know that M&S and other big multiples are open, they might make the effort, and as a result some of the small independents might benefit from increased footfall. It is beholden on town centre managers and big retailers up and down the land to think sensitively about how they market and promote their extended opening hours and help to ensure that small retailers benefit as a result.
It would be completely wrong to think that multiples will have a uniform opening strategy across the country. I am pretty sure that big retailers in London and out-of-town shopping centres will open on a Sunday, but they will do so on a case-by-case basis. Retailers are commercial operations, and if they do not think that opening longer on Sundays will produce the necessary sales uplift to the meet the increased overheads and staff costs, they will not open. Some are concerned that this will happen across the country and that everyone will be hard hit, but we do not know that yet. We have to wait and see what commercial decisions retailers take.
The Government have put forward a common-sense solution. The sunset clause gives me the reassurance to vote for the Bill tonight. It provides protection for the work force and recognises that they have to be protected. Having listened to the powerful contributions from Opposition Members, I know that they will not be shy in holding retailers to account, if there is any deviation. This summer represents an outstanding opportunity for the UK, and I want retailers and people who want additional shifts to benefit from it. I want us to get on with this and make it something well worth doing.
I rise to oppose the Bill, and I will vote against it on three main grounds. The first is to do with how it affects working people in the retail trade. Many Members, including my hon. Friend Mr Umunna, said that they used to work in a shop, and so did I, along with my right hon. Friend Keith Vaz, in my first job. We started our working lives on Saturdays and in the holidays in Dickins and Jones in Richmond, so we know what it is like. The hon. Member for Fylde said that students were desperate to get the extra work, and yes, they are. However, the point is that because they are single, they do not have families to go home to—they do not have to juggle jobs with other things, as women have to—which is why they want the extra work.
Many hon. Members have mentioned the fact that USDAW, which is the fastest growing union—one wonders why—has conducted a poll of 20,000 people, 78% of whom were against Sunday trading. However, a poll that I have seen shows almost the same thing, and it was conducted this year. It was a poll of 10,000 workers, 77% of whom said that they were opposed. That poll, of 10,000 people, surveyed more people than do the polls taken by some of the papers on who will be the next Prime Minister. Jim Shannon mentioned that 71% of workers believe that the Bill will erode their rights not to have to work. Many people—71%—believe that longer Sunday trading will lead to more pressure on them to work. Members should know that we already have evidence from our constituencies—I have had evidence in my constituency—of pressure being put on people to work on Boxing day. That pressure already exists, and I have written to many of the big retailers, in particular Asda, which was the store concerned in that case.
Secondly, the Association of Convenience Stores has said that its members are against the proposal. Lots of Members have mentioned that, but the ACS has put a figure on how much the eight weeks will affect its members, and that figure is £480 million. One has to worry about that, because the ACS has also said that some of the smaller shops will close, with jobs having to be lost. We are talking about convenience stores, which will be there long after the Olympics have gone, and we should take account of their view.
Thirdly, over 60% of the retail work force are female, and whatever anyone says, we tend to have to juggle work and our families the majority of the time. Therefore, the proposals that the Government have put before us will affect families no matter what Ministers say.
My hon. Friend makes an important point about the bulk of the workers being female. We should also bear in mind that if shops are opening longer hours on Sunday, those workers will be subject to Sunday services, which means that getting to and from work by public transport will undoubtedly take them a lot longer, thereby taking a much bigger chunk out of their day.
My hon. Friend makes an important point, because the people who travel on the buses are mostly women.
All those who do other things on Sundays—my hon. Friend Mrs Moon mentioned that people like to go and visit places of interest—will be prevented from doing so. The Minister mentioned that he was of Christian faith, and it is a basic point, but there will also be people who want to worship or go to church. Many people find that the early evening Sunday mass sets them up for the week, yet families will be prevented from going.
The hon. Lady says that families will be prevented. However, we made it clear—this is something that, as the Minister responsible, I wanted to make absolutely clear when I was asked to take the Bill on—that there will be no change to the statutory rights of the workers. We wanted to ensure that the notice procedure was adjusted so that people could opt out when they wanted to, but beyond that there is no change in the statutory rights. I hope that the hon. Lady will appreciate that that is one thing we have tried to do; indeed, I was grateful to the official Opposition for working with us to try to achieve it.
I thank the Minister for that intervention. I do not know whether he has ever been a worker right at the bottom of the pile, but it is very difficult for such people to refuse when an employer tells them to do something. Many people, myself included, have been prevented from getting promotion because they were not flexible enough. People who work in shops also have to think about that, because a refusal to work on Sundays could be used against them.
I have a number of questions for the Minister. Has he had any discussions with the police about the extra numbers who will have to be on duty as a result of the crimes that could take place in shops during the longer opening hours? Secondly, what evidence led him to say that the Bill was needed? Was there a special adviser, a point man, whose job was to liaise with Westfield, for example? Thirdly, is the Minister aware of a GfK/NOP poll conducted in 2010 that showed that 89% of people were against further liberalisation of Sunday trading? The workers are against the Bill, small businesses are against it, and it is against family values. None of those people wants it, and the majority of the British people will gain no benefit from it. I urge Members to vote against the Bill.
It is a cause for real celebration that our country is hosting the Olympics and Paralympics this year, but I have grave concerns that the Bill will be pointed to as a precedent for further deregulation of Sunday trading by others who are not in this place today, some time in the future, notwithstanding what I am sure are the entirely honourable assurances to the contrary from Ministers. I understand the reasons for the Government bringing forward the Bill, but as a matter of conscience, I cannot let the debate pass without registering my concerns about its potential impact and warning against any permanent deregulation.
Sunday is still a day on which many people in this country can come together with family and friends to wind down, to exercise, to have a different kind of day or, most importantly, to recharge our batteries. That is an essential component of our health and well-being, individually, relationally and as a nation. We erode it further at our peril. Will further deregulation actually create any increase in productivity? I am reminded of the old adage that work expands to fill the time allotted. The same could be said of shopping, but does anyone really win?
It is interesting to note that there are businesses that choose to stay closed on Sundays, even though they could open for a number of hours, and that those businesses flourish. One example is a motor dealership in Cheshire run by Mark Mitchell. Anyone who goes there on a Sunday will find it closed, and a sign on the door that reads:
“On Sundays our staff are at home with their families.”
Mark Mitchell’s business has been one of the most consistently high-performing car dealerships among its peers for years.
My concerns about the welfare impacts of the legislation are shared by many others. I shall quote just a few of them. The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children makes the point that parents need time with their children. It states:
“Spending time with children is important to their development and studies show that children’s development is best encouraged by parents spending time with them, providing them with emotional support, giving everyday assistance and monitoring their behaviour and discipline. Working during weekends when children are at home for longer means missing out on their development and socialisation.”
In 2006, a cross-party group of MPs and peers chaired by Lord Anderson found that the then Department of Trade and Industry had
“failed to pay sufficient attention to the impact that extended Sunday work could have on parents and the time they have with their children, on juvenile anti-social behaviour and the resultant increase in expenditure by local authorities and the effects of a poor work-life balance on health.”
Research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that parents of both sexes—and their children—disliked weekend working, especially on Sundays, yet
“one-quarter of mothers and just under one-third of fathers worked once a month or more on Sundays”.
Do we want more? Do we need more? Is the cost in health and well-being worth paying?
Research conducted by the university of London showed that those parents in lower socio-economic groups were more likely to say they had no option about working at atypical times and hours, and that there was no scope to negotiate more flexible arrangements. This is in comparison with parents in professional jobs, who were more likely to say their working arrangements were chosen to suit their career aspirations. For this reason, it is clear that working on Sunday without any choice disproportionately affects lower socio-economic and disadvantaged groups.
Children are not the only ones who might need time with their families. Those with other dependants, such as elderly, disabled or terminally ill relatives might have fewer options for alternative care, and their needs are more unpredictable than those of children. These workers need greater flexibility, so enforced longer weekend working hours could create substantial difficulties for carers.
The wider community, not just families, benefit from Sundays as we now enjoy them. For many people of faith, Sunday has a special significance. Religious freedoms are important. As a Christian, I believe that our minds and bodies were created to function best when incorporated into our week is a day when we do not have to function at full tilt. Some would call it a Sabbath rest. I do. That is something that we ignore individually and as a nation at our peril, paying the price in increased stress, weakened family ties and many other ways. We are asking our children to pay that price, too. Individual and corporate productivity actually declines rather than increases, and the very thing we have fruitlessly chased is lost at the price of many other values and principles of far greater worth. I sincerely hope that this is not the Olympic legacy that this Bill creates.
The Olympic games have had an adverse impact on my constituency. For example, we have seen a number of miners’ welfare charities suffer. They are usually funded by different revenue streams, but some of those have focused their finances on the Olympic games here in London. The Olympic games were heralded as providing a beacon of employment for people throughout the country, but that has not happened in my constituency, where very few people, if any, have benefited from any of the tenders for various forms of employment at the Olympic village.
That said, it is important to set out my wholehearted support for the Olympics and Paralympics. I am optimistic about them and I dearly hope that they will be a huge success. It has been suggested that this is a once-in-a-lifetime sporting occasion, so that is great—we should all work together to make sure that it succeeds. The original bid was led by the last Labour Government and it was carried forward in a spirit of cross-party collaboration. It was unifying and collegiate, and it sought to bring on board the widest range of organisations to create a lasting legacy for Britain—something of which we could all be proud. That is why the way in which these proposals have been handled—or, rather, mishandled—by Ministers is so disappointing.
The issue of Sunday trading has always been a divisive issue, one that splits many communities. Whether it be the Keep Sunday Special group, the trade unions, Church groups or community groups, the issue has proved truly divisive. It on behalf of those people and groups that I would like to speak, so I shall put their views to the House tonight.
It is puzzling why this issue is coming before us today, when the games are just three months ahead of us. It has been asked why this issue was not dealt with last year when the London Olympic Games and Paralympic
Games (Amendment) Bill was considered? Instead, we are being asked to make a last-minute judgment without any proper consideration of the consequences or of the impact on workers, small businesses and other affected groups. Ministers have made no effort to hold proper consultations. On the contrary, we have experienced their usual high-handed antics and failure to have any regard for the people on whom their policies will have an impact.
I am seriously concerned about the impact on shop workers, and on employment rights in the workplace. The last-minute attempt to push through these changes clearly does not allow enough time for workers to be informed of the need to exempt themselves if they do not wish to work on Sundays during the Olympics. The Secretary of State said earlier that employers were not even obliged to inform employees of that requirement, and I believe that a wide range of them will be entirely unaware of the provisions in the Bill.
Many Members have mentioned USDAW’s poll of more than 20,000 members, which revealed that 51% of shop workers were routinely put under pressure to work on Sundays when they did not want to do so, while 73% believed that the pressure on them to work on Sundays against their will would increase as a result of the extended working hours during the Olympics. Shop workers who already work unsocial hours during the week, and who rely on Sunday’s limited trading hours to spend time with their families, fear that they will lose that precious time. The views of those workers should have been of paramount importance, but the Government should at least have listened to them. The poll also revealed that 78% of shop workers opposed longer opening on Sundays during the Olympics, and that only 11% supported it.
Does this not conform to a pattern? Just as throughout the debate on the Health and Social Care Bill the Government consistently ignored the voice of the people whom we ask to deliver our health services, they are now ignoring the voice of the people who work to keep our retail services going. What they are doing now is completely and utterly in line with what they do in other contexts. They are so out of touch that it is untrue.
I could not agree more with my hon. Friend.
I am sure that not just my constituents but those of every other Member have expressed concern about the legislation that is being pushed through at this late stage. There are many reasons for their concern, all of them valid. First, why should ordinary people not have the same opportunity to sit and watch the fantastic Olympic games on a Sunday afternoon? The answer is “Because they are shop workers.” Those workers fear that pressure will be put on them to work on more Sundays and for longer hours during the games, and that the Bill will set a precedent for the introduction of weekday hours on Sundays which would not be reversed after the Olympics.
I have asked a number of questions today about the voluntary aspect of Sunday working. If, at a time when 22.2 people are after each jobcentre vacancy, someone who works in a shop in Wansbeck says to the manager, “I don’t want to work on Sundays”, the manager is unlikely to say, “That’s fine: we understand. Do you want to watch the triathlon?” What he will probably say is, “There are plenty of people out there who are willing to work on Sundays. Bear that in mind, and come back tomorrow to give me your views.” Any Member who believes for one minute that the Sunday working will be voluntary is living in cloud cuckoo land. If it is as easy as that, why did we not ask employees to opt into working on Sundays during the Olympics, rather than asking them to opt out? Many shop workers are forced to work on Sundays now, in spite of the Sunday opt-out rules. Like other people, they want to be able to choose how they spend their Sundays. The shorter trading and working hours on Sundays often mean Sunday is the only day they can spend time with their families. In spite of the pressure that is put on a significant minority of staff, most can still choose whether to work on Sundays, allowing them the option to spend time with their children or other family members on that day, or to attend religious worship. They know that if trading hours are extended, they will be forced to work on Sundays.
Many Members have given examples of workers not having a choice as to whether to work on Sundays. Pressure is already exerted on many workers to change their hours and work on Sundays, in spite of the current opt-out right. Many shop workers are on flexible contracts that require them to work on any five days out of seven. A lot of companies would not employ someone who did not agree to work on Sundays. There are huge difficulties, therefore.
The impact on family life has been well-aired tonight. The precious time families have together could be disrupted for two, or even three, months. Extending the Sunday opening times would have a devastating effect on staff, especially those with children. Many Members have pointed out that it is the only time that many people can spend with their families, because of school and other commitments including employment commitments, in the week. One lady said that she gets to spend only six hours a week with her children. Another commented that extending Sunday hours
“would truly destroy what little home life we have left.”
Someone else said:
“I have tried to organise working hours with kids and I believe Sundays to be a family day. Unfortunately I have difficulty getting weekend days off to spend time with my kids as they are at school Mon-Fri”— as are most kids! Shop workers would welcome shorter working hours.
A few weeks ago, I tabled a parliamentary question on the issue of the amount of time parents and children get to spend together. The answer is that it has increased dramatically. Society has made gains in this regard. In 1975, mothers and children spent between eight and 21 minutes per day together. That had increased to between 51 and 86 minutes per day in 2000. That is progress. If these proposals are introduced and become permanent, we will regress.
I fully agree, and I was not aware of those statistics.
Many staff find it difficult to work on Sundays because of practical problems, such as lack of transport due to Sunday bus and train services. Where I live, there are very few transport facilities in any case. We in south-east Northumberland have not even got a train service.
Retail staff also experience seemingly endless demands for flexibility in their working hours. They know that if stores open for longer on Sundays, existing trade will shift from other times of the week and staff will be required to work more hours on Sundays and fewer at other times, such as weekdays, when it may be easier and more family-friendly for them to be at work. Based on the evidence of current widespread practices in retail, we know that if shops open for longer on Sundays, additional staff will not be taken on, but, instead, current employees will be forced to shift more of their working hours from weekdays to Sundays.
Is it not in everyone’s best interests to support the Opposition amendments? I hope the whole House agrees that the hard-working people in this country, and in particular those in the retail sector, are crucial to the success of the Olympic and Paralympic games—something we all crave for. No one here hopes that the games will not be a tremendous success. We want the games to be the envy of the world, but why have the Government not listened? Is it that ordinary people working in shops do not count? Is it that the Government are simply out of touch, or that they simply do not care?
There have been many guarantees. People have said that the Bill should not be seen as a test case for the future relaxation of the laws—“a Trojan horse”, as it has been described. The Minister and the Secretary of State have said that it will definitely not be; the Secretary of State was adamant that under his brief no such precedent would be set. However, as has been said, if the Bill goes ahead it will be a precedent.
The fact is that we have all experienced what the coalition Government have done in the name of the best interests of the nation, the national interest—“We have come together as a coalition in the national interest and we have to make difficult decisions.” We have seen the decisions on VAT and tuition fees. I tell you now, Madam Deputy Speaker, that not many people out there trust a single word that the Liberal Democrats say; if they and the rest of the coalition are telling people out there to believe them, they have a hard job on their hands. We should listen to hard-working ordinary people, who should be allowed the same choices as everyone else during the fantastic period of the Olympics.
It is a pleasure to follow Ian Lavery; I agree with his general thrust, although not with everything that he said.
I must declare an interest in the Olympics, as the sailing games, to be hosted in Weymouth and Portland, are in my constituency. We are very proud of that. With that in mind, I must speak up for my local shops and constituents—the very lifeblood of a coastal seat such as mine. They feel threatened by the temporary liberalisation of the Sunday trading laws for eight weeks this summer. Those eight weeks—games or no games—are the eight weeks on which convenience stores in holiday destinations such as South Dorset depend for most of the year’s profit. When the large retailers close for the day, the smaller ones continue to work flat out.
Michael and Barbara Clements, who run the local SPAR shop in Weymouth, tell me that their busiest time is between 4 pm and 9 pm on Sundays. Sensitive to seasonal demand, their takings increase significantly in summer. Mr and Mrs Clements tell me that normally they would make one third of their annual income during the summer—the precise period when Sunday trading restrictions are to be lifted. As a result, they will lose out, which strikes them as unfair and unnecessary—unfair because they cannot possibly compete against the giant multiples, and unnecessary because the Olympic and Paralympic games will take place at a few well publicised sites around the country.
Although one could conceivably make an argument for opening shops in the immediate vicinity of the Olympic village and sites, the need to open every large shop in the country is not overwhelmingly apparent, and such a move is not supported by the majority of those who work in them. As a spokesman for the shop workers’ union said, the Olympics is not a festival of retail and shopping is not an Olympic sport.
The statistics cited by Valerie Vaz seem to be similar to the ones in my speech, so perhaps she borrowed them. The Association of Convenience Stores estimates that the temporary suspension will cost small shops £480 million over those eight Sundays—a not inconsiderable sum. That is an average of £1,500 per store per Sunday for eight weeks. Most importantly, the Clements and many other small shop owners are anxious to ensure that the Bill is not the thin end of the wedge. They would like some form of guarantee that, having experimented with the idea once, the Government will not revisit it. I hope that the Chancellor, wherever he is, is listening. To that end, they welcome the sunset clause, which will repeal the eight-week liberalisation of Sunday trading, without any further debate, on
Much of the research used to underpin this very rushed Bill is left over from earlier attempts to liberalise Sunday trading laws, but there is genuinely no demand for this move. Again I refer to what the hon. Member for Walsall South said when I talk about another of the statistics I have here. We should remember that in the poll to which she referred 89% of the public were opposed to further liberalisation of Sunday trading.
Finally, although we welcome the Olympics with open arms, it is important that when the games are gone, the communities that hosted them are left with desirable legacies only—the ones we were promised. [Interruption.] Bless you. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend Lorely Burt has been sneezing, and I hope she gets better. The legacies we were promised were: more housing; faster broadband; better roads; and communications and services. We do not want damaging new laws that hurt precisely the small businesses we have pledged to support and encourage. Lest we forget, in the hurly-burly of a coalition Government—a sneezing Government— those are our core voters; they are the very fabric and soul of the community. We must support them. I shall end by saying that I will support the Government tonight on the relaxation of the provisions in law for this period only, but when they come back before the House, as they will have to do, I shall not be supporting that move.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to contribute to the debate. May I begin by telling the House that I have been a member of the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers—that great campaigning union on behalf of shop workers and their families—for more than 30 years? For much of that time, I was in the buying division of Littlewoods.
I wish to make it clear at the outset that we all want the Olympics and Paralympics to be a great success, but this Bill is a sledgehammer that is being used to crack a nut and it is a step too far. I wonder whether it was the realisation that the five Olympic stores would be caught by the existing Sunday trading regulations that initiated the need for the Bill. We have ended up with a Bill that will allow a complete suspension of Sunday trading regulations across the whole of the UK, and I am not assured—not one bit assured—that the Bill is not a prelude to rolling back the existing Sunday trading regulations, as it allows a free-for-all and abandons the principles underpinning those regulations. To add to that threat, we have heard the Chancellor stating that the Treasury could “learn lessons” from this experiment.
We are told that the Bill will create more jobs and economic growth. Indeed, we may see a small increase in the number of temporary jobs and increased spending for eight weeks, but these are not permanent jobs and this will not be sustained economic growth. I get a sense that the Government desperately hope that the Olympics will provide an eight-week boost to the economy, such as their policies are currently holding back.
What we need is a strategy and policies to ensure job creation and economic growth for 52 weeks of the year, and not just an eight-week hope. I am sorry to disagree with Mark Menzies, who is currently not in his place, but I am not persuaded that students will rescue extended Sunday trading hours during the Olympics, because this will be forced on some shop workers and hard-pressed families.
A cost-benefit analysis carried out by the Department of Trade and Industry in 2006 concluded that extending the hours of Sunday trading would not result in any increase in retail sales or employment. People visiting the United Kingdom for the Olympics will be able to shop for an incredible 150 hours during the week, from Monday to Saturday. We have very extensive and relaxed shopping hours, especially compared to some European countries. On top of that, we must not forget that on Sundays, shops can open for trading for six hours.
Many small businesses rely on Sunday trading, as it is the only competitive advantage that they can secure over the large chain stores. They rely on the existing regulations to maximise their income; that enables them to stay open and keep providing jobs for local people. Eight weeks’ deregulation could have an enormous impact on those small businesses. We often hear the Government say that small businesses are vital to local economies and are the backbone of the British economy. The same much-vaunted small businesses that the Conservatives praised in opposition now appear to be collateral damage.
Finally and most importantly, we must consider the impact of deregulation on shop workers. As we have heard many times in this debate, the USDAW survey found that the majority of shop workers oppose the
Bill. The figures cannot be ignored. Sunday is a day of collective rest and worship—a day for families to spend together. In our Christian country, Sundays are special. The message that the Government are sending is that not all Sundays are special—just some of them. How long will it be before none of them is? This is a very slippery slope. I have heard Ministers’ assurances, but the public judge us on what we do, not on what is said, and what we are doing is smashing through Sunday trading regulations. People will believe that this is a cynical attempt to desensitise the issue.
Retail workers and their families already bear the burden of existing opening hours for shops. People are working different shifts and hours, which makes it hard to have a good work-life balance and to be home at the same time as the rest of the family. That is why Sunday trading restrictions have always been important for retail workers. They, too, should have an opportunity to enjoy the Olympics. If the Government want shops to open longer on Sundays, perhaps they should be prepared to get behind those tills on a Sunday. Only when they do so will they have a sense of what they are expecting of our retail workers. Sadly, this is yet another example of how out of touch with ordinary families the Government are. Please do not tell us that we are all in this together—we are obviously not.
I urge all hon. Members to oppose the Bill as a statement of support for shop workers and their families, who will be asked to give up even more of their family time during the Olympics and Paralympics if the Bill is passed, and as a statement of support for small businesses that rely for their income on Sunday trading at a time when they are not in direct competition with major chain stores.
There is an old saying that in politics, timing is everything, but as we keep on being blessed by the Budget that keeps giving, even that old adage is being tested. We have spoken tonight about the retail review and the red tape review, and Mark Menzies told us about his private Member’s Bill, which was brought forward before the last summer recess. All of a sudden, at the last minute, there has been a great rush to move things forward. Why the rush? We have known about the Olympics since
The truth is that at no point before
One of the saddest things about this farce is that decent Front-Benchers in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills have been sidelined. We have seen the sad spectacle of the Member whom we used to know as the sage of Wimbledon reduced to being the stooge of Westminster, the stooge of George Osborne.
This whole thing has been compounded by the abuse of fast-track emergency legislation. Why? Are we at war? No, although I must say I thought we were going to talk about the war when the Secretary of State mentioned Germany. I am quite happy to have a discussion with the trade unions about Sunday opening hours if the Secretary of State is happy to have a word with the trade unions about whether we should have German-style rights at work. They would be very interested in having that debate. Are we going to be hit by a natural disaster? I do not think so. Does the nation face a constitutional crisis? Well, yes, we do, but no one would think so if they had been in the Chamber earlier when the Prime Minister brushed aside the calamity that is his handling of the Murdoch saga.
The truth is that the Bill is a fig leaf for the failure of the coalition’s excuse for an economic strategy. It is an abuse of the House and of the nation that emergency-style legislation is being used in this way. The Secretary of State says that it applies to only eight Sundays. I remind him that that is a whole summer to young kids. That is the time when those kids will be looking forward to spending the best quality time of the year with their parents, and that is going to be stolen from the children of this country.
But there is another issue about timing and another example that needs to be raised in the debate. What could be a more fitting time to talk about some of the hardest working and lowest paid people in our country than the day after The Sunday Times rich list was published— 1,000 people who between them own £414 billion? Think about it. If they a spent £1 million a day on average for the next year, they would still be left with £48 million before they evaded tax and before they claimed any interest. A nice little earner for them which has seen them have an average 4.7% increase in their bank balances, while ordinary men and women face pay freezes, pension contribution rises and the dole queue.
I do not suppose that many of those who work at Asda, Morrison’s or Sainsbury’s will be writing out the cheque this week to send their son to Charterhouse, where it costs £30,530 a year, so that they can emulate our wonderful Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. Clearly, that was money well spent by his parents. No, this is just another example of the arrogance of the people who rule this country, and their genuine ignorance of the lives of ordinary men and women. My hon. Friend Rosie Cooper suggested asking some of those on the Government Front Bench and their colleagues to go and work on one of those Sundays. Let me make a suggestion. Why do they not do it on the second Sunday in August? Instead of going out shooting grouse, let the people from my constituency shoot the grouse while they go and serve in the stores.
My hon. Friend is making a great speech and I agree with everything he says about social justice, but on the issue of culture, media and sport, does he not think it is pathetic if those on the Government Benches think that when people come from all over the world to this country, all they want to do is go shopping and not see the marvellous buildings, paintings, landscape and all the other things that this country has to offer?
Absolutely right. My hon. Friend lives in one of the areas of our country which has some of the most beautiful countryside and some of the most important cultural resources. She knows exactly what she is talking about. People coming to visit this country can shop for at least 150 hours a week. They do not need any more than what they have already got.
Nadine Dorries was only half-right last week when she slammed the posh Tory boys for not knowing the price of milk. The fact that they do not even care that they do not know the price of milk is the real insult to the people whose job it is to buy and sell milk. The voice of those people has been heard in the Chamber today and it is vital that we hear their pleas for sanity. It is vital that we listen to their concerns about the impact on their family lives. It is vital that we should not deprive them of the chance to enjoy the greatest sporting event in the history of our nation. It is vital that we do not make them pay more for the dubious privilege of working the most unsociable hours of the week.
A number of Members have mentioned the lack of public transport on Sundays, which means that many people will have to use taxis, and because it is a Sunday they will have to pay the premium rate. Another point that has been raised consistently by USDAW members is the cost of child care at the weekend—if people can get it at all. Again, the Government are hitting women and children in this country. It is vital that we do not allow this act of callous disregard to become the thin end of the wedge that so many Members right across the House are worried about tonight.
There is another issue that this ludicrous timetabling ignores. If the Bill goes through tonight and what the Minister has said about the opt-out is right, which means that people can tell their employers, “I do not want to work on these Sundays”, we will see the influx of a huge number of temporary workers into the workplace in a very short space of time, and I have real worries about whether there will be time to train them for what can be very dangerous workplaces. I know that the Conservative party takes a dim view of health and safety at work and sees it as an optional extra, like something from a pick ‘n’ mix, but in retail stores health and safety legislation is vital. When people are dealing with 32-tonne trucks or working in warehouses where forklift trucks are moving about, they need to be fully aware of the risks involved. When they are selling goods that are refrigerated or cooked, they need to be up to speed with health and hygiene legislation. When they are working at heights, lifting or handling goods or using chemicals to keep places clean, they need adequate and proper training. I realise that Conservative Members are out of touch on this and have as much knowledge of, and as little regard for, the real world in which workers exist as did their Victorian forefathers, but that is no reason for the rest of us in the House to turn our backs on those workers. They need our help and support today.
I urge hon. Members to listen seriously to what Cardinal Keith O’Brien said yesterday when he called the Government’s policy agenda “immoral”. He was not just using the term in a religious manner; failing to treat people properly and to consider their health and well-being and ignoring their basic human right to spend time with their family is immoral, and this lousy charade should be rejected out of hand.
I think we all acknowledge that the pace of life today is very fast for everyone. Many people feel that they do not have enough time. People are running around, seeking to earn a living or fulfil their vocation, caring for loved ones, nurturing meaningful relationships and so on. Families are being bombarded with demands to spend more at a time when pay packets are limited, employment is scarce and pressures on family life seem to be increasing.
The Bill is, in my opinion, the thin end of the wedge in a plan for something greater than that which is proposed tonight. I make no apology for stating in this House that I believe in keeping the Lord’s day special and am totally opposed to any plan that amends Sunday trading laws in the context of the Olympics. No changes to Sunday trading legislation are needed to enable all Olympic visitors to have a great day out enjoying time with family and friends. Recently Mr Straw made a pointed comment on the proposal:
“The case for lifting these restrictions during the Olympics doesn’t seem to me to stand up for a moment…So why are the big retailers peddling this…? The answer is simple. They want an even bigger share of the retail cake, and, as usual, they are ruthless in its pursuit, regardless of the adverse effect on local convenience stores, some High Streets—and even more important, that Sunday is special.”
As I said, life seems busier than ever before and there are significant demands on our time. Having one day in the week set apart and free from the concerns of work and school is something that we as a nation should cherish. It is a time to pause and slow down from all that goes on during the rest of the week. I suggest that that is good for us. Stress and mental illness are on the rise in our country. The Health and Safety Executive estimates that each case of stress-related ill health leads to an average of 30 days off work and that a total of 13.5 million working days are lost in Britain each year as a result of work-related stress. The loss of Sunday as a special day will not help to combat the problems that we face. We should try to protect and promote that special day, not try to make it just like any other.
That view is shared by many millions of people throughout the United Kingdom, and the Government should take note of their views, along with those of business, Churches, unions and workers who are opposed to the further liberalisation of Sunday trading laws. Sunday should be a day of rest and worship, and a day to spend time with the family, but the passing of this Bill will lead to difficulties for people who wish to do those things.
In 2010 the Conservative party manifesto stated:
“Britain is one of the least family friendly countries in the developed world. This will change with a Conservative Government. We will not be neutral on this. Britain’s families will get our full backing.”
A move such as this one, for which the Government are seeking our support tonight, runs contrary to what was in their manifesto. It is not good for families.
That might have been unintentional, but I am happy to say that certainly hon. Members from Northern Ireland make it abundantly clear that we are a vital, vibrant part of the United Kingdom, and we would like the Conservative and Liberal coalition to remember that, please.
I was talking about a particular part of the Conservative party’s manifesto, however, and already in the United Kingdom more than 1 million families have at least one parent working both weekend days, and over 400,000 more people work on Sunday than was the case pre-1994. Why would we want those figures to increase? How is that good for family life? If Conservatives are not convinced by their own manifesto, perhaps they will listen to the words of a very famous person, Winston Churchill, who said:
“Sunday is a divine and priceless institution...the necessary pause in the national life and activity; it is the birthright of every British subject...and above all our great heritage, and one which is our responsibility, privilege and duty to hand on to posterity”.
We want the Olympics to be a success and to be of great economic and social benefit not just to London, but to the whole United Kingdom, but those who suggest that these Sunday opening hours are somehow going to have minimal economic impact and are the answer to our economic ills are living on a different planet.
Do we think that tourists and other people throughout the United Kingdom will be weeping simply because they have only six hours to shop on a Sunday? Do we think that they will not spend their money during the other six days of the week because of limited Sunday opening hours? I thought that the games were supposed to be a festival of sport, not of shopping, but the emphasis seems to have turned around.
This Bill will not enhance the games, but it will put extra pressure on workers, mean that more will have to work when they do not want to and produce no net benefit. We should vote against it not only to ensure that this Sunday trading does not happen during the period of the games, but to send a clear message to the Government that the further or permanent deregulation of Sunday trading laws is unacceptable. We support keeping Sunday special. I heard the Secretary of State telling us that he could give an unequivocal assurance that this Government have no intention of allowing this to be looked on as a precursor to a relaxation or deregulation of Sunday trading. I have to say to the Minister that this is of course the same Secretary of State from the same party that promised there would be no increase in tuition fees. Emphatic promises from such a person may not necessarily sit well with the population throughout the United Kingdom.
In his opening remarks, the Secretary of State said that this issue was a sensitive religious issue, yet if that is so—and it is—then why are the coalition Government forcing their parties’ Members, against their consciences and against everything they stand for, to go into the Lobby to vote for this? If it really was a sensitive religious issue—and it is—then I say to this Government, “Put your money where your mouth is and let them have a free vote.”
Dr McCrea is a hard act to follow. I thank him for making those points very strongly.
I will vote against the Bill for three reasons: first, the economic arguments are not very convincing; secondly, and most importantly, I am very worried about the effect on workers; and thirdly, I still believe that there is a case for keeping Sunday special.
I very much welcome the Olympics coming to the UK and the opportunities that that offers to showcase the UK, and I am sure that we will welcome many foreign visitors. However, let us be realistic about those foreign visitors. If they are coming to see the Olympics, they can go shopping on Saturday, they have six hours to go shopping on Sunday, and they can go shopping again on Monday if they want to go to a big store, but I think that the vast majority are more likely to pop into a convenience store or go into cafes or restaurants, because that is what people do when going to a sporting event. However, they will have plenty of chance to go shopping if they so wish.
As regards UK residents, let us be honest: people have a finite amount of money to spend, particularly as this Government seem incapable of finding a growth strategy and are letting us slide back into a recession. We are seeing displacement trade, with the same amount of spending being spread over more hours, and we are likely to see big stores drawing away yet more trade from local convenience stores, as Richard Drax said. I am disappointed that he seems incapable of voting against the Bill even though he talked about people who may lose their livelihoods in his constituency because they depend on the times when an awful lot of people use convenience stores because none of the big supermarkets is open, particularly on Sundays from about 4 pm to 9 or 10 pm. The danger of extending Sunday opening hours for the big stores is that it will have a very detrimental effect on small convenience stores. In the past, supermarkets have driven people out through loss leaders, whether it was fishermen because they had bargains on their fish counters or the local music shop because their popular items were available in the bigger type of store. In the same way, this summer some local stores may close because eight weeks is too long for them to do without the trade that they have usually been getting.
Of course, life has changed and we have far longer shop opening hours than 50 years ago, and we accept that emergency workers have to do some Sunday shifts. However, Sunday is a day when children are not at school but at home. Many workers do not work on Sunday, so it is a time for families to be together and for parents to spend valuable time with their children. The majority of shop workers are women on low incomes, and if stores are open for longer on Sunday, there will be pressure on them to do more of their hours on Sunday. They will not get more hours; rather, instead of doing them on weekdays, they will be asked to do them on Sundays, cutting down on the time they have to spend with their families and children. Many of those women will walk to work because there is no transport on Sunday, particularly very early in the morning or late in the evening, and that raises huge issues regarding their safety. It is bad enough walking when it is for a 10 am start and a 4 pm finish, but if it is much earlier or later, there are far greater implications for safety.
The Government are rushing this Bill through having not realised that there would not be enough time under the existing legislation for someone to give three months’ notice if they do not want to work on Sundays. Now the proposal is that workers have to give notice by
It is all very well to say that such working will be voluntary, but it will never be voluntary. People will feel pressurised into working, that their promotion chances are damaged and that it is not fair on their fellow workers if they opt out of working on a Sunday. The idea that such working is voluntary is nonsensical for many reasons.
I support my hon. Friend’s case. Has not evidence from the 1994 Act shown that, far from such working being voluntary, many shop workers have been pressurised into working on Sundays?
Absolutely, and the Bill will create extra pressure.
Last but not least, there is keeping Sunday special. Times have changed since my childhood, when the chores were finished by Saturday afternoon, and Sunday was a day when we certainly did not play cards or do any household tasks—people would never be seen washing the car or digging the garden. Families do lots of different things now, but Sunday is a time for worship, contemplation and reflection—time to take off from the working week. As many hon. Members have said, for the mental health of our nation, it is extremely important to have that break, and a day that is a little different from the rest of the working week. That is another reason for my firm opposition to extending Sunday opening hours.
The majority of my constituents value Sundays as a special day, and I am sure that that is reflected in other parts of our country. The majority of people in our country still have Sunday as a day off, and it gives families a chance to spend time together. The Prime Minister said that
“from here on I want a family test applied to all domestic policy. If it hurts families, if it undermines commitment, if it tramples over the values that keeps people together, or stops families from being together, then we shouldn’t do it.”
Findings from the National Centre for Social Research show that around 1.4 million parents already work regularly through the whole weekend. The so-called right to opt out on Sunday has not worked in reality, as it has often been impossible to exercise in practice and many employees have no such choice. Technically, while each employee can give three-months notice not to work on Sunday, everyone knows that that does not work in practice. Realities on the ground mean that people end up working on Sunday, and I know that many employers already pressurise their workers to work on bank holidays, too.
We are told that the Bill constitutes a temporary measure, but we also know that the Chancellor has said that the Treasury may “learn lessons” from the experiment. Many of us believe that it is the thin end of the wedge, and that it will not be long before all shops can stay open for 24 hours a day for the entire week.
In this country, we have many social problems and having parents who work round the clock does nothing to help. The economic argument for extending large stores’ hours is not strong. The only companies that “may”—it is not certain that they will—benefit from the extension are large stores, which already make huge profits. We know that small shopkeepers, who are the backbone of our economy, will suffer tremendously. The Secretary of State said that small businesses were being too pessimistic, but that is not true. The Government are not taking a realistic approach to the effect of the change on small businesses.
Many hon. Members have referred to research by the Association of Convenience Stories, which opposes the Bill. Richard Drax said that my hon. Friend Valerie Vaz had mentioned its figures. I can now reveal that the magical document to which we have all referred is the House of Commons Library research paper, which states on page 16:
“The Association of Convenience Stores…is also opposed to the Bill because it thinks it will have a negative impact on small convenience stores. Based on figures from one thousand convenience stores, the ACS estimates that the total cost (in terms of lost profits) to the convenience sector in England and Wales of suspending Sunday trading restrictions for eight consecutive Sundays to be £480 million.”
In addition, the British Independent Retailers Association, the Federation of Wholesale Distributors, the National Federation of SubPostmasters and the Rural Shops Alliance, which together represent more than 60,000 shops, oppose the Bill. That is on page 17 of the House of Commons Library research paper, so hon. Members are not making these figures up or plucking them from thin air—they are real figures. They are being represented not by trade unionists or left-wing socialists, but by small business people who are genuinely and sincerely concerned about the impact of the extra hours, which will effectively be used up by the big conglomerates that will benefit from them. The small shops will suffer tremendously.
It is still not too late for the Government to change their mind. In 2006, the then Department of Trade and Industry, which is now the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, carried out an independent assessment on whether there was an economic or business case for extending the hours. It decided that the current balance was fine and that there was no proper, coherent economic argument for change.
We have heard Ministers say that the extension is for only eight weeks, but they are in the summer period, when most children and young people are off school, college or university, and when many families spend quality time together. Forcing parents to go out and work for those eight weeks so that the big shops benefit—and only the big shops will benefit—is clearly wrong. I therefore urge the Government to reconsider the Bill.
It was not my intention to speak tonight—I have been dutifully sitting on the Front Bench for two hours in my role as a Whip, listening to passionate speeches from both sides of the Chamber. I pay tribute to the many Members who have contributed. The DUP Members spoke with soul and spirit, and Fiona Bruce gave a considered and passionate speech, as did many Labour Members.
One of the contributions that disappointed me was that of a Conservative Member. On being challenged as to where the proposed ideas come from, he said that we should look to America and held up its shopping malls as something we should copy. There is a theory that in the 18th century, the biggest buildings were cathedrals, which showed our spirituality. In the 19th century, the biggest buildings, including the Palace of Westminster, were Government buildings, which showed our belief in order. In the 20th and 21st centuries, the biggest buildings are shopping malls.
My hon. Friend does not have to look too far away for the genesis of the idea for the Bill. It was contained in the red tape challenge documents of last year.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government’s attempts to define the nation by how much it shops simply shows that the expense wasted on their education did not give them any sense of values?
As a political class, we have gone along with that trend. I include the previous Labour Government. We operated on the terms of “consumer” and “producer”; rarely was the term “citizen” used. We have lost a lot over the years.
If we want American shopping malls as the positive, we must live with the negatives of American society. Twenty-nine per cent. of American children have mental illness and 40% are obese; the proportion is likely to increase to 60%. Oliver James puts mental illness across the western world down to advertising. The purpose of an advertisement is to sow discontent and make people unhappy, so that they go out and buy the product. Two per cent. of American GDP is spent on advertising and it has the mental health rates I described. One per cent. of UK GDP is spent on advertising, and the rate is 0.5% in mainland Europe.
We need to slow down and ask ourselves as a society—and the Government have to ask themselves—what people out there want. They might say they want shops, but that is not what they truly want. In the rat race, even the winners are still rats. It is now recognised that to be a shopaholic, like an alcoholic, is to have a mental illness. People feel the need to shop and prove themselves through materialism, but let us remember that the flipside of consumerism is alienation, and the flipside of materialism is individualism. The breakdown of society, promoted since the 1980s, has a lot to do with it. People are far from their natures. Many of us—I include myself in this—are on this hydraulic treadmill. People try to provide for their children and buy the latest fashions—otherwise they are not normal—but this hydraulic treadmill, which is spinning too fast, will be sped up if we adopt this measure and make it permanent. We need to slow down.
I tabled a parliamentary question, answered on
We have made many gains, especially under the previous Government, including on flexible hours, the minimum wage, and maternity and paternity leave. Those were positive measures, but some Government Members see them as red tape and bureaucracy. I hope that tonight’s proposal is not a way of attacking those gains or a back-door way of disassembling what Labour has achieved over many years. We need to slow down. We need time for awareness, to sniff the flowers, to notice, to reflect, to have silence and to express gratitude. To do that, however, we need at least one day a week off. We broke into that. Many people now work six hours on Sundays, but we should not extend that. We do so at our peril and the peril of our children and families.
It is a great pleasure to speak for the Opposition in this debate on the Government’s proposed changes to Sunday trading laws, which purport to be in order that we might all—shop workers excluded—enjoy the Olympics the more. I am an avid follower of sport in general, but the fact that in attending the debate, in all its glory, I have missed out on viewing one of the most important club football matches in my lifetime could hardly be a matter of regret.
When we think of the preparation, the expertise and hard work that went into winning the Olympics, it calls into the sharpest possible focus the contrast with the Government’s shambolic performance on this issue. How can it be, when we have known for seven years that the Olympics were coming, that two years after the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister had their “Brokeback Mountain” moment in the rose garden, we should be debating this legislation under emergency powers designed for the introduction of counter-terrorism proposals?
Sadly, any pragmatic case for the proposals has been utterly undermined by the shambolic nature of the Government’s attempts to convince us of their need. No credible business case has been made in favour of the proposals. Like much of this Government’s policy, they have been made up on the hoof, without any credible evidence, because someone thinks they might move on the news agenda, or be useful for political positioning. This is fag packet politics that sounds like it has emerged over a damn fine claret at the Carlton club, rather than credible, evidence-based policy to deliver jobs and growth. It is, in fact, an appropriate way to end this Session.
I would like to mention a couple of the contributions that hon. Members have made. The Secretary of State admitted in his opening speech that 40% of the benefits of the legislation would fall outside London—proof, if ever it were needed, that much of the shopping will not be the result of the Olympics, but an extension of the shopping that would be done anyway. It will therefore be displacement activity, away from small businesses and towards larger businesses.
Mark Field spoke largely in favour of the Bill, but said that he believed that the legislation would be a damp squib. That was pretty much as full as the praise got. Gordon Henderson talked about his experience as someone working in the retail sector, reminding us that workers at the bottom of the pile often do not really have the choice of saying yes or no to their boss. He told us about the important opportunity that we could be creating during the Olympics to give a boost for small businesses that want to take the opportunity to promote the greatest show on earth, here in this country.
Nick de Bois told us that using the evidence from this experience as a basis to extend the legislation in future would be a ludicrous basis on which to propose future policy—as though the fact that something was ludicrous would be a reason for the Government not to pursue it.
My hon. Friend Meg Munn highlighted the fact that under the Government’s proposals, workers would have to opt out by
Richard Drax made a wonderful speech against the Bill—and then told us that he would vote in favour of it. I fear that he has been in the coalition a little too long. He focused on the importance of Sunday evenings to small businesses—a point repeated by many hon. Members. He also said that the legislation was rushed and that there was no demand for it, further undermining his determination to vote for it.
My hon. Friend Ian Lavery was sceptical that the provisions to protect workers would make any difference to workers on the ground. Just before I got to my feet, my hon. Friend Chris Ruane made a thought-provoking speech, urging us all to slow down and warning us—this was possibly aimed in the direction of his own loved ones—to beware of becoming shopaholics. None the less, it was an important contribution and one that I enjoyed.
The Secretary of State spoke of many of the groups that he had consulted, but he declined to tell the House what they had said. He told us he consulted the Federation of Small Businesses, but the FSB said that the Bill was:
“Contrary to Government rhetoric about supporting small business on the high street”.
He told us he had consulted with the Association of Convenience Stores, but it says:
“Liberalising Sunday Trading would cost businesses and jobs.”
He also told us that he had consulted USDAW, yet its briefing included the comment from Mr M from Stoke-on-Trent, who said of the proposals:
“If this is allowed to happen, it will erode my working terms and conditions”.
The Secretary of State might well have consulted with a multitude of organisations, but he seems to have paid precious little attention to what they told him.
On this side of the House, we are a party whose leader, my right hon. Friend Edward Miliband, has committed to make Labour the party of small business. At every level, when we see the actions of this Government, we see how desperately small business needs the Labour party to be that voice in politics that the governing parties have left so far behind.
It is a matter of tremendous regret that, because of the way in which the Bill has been programmed, we will not have the opportunity to vote on our amendments. One of them would have enabled us to keep Sunday special, by allowing for the expansion of the Olympics while maintaining the difference and remaining mindful of the effects of the measures on shop staff. It would have limited the proposed number of hours to 13 on a Sunday. Another amendment would have entitled shop workers to two months’ notice of a request by their employer to work on a Sunday during the Olympics. That would have given them a realistic opportunity to discuss the request with their family and to exercise their right to opt out. A further amendment proposed the reduction of the notice period for exercising the opt-out to one month, so that shop workers could have a credible opportunity to decide whether they wished to work on a Sunday.
As Members on the Government Benches consider which way to vote, they might want to think about what Nadine Dorries wrote on the ConservativeHome website. I do not know whether you are a regular reader of that website, Mr Deputy Speaker; I am not, but this is damned good stuff, so I might start reading it more often. The hon. Lady wrote:
“During the budget speech, the Chancellor announced that ‘we will introduce legislation limited to relaxing the Sunday Trading laws for eight Sundays only, starting on 22nd July.’ It appears, however, that the previous day his aides had got a little carried away during a media briefing”— this is what I was telling the Secretary of State about; he will be happy to hear this—
“and informed the press that this measure would, in effect, be a pre-cursor to relaxing Sunday trading permanently...However, there isn’t a single person in Westminster who believes that for one moment.”
That is, that the measure would last for only eight Sundays.
“If the eight Sundays show an increase in profit for the stores concerned (and why wouldn’t they with the number of visitors expected in London during the Olympics?), those figures will be used to support a simple extension of what will then be existing legislation, to roll out full trading hours across the UK for seven days per week.”
I could not have put it better myself.
So, we have heard from Members across the House—and Mid Bedfordshire—from the small business community, from a director of Sainsbury’s, and from a coalition of thousands of voices across the country who are against these half-baked proposals. We have heard precious little to recommend them, and that is why I will be exercising my free vote to vote against them. I urge my colleagues from across the House to do the same.
This has been an energetic and often constructive debate, despite the broad range of views and concerns raised. I am grateful to the shadow Secretary of State, Mr Umunna, and his colleague, Toby Perkins, for supporting us in the Division Lobby earlier this evening on the fast-track procedure. We appreciate that. We have sought to enter into discussions with all parties involved, prior to the measure coming before both Houses, and we are grateful to the hon. Gentlemen for their support.
We have heard a number of thoughtful contributions, including those from my hon. Friend Gordon Henderson and Lorely Burt. I shall come to the question of sunset clauses in a moment. My hon. Friend Brandon Lewis rightly highlighted the economic benefit that would result from the measures. My hon. Friend Mark Menzies is well informed on these issues; I shall touch on the question of flexibility in a second. We also heard from my hon. Friends the Members for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) and for South Dorset (Richard Drax); I am sorry that I missed his contribution.
We also heard speeches from the Opposition Benches, including those from the hon. Members for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer) and for Sheffield, Heeley (Meg Munn), as well as from Jim Shannon. He will know that the Bill does not actually affect Northern Ireland, but we enjoyed his contribution anyway. We heard from the hon. Members for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz), for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery), for West Lancashire (Rosie Cooper) and for Blaydon (Mr Anderson). We heard a passionate contribution from Dr McCrea, as well as speeches from the hon. Members for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi), for Vale of Clwyd (Chris Ruane) and for Chesterfield. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Chesterfield missed his football match, but ConservativeHome will be delighted to know that it now has a new subscriber to its deliberations.
The concern has been expressed that this Bill is somehow a Trojan horse, preparing the way for a permanent relaxation of the rules for large stores. Let me assure hon. Members again that that is not the case. I thought my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton spoke eloquently about the issue of families and family time. I think she is absolutely right, so let me say to her that the Bill affects just eight Sundays and the deliberate inclusion of a sunset clause means that the Bill will be removed from the statute book after
We have made it clear that this Bill does not change their statutory rights. Some will be engaged in contractual discussions. I have made it clear to employers, and I am happy to put it firmly on the record again today, that we will want to sit down again with both unions and employers over the coming weeks to make sure that if there are contractual issues, we are aware of them, and we will want to support them. That is important. We must make sure that this is not just about the statute before the House, as it is also about the contractual arrangements, which in some cases are better than the statute itself.
Several Members have raised the question of how much the economy will benefit from this temporary relaxation of the rules. For example, at Atlanta in 1996, about $5.1 billion was added to the Georgian economy. If we look at Sydney in 2000, we see that there was an improvement in the visitor economy of about $1.5 billion. We accept that, given the unique nature of the Olympics and Paralympics, it is difficult accurately to predict the precise financial benefit in advance.
In 2006, the then Government commissioned an assessment of the impact of a permanent relaxation of the rules. Based on those figures, a temporary suspension of the rules for eight Sundays would deliver benefits of up to £176 million. As alluded to by several hon. Members, the Centre for Retail Research has indicated that the figure would be closer to £189 million.
No, I will not, because the hon. Gentleman has made no contribution to this debate, other than intervening at the beginning. He made no speech and I want to respond to those who made the effort to speak in the debate, rather than those who make an occasional interruption. [Interruption.]
I was talking about the Centre for Retail Research, but some independent assessments have been even more bullish. The New West End Company, for example, estimates that the benefits of the measure for London retailers alone could be more than £180 million.
It is important to bear in mind that in these difficult times this measure will clearly benefit many of our hard-pressed retailers and their staff. We are supporting events not just in London. With football in Manchester,
Cardiff, Newcastle and Coventry; sailing in Weymouth, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset mentioned; mountain biking in Essex; canoe slalom in Hertfordshire; and rowing in Eton Dorney, the benefits, the activities and the visitors will clearly spread far beyond the east of London. At the same time, big screens are being set up in towns and cities right across the country to enable people to gather and watch the games together. We believe that the Bill will help to make the most of the games economically, as well as showing to thousands of visitors from abroad that Britain is indeed open to business.
The Minister talks about the economic benefits, but an important issue many of us have discussed is the effect on small shopkeepers, who are saying that they will be virtually destroyed for those eight Sundays when the hours are extended for larger stores. Have the Government and the Minister thought properly about their concerns?
I used to run a small business. I am strong and passionate about this issue. I want to deal first with workers’ rights, after which I will undoubtedly wish to come on to the question of small shops. The hon. Lady is absolutely right about the importance of this issue, which is why I wanted to ensure that I spoke to the Association of Convenience Stores and, of course, to the Federation of Small Businesses.
Several Members feared that the Bill sought to cut away the rights of shop workers who are currently protected by the law. That is not what the Bill will do, and it is not our intention. During consultation, concern was expressed about the existing rights of shop workers wishing to give notice that they did not want to work on Sundays. Having listened carefully to those views—to which many Members alluded today—we decided to amend the Bill to shorten the statutory notice period to two months, thus allowing shop workers to serve their notice after Royal Assent. The net effect is to ensure that those who do not wish to work on Sundays during the games will be able to notify their employers in the usual way. That is an important principle.
In practice, as I said earlier, many of the shop workers affected have contracts with their employers for even shorter notice periods. For example, relevant workers at both Sainsbury’s and Tesco need to give only one month’s notice.
I should be grateful if the Minister would respond in particular to the point about the need for employers to give their employees notice of the change in the law that the Minister is pushing through today. While I am on my feet, however, may I ask him who exactly has argued for the change? I have received no positive representations from any organisation so far.
The Government have listened to the concerns that have been expressed. We recognised that there was a case for the Bill to be absolutely clear about affected shop workers’ rights, and that is why last week we tabled the amendment that is now incorporated in the Bill, as a result of discussions with Opposition Members and also with specific regard to the questions raised by USDAW.
We recognise that the question of employers’ notice is important to shop workers. Employers have made clear to us that that they will undertake to give notice to their employees, which we consider to be the appropriate arrangement, but we will engage with them to ensure that they do so. I believe that that is the best way of delivering what I suspect to be the aim of both parties, and that making it a statutory requirement would be complex and unnecessary. The key point is that the Bill does not change existing rights.
We should also not ignore the fact that many shop workers, especially young people, would like to earn more money. In these difficult times, they would like to make ends meet. As my hon. Friend the Member for Fylde pointed out, it is a shame that some Opposition Members barely mentioned those workers; they seemed to be concerned about only some workers.
The hon. Member for Streatham seemed to fear that, as a result of a sudden change in the law, workers would have to undertake more than one shift. However, other employment law protections will continue to apply. I am thinking particularly of the Working Time Regulations 1998, which regulate working hours and—I know that this is of concern to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley—ensure that the entitlement to daily and weekly rests will continue.
Let me, in the brief time that remains, deal with the question of small shops. At present, such shops—notably local convenience stores—enjoy the advantage of no restrictions on their Sunday opening hours. Naturally, they guard that advantage jealously, and I do not blame them for doing so. Some—including the hon. Lady—have argued that the Bill will badly damage businesses, possibly to the tune of £480 million. I have discussed the figures that have been mentioned with the Association of Convenience Stores in order to understand them better, and I must tell the House that they significantly overstate the problem. They assume that every large store will open for the largest feasible number of hours, and that all the people who currently shop at their local convenience stores will switch to the big supermarkets for the entire eight weeks. I am clear in my own mind that that is not likely to happen. This, too, is a principle: Government Members take the question of shops, particularly small shops, very seriously, which is why we will continue to work with them.
The Olympic and Paralympic games present a unique opportunity for the whole country to back our athletes, but they also present an important economic opportunity, as hundreds of thousands of visitors will come here to enjoy what Britain has to offer. Alongside the sporting and cultural activities, there is a great opportunity for our businesses, including in retail, to make the most of this special occasion. This Bill will help them do that, not least by creating far greater flexibility for them over the eight Sundays identified.
However, we have also listened carefully to the legitimate concerns that have been raised, and the inclusion of a sunset clause, the clarification and notification procedures for affected workers, and the clear statement that the Bill will be revoked after
Question put , That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The House divided: