Section 1 — Large shops not to open on Christmas Day or New Year's Day

Business Motion – in the Scottish Parliament at 10:04 am on 7th March 2007.

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Photo of George Reid George Reid None 10:04 am, 7th March 2007

Group 1 is on the application of the bill to new year's day. Amendment 1, in the name of the minister, is grouped with amendments 2 and 3.

Photo of Cathy Jamieson Cathy Jamieson Labour

The bill is an important measure that sets out to prohibit large shops from making retail sales on our two traditionally most important public holidays. There is no doubt that the bill is motivated by the desire to keep Christmas and new year special. In these materialistic times, it is important that those annual celebrations are kept special and that most people can take time off to be with their families. It is also important to bear it in mind that at stage 1 and since then, no one has desired that either of those days become general trading days in Scotland.

The bill is about trading: it is not about employment rights—which are reserved to the Westminster Parliament—and legislation cannot cover every eventuality. For example, many people who are involved in essential services need to work or to be on call on public holidays, which include Christmas day and new year's day. Some people choose, for a variety of reasons, to work on those days and to take holidays at other times. As members throughout the chamber will acknowledge, some trade union members—including Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers members—work well behind the scenes in the retail and distribution sectors: the bill would not necessarily cover them.

As we said at stage 1, we agree broadly with the bill's purposes. However, in debate at stage 1 and subsequently, it has been clear that a range of views exists in Parliament. Some concerns were expressed at stage 1 and a range of views continues to exist in Parliament and, I suspect, within political parties. Some members wish to reject the bill entirely and prefer a more free-market approach, to which I do not subscribe. Others argue—mainly on economic grounds—that Christmas day and new year's day should not be treated in the same way. We have debated that. Others feel that the bill should be passed and that it might not go far enough.

The Executive's job is often to weave its way through the intricacies and complexities of the arguments to find the right balance of views, to establish a consensus—if possible—and to find common ground and agreement about how to enact Parliament's will. In this instance, the question is how to protect the special nature of Christmas day and new year's day without unnecessary regulation.

At stage 1, cross-party support was expressed for action in relation to Christmas day—no one would argue about that. However, as I said, the debate about new year's day was unresolved, which is why the Executive made it clear at stage 1 that it would lodge amendments to allow the debate to take place, which we have done.

The Justice 2 Committee acknowledged at stage 1 that both sides' evidence on the impacts on enterprise and on tourism had weaknesses. Another new year's day has taken place since the bill was introduced, which has added a bit to our knowledge, but the evidence is still incomplete and that is why it is important to conduct a full assessment of the economic and social impacts of banning opening on new year's day, and of the impacts on family life of opening shops on that day. I want to do that properly and thoroughly.

My commitment, on the Executive's behalf, is to proceed with that work in conjunction with all the relevant interests. Amendments 1, 2 and 3 spell that out. Organisations that have interests include trade unions, the Scottish Retail Consortium and local authorities—particularly those in Glasgow and Edinburgh, which have expressed concerns. Amendment 2 says that all councils—all have an interest—will be consulted.

Photo of Jeremy Purvis Jeremy Purvis Liberal Democrat

I acknowledge the minister's constructive comments. At stage 1, the Executive presented evidence that about 80 per cent of all shop workers will not fall within the bill's scope. Is that still the Executive's view?

Photo of Cathy Jamieson Cathy Jamieson Labour

As Mr Purvis has suggested, many shop workers will not be covered by the bill, such as those who work in small shops. That is a given and we understood that at stage 1.

However, I state clearly that that does not mean that we should do nothing with the bill. Amendments 1, 2 and 3 are designed to ensure that further work will be done. I make it clear that they come as a package. Although we want to gather further information, to analyse it and to report back to Parliament before taking a final view, the amendments are designed to enshrine in statute both Christmas day and new year's day.

We are sending out a clear message that we expect the retail industry to heed what Parliament is saying about its having a social as well as an economic responsibility. We expect the trade unions and various other interests to work with us to gather information. If it appears to the Executive that people are defying the will of Parliament, there is no doubt that we will use the powers that we will take in the bill. If amendments 1, 2 and 3 are agreed to, Parliament will send out a message today that further work will be done and that, if it seems to us that any sector of the industry intends to flout the will of Parliament, we will use the powers in the bill.

It is important to recognise that amendments 1, 2 and 3 come as a package, so it is important that both amendment 1 and amendment 2 be agreed to this morning: amendment 3 will make a consequential change to the long title of the bill. Parliament should note that the amendments will require ministers to give reasons for concluding that an order to enact the powers for which the bill provides is necessary. It is important to point out that those could be reasons of principle, as well as reasons deriving from empirical evidence regarding the economic impact and the social impact on family life of trading on new year's day.

We have before us a package of amendments that represent the best possible way forward to protect everyone's interests, to keep Christmas and new year's day special and to give the trade unions and business an opportunity to work together to ensure that our aspirations are put into practice. Amendments 1, 2 and 3 will ensure that, if those aspirations are flouted, we can use the powers for which the bill provides without introducing further primary legislation.

I move amendment 1.

Photo of Stewart Maxwell Stewart Maxwell Scottish National Party

No one wants Christmas day and new year's day to become general trading days, and I agree with much of what the minister said in her opening remarks. The Justice 2 Committee accepted that there was a complete lack of robust evidence for the assertions that were being made about the bill's economic impact, its impact on tourism, the number of people who will be affected by it and almost every other point. Some committee members took one view of that, but others took a different view—that is why the committee split 4:3 on the bill.

Amendment 2 is the crux of the matter because it deals with the basic problem at the heart of the bill, which is the lack of robust evidence. Given the differences of opinion that exist regarding new year's day, the only sensible option is for us to pause to gather evidence before legislating. To go ahead without evidence and to legislate in a vacuum would be a mistake that we could regret in the future, and it would take primary legislation to rectify that mistake. Amendment 2 will allow us to do the research, to be sure that we agree that the provisions relating to new year's day should be enacted and to have Parliament decide whether it wants to do that, based on both the principle and the evidence.

The Scottish National Party will support amendment 2 and the other two amendments in the group.

Photo of Mary Mulligan Mary Mulligan Labour

I still have concerns about the proposed voluntary code. Although I am not a member of the Justice 2 Committee, I sat through the evidence on the bill. The Scottish Retail Consortium was unsure about how the code would pan out: it has member organisations in the retail sector, but will it be able to persuade them to sign up to the code? There are stores that do not want to open on new year's day, but want to keep it a special day, just as Christmas day should be. They want well-rested and happy staff who are much more productive. However, we know that if other stores start to open, they will follow suit. It is much like the smoking ban in that voluntary schemes will not work and we need a level playing field. We owe it to the responsible and caring retailers to provide them with legislation that gives them reassurance.

We know that pressure can be put on staff, as happened this year at Debenhams. We know that staff are told that if they do not work on new year's day they will not get promotion, days off when they want them, the holidays that they want or the jobs in the store that they want. That is unfortunate, so how do we protect those people?

We also know about the subtle pressures that are put on people. A staff member may be told that if he or she does not work, Mrs Smith who has three children—a bigger family—will have to work in his or her place. I have seen that happen and know about the pressures to which shop workers are subject.

Shops are not essential to tourism in Scotland. People may go into the shops when they come here, but ultimately that is not what they come for. If it is the reason that they come here, we have real problems. People do not come to Edinburgh or even to Glasgow to shop, because there are bigger and better shopping centres elsewhere.

People come to Scotland, especially at hogmanay, because of the atmosphere, the events and the tradition that is behind them, and they want to see that in action. Does the economy or tourism collapse in England because shops are shut at Easter? I do not think so. We are seeking equality. In England shops shut on Christmas day and Easter Sunday. We want a Scottish day—new year's day—to be recognised in Scotland. People come to Scotland for its hogmanay celebrations. The events that are held in Edinburgh are world renowned. Are those events to be for everyone except shop workers in Edinburgh and elsewhere in Scotland? The minister still has much to do to convince me that the voluntary agreement will hold, and that I will be able to say to shop workers that they have our protection and we will be able to defend them against bosses who put them under pressure to come in to work against their will. Today we have an opportunity to help to establish a real life-work balance. We should take that opportunity.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative 10:15 am, 7th March 2007

The Scottish Conservatives' position on the bill has been clear from the outset—I made it clear when Parliament debated the bill at stage 1. We do not have difficulty with the provisions relating to Christmas day, although there is no evidence that there is demand for shops to open on that day and the case for legislation has not been made. However, we have a specific problem with the proposal to ban shops above a certain size from opening on new year's day, for the simple reason—as members of the Justice 2 Committee heard in evidence—that there is a developing trend, especially in Edinburgh and other large cities, for shops to open for part of new year's day.

The Scottish Retail Consortium made it clear in its evidence that it sees the opening of shops on new year's day as an important part of the economy. The city authorities think that it is important to the development of the tourism trade around hogmanay and new year's day. As I said at stage 1, I can remember no more depressing place in previous years than Princes Street, Edinburgh, on the afternoon of new year's day, with all the shops shut and tourists wandering up and down looking forlornly in the windows. Parliament should not be in the business of closing down the economy, especially when steps are being taken to expand it.

I listened with great interest to what Mary Mulligan had to say. She asked why shop workers should be the only people who are excluded from participating in the Christmas and new year's day holidays, but we should remember that many other people have to work on new year's day; for example, new year's day is one of the busiest days of the year in the hospitality industry. Why should only workers in large shops be given a protection that will not be given to people who work in the hospitality industry or other industries? There is clearly inconsistency in the bill.

Photo of Allan Wilson Allan Wilson Labour

Does Murdo Fraser agree that there is a difference between a person who works in an essential service or a continuous manufacturing process being contractually required to work on new year's day and a person who is coerced—sometimes subtly—against their wishes by a bad employer into working that day?

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

The minister makes the argument for extending the bill to cover shops of all sizes and other industries. Why does the bill restrict trading only in particular shops and not in the hospitality industry? The bill is flawed.

We support amendment 1, which makes it clear that the bill will not apply to new year's day. However, amendment 2, which will keep the door open to a future ban on new year's day trading, is a fudge and represents a feeble attempt to find a compromise and spare the Executive's blushes by postponing a decision on new year's day trading, perhaps until after the election. We need legislation that is clear and not confused. Amendment 1 meets that test, but amendment 2 does not and we will not support it.

Photo of Margaret Smith Margaret Smith Liberal Democrat

I pay tribute to Karen Whitefield. The Liberal Democrats in Parliament share her desire to keep Christmas day and new year's day as special days that are not general trading days.

There is a range of views about the bill. Some Liberal Democrats think that the bill goes too far while others think that it does not go far enough, but the vast majority of members of our group do not—for a number of reasons—favour the inclusion of new year's day in the bill. We think that there should be a choice for consumers and employees and we think that the bill's approach is inconsistent in that it would not provide a level playing field for shop workers or other people who have to work on new year's day. We prefer the voluntary approach, so we welcome amendments 1 to 3.

I am an Edinburgh member of the Scottish Parliament and I argue against the inclusion of new year's day in the bill predominantly because I want Edinburgh's winter festival, which has suffered setbacks in recent years, to prosper and to go from strength to strength. I would be unhappy about being party to a legislative change that contributed to sending a message that Edinburgh is closed for business at one of the most popular times of year for people to visit the city. My view chimes with comments that were made by VisitScotland and other tourism bodies.

I welcome amendment 2, which would allow us to consider the issue in greater detail. When the Justice 2 Committee considered the bill, it was clear that there was a lack of robust data on both sides of the argument. As the minister and other speakers have acknowledged, there is a need for more work.

Amendments 1 to 3 offer a commonsense approach, which acknowledges that in Scotland Christmas day is special for families—people of faith and people of none. That is a view that a clear majority of members support. Amendment 2 will allow Parliament to move forward and to acknowledge the rights of shop workers and the needs of business. I congratulate the Scottish Retail Consortium on engaging in serious and meaningful discussion on the possibility of a voluntary code that would mean that no shop workers in certain types of premises were forced to work on new year's day. We are putting the ball back in the employers' court; they can voluntarily end pressure on, and coercion of, workers in the retail industry—subtle or otherwise. I worked in the retail industry in my younger days and have family members who work in the retail industry, so I can assure members that the pressure that I am talking about is not imaginary.

The Liberal Democrats think that there are good reasons for pursuing a voluntary approach with businesses and unions, instead of legislating needlessly in respect of new year's day. A worker should be able to choose to say, "I do not want to work on new year's day" and workers should also not be compelled to work. The range of views in respect of retail mean that there would be great merit in further investigation of the impact on the economy and on family life of extending the provisions in section 1 to new year's day.

We are content that amendments 1 to 3 offer a way forward for people on all sides of the argument. The approach acknowledges the importance of a work-life balance—although many MSPs' families might think that we are the last people who should be lecturing anyone about that. The approach gives businesses the opportunity to voluntarily treat their staff fairly and it guarantees a Christmas day holiday for shop workers and the possibility of fairer arrangements for new year's day. Under the provisions of amendment 2, ministers could come back to Parliament if voluntary schemes do not materialise or work, or if reports suggest that a restriction of new year's day trading would benefit family life and would not have a negative economic impact. There would be full and proper consultation, not only of councils, businesses and workers, but of the tourism industry. Ministers could make an order on the matter if they thought that was necessary, without having to introduce primary legislation. The Liberal Democrat group supports amendments 1 to 3. I hope that all other members will do so.

Photo of Mark Ballard Mark Ballard Green

It is clear that the case has not been made that Scotland will miss out on income if the largest stores cannot open on new year's day.

Mary Mulligan clearly described the dangers of coercion of employees and of the creeping commercialisation of Christmas day and new year's day. Those days are the most important traditional holidays and we should not allow their status as holidays to be undermined. That is why the Greens supported Karen Whitefield's bill at stage 1. We acknowledged the breadth of support that the bill had attracted.

The Scottish Grocers Federation said that people should have the opportunity to buy bread, milk and batteries for children's toys on Christmas day and new year's day, but asked why the larger shops should stay open—[Interruption.] I am being accused of talking "populist rubbish". The Scottish Trades Union Congress was right to set out shop workers' concerns.

We are debating the principle behind the bill, which generated a great deal of discussion in the Justice 2 Committee during the proper bill process. The lodging of amendment 2, which would confer on ministers the power to make a statutory instrument, does not improve the quality of the debate.

Photo of Karen Gillon Karen Gillon Labour

Why does the member think that it is okay to work in a small business but not in a big business on new year's day? I am in a quandary about that, because the work-life balance is important.

Photo of Mark Ballard Mark Ballard Green

The Scottish Grocers Federation clearly pointed out the difference between a family shop and a big business in which there is the potential for employees to be coerced into working, as Mary Mulligan said. We are talking about very different situations.

This debate is about the principle of how we want to treat new year's day and Christmas day. The process envisaged in amendment 2 is not the right one; why should there be primary legislation for Christmas day but secondary legislation for new year's day? Murdo Fraser said that there is an issue of principle. I urge members to reject the uneasy compromise in amendments 1 to 3 and to support or reject the principle behind the bill. If we do that, we will have clarity instead of an unnecessary fudge involving secondary legislation, which might be an abuse of the parliamentary process.

Photo of Colin Fox Colin Fox SSP

The Executive is in an utter mess over the bill. The minister told us that the bill is important in that it will prevent trading on Christmas day. She said that she has no desire for there to be general trading on new year's day and that she broadly agrees with the purpose of the bill. However, as all members know, her problem is that big business disnae agree.

Quite frankly, in lodging amendments 1 to 3, the Executive has sold its jerseys. What is the point of amendment 1? Parliament agreed to the bill's general principles at stage 1. At stage 2, the Executive lodged an identical amendment to amendment 1, which the Justice 2 Committee unanimously rejected—indeed, the Executive had so little faith in that amendment that it did not move it. Amendment 1 is nothing more than a wrecking amendment, which makes a laughing stock of Parliament. It will delete the only part of the bill that has any meaning or effect and will leave us in a position where we might ban something that nobody is likely ever to see. The Executive knows full well that evidence that we have heard in Parliament over many years has shown that nobody is interested in opening on Christmas day. The bill is about new year's day, or it is about nothing.

Murdo Fraser spoke on behalf of the business community: it might want a laissez-faire attitude and to send the message that we should leave it alone and let it trade when it wants. I reject that attitude. The attitude of people in big business is that they want to avoid any interference from the state—they want to be left to do what they want and to trade when they want and how they like. They are wrong. The evidence shows us that far too many owners who are opening, or who want to open, big shops are involved in coercing their employees, not just on Christmas day and new year's day but throughout the month of December. They ignore the impact that the bill would have on wider Scottish society.

Members will highlight the important part that the tourism industry plays in Scotland—they have not done that much so far in the debate, but I am sure that they will later. That it plays such a part is, of course, the case, but that is not all that is at stake. As Karen Whitefield's bill and what she has said about it have made clear, the hogmanay niche market, as it has been called, has thrived in Edinburgh and elsewhere in Scotland and the shops have not been open. The idea that that market is going to go away unless we open the shops is ridiculous.

The minister tells us that the three amendments come as a package. Amendment 1 is an insult to Parliament. If we have to reject amendment 1, we have to reject all the amendments—and we should reject them all.

Amendment 2 is a move from a bill to a ministerial order. The member in charge has spent two years on the bill, and Parliament has examined it, but amendment 2 would toss aside its provisions aside in favour of a ministerial order, which Mary Mulligan described as a "voluntary code". I have no faith in such a voluntary code. The Executive had years to analyse the information, years to produce a report and years to come forward with a statement of view. Amendment 2 mentions the Scottish ministers setting out a statement of their view. The Executive has still not presented its view on the bill to Parliament—we could be waiting for another two years.

The minister is saying that the package includes amendments 1, 2 and 3—we take them all or we take nothing. In that case, I will have none of the three. The position that the Executive has taken is a disgrace and amendment 1 makes Parliament a laughing stock. Here we are at stage 3—we should be passing the bill in its entirety because it means something, but amendment 2 will reduce this member's bill to something far less meaningful. Amendments 1, 2 and 3 are a sell-out for USDAW and the people who had faith in Parliament to protect them from trading on new year's day. The Executive has let them down badly.

Photo of David Davidson David Davidson Conservative 10:30 am, 7th March 2007

It would have been nice if Mary Mulligan had attended the Justice 2 Committee and laid before it the evidence that she claims she has, identifying all the intimidation that she mentions on a factual basis. If people had such evidence, they could have gone to court. I find it strange that the issue has just been brought up this morning.

The USDAW representatives who came along to give evidence to the committee claimed that the Christmas Day and New Year's Day Trading (Scotland) Bill was their bill. They spoke about employment, but the bill is about a restraint on trade. One of the biggest restraints on trade is the marketplace itself. Businesses will not spend money trying to meet a demand that does not exist. Many people—we took evidence from them—would like to be able to get work on new year's day for an additional fee. We heard no evidence whatever at the committee about trading on Christmas day, and I think that all members agree about that. New year's day is a different animal, however.

The bill is an attack on the freedom to trade and on the freedom to work for those who choose to work. People are not intimidated into turning up. If there was evidence of that, it should have been laid before the Justice 2 Committee. That was not done, however.

As for the size limit on premises, it was plucked from the air. Why was it not 5ft2 more or 5ft2 less?

Photo of Mary Mulligan Mary Mulligan Labour

If Mr Davidson sees the bill as an infringement on trade, why is he happy to accept the measures for Christmas day, but not those for new year's day?

Photo of David Davidson David Davidson Conservative

Very simply, we do not think that there should be a bill at all. There was no evidence that anybody, at this stage, wants to trade on Christmas day. The retailers more or less said that there is no demand for that.

I find it staggering that the Deputy Minister for Justice lodged amendments at stage 2 so that we could have a debate, but then failed to move the lead amendment at the Justice 2 Committee's meeting. The Executive cannot have it both ways. I moved the lead Executive amendment at stage 2 so that we could have a debate—although I voted against the Executive amendments—simply because the Executive did not have the courage to do so at the time.

Photo of Karen Whitefield Karen Whitefield Labour

Is it Mr Davidson's viewpoint that people do not want to trade on Christmas day, or are the Tories playing to the church vote that they think they might get and appeasing one or two of the elders among their members?

Photo of David Davidson David Davidson Conservative

I am sorry, but given that I ran retail businesses that had to operate on Christmas day to provide a public service, I think that that comment is a wee bit misplaced.

Members:

That is not the same thing.

Photo of David Davidson David Davidson Conservative

I hear members shouting from a sedentary position, but what is the difference between somebody who works to meet a public need, whether related to health or otherwise, and someone who works to meet public demand for something sold by the retail trade? Mark Ballard spoke about batteries. A battery bought from a small shop is obviously very green and very nice, but a battery bought from a big shop is apparently a bad thing. Come on—members must be consistent. If the bill was to achieve anything, it should have been about the range of products that may be sold on the days concerned. We license the retailing of alcohol—there will be a debate about that later—but the bill is not about that at all. The debate has been about people jumping up and down without any real arguments.

I liked Colin Fox's comment about a "lassie fair". I have not seen one of those. I have been to horse fairs over the years, but not a lassie fair.

The bill is a serious attack—it is an infringement—and I am not a believer in ministers reserving powers that they may or may not use.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

How can the bill be a restraint on trade? The bill prevents large shops from opening on Christmas day, when they do not open anyway; the amendments would let large shops stay open on new year's day if they wanted to. Where is the restraint on trade?

Photo of David Davidson David Davidson Conservative

Restraint on trade is the principle of the bill.

Photo of David Davidson David Davidson Conservative

I did not introduce the bill; Karen Whitefield did. The point is that, if there is no market, people will not open their premises. People should be left to run their businesses in co-operation and consultation with their staff. That is how the retail trade has been run for years and years, and it will not change.

I am astounded by the Executive's response. During the stage 1 debate, the Deputy Minister for Justice said that she would lodge some amendments. They were lodged, but the Executive refused to move them. That is an embarrassment for the First Minister and his Government.

Photo of Karen Whitefield Karen Whitefield Labour

It is important to concentrate on the real issue before the Parliament this morning: the needs and rights of many of Scotland's shop workers, both those who work in large stores and many who work in smaller stores, who will also be protected under the bill because, if larger stores do not open, smaller stores will not open either. That is one of the important reasons why the Scottish Grocers Federation so strongly supports the bill. I point out that the federation is a member of the Scottish Retail Consortium.

I appreciate that the minister has lodged the three amendments before us in good faith. We have come some way—I have been progressing these issues in the Parliament for three and a half years, and I am grateful to the Executive for being able to reach the position that it has reached today. However, I have some reservations about what will happen if the amendments are agreed to.

If the amendments are agreed to, there is a possibility that the ban affecting new year's day could be introduced at some point in the future. Scotland's shop workers, their families and the many people from across civic Scotland who have supported the bill believe that Christmas day and new year's day are equally important. Therefore, the rationale behind the arguments on Christmas day is the same as that behind the arguments on new year's day.

I appreciate and understand the concerns that have been expressed at various points about the possible damage that the bill may do to Scotland's tourism industry. Let me say at the outset that I have no desire to do anything that would damage that industry, and it is important to remember that in the past three and a half years there has been ample opportunity for us to hear evidence from the tourism industry and for people to put across their point of view.

One reason why I referred to the damage that "may" be done is because we have pleasingly seen tourism in Scotland grow in recent years. Indeed, in its evidence, the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce pointed out that the high numbers of tourists who are attracted to our cities at new year visit when the vast majority of our large retail stores are not open. The bill would change nothing in effect, but it would reinforce the status quo. I do not believe that one non-shopping day in the new year period would put people off coming to Scotland.

We should recognise the importance of the safeguard that not trading on new year's day gives Scotland's shop workers. For many, new year's day is a celebration. It is also a collective breather from the stresses and strains of everyday life. That is one reason why the Scottish Trades Union Congress has reminded us all in its briefing that the widespread opening of shops will have an impact on not just shop workers but all non-retail workers too.

For shop workers, new year's day is an important break in the busy Christmas and new year sales period. To meet our insatiable demand to shop during the winter festivals, they are generally not allowed to take holidays between the beginning of December and the middle of January and it is often expected that they will work long hours and will not take rest days.

I understand the tourism industry's concern that a message might be sent out that Scotland is closed. However, I do not agree. It is important that we send out the strong message that, with our hotels, pubs and other visitor attractions open, Scotland certainly is not closed for business.

I read with some interest an article in the Edinburgh Evening News yesterday claiming that, if the Parliament passes the bill, whether amended or unamended, we would send out the message that Scotland is closed to tourists and that they would go elsewhere: Dublin, Barcelona and Amsterdam were the examples that were cited. I should point out, however, that the shops in Barcelona are closed on new year's day. In Dublin, they are closed because it is a bank holiday, and I am also told that Amsterdammers likewise take their holidays seriously. Perhaps we in Scotland need to do the same. We need to give our shop workers protection and the right to be able to spend that day at home.

Photo of John Swinburne John Swinburne SSCUP

Does Karen Whitefield agree that everyone who votes for ordinary working people going to work on new year's day should be prepared to come in here on the same day for a plenary session and a full day's work?

Photo of Karen Whitefield Karen Whitefield Labour 10:45 am, 7th March 2007

I have some sympathy with that argument. It is unlikely that anyone in the chamber works on new year's day or Christmas day. We take that for granted, as do many other non-essential workers in Scotland. The bill was introduced to recognise the hard work and contribution of many low-paid women workers who have to manage not only the normal, everyday stresses and strains of family life but the additional pressures that increasing consumerism brings during the festive period, with long working hours in the run-up to Christmas.

Photo of Allan Wilson Allan Wilson Labour

As a lifelong trade unionist, I agree entirely with that perspective. Does Karen Whitefield agree that, contrary to what Mr Fox said, the prospect of a statutorily underpinned code of practice that would prevent the compulsion of workers to work on new year's day against their wishes will extend rights to a range of people who either are not covered by trade union agreements or are the subject of victimisation by bad employers?

Photo of Karen Whitefield Karen Whitefield Labour

At this point, I should get on to my specific questions for the minister.

Will the Executive immediately introduce legislation to cover new year's day if there is any breach of the voluntary code? As Mary Mulligan rightly pointed out, many of us who have supported and had close associations with the retail industry and those working on the front line understand the silent coercion and the loyalty of workers who do not have children and who support colleagues who do. I would like some assurances from the minister.

I want also to know whether, irrespective of what happens today, the Executive will immediately initiate a study into the Scottish retail industry in the festive period. In any work that the Executive does, will USDAW and other representatives of Scotland's shop workers be involved? It would be helpful to have some assurances on those points.

The bill has been a long time in coming to fruition today, and I hope that we can get some assurances. It seeks to protect some of Scotland's lowest-paid workers, who deserve some recognition for the work that they do throughout the year.

Photo of George Reid George Reid None

I will use my discretion to extend the debate by up to five minutes, which will allow the minister up to eight minutes for her reply.

Photo of Cathy Jamieson Cathy Jamieson Labour

Thank you for extending the debate, Presiding Officer. A number of important points have been raised, and I want to take some time to go through them.

I first refer to the fact that both Karen Whitefield and USDAW have acted responsibly throughout the process. There is no doubt that they have shifted a number of views and opinions during the debate, as well as raising general awareness. For example, the Conservatives have now come to the conclusion that they can accept the notion of putting in statute provisions on Christmas day.

I want also to set out clearly the fact that I see the amendments as a package and not, as the Conservatives have suggested, as a way of simply decoupling Christmas and new year's day and unpicking the clear will of the Parliament at stage 1, when we saw an argument for covering both Christmas day and new year's day in statute. However, there were some caveats on which the Parliament wanted us to do some work, and simply to follow the view that the Conservatives have suggested would not adequately reflect the will of the Parliament or put in place adequate safeguards in the way that Karen Whitefield and others have outlined.

As Allan Wilson said in reference to Colin Fox's speech, the bill is about being absolutely clear to the industry and to employers that, although we as a Parliament expect them to take account of the economic issues—and we need to consider the tourism and other industries that people have expressed concern about—equally we expect them to take their social responsibilities seriously. We expect them to take into account the impact on family life of people working on days during which other workers are traditionally at home with their families. As Karen Whitefield said, many workers have to work extended hours in the run-up to the festive season in situations that take them away from their families. I expect such matters to be considered.

I turn to the questions that Karen Whitefield asked. It is important to put on the record that we are not suggesting that the bill should simply be passed and things left to a voluntary code. Colin Fox was wrong to suggest that, because there will be a statutory underpinning of the code.

I understand the trade unions' reservations about voluntary codes. In the past, people have thought that they had an agreement, but have then felt let down for one reason or another. That is why having a voluntary code that is simply left on its own is not enough, and it is not what we have proposed.

I stress the importance of amendment 2 in that context. I say to Karen Whitefield that amendment 2 will provide an opportunity for us to begin work immediately and ensure that we bring together the industry, the trade unions, the local authorities and everyone else who has an interest in making what has been proposed work. It will ensure that work is under way for the coming festive season. People should have no doubt that our amendments will allow us to use statutory powers to introduce legislation if there is a breach in the spirit or practice of what should happen on new year's day. I hope that Karen Whitefield hears the strong guarantees that I have given.

It is important to recognise that an opportunity will exist to consider the wider implications of what has been proposed. Again, I want to be clear about what we have in mind with respect to a code of practice or protocol. I recognise that it can sometimes be hard for many people in a workforce—particularly those on low pay or those who depend on flexible working hours—to say no to working on a particular day. They may fear that their shift pattern will change, their promotion prospects will be altered or that the number of contracted hours that they must work will be reduced. That is why it is important for the amendments to be agreed to and for USDAW and the trade union movement to be involved in the monitoring process. The amendments will give us a basis on which to move forward.

Photo of Karen Whitefield Karen Whitefield Labour

Does the minister agree that, although it is important that the trade unions be involved in monitoring, their involvement should not be seen to undermine the position of USDAW or other trade unions, which is that they do not, as a rule, support or agree with trading on new year's day?

Photo of Cathy Jamieson Cathy Jamieson Labour

I am aware of and understand USDAW's position. USDAW does not believe that the trading that we are discussing should take place on new year's day. It has made that position clear in the course of the debate. However, the trade unions and the Scottish Retail Consortium have a vital role to play in helping us to progress matters. The Executive is making a commitment to put in train work immediately to assess matters and involve everyone in the process. There would be a gap if USDAW could not be involved in that process. Members have expressed concerns about low-paid workers feeling coerced. We want to send a clear message to industry that such coercion is unacceptable. We do not want such coercion to happen: we want people to work on a voluntary basis and we want responsible trade unions to help us monitor things. There is no doubt in my mind that USDAW has been a responsible trade union throughout this process. Responsible trade unions will help us to monitor the situation and gather evidence. I repeat: if we thought that the industry was abusing its position with respect to people working voluntarily or the impact of working on individual workers' family lives, we would do something about that abuse. I accept the unions' position, but I hope that the guarantees that I have provided will give members the confidence to accept that amendment 2 is necessary to ensure that we can progress matters as planned.

The debate has highlighted the range of views and opinions in the chamber. The process has been difficult. Moving to the right position has not been easy, but we did not want to move to the wrong position. We have tried to build consensus around the issues that matter most to people—namely, keeping Christmas day and new year's day special and preventing staff from being coerced into being involved in retail trading in large stores if doing so does not fit with their working patterns or family lives. The industry should be given the clear message that social responsibility as well as economic impact is important. It is important for the Executive to work with everyone, but members should have no doubt that, if anyone abused their position, the statutory underpinning in the legislation would allow us to act quickly.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

The question is, that amendment 1 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members:

No.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

There will be a division. The division bell will now sound and there will be a five-minute suspension before the division takes place. The division will last for 30 seconds.

Meeting suspended.

On resuming—

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative 11:00 am, 7th March 2007

I ask members to take their seats as I am about to call the division, which will be a 30-second division.

I would be obliged if Mr Fox would switch off his mobile telephone.

We will proceed with the division.

Division number 1

For: Adam, Brian, Aitken, Bill, Alexander, Ms Wendy, Arbuckle, Mr Andrew, Baker, Richard, Barrie, Scott, Boyack, Sarah, Brankin, Rhona, Brocklebank, Mr Ted, Brown, Robert, Brownlee, Derek, Chisholm, Malcolm, Craigie, Cathie, Crawford, Bruce, Curran, Ms Margaret, Davidson, Mr David, Deacon, Susan, Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James, Ewing, Fergus, Fabiani, Linda, Ferguson, Patricia, Fergusson, Alex, Finnie, Ross, Fraser, Murdo, Gibson, Rob, Gillon, Karen, Godman, Trish, Goldie, Miss Annabel, Gordon, Mr Charlie, Gorrie, Donald, Grahame, Christine, Henry, Hugh, Hyslop, Fiona, Ingram, Mr Adam, Jackson, Dr Sylvia, Jackson, Gordon, Jamieson, Cathy, Johnstone, Alex, Kerr, Mr Andy, Lamont, Johann, Livingstone, Marilyn, Lochhead, Richard, Lyon, George, MacAskill, Mr Kenny, Macdonald, Lewis, Macintosh, Mr Kenneth, Macmillan, Maureen, Martin, Paul, Marwick, Tricia, Mather, Jim, Matheson, Michael, Maxwell, Mr Stewart, May, Christine, McAveety, Mr Frank, McCabe, Mr Tom, McConnell, Mr Jack, McGrigor, Mr Jamie, McLetchie, David, McMahon, Michael, McNeil, Mr Duncan, McNeill, Pauline, Milne, Mrs Nanette, Mitchell, Margaret, Morgan, Alasdair, Morrison, Mr Alasdair, Neil, Alex, Oldfather, Irene, Peacock, Peter, Petrie, Dave, Pringle, Mike, Robison, Shona, Robson, Euan, Rumbles, Mike, Scott, John, Scott, Tavish, Smith, Iain, Smith, Margaret, Stephen, Nicol, Stevenson, Stewart, Sturgeon, Nicola, Swinney, Mr John, Wallace, Mr Jim, Watt, Ms Maureen, Welsh, Mr Andrew, Whitefield, Karen, Wilson, Allan
Against: Baillie, Jackie, Ballance, Chris, Ballard, Mark, Butler, Bill, Canavan, Dennis, Eadie, Helen, Fox, Colin, Glen, Marlyn, Harper, Robin, Harvie, Patrick, Hughes, Janis, Jamieson, Margaret, Maclean, Kate, Muldoon, Bristow, Mulligan, Mrs Mary, Munro, John Farquhar, Murray, Dr Elaine, Peattie, Cathy, Ruskell, Mr Mark, Scott, Eleanor, Smith, Elaine, Swinburne, John, White, Ms Sandra

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

The result of the division is: For 86, Against 23, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 1 agreed to.