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 22 July and 9 September—eight Sundays—have caused concern, but before I address those concerns, I will briefly outline the benefits that we believe relaxing the rules will deliver.
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 the hon. Member for Telford (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?
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?
The Secretary of State will have had discussions with the major shopping chains throughout the UK. Have they indicated to him that they would wish to use this provision for all their stores throughout the UK, rather than just in London?
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. Will 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 the right hon. Member for Oxford East (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 the hon. Member for Telford (David Wright) made. Some moments ago, the Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (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 10 September, and not the personal commitment of Ministers.
I can repeat what I have already said. This is not just a personal commitment by the Minister of State or me; it is a Government commitment. There is a sunset clause in the Bill, which can be debated in detail as we make progress through the rest of the day.
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 22 May, which is just over three weeks away. Does he acknowledge that that leaves people very little time?
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.
But 60,000 shopkeepers are saying that they will suffer as a result of the extension for larger stores, which will hoover up the rest of the market, as has been suggested. Is the Secretary of State really saying that those 60,000 shopkeepers are wrong?
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 a completely opposite direction. 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.
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 do not want the Secretary of State to move on before we have dealt with his substantive point. He said that any future Sunday trading legislation in this Parliament would be subject to consultation. Will he now rule out any further legislation in this Parliament relating to Sunday trading?
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 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 in any way be 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 22 July to 9 September, covering the whole of the school holiday period. Shop workers, like other people, like to go on holiday with their children during the summer. Does the Secretary of State believe that retailers will allow their employees to take their holidays at that time, or might they put a block on them doing so during August if the legislation goes through? Has he consulted the trade unions on the holiday issue in particular?
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, 10 May, and how long it would last if it were given on 10 July?
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 22 May in which to give notice of their wish to opt out. What methods will my right hon. Friend use to ensure that shop workers understand that they must give that notice within the next three weeks?
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.
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?
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 London and the south-east. That is why the Bill will apply to the whole of England and Wales. Scotland is already deregulated in respect of Sunday trading, and Northern Ireland has its own laws.
I shall give way in a moment. If the hon. Lady waits patiently, I will take her intervention.
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 used 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?
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 right 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 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.
Is the Secretary of State not creating a precedent in terms of large sporting events? What if, on the next occasion when the Welsh win the rugby grand slam, the supporters say, “They have already done it for the Olympics; why should they not do it for us?”
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 6 July 2005, we watched the president of the International Olympic Committee announce that our country’s bid to host the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games here in London had been successful. I remember seeing, on television, the shadow Olympics Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Tessa Jowell), the former—and future—Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, and assorted athletes such as Denise Lewis leap about and jump for joy when they heard that the bid had been successful. That was a wonderful moment. Now we find ourselves just 87 days away from the start of the opening ceremony—from seeing the Olympic flame flicker above a state-of-the-art stadium in Stratford, east London.
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 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.
We have raised that issue with the Secretary of State. Although, according to the Government’s Business Link website, a premium should be considered in circumstances such as this when employees are required to work at unusual times, the Government have decided not to do anything about it.
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 22 July and 9 September this year, during the period of the Olympics.
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?
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?
In 2004, I promoted the Christmas Day (Trading) Bill, which became an Act later that year. One of the main supporters of the Bill were the Christian Churches in this country. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is a little ironic for the Prime Minister and his Cabinet colleagues to introduce this Bill given that they talk about the importance of Christianity to the nation?
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.
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 the 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—the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (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 the hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (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 the Member for Tottenham (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, the hon. Member for Luton South (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 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 the hon. Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (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 the Member for Montgomeryshire (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.
On the contrary, will we not be looking for a significant boost in north Kent from the Olympics? We have Ebbsfleet in the area, and in the Rochester and Strood constituency we are very much looking forward to the Olympics and the business opportunities generated from them.
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?
Many, many people are concerned and suspicious of that. Clearly, the view expressed by the hon. Gentleman has some merit, but the concerns expressed by his hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Gordon Henderson), who has worked in the retail industry, also have a great deal of merit.
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?
If the Treasury decides to come forward with that, the hon. Member for Enfield North (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 22 May. That is surely unreasonable. Many workers will not be aware of this important date, and I ask the Minister what the Government intend to do to tell them. I remind the House that these additional opening hours could be 7 am until midnight, hours that could significantly affect family life.
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. The hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (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 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.
I understand the hon. Lady’s argument, but is not the danger for, 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 protection or consultation with 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 22 May, the limit on when notice has to be given, is too short a period for shop workers not only to plan for, but to learn about the changes that are coming forward. It represents fewer than three weeks, so can the Minister assure me that workers will be informed in time and that any blank refusal to accede to a legitimate request from an employee will be covered by industrial relations legislation?
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 21 March, and the end date for notice is 22 May—which amounts to just over eight weeks. Surely that is not proper consultation.
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 the 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’s, 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 the Bill 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 the Member for Streatham (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, cafes and 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 26 August, for which perhaps these arguments cannot be used?
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 22 July.
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.
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 the Member for East Londonderry (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.
In the Budget debate a few weeks ago, there was little or no direct comment on the Chancellor’s announcement about suspending Sunday trading law. However, the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) raised concerns that
“the move could be a trial run for a permanent change in the law.”—[Official Report, 21 March 2012; Vol. 542, c. 860.]
The Bishop of Chichester said in the House of Lords that he was concerned that removing all restrictions for eight weeks
“sounds suspiciously like a stalking horse for the wider deregulation for which some large retailers have been campaigning for a long time.”—[Official Report, 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 Treasury believes the move would provide evidence of the economic benefits of a permanent relaxation of Sunday trading laws”.
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.
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?