[2nd Allocated Day]
Further consideration of Bill, as amended in the Public Bill Committee.
As I informed the House yesterday, my provisional certificate, based on changes made in Committee and expected Government amendments tabled for Report stage, is available in the Vote Office and on the Bills before Parliament website.
At the end of the Report stage on a Bill, I am required to consider the Bill as amended on Report for certification. At that point—later today—I will issue my final certificate.
Extended Sunday opening hours and Sunday working
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Amendment 19, in page 51, leave out lines 3 to 13 and insert—
2A (1) The Sunday trading authority for an area may publish a notice (a “consent notice”) in accordance with this paragraph providing for large shops in tourist zones (as defined in sub-paragraph (2)) in the authority’s area to be permitted to do either or both of the following—
(a) to open on Sundays falling between 21 March and 1 October and on the three Sundays before Christmas Day for a continuous period of whatever number of hours is specified in the notice (in addition to the continuous period of six hours mentioned in paragraph 2(3)),
(b) to open on Sundays falling between 21 March and 1 October and on the three Sundays before Christmas Day at specified times beginning earlier than, or ending later than, the times mentioned in paragraph 2(3).
(2) A consent notice published by a Sunday trading authority may only apply in relation to those parts of the authority’s area that is a “tourist zone” which is defined as—
(a) a retail area where tourists from outside the United Kingdom are responsible for a significant proportion of the retail sales, or
(b) a leisure and retail area, such as a coastal resort, which a significant number of tourists from outside the local authority area visit
and in deciding what is significant in either case the local authority shall have regard to guidance issued by the Secretary of State.”
This amendment would allow the relaxation in Sunday opening hours for larger shops to apply between Easter and the end of September and before Christmas to areas that attract significant numbers of tourists, such as central London and coastal resorts.
Government amendments 2, 13 and 14.
Amendment 1 is in my name and those of 24 of my right hon. and hon. Friends, as well as hon. Members from across the House. I think seven different parties have signed up to the amendment. I could not quite convince the UK Independence Party Member to unite with me on the amendment, although I may continue to try to persuade him if he attends the debate. Nevertheless, there is significant cross-party support for the amendment.
In many ways, I would prefer not to be here; I am sorry that we have to deal with this issue. We are having to do so not least because the proper procedure has not been followed, but also because of the issue of substance around Sunday trading. Some hon. Members will remember debates on the matter in the ’90s and the ’80s, which took up a considerable amount of the House’s time and attention. The previous time the matter came before the House, it took some two years of debate to reach the compromise that we reached. We have some three hours today either to unpick that settlement or, as I seek to do in the amendment, to delete the Government’s provisions.
Let us remind ourselves of what the Bill is about, and how Sunday trading fits into it. As I understand it, when it first came to the House, the Bill’s aims were clear. They were to
“make sure that Britain is the best place in Europe to start and grow a business and that people who work hard have the opportunity to succeed”
“cut red tape for business, encourage investment in skills, and make it easier for small firms to resolve payment disputes by setting up a Small Business Commissioner”.
So say all of us, or certainly those of us on the Government Benches. The Bill is important, and I support it up to the point of its conclusion about Sunday trading.
If my right hon. Friend will be patient, the purpose of my speech is to explain the reasons why I oppose the Government. We need to look at where the Government are taking us, even though they are trying to get there through a permissive, devolutionary approach. It is based on the premise that the deregulation of Sunday trading is good for small businesses, families and workers. We need to look at that premise. Deregulation is a one-way valve that local authorities would have the option of taking. I know that many Conservative Members are pure localists, who might want the decision about whether to restrict or deregulate Sunday trading to be a purely local one. The Government make the case that this is good for small businesses, but I object to that. I want to look at the way in which the Government have approached the question and carried out the consultation.
I thank my hon. Friend for his speech and his strong leadership on the matter. Does he agree that the Government’s case would be more compelling had they abided by the undertaking that the Minister has twice given to publish the impact assessment, which we are led to believe is positive and favourable? So far, the Government have not done so.
The impact assessment has been published today. That is important. The Bill has already received some scrutiny in Committee. The Sunday trading proposals were introduced in Committee; they were not in the Bill on Second Reading. The Bill started not in this place but in the House of Lords. Therefore, the Sunday trading measure received no scrutiny in any of the stages in the House of Lords.
Following the consultation, we were promised that the impact assessment would be published, as we would expect with any measure, not least such an important and controversial one. The impact assessment was published today, and it includes several paragraphs about the family test, for which I and others have asked for some time. Back in October, I asked when the family impact test would be published, and I was told that it would be published before the Committee stage. In February, I asked again when it would be published, and I was told that it would be published alongside the Government’s consultation response. That did not happen. After that, I was told that it would be published shortly. It has been published today. I do not think that is acceptable.
I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for his consistency on this subject. He stood for election in May. He will have known that some Conservative Members would have liked to bring forward such a measure. He must have been reassured that it was not in the Conservative manifesto. As a democrat, how would he be able to face his constituents if he had chosen to vote for the measure, given that his views are so well known and that the Conservative party had not put it in its manifesto?
I am a lawyer by profession, and I believe that the hon. Gentleman has asked me a leading question. Plainly, the measure was not in the manifesto. Not only that, but the Prime Minister confirmed on 20 April 2015, in the middle of the campaign, in a letter to the “Keep Sunday Special” campaign:
“I can assure you that we have no current plans to relax the Sunday trading laws. We believe that the current system provides a reasonable balance between those who wish to see more opportunity to shop in large stores on a Sunday, and those who would like to see further restrictions.”
That pretty much sums up my position, on which I have been consistent. The Prime Minister appeared to share my position back in April.
I hope that my hon. Friend knows that I have enormous respect for him and for his campaigns on many issues, on which I have worked with him, but does he not agree that we should just trust our constituents to make up their own minds? In life, we all have to find our own balance, and we are all capable of deciding whether we work or shop on a Sunday. That is not the most complicated decision that our constituents will make in their lives. Will not my hon. Friend trust his constituents to make wise decisions for themselves and their families?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. I saw that “but” coming. We have a job to do in Parliament. We do not simply devolve every decision out to our constituents. We should listen to our constituents. I am not sure whether he has looked at his mailbag, but I have looked at mine, and many shop workers, faith groups and others have asked me, “Why are we doing this? Why are we trying to unpick something that is fairly settled, even if it is not perfect?” I have listened to my constituents. We have important principles as well. The Sunday trading arrangement is complex, and it is our duty to look at it carefully, to consult widely and to scrutinise it fairly. None of those things has happened to the extent that they did in the ’90s and ’80s. It should not surprise us that there is a lot of cross-party concern. I would agree with my hon. Friend if this were a wholly devolving measure, but it is not. It is based on a principle that we would have to sign up to.
In a moment. When we make this decision here in Parliament, everyone who votes against amendment 1 will have to agree with the premise that deregulation is good for businesses, families and workers. Members have to make this decision; we cannot simply devolve it to local authorities.
That is the premise of the case that the Government are making today.
I am pleased to be a signatory to the amendment tabled by the hon. Gentleman, who is my neighbour, and to support him. As I am sure he knows, some 49% of retail workers surveyed are parents or carers, and their Sunday is special to them. In relation to what has been said about trusting our constituents to make their own decision to work, I am sure my neighbour knows that even in workplaces that have trade union reps to support members, many staff are pressured into not using the Sunday opt-out. In fact, something like a third of shop workers are pressured into working on Sundays, or they will have their working hours cut.
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady, who is included in the unholy alliance that, as I have mentioned, has come together on my amendment. She makes a very good and important point. We may have a choice about whether to go to church, shop or spend time with our families. We need to be a voice for people who do not have such a choice, perhaps because of caring or work responsibilities. We need to be very careful about imposing further requirements or obligations on them. That is important, and it is why we suggested having a family impact test. The impact assessment has been published today. The Government twice in parliamentary answers promised me they would do that. We must take the impact on families seriously, as the right hon. Lady says.
There is another facet to this issue. One the one hand, the Government say that they are trying to save high streets, but on the other hand, the Bill will only strengthen the supermarkets and will therefore have an effect on high streets. Worse still, employers have ways to force workers to work extra hours on a Sunday. All those who have ever worked in industry know the tricks.
I will come on to that point. The Government have made the case that the Bill will support high streets and deal with the challenges of online shopping and the like. However, to go back to the campaign, when my hon. Friends and other Members were campaigning up and down their high streets—my constituency is full of high streets, like many other constituencies—was this mentioned to them? I do not remember that happening. In fact, only one large outlet, Asda, mentioned it. The rest did not once say that the way to rebuild and regenerate high streets was to deregulate Sunday trading. In fact, they wanted business rates, car parking and things such as that to be sorted out.
I do not need to rely only on what my constituents are saying. Let me look at the Government’s review, which was a proper review, into how we can regenerate and improve the high street. If we page through that substantial review, we will not see a big case being made that the one way to regenerate the high street is to deregulate shopping hours for large shops. That will threaten small businesses.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to intervene, because this follows on smoothly from the previous intervention. Before Christmas, I was a member of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, which the Government consulted on the devolution of Sunday trading powers. I can categorically say that those powers were not asked for or requested; they were forced on that body.
There will be the inevitable domino effect of a race to the bottom if local authorities get hold of the powers. We should not just see this as a matter that can be left to local authorities. The Government have said that this provision is good for high streets, businesses, shop workers and families.
I will carry on for a moment.
The Government are making the case for devolving such powers and they must be held to account for it—it is for them to make that case—but the reality is that the substance of their case does not meet the high threshold required to justify unpicking the complicated Sunday trading laws.
I am sure that those who know my hon. Friend would agree that it is very rare for him to be in any sort of unholy alliance. I am very much of the view that the compromise made 30 years ago has worked fairly well. Does he not recognise that there is no sense of imposition? As my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Sir Greg Knight) rightly pointed out, the approach is a permissive one. In my constituency, which I accept is a relatively exceptional one in the centre of a city, there would certainly be a demand, particularly during times when we have a high number of tourists, for local authorities to give such permission, but that would be up to local authorities to manage. This is quite a good compromise, given the great changes that have taken place in shopping patterns in the past 30 years, not least with the internet.
I hear that point. Throughout this process, I have been open to such a debate, and I know that the large shops in the west end, such as Harrods in Knightsbridge, have made a strong case for opening for longer for tourists. That is part of the Government’s economic case, but I do not think it is substantial enough. It is based around the New West End Company model in particular. However, research by Oxford Economics and others shows that we must look at the economic impact more widely, not simply at the benefits for larger businesses. Hon. Friends and hon. Members know that we should not just listen to big business; we are concerned about shop workers and small businesses, and it is important to say that the impact on them should not be underestimated.
I am not that new. Can my hon. Friend knock on the head the point that Conservative Members are making about permission? The issue is not about the fact that permission is given; it is about who will exercise that permission. The permission will be exercised by local authorities, but do individual shop workers who wish to run their own store six or seven days a week have such a right of permission?
That is an important point. This is not simply about providing local councils with such powers, because our duty goes much further. We need to look further than simply at whether councils want this or not—whether 100, 200 or more councils want it. We need to look at what businesses and shop workers want.
On the question of imposition, in September, a survey of 10,000 shop workers showed that 91% of them do not want to work more on a Sunday. The current six-hour restriction is important to them because, as they say, Sunday evening is often their only guaranteed “family time”, especially if they have children at school in the week or partners who work weekdays. Not so many staff are required under the current regime—usually, there is a single shift—so most staff are able to work a Sunday rota with some Sundays off. We must look at the imposition on shop workers and businesses.
The hon. Gentleman’s arguments are making a very good introduction to this debate. I understand that some chief executives of larger stores, such as Sainsbury’s and John Lewis, are expressing their concerns to the Prime Minister about this issue. In relation to that survey, Sainsbury’s has quite rightly questioned whether there is an appetite among consumers or retail staff for Sunday working. As I hope the hon. Gentleman agrees, Conservative Members should not assume the opt-out means anything, because most retail staff say it is impossible to use it because employers find ways to make them suffer if they try to opt out of Sunday working.
Yes, that is true. We should not tar all large retailers with the same brush. I think Tesco has also expressed concern. Some of them have no doubt got a commercial interest—they may have more convenience stores on high streets than other large retailers—but they share the concern that the Government’s devolutionary approach is not so practical for larger businesses, given that there are issues in relation to distribution centres and dealing with waste recycling. This will make things more complicated for them. In essence, the Bill is about cutting down on red tape and about deregulation, but this would mean a move in the opposite direction for such businesses.
As my constituency neighbour, the hon. Gentleman will remember walking down high streets such as mine and through parts of Enfield town after the riots back in 2011. Not one local shopkeeper whose shop had been ransacked said that devolving power in such a way—allowing big retailers to open for even longer on Sundays—would help their business. Such businesses are struggling anyway, and this sort of action will only make that worse.
Is the hon. Gentleman concerned about the definition of “tourist”? Can he explain what a tourist is? Am I a tourist when I go to Enfield, Southgate to shop?
The issue about tourists is not for me. I will leave my right hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mrs Spelman) to make such a case in relation to her amendment 19.
I want to turn to the substance of the issue, which is first of all about process. This is a controversial matter. No one who has been around for a while and who has listened to people’s concerns will deny that it is controversial. That is plainly the case given that it divides opinions so much in this House.
I want to make some progress.
Normally, as I understand it, the guidance for a Government consultation on a controversial matter is to allocate a full 12-week period for the consultation. However, the consultation that has led to where we are now not only lasted just six weeks, but happened right in the middle of the summer holidays at the start of August. This particularly important consultation ran for two weeks in the central period of the holidays. Why did that happen? Was there a rush to get the measure on the statute book immediately? The Government took some five months to respond to that rushed consultation, which nevertheless managed to generate some 7,000 responses, which is extraordinary, given the time constraints. If such a controversial measure elicited that number of responses, all parliamentarians must ask why it did not get the full scrutiny that it deserved in both Houses. There was an attempt to tack it on to the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill, and now it has been tacked on to the Enterprise Bill, after that has already been through the Lords. Someone who was cynical or suspicious might say that that limits the scrutiny of an important measure.
These are not just my concerns. When we last had the opportunity to discuss this matter, which was during the passage of the Sunday Trading (London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games) Bill in 2012, it did receive full scrutiny. The then Minister, Lord Sassoon, underlined the temporary nature of the proposed change. As many hon. Members have said, we had assurances from the Government that that was not a precursor to a further deregulatory move. Lord Sassoon also gave an assurance that there would be full parliamentary debate if there were ever another Sunday trading legislative proposal, but we have not had that. Unfortunately, that promise has not been kept. That is to the detriment of us all, as it would have allowed us to consider matters such as tourist zones and pilot areas, about which we will probably hear later. All those aspects need time for proper scrutiny.
Will my hon. Friend nail the myth that the measure is designed to assist town centre retail trade? Some 53% of local authority chief executives said that they would use the new liberalisation to boost out-of-town shopping centres, but that cannot be what many hon. Members want.
Indeed. The knock-on effects of the measure need careful thought and attention.
The consultation showed that 76% of local authorities, large and medium-sized business respondents and business representative organisations were in favour of the proposals, but while the Government told us that those organisations and local authorities were in favour, they failed to tell us about the proportion for individual responses. We all have a right to respond individually to Government consultations. We all have a voice. It is not just the big corporate bodies whose response counts.
My hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) and I duplicated a question to the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills to ask what number and what proportion of respondents to the Department’s consultation published on 5 August responded yes and no—it is a simple question. The first question in the consultation asked whether people were in favour of the proposal, so surely it is possible to publish the number of respondents. That question was, “Should local areas have the power to extend trading hours on Sunday?” and that is the question that we are debating today, so it would be useful to know how many individuals who responded to the consultation were in favour of the proposal.
The answer that my hon. Friend and I received from the Minister is one of the most extraordinary that I have seen in my 10 years here. It stated:
“The Department does not hold full data from this consultation broken down by specific question as a large portion of respondents chose to respond in their own words”—
I assume that they were English words and there was no problem of translation—
“rather than addressing the consultation questions directly, and/or did not indicate the type of organisation they represented.”
That is unacceptable. There should be a proper, accountable process that enables us to judge the response to the consultation on the measure.
I very much respect my hon. Friend and his viewpoints. Nevertheless, will he explain why he thinks that high streets should be held back under restrictions when most internet shopping takes place on a Sunday? He refers to the consultation, but when people shop via the internet, are they not voting with their fingers, so to speak? Do they not want to be able to shop free from restrictions? Does not my hon. Friend want to support the high street in his constituency and those elsewhere in functioning without these restrictions?
My hon. Friend will know that the Government’s review regarding high streets, about which he and I had concerns, made the case not for deregulation, but for dealing with issues such as parking and business rates, on which the Government are making good progress. On internet shopping, can a case be made that in the hours when large shops are not open—after 6 pm, say—everyone is clicking away on their computer because they cannot get to those shops? That makes no sense. There are other ways in which we can handle internet shopping. We need to look more broadly at how we can revitalise the high street, and this measure is not the way to do it.
Surveys of internet shoppers show that there is no relationship between internet shopping on a Sunday and the desire for extended hours in local stores. Is the fact that people are on the internet between midnight and 3 am an argument for shops to be open at that time? Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that is not the case?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I want to take him back to the point that he made about the consultation. We do have some data: the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers has told us that there were more than 7,000 responses to the consultation, and that it believes, as do I, that the vast majority were opposed to the proposal. Does the hon. Gentleman share that belief?
Absolutely. It would be good if there were more transparency.
The Prime Minister has led the way, quite properly, in saying that the Government need to publish family impact statements whenever new policy is proposed. We need to look carefully at such statements, so the family impact of the proposed measure should receive serious consideration. I have put questions to the Business Secretary on a number of occasions—22 September, 15 October and 10 February—to ask for the publication of the family impact statement. The understanding was that it would be published alongside the Government’s response to the consultation, but that did not happen, and we have just received it, at the eleventh hour, before the debate.
The family impact statement makes several important points. It accepts that there could be a negative impact on the family and recognises that many individuals who responded to the consultation felt that families would be noticeably affected.
I, too, respect the comments of my hon. Friend, but will he explain why we are so concerned about the family impact on those working in retail, yet we do not regulate for those who work shifts in sectors such as the NHS, transport, catering, hospitality—the list goes on?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. It is often low-paid workers, in many cases women, who are affected by Sunday trading, and such trading has a knock-on effect on ancillary services in the supply chain to large stores. That, too, needs careful consideration.
On my substantive objections to the proposal, beyond the process—important though that is in determining how Members will vote later—an economic case has been made. It is important that we look at the evidence provided by not just the New West End Company, but Oxford Economics, which I mentioned earlier. It projects that under the Government’s proposals, 8,800 jobs would be lost in the convenience sector, with a net loss of 3,270 jobs in the wider grocery sector because of displaced trade from small to large businesses.
I am sorry, but I am going to make some progress so that other hon. Members have a chance to contribute to this important debate.
I am no great expert on businesses—I am taking the evidence that I have seen—but I do listen to the representatives of business organisations. When the Federation of Small Businesses, the Association of Convenience Stores, the National Federation of SubPostmasters, the Rural Shops Alliance, the Federation of Wholesale Distributors and the National Federation of Retail Newsagents—many of us will have been to their regular receptions here, and expressed solidarity with them and concern about the challenges they face—are all united in saying that this change is bad news for our economy, I take that very seriously, as should other Members.
I must make some progress.
My concern is that the proposal has not been properly thought through or evidenced. We are in danger of being seen to be responding to the voice of bigger business, rather than the small businesses on our high streets. Indeed, when the nearly unanimous opposition of small businesses is seen in tandem with the fact that nearly a quarter of the large businesses that responded to the Government’s consultation also oppose the proposal, we need to reflect very carefully on the lack of scrutiny in tacking these measures on to the Bill.
Like many other Members, I want to speak up for my high street. When I go back to my constituency, I do not think that the businesses on my high street would say, “Well done. Thank you very much for deregulating and giving more hours to the large shops.” I think that they would say, “Why aren’t you spending more time lowering our business rates, getting better car parking and reducing red tape?” I support the Government in their focus on that, so why are we getting distracted by the claim that the measure will in any way support our high streets?
Several points have been made about shop workers. We cannot ignore the fact that separated parents can face problems, such as if one parent has access rights at the weekend. One shop worker in that situation told me, “As I am separated, I have my children every other weekend. I work every Saturday and one in four Sundays. I often struggle to arrange childcare and fear that this has an effect on my relationship with my children.” We must listen to those voices.
In relation to the opt-outs, I welcome the fact that the Government are seeking to provide additional protections, but we have heard legal advice saying that that might not allay people’s concerns. In fact, despite the additional protections, there is already an issue regarding whether those who are unwilling to work on Sundays will be considered when they apply for a job. Indeed, as we have heard, people are already under an implied pressure to work longer hours.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on the holy alliance that he has assembled behind his amendment. A member of USDAW is quoted as saying:
“I’d be under pressure to do more hours on Sunday, making it impossible for me to go to church.”
Is that not an undesirable aspect of the proposal?
The Government have tried to deal with that concern by putting forward additional religious protections in the Bill, and my amendment would not delete those. Whether the pressures are explicit or implied, they are a factor.
The Government did have a pilot in one sense, because such a measure was road-tested during the 2012 Olympics. A specific opt-out was created so that staff could avoid working the longer Sundays if they did not wish to, and retailers claimed that they would cover only those hours when staff volunteered to work. However, I understand that 564 representatives in stores that opened for longer hours found that in over half those stores—56%—despite the right to opt out, staff came under pressure to work the extra hours. Those who asked not to work the extra hours were threatened, or punished by being refused overtime.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that over half of those who work in shops in Northern Ireland, where opt-outs are already meant to be in place, have come under pressure, and that that is why 76% of those who work in the retail trade have said that they do not want hours to be extended, purely because they know that they would be under even greater pressure if local authorities accepted the longer hours?
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. We should also consider the potential domino effect of the Government’s proposals. Another shop worker told me, “The idea that Sunday working is optional, and that this is enshrined in law, is laughable. They make you pay one way or another for objecting to working on a Sunday.”
When a policy is opposed by the small business community, by a good number of large businesses, by the majority of shop workers, and by Churches and other faith communities—the Chief Rabbi recently spoke passionately about properly respecting the special character of Sundays—we must ensure that we consider it carefully. There has already been deregulation in many forms, but there is still a special character that we can preserve. This does matter, because Sunday is still special for many people, and the Government should not chip away at that unfairly, unreasonably and without due process. We should ensure that there is a proper place for Sundays for families, businesses and workers.
This issue has come before the House on previous occasions. Mrs Thatcher’s Government were defeated by a large majority on an entire Bill in the House of Commons. I remember attending my first ever public meeting in 1986—it was my first foray into the world of politics—which was hosted by my local Member of Parliament, Michael Portillo. He appeared before a packed public meeting and completely misjudged the views of those present, many of whom had never been to a public meeting before. He saw for himself the huge concern in the community, having misjudged the strength of feeling about amending the hours of Sunday trading. Time has moved on, but there is still a strength of feeling out there—from shop workers, families, small businesses and others. That meeting was a formative political experience for me. We heard a statement from the Health Secretary earlier about learning from mistakes, and I urge the Government today not to make the same mistake again.
Order. Before we proceed with the debate, I have now to announce the result of the deferred Division on the question relating to EU measures to combat terrorism. The Ayes were 302 and the Noes were 217, so the Ayes have it.
[The Division list is published at the end of today’s debates.]
Order. Before I call the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds) as the next speaker in the debate, I would point out that we have two hours and 20 minutes left. If the Minister wishes to do so, I will shortly call him to speak from the Front Bench. A simple nod of the head will suffice.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I will certainly endeavour to do so.
I rise in support of the amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes), to which I have added my name, as have many other hon. Members on both sides of the House. I am completely opposed to any changes to Sunday trading regulations, whether it is their extension or their devolution to local councils. I am sceptical of what benefits, if any, it would bring to our economy but, more importantly, my concern lies with retail workers and my desire to keep Sunday special.
As a Greater Manchester MP, I am a huge supporter of devolution, particularly to a city as great as ours. However, to me the measure does not feel like beneficial devolution; rather, it feels like a dishonest manoeuvre from a Government who seem obsessed with introducing the policy even though there appears to be no public demand for it. I also have concerns about how the Government have gone about the process, in particular their flawed consultation, which I will address.
I am happy to declare an interest, in that I am an USDAW-sponsored MP, which I am particularly proud of. USDAW has led from the front in this campaign, representing the concerns of ordinary retail workers and ensuring that their voice is heard.
Lots of good, strong arguments were put forward in the excellent speech from the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate. I, too, intend to focus my speech on the family and faith aspects of Sundays but, first, I want to express my serious concerns about how the Government have gone about attempting to introduce the change. I believe it is at best mischievous and at worst a borderline fantasy when the Government say that the Bill in itself will not enact any changes to Sunday trading regulations, but leave that open to local councils to decide. They know as well as all hon. Members do that the measure will result in extended opening hours on Sundays. As soon as one council does it, neighbouring councils will soon fall, one after another, until extended hours are uniform.
I will not give way because of the time constraints.
The Government should stop insulting the intelligence of the House and treat the clause as what it is: an explicit attempt to extend Sunday trading hours. I believe that devolution should be used to give councils the powers that they want and need. It should not be a way for the Government to abdicate responsibility for changes that they do not want to be blamed for, when they feel that the changes they intend to make will be unpopular and controversial. If the Government want to extend Sunday trading regulations, they should have the courage to introduce explicit legislation, so that Members of the House can have a proper debate and scrutinise the proposals. Instead, the Government have chosen to hide behind the veneer of devolution.
I have been a district councillor for the past eight years. Facing a constant slew of demands on what district councillors must do is uninspiring. I would advocate the policy as a measure that will get more people into local government. They will have the optionality to decide. [Laughter.] Hon. Members may laugh, but that would occur.
I admire the attempt to get more people involved in local government by giving councillors more power—all hon. Members would celebrate that—but my point to the hon. Gentleman is this is not real power. It is an attempt to introduce a national liberalisation through the back-door veneer of devolution.
Another disappointment in the process was the Government’s consultation, which hon. Members have mentioned. It has been described to me on numerous occasions as a whitewash. The consultation concludes that the majority of responses were in favour of the proposal to devolve the power, yet in answer to a written parliamentary question to me on Monday, the Minister could not tell me how many of the 7,000-plus responses were against the proposal. How can the Government conclude that the majority of respondents were in favour of the proposal when they cannot even give the House the numbers? I was very disappointed with that answer. It should not be beyond the capabilities of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to work out how many respondents are for or against a Government proposal. I hope the Minister will be able to rectify that from the Dispatch Box and provide some much needed transparency.
My fundamental opposition to the clause comes from a passionate desire to keep Sunday special. When Sunday trading rules were relaxed during the Olympics, we were promised that it would be a temporary measure only, and yet here we are not even four years later with this proposal in front of us. The proposal ignores the wishes of retail staff. A staggering 91% of retail workers in larger stores do not want an extension of trading hours on a Sunday. To them, Sunday is a special day, much as it is in my household. I have four young children and two dogs, so I cannot claim that my Sundays are particularly restful or peaceful, but they are special—a time for the whole family to spend together. That should be the same for retail workers, more than half of whom already feel pressured to work Sundays.
If the hon. Gentleman approaches this with good intentions, I advise him to talk to some of the retail workers in his constituency to see how they feel about the autonomy they have to decide whether they get to work longer Sundays or not. It is worth pointing out that none of us debating this in the House has to work Sundays if we do not want to.
The current regulations are a good compromise. Shops can trade on Sundays and staff can work if they want. At the same time, Sunday remains a special day, different from any other day of the week. Retail workers can spend some time with their families.
I do not believe the business case for changing Sunday trading regulations stacks up. Retailers already do very well on Sunday, with lots of footfall during a relatively short time window, which makes for more effective trading. The measure will also have a negative effect on smaller shops and retailers that are not subject to the regulations. Their businesses will suffer. In the most recent example of relaxation of Sunday trading—during the Olympics—retail sales actually declined.
As well as declaring my interest as an USDAW-sponsored MP, I am likewise very comfortable declaring my interest as a practising Christian. Understandably, that forms part of my opposition to any changes to Sunday trading, which I know I share with Members on both sides of the House. Of course, we live in a diverse country—I am extremely glad that we do so—but we should recognise that Christianity is the largest religion in this country. For Christians such as myself, Sunday is a special day. Sunday is when my family and I attend church, and the opportunity to do so should not be denied to people who have to work Sundays, whether in the morning or the evening.
Like my hon. Friend, I will be part of the holy alliance trying to keep Sundays special. For people of a Christian ethos, this is not necessarily about the promotion of church; it is about a deep-rooted sense of who we believe people to be. We are created with the ability to rest as well as to work. Also, our choices have an impact on other people’s choices. The freedom we seek to exercise for ourselves is paid for by other people.
I endorse those points entirely, although it is worth noting that church attendance in many UK cities, even here in metropolitan London, is steadily rising.
The Government have a responsibility to listen to faith groups on this issue, but they have failed to do so. The changes will place additional pressure on workers and families on what is still a traditional day of rest, a day of religious worship and a day to spend quality time with family members and close friends. For faith, for family and for the rights of many retail workers up and down this country, I will be voting for the amendment. I urge the House to show the courage required today to defeat the Government on this issue.
I appreciate being called early in the debate, and I hope I can help by outlining our thinking and the journey the Government want to take on this issue.
It is important that we recall why this measure on Sunday trading hours is before the House. The laws on trading in England and Wales were last updated in 1994—back when the only time we heard of Amazon was when we talked about the river, and back when our high streets faced no external pressures. The internet is liberating and changing the way we live and work, but the pressures on our high streets are rising, and the internet plays a part in that. Our measures will help them by giving local councils the right to expand Sunday trading.
All those conditions were apparent just 10 months ago when the Conservative party stood on a manifesto that it presented to the British people, but there was zero mention of any change to Sunday trading laws. This measure represents a fundamental change to the social practice in our country, as the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds) pointed out. Why have the Government now found all these reasons to introduce a measure in this absurd fashion?
I have huge respect for my hon. Friend, having worked with him on a range of issues, but we clearly said in our manifesto that we were determined to drive economic growth, and we believe that this is an important part of that. That is why we referred to this last summer.
It is clear that local authorities believe they are the right bodies to hold this power. They represent local people, are accountable locally, know their areas best and want this power, which is why almost 200 have written asking for it to be devolved to them, including councils such as Carlisle, Chorley and, despite what the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds) said, Greater Manchester Combined Authority.
My hon. Friend is very able and has a wonderful job, but he wants to spend time on a Sunday with his family. I have heard so many Members say they want to keep Sunday special for their family. Why should shop workers be any different?
I am sure my hon. Friend will appreciate that not only do people work in shops on Sundays already—in many areas, for longer than the opening hours, because of how shops work—but people working in retail, if they work six days a week, might like to visit retail outlets themselves on Sundays. The internet is growing: we saw a stark warning of that today as Amazon has announced it is opening another centre in Manchester, creating more jobs. That shows how it is growing and the pressure that the internet is applying, but of course we are not forcing anybody to shop on a Sunday.
Councils want this power. They want the ability to zone and to take a decision on trading in their area—for example, if they wish to promote the high street at the expense of out-of-town commercial sites. Our amendment allows that zoning to happen, and no one knows more about their local area than locally elected leaders. This also provides an opportunity for independent businesses to benefit. One of the big voices calling for this change is the Horticultural Trades Association, comprising mainly independent businesses, and it wants this growth.
I think the Minister has hit the nail absolutely on the head. Listening to the debate hitherto, one might have thought that we were proposing to introduce Sunday trading. The Minister is absolutely right, and I speak as a former district councillor of 11 years standing, that it is not for this House to decide what is best for local areas—it is for those local areas and their local representatives, and they are being given discretion.
I agree with my hon. Friend; I think he is right. One of the things I have been most passionate about, as have the Secretary of State, the Chancellor and the Prime Minister, during the years of coalition as well as in this Parliament, is devolving power, and we just wish our friends in Scotland believed in devolving power, too. It is why organisations representing independent businesses like garden centres are so keen to benefit from this growth.
Let me take the Minister back to the important point made by his hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) in a measured speech in which he reminded us of the Prime Minister’s clear commitment just weeks before the general election:
“I can assure you that we have no plans to relax the Sunday trading laws. We believe the current system provides a reasonable balance”.
Does the Minister not think it matters if the Prime Minister says one thing just before a general election, if a policy is not in the Conservative manifesto, but the Government then do something completely different afterwards?
I appreciate that the Labour party is not looking to drive economic growth, but our manifesto is clear that we want to see it, and the Prime Minister made it very clear at this very Dispatch Box last year that we thought it was time to review Sunday trading laws in the light of how things have moved on.
I shall take some more interventions in a few moments, but I am aware of the Speaker’s correct point about the time available this afternoon.
If we look at our track record, it is clear that no party cares more about worker protection than this Conservative Government. We are the party of the national living wage—it is our Chancellor who has delivered it—and it is our measure that will protect shop workers. No one will be forced to work on a Sunday; indeed, everyone has the right to say no. We will also reduce the opt-out period for large shops, so that shop workers need give employers only one month’s notice of an unwillingness to work. We have to be clear that this is a package of amendments. Should amendment 1 go through today, Members of Opposition parties will be voting against improving workers’ rights, because that provision will go as well. Anyone who already works on a Sunday will have a new right to turn down extra hours to which they do not wish to commit. Labour and the SNP oppose all of that. They oppose giving workers who wish it the right to work longer and different hours, and they deny everyone the right to spend Sunday as they choose in their time with their families wherever and however they choose.
There are a number of convenience stores in my constituency that are below the 3,000 sq feet threshold. Many are franchisees and small businesses, so will the Minister elaborate a little further on what conversations he has had with those businesses about the proposed changes?
I am sure my hon. Friend will appreciate—he used to work closely with me—that I was once the Minister responsible for the high streets. My colleague who is currently the Minister responsible for the high streets and I work with the Future High Streets Forum, and I talk to small businesses all the time.
As someone who has run his own independent retail business, may I tell the Minister that many independent traders have few extra resources? They will be forced to open to compete with the very large stores. What about the lifestyle of those people who would end up working seven days a week in order to try to keep their businesses running?
I am slightly surprised by the hon. Gentleman’s comments. After all, his local authority is one that is saying that it wants this power, which he is trying to stop it taking. Labour-run Greenwich wants this power. Those small shops have the ability to open now, and they are in competition with 24-hour, seven-day-a-week internet shopping, including on Sundays. The hon. Gentleman might not realise it, but Amazon is open on a Sunday and it delivers on a Sunday. We want to give the high streets a chance to compete with that.
Has my hon. Friend had any conversations with the leaders of the SNP about why they liberalised trading laws in Scotland, what advantages they sought from that, and why they are proposing to reverse it on the basis of their concerns about any of the issues other than pay that they wish to address?
My hon. Friend has made a very good point. Research conducted by the Association of Convenience Stores has established that there are more small independent shops per head of population in Scotland than there are in England. So the liberalisation in Scotland has worked—unless the hon. Member for Livingston (Hannah Bardell) is going to tell us, when she makes her speech later, that the SNP is about to go backwards and change the law there.
It seems to me that, if Conservative Members are being asked to vote for something that was not in our manifesto so shortly after the election, it should be because the situation is urgent, because there is a compelling argument in favour of the move, or because the circumstances have changed. The situation does not appear to me to be urgent. The Minister will finish his remarks, and he may advance a compelling argument. However, he seems to be resting on the assumption that the circumstances have changed, and in that context he has laid emphasis on internet shopping. He may be aware that, only yesterday, the head of the British Retail Consortium appeared before the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee and talked about the evolution of business models. He said that, because high street retailers now have their own online retail outlets, they do not necessarily feel compelled to draw a distinction between the two kinds of retail for the purposes of achieving growth.
My hon. Friend has, in fact, made it clear why it is important for local authorities to be able to decide locally what is right for them. He should also acknowledge that it is often the larger high-street stores that are the draw for footfall in local areas. As he knows, I think that free car parking also plays a part, and I should like to see more of that.
As we all know, politics is not an exact science, and all but the most saintly of humans can sometimes contradict themselves, or be open to the charge of inconsistency. However, the contradictions that are inherent in the Labour-SNP opposition to our liberalisation proposals are so immense that I must draw attention to them.
As others have pointed out, there are no restrictions on Sunday trading in Scotland. First, SNP Members said—as one would expect—that they would support our proposals, and now they say that will not. Will the SNP Administration in Edinburgh be introducing the restrictions that currently apply in England, in order to be consistent? I should be interested to hear the answer to that question.
Do Labour Members—along with USDAW—plan to send letters to their constituents urging them to give up using the internet on Sundays, lest someone, somewhere, be exploited in a warehouse owned by Amazon or a similar company? I am tempted to ask the Opposition why they did not vote against this proposal in Committee, or even, in some cases, speak against it—neither the SNP nor Labour voted against it—and why they have not tabled an amendment themselves. Perhaps the wording of the amendment could have been something like “It has come to the attention of Labour and SNP that that some people shop on the internet on Sundays.” After all, Sunday is now the biggest internet shopping day of the week. It could have continued: “Labour and the SNP demand a law requiring people to switch off the internet on Sundays, in order to stamp out this disgraceful behaviour.”
Perhaps I should not give Opposition Members any ideas. How can anyone be opposed to the idea of walking into a shop on a Sunday to buy something—a book, for example, whether it is a little red one or not—but not opposed to the idea of buying that very same book, so long as it is done on the internet? Labour and the SNP—parties that are, effectively, in coalition today—are supporting Amazon’s profits at the expense of shops on our high streets. I am afraid that I struggle to understand the logic of that.
The Minister mentioned protection for shop workers earlier. I would welcome the strengthening of such protection. May I ask the Minister whether, if he loses the vote on Sunday opening tonight, he will retain the protection for shop workers that is in the Bill?
I am deeply concerned about this issue, and my name is attached to amendment No. 1. I listened to what the Minister said this morning, when we spoke at some length about the proposed pilot. I would be willing to support that pilot if the Minister would give us a clear assurance that it will not just involve looking at economic drivers, but will take account of the overall impact, and apply the family test. A great many people who work shifts are put on the bottom of the list and end up working on Sundays because they cannot get to the top. We must make sure that that does not happen in this instance. [Interruption.]
Order. First, may I appeal for as orderly an atmosphere as possible? The Chair seeks to facilitate as many contributors as possible. Secondly, Members are of course free to say what they like, but I would gently point out that no amendment or new clause on the subject of pilots is to be taken today. There is material before the House, but that subject is not among it.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Will you confirm again that the manuscript amendment that the Government attempted to sneak on to the amendment paper at the last minute today, which would have covered the compromise on which the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mrs Trevelyan) seems to have done a deal, is in fact not on the amendment paper and not before the House?
My hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mrs Trevelyan) makes a strong point, and she has been consistent on this matter. She makes a clear, passionate and strong point on the importance of family values and of our social fabric. If she will bear with me, I will touch on that matter in just a moment.
I would say to Opposition Members that we need to think about where we are with Sunday trading. Let us be very clear: none of us would put up with a Government banning cinemas from opening on Wednesday evenings, so why on earth would we put up with a Government telling us when we can and cannot open our businesses and run our shops, and telling us how we should be spending our time if we want to go shopping on a Sunday?
The Minister is fielding a difficult case very well. He is an excellent Minister with whom I have had the great honour to serve on the Housing and Planning Bill Committee. However, on the specific issue of employment rights, he will know that as a result of work commissioned by the Christian Institute, John Bowers QC said on 25 February that he considered the Government’s proposals for employment rights “inordinately complex”, and that they would offer
“no protection from detriment or dismissal for people who object to working on Sundays during the opt-out notice period.”
That is the issue, and that is what the best legal brains have told us about the Government’s proposal.
I have a similar admiration for my hon. Friend. He is a fantastic colleague to work with at all times, but I disagree with him on this matter. We know what the Government lawyers have outlined, and the strengthening of rights as set out in our amendments goes beyond anything that Labour did while it was in government to increase workers’ protection. This is an important part of the package. Inconsistency from the parties on the Opposition Benches is one thing, but killing off jobs is entirely another. Given Labour’s unemployment record and its Maoist take on economics, however, I should perhaps not be surprised. The SNP and Labour did not even raise an amendment or a vote on this issue in Committee.
I will in a moment, but I want to make a bit of progress.
The estimates of the growth that liberalisation would deliver can be seen in the evidence. Growth, which would mean new jobs and more taxes to pay for public services, will come as a result of these changes. Estimates suggest an extra £300 million of sales in London alone. The letters that Labour and the SNP might be drafting, urging people to avoid the internet on Sundays, should include a postscript for anybody who is looking for a job right now. Maybe it could say, “Sorry, we’re opposing measures that could have helped you find a job.” And the SNP, the party that exists to promote local control over people’s own affairs, should perhaps add a PPS to explain why its members are voting to prevent devolution to English and Welsh councils when the control of shopping hours is already fully devolved to the Scottish Government.
Given that the Government have known the SNP’s position on this matter since November, why have they not come back with proposals to put the protection of premium pay into statute, for example, or indeed to devolve employment law so that we could sort this out for ourselves?
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way; he is obviously trying to defend a difficult position. The Government support the measure and the Opposition oppose it, yet several of the Minister’s party colleagues share deep concern, tapping into a conservative tradition of trying to preserve our institutions. I gently suggest that he might make better progress by making positive arguments for his proposals to those colleagues rather than by attacking the Opposition, and therefore Members on his side, as Maoists.
I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s comments, but my colleagues and good friends around me are capable of defending themselves and making their case clearly, just as my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) has done this afternoon. I respect that, but the reality is that we want to provide an opportunity for economic growth and give our high streets the chance to regenerate. The hon. Member for Luton South (Mr Shuker) might want to have a look at the Hansard reports of the Committee stage to see the arguments we had then in more detail.
The largest employer in my constituency is Knowhow, of which hon. Members may be aware from ordering TVs and electrical equipment. It is the biggest distributor of electrical equipment from online sales. Those workers—hundreds of my constituents—work on Sundays. How do hon. Members think that they get their deliveries on Monday morning? The Bill will enhance the rights of those workers. When hon. Members go online and order something on Amazon on a Saturday or Sunday, workers in my constituency and across the country will be working and will enjoy the benefits that the Bill will give them.
My hon. Friend makes a strong point clearly and highlights another important point. The United States is one of the most observant places in the world on religious matters but it has more freedom than we do, and I am sure that Scottish Members would argue that family values and religious observance have not decreased following liberalisation. People will still be able to choose what they do and, arguably, have more flexibility on Sundays. We have to remember the workers who work six days a week and who want more opportunities when choosing how to spend their time.
Before I take any more interventions, I am aware of your comments about the time available this afternoon, Mr Speaker, and want to make a little progress. There are Members on both sides of the House, particularly on my side, whose consciences make this a difficult subject, and I respect their moral views. They are speaking from strong positions, rather than playing with political opportunism, which some Opposition Members are doing. I want to set out our journey of travel so that the House gets a feeling for what we are planning. We intend to go further and do something different from what we initially proposed in the protections on offer.
Having listened to colleagues and discussed their principled objections with them, I want to propose something. Before I do, I should make it clear that it deals with the concerns raised by SNP Members in the press, so we will find out whether they really believe what they have been saying over the past 24 hours. Rather than applying the liberalisation nationwide from day one, the Government will invite local authorities that want to liberalise hours to apply for participation in an exploratory phase. Twelve places, geographically, economically and demographically diverse, will be locally recommended to us.
Taking your absolutely correct point about the manuscript amendment to heart, Mr Speaker, may I say that if hon. Members join the Government and me in voting against amendment 1 today, we will table an amendment in the other place? I have circulated that amendment to colleagues this afternoon. During an exploratory phase, we will gather evidence about the impact of liberalisation, including the use of zoning and its effect on those local economies. And of course the impacts on workers will be measured, too. My hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed and other colleagues have made this case clearly, strongly and passionately, and we are listening and have heard what they say. We want to make sure that we are able to have a proper assessment. I will liaise with colleagues over the next few weeks to make sure that our performance indicators recognise, assess and look at this as part of the criteria over the next 12 months.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Is it in order for the Minister to proceed with a promise of legislation that is not on the amendment paper for us to consider, and for Members therefore to vote on something that they do not have in front of them? The measure we are voting on is not promises; it has to be in front of us, so that we can discuss it here in this Chamber.
Let me explain the position to the hon. Gentleman, to whom I am genuinely grateful for his point of order, and for the benefit of the House. There is nothing disorderly in the Minister giving an indication of how the Government would propose to proceed. If a Minister wishes to say to the House, “Our intention is to proceed with pilots”, it is perfectly in order for the Minister to do that. But of one thing, procedurally and constitutionally, the House needs to be made again aware: Members are voting on that which is on the paper and which the Speaker has selected. Members are not voting on a Government proposal or words about pilots; they are voting on that which is on the paper. The matter under discussion is the amendment standing in the name of the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes). We are voting on that, not on a Government proposal, and I hope that that is clear.
I will take some interventions in just a second. Obviously, you are absolutely right, as always, Mr Speaker. I would not dream of taking any other view. What I wanted to outline to my hon. Friends and to colleagues across this House is that what Mr Speaker said is absolutely right: we are saying that if the House votes against amendment 1, what I have outlined is what the Government will then do.
I have been writing to constituents over the past six months saying that I agree with the Prime Minister on this issue and, in particular, with what he said in his letter of 20 April. I wonder whether my hon. Friend would be able to help me in drafting a new letter if I were to go into the wrong Lobby. May I ask him whether the Government would introduce fresh legislation in the Queen’s Speech? Why not bring forward a fresh Bill and have a proper discussion about this, de novo?
I appreciate my hon. Friend’s faith in my ability to draft a letter, and I am happy to do that. As he talks about this being over the past six months, I would gently point his local residents towards the fact that both the Prime Minister and the Chancellor last summer outlined that we wanted to review the Sunday trading laws, in the light of how things were moving on economically and the speed with which internet shopping is growing.
Is the Minister telling us that the conscience of this House and of individual Members of this House can be salved in some way by the promise of a stay of execution but with a really nice funeral later on? Is that in essence what he is telling us? Would he not be far better withdrawing this measure now and bringing back new measures at a later stage?
I am just going to continue outlining exactly the journey of travel would be. What the hon Gentleman has outlined is not quite what we are looking at. We would have pilots; local areas would come in and say that they want to be part of this. We must bear in mind that almost 200 local authorities want this power. The Government would choose 12 areas with a good demographic spread to look at over the next 12 months.
I will take some more interventions in a moment, but I want to finish answering the hon. Gentleman’s point. There would be an opportunity to look at the assessment of that over the next 12 months, and we would report back to Parliament with the findings, based on agreed key performance indicators. In 12 months’ time, this will come back to Parliament—on the Floor of this House. An evaluation of this exploratory phase will be published. We are circulating a draft for colleagues to consider, and I will be asking them to support us by opposing amendments 1 and 19, and supporting the Government amendments 2, 13 and 14, which will then allow us to do this in the House of Lords.
That will take us to an evaluation of this exploratory phase, which will be published. After that pilot period, the House will then debate and vote again on extending the right to every council in England and Wales. Therefore, the matter will come back to this House for a full debate, during which Members will have the evidence before them.
I thank the Minister for giving way. First, we had the Minister, a member of the union of barrel scrapers, presenting himself as an advocate for workers’ rights and interests. Now he is trying to tell us that he is selling on some sort of deferred click and collect basis—an option that is not available or in front of us today. Is the Minister not pushing something that will be a predictive text version of public policy that will end up becoming the default position for local authorities, firms and workers who do not want it?
The hon. Gentleman is not quite correct. There is huge interest in this. I am talking about local authorities, consumers, people who work six days a week, families, workers who want the chance to work on a Sunday and businesses that want a chance to compete with the internet. Horticultural associations are very clear that this is worth a potential £75 million a year to our economy—and that is in their industry alone. In the main, I am talking about independent businesses. Potentially, there are thousands and thousands of jobs.
I will take some interventions in a moment. If Members vote against amendment 1, as I am asking them to do, I will make sure that we have a pilot scheme that runs over 12 months, which will give us further evidence, so that we can come back to this House for full scrutiny, a debate and a vote.
Does the Minister agree that another point of reassurance to hon. Members across the House is the fact that contained in the Government’s Bill are zoning provisions, which allow local authorities to choose the areas that will benefit from enhanced Sunday trading laws? That is a fair compromise.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There is in the Bill an ability to zone. Local areas that want to carry out a pilot will be able to specify exactly how they want to do it and what that zone will look like. This scheme is all about absolutely trusting local people to do what they know is right for their area. By doing it this way, there is no need for amendment 1. Our intention is to increase freedom, protect shopworkers’ rights, grow our economy, and protect our high streets while devolving power from Whitehall to town halls. We want to see power devolving to local areas, because they know their economies and their high streets best and they want this power to see their economies grow.
If Lincoln applies for a pilot and it goes ahead, will there not be intolerable pressure on West Lindsey next door? Tesco will say to West Lindsey and Gainsborough, “Unless you agree to join this, we will close you down and move to Lincoln.” It is not true devolution. I know that my hon. Friend is a very able Minister and that he is working very hard, but his arguments do not stack up. Frankly, even God took a rest on the seventh day. My hon. Friend should just sit down, rest his case and withdraw the measure.
I thank my hon. Friend for his kind invitation to a rest, but I am happy to carry on and try to do the right thing for our economy for just a little bit longer. Let me tell him how this will practically work. As there will be only 12 pilots, no other area will be allowed to take part. If he looks at what we have circulated this afternoon, he will be able to see that the pilots will take place only in certain areas. After that, the matter will come back to this House for full assessment, full debate and full scrutiny.
Before entering this place, I was in business for 25 years. It is absolutely right to consider the needs of large businesses and, of course, small businesses, and the family lives of workers, but, as all business people know, the customer comes first. If the customer wants to shop at other times at the weekend, should they not be allowed to do so, and is the pilot not the right way to take it forward? Members on both sides of the House say that customers do not want this policy, but should we not ask them, through a pilot, to see if they actually do want this and to see the effect that it has on small businesses in particular?
My hon. Friend gets to the heart of a key issue: what is right for the wider community and for our consumers and residents? To build on his very direct point, let me add that I spoke to somebody just last week who made a very salient point: as someone who works in the health service six days a week, they really want this wider opportunity on a Sunday to shop in the way everybody else does on a Saturday, a Friday and a Thursday, and to spend time with their families in these shopping areas, supporting their high street, as many of us can on a Saturday. I am sure that there are many Members of this House who work hard on a Saturday and who might also take advantage of this freedom on a Sunday.
My hon. Friend will know as well as I do, if not better, that businesses in Carlisle want this power; indeed, the Labour local authority wants it, and it may well bid to be one of the pilots.
I should be very clear: if amendment 1 is not accepted today, we will only go forward in the other House with our new amendment, which will mean there are only 12 pilots—no more than that.
I thank the Minister for letting us know about the zoning proposals. Perhaps he could clarify whether London could be a zone itself, or whether that will be delegated to the individual local authorities. London is obviously a diverse area, and many people would appreciate working on Sundays, whereas they would not like to work on another day—so there is flexibility in this new employment. Equally, on the Minister’s point about America, there is obviously a higher church attendance, but there is also much more freedom on this issue. We are a great capital city, and we would like to trade on Sunday.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. I can appreciate that parts of London would want to come forward as a zone. For example, some of the evidence shows that, in the west end alone, that could be worth almost £400 million a year for the economy, with 2,500 jobs being created. However, it would be for areas to bid to be one of the pilot areas.
London is actually a really good example of how the market drives these things. Even on the days when shops can open for as long as they like, Members may find that, if they wander to the west end in the middle of the week, shops do not open particularly longer hours, so that, by the time we finish in this place, they are not open. Businesses can make that choice; what we want to do is make sure that they have that choice, that it is locally driven and that local residents have a choice as well.
I would say to the hon. Lady and to colleagues around the House that, as we put these proposals forward, it is important that we make sure that the key performance indicators that will come back to the House a year after the pilots—we will run the pilots for 12 months—cover a whole range of issues. She makes a fair point, and if it is one of the points she and her colleagues want looked at in the pilots, I am very happy to make sure it is. [Interruption.]
The hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) asks from a sedentary position whether I am going to use up the entire time, and I would gently say to him that, no, I will not. I am about to conclude, but I would just point out to him that I have been spending much of my time taking interventions from his hon. Friends. I find his comments slightly surprising, bearing in mind that this is not an issue he felt needed voting on in Committee.
No, I am not going to take an intervention. We need to allow other hon. Members to have their say.
We have listened to the principled opposition to our plans. I have listened to colleagues who have made strong, passionate and clear proposals to us, and we are amending them accordingly with our proposal for an exploratory evaluative phase, which we will lay amendments for in the other place—a draft is available for colleagues to look at now. I therefore call on all Members to support the Government’s amendment and to vote against amendment 1.
Welcome to our deliberations, Madam Deputy Speaker. I should refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
That really was the “Trust me, I’m Honest Brandon” speech: “We’ve got it wrong so far. We promise to do better next time, so I’m begging you to support me, despite making such a mess of things so far.” Honestly, have we ever heard anything quite so absurd?
The Minister asked why we did not vote against the measure in Committee, so I will read him what my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) said then:
“I will cut short my comments and simply say that we are against these proposals—”
that sounds pretty clear to me—
“but we will not vote against them at this stage because we want the opportunity to test the opinion of the whole House on Report.”––[Official Report, Enterprise Public Bill Committee, 25 February 2016; c. 328.]
Today that is exactly what we are doing.
Let me turn to the Minister’s last-minute—indeed, after-the-last-minute—offer to invite local authorities to participate. Why on earth did he not do that in the first place? Let us be clear: there is no offer today for Government Members to vote for pilots, and no way of guaranteeing them. The Bill contains nothing about pilots. Do we take the Minister at his word, given what has gone before us previously on this subject?
Is my hon. Friend aware of any provision that allows Government Members to pre-empt a decision in the other place, or to offer this strange variant on a deferred Division on a proposal that nobody anywhere—other than those on the Government Front Benches, and possibly not all of them—actually wants?
My right hon. Friend makes a good point, and the Government have had ample opportunity in the Lords—[Interruption.] As my hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield (Yvonne Fovargue) reminds me, this provision was not even mentioned in the Lords. It was not in the original Bill, and it was not mentioned until Second Reading, when the Secretary of State announced for the first time that the Bill would cover Sunday trading. The Minister had plenty of time to table amendments then, in Committee, or today, but he chose not to. Why should we believe a word he says?
Let me underline the point made by the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes). If we want enhanced provisions, surely the logical thing is to vote for amendment 1. There is nothing to prevent the Minister from bringing his provision forward in the House of Lords, regardless of the vote, other than the fact that we have not amended the Bill and it stands in the way he has presented it to us today.
Let me answer my hon. Friend. Perhaps the Minister will answer the similar point made by the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope). Why does he not go back to the drawing board, start again with a new Bill, and bring it back to us once it has been properly considered? Both Houses should have ample opportunity to consider this issue properly, debate it fully, and get the right conclusions and legislation. He could start again.
Let me help the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues. I outlined the measures in the way I did because, if amendment 1 is accepted, the Sunday trading clauses will not apply. We need to support the Government amendments in order to amend the Government amendments in the House of Lords. From a technical point of view, that is why we did it in that way. I want to ensure that we run these pilots for the benefit of local economies.
That is complete nonsense. The Minister had long enough when he was on his feet to demonstrate the nonsense of what he is saying. The only way to do this is to start from scratch, and enough hon. Members across the House have made that point. The Minister should listen, particularly to his own Members, who have made that point well.
Are we moving towards talking about a hypothetical amendment with hypothetical evidence, when in fact this provision could create huge risk for neighbouring areas that will not be part of the pilot? In 12 months’ time, those businesses may no longer exist.
I really should make progress and I will take more interventions later.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) and all who have signed his amendment. He gave an excellent speech with a measured and appropriate tone. I commend the Keep Sunday Special campaign for its hard work in making sure all the arguments were marshalled, given the Government’s failure to provide evidence in a timely fashion.
Sunday is the one day a week when workers in larger stores do not have the prospect of having to work long hours. It is the one day a week when those workers have the prospect of spending at least a part of the day with their families. For many people of faith it is more than that: it is the most important day of the week. For many people of faith and otherwise, Sunday is a day of rest. It is also the one day a week when smaller retailers have a slight competitive advantage and can stay open longer if they wish.
Nearly 3 million people, one in 10 of our workforce, work in the retail sector. This matters a great deal. There will be profound changes to the lives of many people, both at work and outside, if the changes go through.
I would like to ask the hon. Gentleman the same question I asked my hon. Friend the Minister. What discussions has he had on what is effectively the pilot operating in Scotland, which we can look at to see how beneficial, leaving aside what is being paid to the workers, liberalisation has been to the Scottish economy? Has he looked at that?
I am sure SNP Members will answer the hon. Lady’s question. The reality is that we have a great British compromise that allows different situations in different parts of the United Kingdom.
Before the election, as we have been reminded a number of times, the Prime Minister’s office confirmed that the Prime Minister had no plans to change Sunday trading. The Conservative party manifesto did not state that it would change Sunday trading. Many Conservative candidates—a number of them have told me this—wrote in good faith to constituents to confirm that the Government would not be implementing such changes.
In Committee, the Minister justified the changes by saying the current rules date from a time before the internet—1994, to be precise. In a Populus survey from January this year, however, not a single respondent said that restrictions on Sunday trading were a reason for them shopping online—not a single person out of 2,008 people in a representative sample. Yet online trading is given as a key reason for needing to extend Sunday trading. For good measure, not a single industry or media analyst suggested that the recent poor Christmas trading results were caused by a lack of opportunity for shoppers on Sundays. Unbelievable!
The Minister told us in Committee that the reason for the change of mind was that when the Prime Minister’s office wrote the letter it was as the Prime Minister of a coalition Government, but that now he is the Prime Minister of a Conservative majority Government everything has changed. Presumably, he intended to become the Prime Minister of a majority Government when his office wrote the letter and when it wrote the manifesto, and I rather doubt that that cuts much ice with Conservative Back Benchers who support the Keep Sunday Special campaign.
The Minister also told us that the proposed changes were about devolution and decisions being taken by local people. However, as council chief executives have clearly said, in most areas, the changes would be applied to out-of-town shopping centres, to the detriment of high streets. Those same chief executives have also pointed out that, if one council introduces changes to Sunday trading, their neighbours will have little or no choice other than to follow suit, or run the risk that trade would migrate to businesses in the neighbouring authority. This is not the localism the Government claim. It is passing on the blame for an unpopular measure that only one in eight people support, according to a Populus poll last September. We were told that the changes would help the high street.
If the hon. Gentleman wants to organise an Adjournment debate about the people of Carlisle, I am sure the Minister will answer him. The reality is, however, that if one—[Hon. Members: “Answer!”] If hon. Members will let me answer the question, I will. If one council changes its rules, neighbouring authorities will feel under pressure to do exactly the same thing. They will have no choice. If a Tesco opens on a Sunday until 10 o’clock at night, then the Tesco, Asda or Morrisons in the borough next door will have to open until that time, too.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the hon. Member for Carlisle (John Stevenson) has just made his point for him? If the people of Carlisle were to decide what happened in their area so that they could compete with Scotland, the next-door council would make exactly the same argument. The shadow Minister is exactly right: that would have the effect of ensuring that this was not localism, but a national decision.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. The hon. Member for Kensington (Victoria Borwick) asked the Minister about zoning and whether London could be a single zone, but why stop at London? Why not designate England as a single zone, given that that is exactly what would happen because of the domino effect of the proposal?
My hon. Friend is making a very good speech. The Trafford centre is a large shopping centre situated next to my constituency. It attracts an enormous amount of traffic, so if it extends its hours my constituency will never get a moment’s peace. Moreover, building work on the Government’s motorway project can take place only when the Trafford centre is not busy. [Interruption.] It is not my council. If the Trafford centre opens 24/7, the logistics will make things impossible for my constituents.
There are similar examples up and down the country. My hon. Friend is absolutely right.
Let me turn to some of the evidence we have been given in the lead-up to this debate. During the Olympics, convenience stores experienced a fall in Sunday trade of up to 7%. There was also a displacement of trade to different times of the week, but, instead of an increase in overall trade, there was a slight fall. The Government assumption that people will have more money to spend just because the shops are open longer does not bear scrutiny once we start to look at the evidence.
Meanwhile, the extra Sunday hours would increase costs in those large stores that stay open longer, and while there will be some displacement from convenience stores to larger retailers, as happened during the Olympics, there will be little or no overall increase in trade to pay for the increased cost in most shops.
I am going to make some more progress before I take any more interventions.
The larger retailers that open longer will have to find a way to reduce costs, which means removing the premium for shop workers. Given that the major retailers operate UK-wide, a change in pay and conditions in England and Wales will mean changes in Scotland and Northern Ireland as well. Premium pay on Sundays is viable across the UK because large retailers in most of the UK are restricted to six hours’ opening. The time and a half paid to many shop workers will be under threat to make up for staying open longer across the UK, which, of course, is why this is a UK-wide matter and why it is entirely appropriate that Members from across the UK have a vote on this very important proposal.
Removing time and a half would cost shop staff who work an average shift in Scotland £1,400 a year, which in anybody’s money is a very significant hit, particularly for those on low pay in the retail sector. The proposed changes in England in Wales would have a profound effect on workers in Scotland, and I am glad that the SNP recognises that Scottish workers will be hit. I was a bit surprised when the hon. Member for Livingston (Hannah Bardell) told us in Committee that, while her concerns focused on Scottish workers, the SNP welcomed the additional employee protections in the Bill, which she ascribed to
“the strong and principled action of the SNP”.––[Official Report, Enterprise Public Bill Committee, 25 February 2016; c. 322.]
We will come to how those protections will not do what the Government claim they will, but I am glad that the letter from my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and the leader of Scottish Labour, Kezia Dugdale, has had the desired effect. I welcome the SNP’s confirmation that its Members will vote against the Government, and I look forward to them joining us in the Lobby.
On a point of clarity, the hon. Gentleman can read the record for himself, as can members of the public and Members of this House, but we have been very clear. We engaged with all sides of the argument up until the point where we took a decision at our group meeting as part of a democratic process.
I am not going to take any more interventions at the moment. We have not got very long, because the Minister took so much time, and a lot of Members want to speak.
The Minister claimed that the Bill would help workers, but 91% of shop staff oppose longer Sunday opening hours and only 6% want more hours on Sundays. Listening to the Minister in Committee, we might have been forgiven for thinking that the figures were the other way around. The Minister says that he is improving workers’ ability to opt out of Sunday working. Let us just go through some of what happens now. Staff who apply for jobs with some retailers are asked whether they will work Sundays. Failure to say yes can mean no interview. Staff who are still in their notice period who try to opt out of Sunday working can and do lose their jobs. Staff who try to opt out of Sunday working can and do lose hours. Staff who want to opt out come under pressure from managers and colleagues not to do so. The reality is that staff already have to work on Sundays in too many large retailers when they do not want to, when they would rather spend more time with their children or—as most people want to do on Sundays—enjoy leisure time or rest. What happened to the family test?
No, I am not going to give way.
The Prime Minister said that the family test should apply to all legislation. I understand that it is in the impact assessment. I have not had time to read it in detail, because we had only two hours’ notice of its publication, but I understand that it says that when it comes to the family test, the overall impact is unclear. It is clear enough to families of shop workers up and down the country that the measure will have a profound effect on them and on what happens on Sundays.
I am not going to give way at this stage.
Because of the cost of going to an employment tribunal, it is beyond the means of most workers to challenge their employer, especially if they have just been fired. The changes to employee rights will not change the realities faced by shop workers, and they will not change the difficulty of getting access to justice at an employment tribunal. Shop workers will, all too often, have no choice, just as they often have no choice at present. They will have to work longer hours, in many cases, whether they want to or not.
What of the evidence for the reforms? We have heard the farcical answers about the consultation, and how the Department cannot publish the details because people chose to write their answers in their own words. What absolute nonsense. There are so many things to choose from in this farce, but that really sticks out. The Government have claimed that a majority of large businesses are in favour of the changes. That is one bit of the consultation that they have bothered to publish. However, retailers, including Sainsbury, Tesco, John Lewis, Dixons and Marks & Spencer, expressed their opposition to the Prime Minister at a meeting last week and pointed out that their customers do not want to be able to shop for longer on Sundays.
Until noon today, we awaited the publication of the impact assessment, on which, presumably, the Sunday trading clauses are based. We were told in Committee that it would be published soon. It has been published, as of two hours ago, so Members have had less than three hours to consider the Government’s impact assessment on a piece of legislation. Seriously, what a way to do business. It really is an outrage.
The measure represents a broken election promise. It will have a domino effect among local authorities. High streets will be harmed, not helped. Smaller retailers will lose business. Staff will be unable to refuse to work longer hours. There will be cuts to premium pay in Scotland, as well as in the rest of the UK. That is all backed up by the lack of any published evidence to support the measure until the last minute, and I am not convinced that it does back it up. Remember that the Bill started life in the Lords, and Sunday trading was introduced in the Commons only at the very last minute. The measure has not had any scrutiny in the Lords. This is a significant change for businesses, shop workers, faith groups, families and all who want to keep Sunday special. The Government have not made the case for their proposal, and the suggested possible amendment, which may be introduced at some time in the future, will not do so either.
We know that the Government want to make this change, although many large retailers do not. If they really insist that this is right and that there are serious reasons to introduce something so far reaching that was not in the manifesto, they should do so with full scrutiny and with evidence. They should give Members of both Houses the opportunity to make sure that any changes made are done with great care, given the far-reaching consequences of what is proposed. That does not mean tabling a last-minute manuscript amendment in a desperate bid for a last-minute deal.
As far as what is proposed on the amendment paper today and the way in which it has been proposed is concerned, Labour Members will stick to the consistent line we have had all along. Let us keep our great British compromise on Sunday trading and support the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate.
I rise to speak because if I said this in an intervention, I would test the patience of the House by speaking for too long.
When I first arrived in the House, I was told by a veteran that in the House were good men, clever men and those with good grace. I want to pay tribute to the Minister, who has somehow managed to climb the greasy pole while embodying all three qualities. As Members on both sides of the House know, he is an incredibly hard working Minister for Housing and Planning. When were in opposition, I was always quick to praise Labour Ministers, including those who once held a similar position. I will forgive him for the fact that he is sending notes to love bomb the waverers.
I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes). It would have been a shock, from what I know of his 11 years in the House, if he had not led on this amendment today. He is a man of huge principle. Those of us who have been in the House during those 11 years and have heard him speak with huge conviction on such issues will understand why he has led on this amendment and why so many of us support him.
This whole issue is rooted in devolution, the natural direction of which is towards localism. Therefore, at the risk of sounding like the Leader of the Opposition, I want to speak on behalf of my constituents. Mr Kishor Patel was shortlisted for retailer of the year last year. He came to the House of Commons and was the runner-up. He runs Nisa in Toddington in my constituency, where he has opened a number of stores. He is an amazing small retailer. He recently took a derelict pub in my constituency and turned it into a restaurant. He says that he does not want me to support the proposal in the Bill; he wants me to vote against it. His pub is at its busiest, with families enjoying themselves, on Sundays. He is incredibly worried that, if the proposal goes forward and bigger stores can open for longer on Sundays, pubs like his will not stay open for longer, but will fail. It is the business he does on Sundays, when families can enjoy themselves at the local pub, that makes the difference between its being profitable and not profitable.
Mr Patel also does not want me not to support the proposal in the Bill because of the impact on his small high street shops, which are valued by local communities. In my constituency, it is not particularly easy to get out to the big stores, so people depend on small high street stores. However, the situation would be quite different if the big stores were open all day, because people would make the effort to go out to the bigger stores or to travel into London, and that would have a huge impact on local shops in Mid Bedfordshire.
I want to declare an interest in that my family owned a local shop. The hon. Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley) mentioned the Trafford centre. When that opened and got busy, the family local shop stopped opening on a Sunday and began to suffer as a result. It is a known fact that small high street shops must constantly go the extra mile to compete with the big stores. They do not have the resources to man their stores seven days a week—and seven nights a week, because the paperwork, the ordering, the PAYE and so on is done while the shop is closed, not when it is open.
This proposal was not in our manifesto. The Bill began in the Lords, not in this House, and the policy has never received sufficient public discussion. If we want to do this, let us put a measure in the Queen’s Speech and let the public know about it properly, and let us have a full consultation and a public debate.
I am pleased that we have the opportunity to debate the extension of Sunday trading hours. Since the original proposals were withdrawn by the Government, my colleagues and I have been engaging widely with people and organisations on both sides of the debate. Contrary to media speculation and the misinformation peddled by Government Front Benchers, the SNP has, as we said we would, reached our conclusions on the basis of the evidence that has been presented to us.
There are a variety of views across this House and across the country. I intend to outline my concerns about the effect of the UK Government’s proposals on workers’ rights and benefits in Scotland and the UK. However, I should say at the outset that my SNP colleagues and I have no objection to the principle of extending trading hours on Sundays. After all, in Scotland, as has been said many times, we already enjoy unrestricted trading hours on Sundays. It is important to note that in the past, restraints on Sunday opening in Scotland have existed, but they have largely been social rather than legal. There are, of course, areas of Scotland where there is greater religious observance and Sunday opening hours are more restricted but, in general, the practice of longer opening hours on Sundays, particularly in retail, is now well established throughout Scotland, and some evidence suggests that that has been the case since the late 1980s.
The UK Government’s proposals represent the uniform deregulation of trading hours restrictions across these islands. That is not necessarily a bad thing, but without adequate legal protections, which we and others have called for, the employment protections of workers and their remuneration would be threatened.
The Government’s impact assessment, which was published only this morning, identifies more than 450,000 retail workers across the UK who receive premium pay, but in the 44-page assessment, the Government dedicate just one paragraph to that and dismiss out of hand the concerns of workers and of USDAW. Even now, faced with defeat, the UK Government refuse to offer assurances about premium pay. They engage in ping-pong politics, looking for ways to get the numbers through the Lobby.
My hon. Friend rightly underlines the point that we have always made about the long-term erosion of premium pay. A sham of a pilot has been offered, but does my hon. Friend agree that that cannot address the long-term erosion of premium pay? Nobody participating in a pilot is going to take away premium pay—they will have to wait until the pilot is finished.
I entirely agree.
My SNP colleagues and I made it clear in November last year that we would oppose the UK Government’s proposals, and we oppose them now. We challenged the UK Government to think again about how they could provide the necessary guarantees and safeguards to shop workers in Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. I was pleased that the Government tabled a new schedule in Committee—it now forms part of the Bill, although it is threatened with removal—that sought to amend the Employment Rights Act 1996 to give more explicit protection to shop workers opting out of Sunday work, including protections against such workers being discriminated against. Our Labour colleagues have referred to the legal opinion that they obtained.
SNP Members welcome the extra protections for workers. They show that the UK Government can, when they want to, listen and, on occasion, act to do the right thing. The SNP commissioned its own legal opinion from a leading Scottish silk to examine the protections in detail. We are satisfied that they represent a significant increase in employment protection across the UK, and those protections would not have materialised without the SNP’s opposition.
There remains, however, the issue of the implications of an effective UK-wide deregulation for the provision of premium pay in Scotland. The shop workers trade union, USDAW—I pay tribute to it and to its general secretary, John Hannett—has done a huge amount of work on this issue and has engaged extensively with parties across the Chamber and, indeed, across society. It has warned that the implication of the legislation, without safeguards, is that premium pay for Scottish workers, and indeed workers across the UK, will be threatened by erosion. The Scotland-based consultancy BiGGAR Economics has estimated that the loss of premium pay would affect some 60,000 workers in Scotland, with an estimated loss of income of up to £74 million a year.
Will the hon. Lady confirm that if these proposals are passed, they will increase protections for workers in Scotland? Will she also confirm that the arrangements in Scotland and England would be identical, meaning that she will be voting against arrangements that already apply in Scotland?
As I have just said, employment protections will increase, but no Minister has said anything about pay protection, which I shall speak about later.
Low-paid workers might lose out even further if they lose their premium pay. USDAW has expressed significant concern that when universal credit is rolled out in May 2016, any loss of Sunday premium pay by families working in retail would trigger the end of their transitional protection at tax credit rates and they would be transferred to the far lower rate of universal credit. That is an extremely important point.
It is an interesting phenomenon that a greater proportion of lone parents work in retail on Sundays than on any other day of the week, yet if one of those lone parents was to lose their premium pay and to be transferred to the lower rate of universal credit, they would have over £2,000 less in their pocket. I and my SNP colleagues are not prepared to gamble with the pay packets of some of Scotland and the UK’s lowest-paid workers.
Moreover, it is an obvious point, but the erosion of premium pay as a result of Sunday trading hours is a real threat not just to Scottish workers, but to shop workers across the UK. We said ahead of the 2015 general election that the SNP would be a progressive force in Westminster and that we would work with others to pursue progressive policies and protect the most vulnerable—and not just in Scotland, but across the UK. In voting against these ill-conceived measures, that is exactly what we are doing. We in the SNP do not just write our manifesto commitments down; we actually deliver on them.
Although the crux of our argument is about the erosion of premium pay, there is a wider debate going on. We should focus our minds on the wider issue of fair pay. In my maiden speech, I spoke about the importance of decent pay for decent work, and about my own family heritage, being from mining and shop worker roots. My grandfather was a miner and believed firmly that no worker should have to seek overtime to make ends meet. Therefore, while we must protect the premium pay of the lowest paid, we should also be continuing the fight for fair pay for the lowest paid in our society. That means a real living wage, not the fake one dreamt up by this UK Government.
We have challenged the UK Government to give assurances and to provide safeguards for the provision of premium pay in Scotland, and they have failed to do so. There is not a single clause in the Bill, or any sentence that any UK Government Minister has uttered in our proceedings on it, that is significant enough a reassurance that Scottish shop workers, and indeed shop workers across the UK, will not lose out because of a lack of protection for their traditional rates of pay. We will oppose anything that puts in doubt the premium payments that lower-paid shop workers in Scotland have for Sunday working.
The hon. Gentleman is missing the point. What is not fair is for the UK Government to bring in provisions that will have a knock-on impact on Scottish workers and reduce wages. It is on that basis that we oppose them. The UK Government have had time to bring forward the necessary safeguards and guarantees that there will be no detriment to shop workers in Scotland or the rest of the UK, but they have failed to do so.
There is a fundamental point about process and respect for Parliament, its Members and the constituents we represent. We owe it to our constituents to do our business in a manner that is fair, open and transparent. The Secretary of State and the Minister should listen to that. The way in which the provisions have been shoehorned into successive Bills as a last-ditch slapdash amendment is appalling. The Government should do their business better if they want to command the support of the House or the UK public.
The UK Government have left it to the last possible moment to publish the impact assessment and the family test, and they would not devolve employment law to Scotland. For that reason, and for the good of shop workers across Scotland and the UK, and the 450,000 of them who receive premium pay, my SNP colleagues and I will support the amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) to remove the Government’s proposals from the Bill.
I rise to speak in support of amendment 19, which I suggest is a workable compromise. As Second Church Estates Commissioner, I met Treasury Ministers to try to understand the reasons why the Government wanted to change the original compromise of the Sunday Trading Act 1994. I was told that there were two principal reasons: first, to address the demise of the high street; and secondly, the need to remain competitive with neighbouring countries, notably France.
Online shopping was cited as the principal cause of the recent demise of the high street, but longer-term competition from out-of-town shopping centres has also caused that demise. I doubt very much that keeping shops open longer on Sundays will stop people shopping online. Anyone who has been shopping with their teenage or young adult children will know that they go to the shops to look, and say, “Mum, we won’t buy it here because there’s an online discount.” Rather like Canute, we will find it very difficult to turn back the tide.
Will my right hon. Friend answer the point that I tried to make in a previous intervention? Behind every online transaction, there are tens of thousands of British workers, including in Newark’s Knowhow warehouse. Those people have rights, too. She is standing up for one type of worker and ignoring the fact that tens of thousands, if not more, are working elsewhere behind the scenes.
My hon. Friend makes a perfectly valid but separate point. I am addressing the question of whether keeping shops open longer will stop people shopping online; he wants people to have jobs servicing the online industry. As has been pointed out, a number of high street stores are successful in maintaining their high street position and at the same time giving an online offer.
I am prepared to concede that we need to remain competitive as a country, so I asked the British embassy in Paris to give me details of the recent change in French Sunday trading laws. Essentially, my amendment, which I have tabled with the help of the Clerks, seeks to mirror as closely as possible how the French Government have approached the very same question by designating localised tourist zones.
The Macron law—it is named after the Minister who introduced it—extended the number of Sundays for trading in France from five a year to 12 a year. Essentially, it is one Sunday a month. By happy coincidence, it created 12 zones. Six are in Paris, and it might be a welcome distraction to Members to run through where they are: Boulevard Haussmann, Champs-Élysées, Saint-Germain and Montmartre. That gives colleagues a sense of the size of the zones that the French Government identified. There are zones in six other regional cities, including Cannes, Deauville and Nice.
That allowed local government to designate smaller tourist zones, where shops under special licence could open for longer. The right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) indirectly asked how the French Government designated tourist zones. The answer to his question is that they collected data on the profile of shoppers who used those zones. Their definition was that the zone should show exceptional attendance by tourists residing abroad. Crucially, those tourist zones do not have wider application, which reduces the negative effects on smaller shops and convenience stores, which we have discussed.
The Olympic park experience is important because, in essence, it is the only practical pilot we have to go on when discussing the likely impact of extended opening. When the practical experience of 2012 was analysed by Oxford Economics, it was ascertained, as Members have pointed out, that small and medium-sized enterprises in up to a two-mile radius from large supermarkets in the area lost over 3% of their weekly sales income. If that is extrapolated to the national scale, it is estimated there would be an annual loss of £870 million in sales for all types of convenience stores and a net loss of 3,270 retail jobs in England and Wales, were longer Sunday trading hours to be made permanent, in line with the experiment during the Olympics.
I have been contacted by local Nisa and SPAR convenience store providers concerned about the implications of these changes on smaller stores. I also share the deeper concerns expressed by my hon. Friends, including my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes), the Keep Sunday Special campaign and the Church of England, about the erosion of a general day of leisure on which people can be available for shared activities with friends and family, especially those who build up community spirit and strengthen families.
I have talked to shop workers in large stores who often get their free time in half days on days other than Sunday, when family and friends might not be available. Until today, we have not had a detailed impact assessment, so I tend to agree with the Bishop of St Albans, the lead spokesman in the Church of England on Sunday trading. He said that:
“an increase in opening hours will only lead to more people being pressured into spending Sunday apart from their children and families.”
As my right hon. Friend will be aware, I represent a constituency with a large tourism industry. How would her suggestion work, given that in Paignton, for example, parts of the town centre are used by locals, yet the out-of-town supermarket is used by people going to the holiday camps? How would this result in a tourist zone?
This is essentially a devolved proposal. It would be for local authorities to express an interest in being a designated tourist zone. My amendment limits temporally and geographically the potentially deleterious impact on SMEs. It has the capacity to deal with extended opening hours during the British holiday season, as well as during the Christmas season, when many places—Blackpool, for example—experience an increase in tourist trade.
Research has shown that the majority of shop workers do not welcome the opportunity to work longer hours on a Sunday. I commend Ministers for including improved legal protections in the current provisions, but the practical reality in the workplace is that if someone is worried about losing their job, they will not want to ask for a special concession not to have to work on a Sunday. Similarly, if someone wants a promotion, they will not want to ask for that concession, because their competitors in the promotion stakes might not ask for a comparable one.
I welcome the Government amendment, which did make it on to the amendment paper, to give local authorities the power to restrict Sunday trading to zones, but I am concerned that the zoning is potentially too broad in its impact. For example, it would not be strong enough to avoid a combined local authority-wide mega-zone occurring, which, in my view, would have an excessively negative impact. A trial would also make it difficult to discern the selected impacts on different businesses within such a wide zone.
It is obviously not the Minister’s fault that the manuscript amendment was not selected. He indicated that it gave us a feeling for what he would like to do—it was a valiant effort—but the difficulty for parliamentarians is that it is not actually on the amendment paper. As somebody said, we need an amendment that we can feel and touch. I believe that a compromise that benefits families and UK competition lies in the tourist-zone model. I strongly encourage Members to support this compromise.
I was very pleased to add my name to the amendment proposed by the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes). I did so because although I recognise that none of us wants excessive regulation for our communities and that people should have the freedom to shop at convenient times for them, I think that the settlement reached by this House in 1994 was the right one, and I do not see the demand across this country to change that arrangement.
My primary concerns are twofold. First, there is the protection of family life. Some 75% of parents in this country feel that work impinges on their family life. Many of us have been abroad—in Spain, Portugal or France, for example—and we found real restrictions when it came to finding things open on a Sunday. We have been out at lunch time and found that the shops are on siesta. Why is it that in this country, this Government think we should put the free market above everything else? It is conservative to protect the family, and the family is worth protecting.
We debate issues such as knife crime here, and lament the fact that families do not have time to sit around the table with their children; we want to see parents supporting their kids to learn to read and to help them with their homework, but when do we think those activities are being done? They are done on a Sunday.
Secondly, what is the face of the people we will be asking to go out and shop? We should think of the security guards now being made to work on a Sunday. We should think of the cleaners and of those stacking the shelves. They are the faces of my constituents. The balance we have in this country is right. To change it through the back door to allow a domino effect—one local authority has to make changes because the neighbouring local authority made them—is wrong. Let me add that to undermine independent shopkeepers who are universally against this change is also wrong. We should support them.
Family is reason enough. We have debated the family here on numerous occasions, and the Prime Minister himself has said that he wants to run a family-centred Government. For this reason alone, we should oppose the change and support the amendment.
I rise more in sorrow than in anger. I have made my views known to the Minister. I am disappointed that I shall have to support not the Government but the amendment proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes). I shall not support the amendment proposed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mrs Spelman) because I think what can be classified as a tourist area is a moot point. People might come to Warwickshire near her own constituency and visit Stratford, yet she has Chelmsley Wood in her constituency, which some might describe as a brutalist horror, yet it could be reclassified as a tourist attraction. It will be difficult for lawyers to prove what is a tourist area and what is not. This makes it difficult for the amendment to stand.
This is not an economic issue or even a faith issue, although I pay tribute to the very good speech by the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds). It is about what kind of country we want to be. It is a conscience issue. My understanding was that the Sunday Trading Act 1994 was subject to a free vote on what was regarded as an issue of conscience. Why can we not do the same now?
I find it pretty shocking that a manuscript amendment appears on the Twitter feed of Sky News at 2.4 pm before Members have had an opportunity to look at it. I have to tell the Minister that five or six weeks ago, I said to no less important a figure than the Prime Minister that what we needed was a competitive regime in which local authorities could come forward and offer to be pilots, yet that was dismissed. Indeed, Ministers were not talking to Back Benchers about this issue until 48 hours ago—in fact, even less than that. [Interruption.] I mean on the specific issue that we have put forward.
I am not an uber-liberal and I am not a social liberal. I think we have a social contract and a bond with our constituents. We should regulate some behaviours. That is why, for instance, we voted to ban smoking in vehicles with children in them. “Devil take the hindmost” is not the right way in which to pursue this issue, especially given that in 2014 the Prime Minister, no less, said on the BBC news that families should be the prism through which we should decide policy. Indeed, as my hon. Friend pointed out in April 2015, during the general election campaign, the Prime Minister wrote to the Keep Sunday Special campaign saying the same thing.
It is not acceptable that there has been no proper scrutiny and oversight in the House of Lords. It is not acceptable that the Whips packed the Public Bill Committee with people who were likely to be sympathetic. It is not acceptable for the Government to use the relevant section of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 to stifle debate by hiding the number of consultations that have taken place—and we saw the ridiculous answer that my hon. Friend was given by Ministers.
Why has there been no family assessment? Why has there been no impact assessment? Those are important questions that the Government have not yet answered. The issue is important to me because 32% of the economic activity in my constituency takes place in the retail sector, and there will be a domino effect. Decisions will be taken naturally. If Peterborough were to deregulate and adopt a different retail regime, Fenland would want the same, and so would Huntingdonshire, Corby and other local authorities. I think it foolish and naive to assume that will not happen.
What am I asking Members to vote on today? I am asking them to give the Government some breathing space. We know that this proposal has been driven not by the superb ministerial teams in the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills—I do not always agree with them, but they are very good at their jobs—but by the dead hand of the Treasury. The Treasury has been taking the media flak for this, and the Treasury is putting out the lines to be taken. An obscure Back-Bench Tory MP who votes the right way today is likely to get a brand-new bypass, or perhaps become a special representative to some warm and exotic place of which he or she has never heard.
The fact is that this is an issue of principle, integrity and conscience. I defer to no one in my admiration for the Government’s work in important areas such as the reform of education and welfare, but they are now engaging in a needless and egregious conflict with their own Back Benchers. They do not need to do that. There is no authority for this proposal, because, as we know, it was not in the Conservative manifesto. I have already said that the legal case is threadbare, and I have cited the legal opinion of John Bowers, QC.
I am very fond of the Minister, but only a week or so ago he said that the Government were proceeding on the basis of what was in the Bill after the Committee stage. Today, he waxed lyrical at the Dispatch Box about the fantastic idea of launching pilot projects to open up retail across the country. That does not stack up; it is close, but no cigar. If it was such a good idea, why was it not taken up by senior Ministers weeks ago, when I raised it personally with the Prime Minister? I think that that is a fair question.
If Members on both sides of the House vote against the Government and in favour of my hon. Friend’s amendment, all they will do is allow the Government to consult properly, present coherent arguments, and propose measures that will protect workers’ rights and the special interests of the Association of Convenience Stores—which has raised concerns—while also taking proper note of what is said by the trade unions. They are not always the friends of our party, but they have a right to be heard, and 91% of members of USDAW have opposed the Government’s proposals.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mid Bedfordshire (Nadine Dorries) suggested that new legislation could be proposed in the Queen’s Speech. I can even offer a name: the Sunday Trading (Pilot Projects) Bill. I will invoice the Minister later for that suggestion. We could then have a proper debate, because we would know what we were voting for. I must say to the Minister that this has not been done properly. There has not been proper scrutiny and oversight. There has not been proper debate and discussion. Running around with manuscript amendments at four minutes past two on the day of a Report stage is not good government.
I want to support the Government, and I want them to succeed, but I am afraid that on this occasion, with a very heavy heart, I cannot support them, and I will be voting for the amendment. I will be doing that so that the Government can come back, carry the House in a consensus, protect jobs, protect a way of life, protect family life, and look after the interests of our constituents, because, if for no other reason, that is why we are here.
I am very pleased to be able to speak in support of the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes), and to be part of the unholy alliance that is doing so. Trust me, it is better to be part of an unholy alliance than to be called a Maoist. The reason that most of us are supporting the amendment is that we are united on several key principles. We stand in support of family life, we oppose the exploitation of shop workers, and we believe in real competition and genuine devolution, which gives fair play to our small shops and supports diversity on the high street. There is unity too because in this country we believe that it is right to keep Sunday special.
Of course society has changed, and the law has changed with it. Some people will point to the recent opinion poll which showed that there is now a bare majority who want to change the law on this matter even further. It is not that we on this side of the House are bitter about opinion polls, but actually, they do not always get everything right. But even if that particular YouGov poll is correct on that matter, let us look at some of its other findings, which show that 58% of the population fear that the Government’s proposals will affect small stores and 48% agree that longer opening hours would be detrimental to family life. Only 27% said that that would not be the case.
The family test has been discussed today, as has the little impact assessment that popped up this morning. Wherever we stand on individual policies, I do not think that any of us would seriously fault the Government’s idea that every domestic policy should be measured against its impact on family life. I really hope that that issue above all else will be taken into consideration. We have a Prime minister who speaks the language of prison reform, who deals with issues such as the stigma surrounding mental health and who, once upon a time, hugged huskies and even Eurosceptics. He himself said that he did not want to change the Sunday trading laws, so does he really want this piece of anti-family legislation to be passed on his watch?
I shall close with the words of one mother, a shop worker, who says:
“As a mother, I would not work Sunday evenings or late afternoons, yet it would be forced on us as we would need more than one manager on a Sunday to cover the hours.”
She is right, and we know that she is not just speaking for herself. She is speaking for hundreds of thousands of people across our country. That is why I believe with the deepest conviction that, whatever our party or background, we need to speak up for those people today.
When you do not put something in your manifesto—indeed, when you are the leader of a political party and you give a particular pledge—that is a very serious state of affairs. The reason that there is so much disgust with politics all over the world—we are seeing what is happening in America—is that we are no longer trusted. What has changed since the general election? If there were an overwhelming economic case for this proposal, I would understand it, but what has moved on in nine or 10 months?
When I voted, back in 1994, I think it was a free vote. There was no pressure from No. 10 or No. 11, and people were not being shuffled off for chats with Ministers behind the Speaker’s Chair. We were pretty well allowed to vote as we liked, and I voted against. We were told that that was a compromise, and it is a compromise. Are we receiving masses of emails and letters on this proposal? Are there all sorts of pressure from our people arguing that we should change the law? I have not detected any such pressure. So why are the Government running around viewing this as some kind of macho measure? It is not. As my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Mr Jackson) has just said, it is a conscience issue. I put that point to the Minister, and it is an important one for all of us. I ask all my hon. Friends to think about this, and not just about their careers, before they vote tonight.
We as MPs value our Sundays. I have often heard MPs saying, “I’m sorry, but the only thing I will do on a Sunday is attend a Remembrance Sunday event. Otherwise, I want to be with my family.” We must understand that we have great jobs here, with all the privileges that go with them, and we have a duty to look after people who are much less well off than ourselves and who work unbelievably hard, often in fairly grim jobs. Do we want to force them to work even longer hours? All the pressure from big businesses will ultimately be on them, so do we want them to sit behind a till on a Sunday or do we say to them, “We believe that Sunday is special”? Sunday is special, and what is good for us is good for others.
The change will put enormous pressure on local authorities and that pressure will be one way. In my local authority area, we have a Tesco, a Morrisons and all the rest of it. If a big store opens up in Lincoln, Tesco will go to West Lindsey District Council and say, “Unless you agree to deregulate and allow us to open all hours on a Sunday, we will close the Tesco in Gainsborough and put 400 people out of work.” This will be the thin edge of the wedge. Wonderful Asian people in all our communities are struggling to keep small shops going, and this will be another nail in their coffin. The Conservative party is not only the party of big business and prosperity, but that of small people, struggling entrepreneurs and the family. That is what this is about.
Sunday is not only an issue for Christians. The former Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks wrote in Prospect:
“Britain used to have its own Sabbath every Sunday. Then it was deregulated and privatised. Holy days became holidays, sacred time became free time and rest became leisure. The assumption was that everyone would benefit because we could all decide for ourselves how to spend the day. This was and remains a fallacy.”