Clause 1 - Prohibition of opening of large shops on Christmas Day

Christmas Day (Trading) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 2:30 pm ar 12 Mai 2004.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Llafur, North Durham

I thank colleagues from all parties who have supported the Bill to this stage. It has widespread support not only in the country, but from Churches and the trade union movement. I pay respect to USDAW—the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers—which has campaigned long and hard for the Bill.

Clause 1 would limit and prevent large shops from opening on Christmas day. The Bill is simple in so far as it has five clauses. It deals with a loophole in the Sunday Trading Act 1994. Although I was not in the House when that was passed, after speaking to colleagues from all parties, I think that most people thought that Christmas day was covered by that Act. It clearly is not, unless it falls on a Sunday.

Schedule 1 of the 1994 Act defines a large shop as being of more than 280 sq m—or for the old-fashioned or Eurosceptic among us, 3,000 sq ft. The Bill's intention is not to restrict small shops from opening, many of which perform a valuable community role and are run largely by families. It is to prevent the spread of trading on Christmas day, which should be a family day and respected and cherished by all in the community.

As I said, the Bill is based on the 1994 Act, which has exemptions. It would be silly to try to reinvent the list of exemptions in that Act, so the Bill largely refers to that legislation. For clarification, however, certain shops are exempted from the provisions. They include farm shops, which are very popular in rural areas, and motor cycle suppliers and cycle shops—although I am not sure not what demand there is for them on Christmas day. Stands for exhibitions are exempted—although even the die-hards among would find it hard to go to an exhibition of Christmas day. Another important exemption is pharmacies, which dispense medicine when people clearly need it. Other exemptions are airport shops, railway stations, and shops serving ocean-going ships—obviously, of vital importance to people leaving on Christmas day. Shops attached to petrol stations and other service stations are also exempt.

The Bill's purpose is to restrict large shops from opening on Christmas day. Under the clause, there is a maximum fine of £50,000, as per the 1994 Act, for those who do not comply with the legislation.

The intention is not to penalise those people who want to work on Christmas day, but to preserve the special nature of the day. As I have said, the Bill has widespread support in the House and the country. It clearly corrects a mistake in the 1994 Act. When we pass laws in this place, even the most assiduous among us do not always spot the implications of everything that we do. I hope that the Bill becomes law, and that we can cherish and protect that special day, Christmas day, not just for those who work in the retail industry but for those who live near large retail outlets and want one peaceful and quiet day of the year.

Photo of Gerry Sutcliffe Gerry Sutcliffe Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Trade and Industry) (Employment Relations and Consumer Affairs)

May I welcome you, Mr. Cook, to the chair on this unique occasion on which parliamentary history will be made by this Bill?

The Bill enjoys the support of the Government, and will go through to its next stage. I offer the Government's support for the excellent work that my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones) has done on what he declares is a simple but effective Bill to retain the unique nature of Christmas day. Like him, I applaud the sponsors of the Bill, the outside organisations—particularly the trade union USDAW—that campaigned tirelessly for Christmas day trading to cease, the Churches and the many other bodies consulted that overwhelmingly concluded that the Bill was the appropriate way to deal with the issue.

I do not want to cover the points that my hon. Friend raised; he has already clearly set out the Bill's relationship to the Sunday Trading Act 1994 and explained the definitions used. The Second Reading debate was fully inclusive of all the issues that needed to be addressed. He has considered many of the issues brought up by the Bill. The money resolution caused some concern because of the potential costs, negligible or otherwise.

I can only hope that the Bill has a fair wind, and that people do not try to wreck the Bill for reasons best known to themselves. That would be failing the House because, uniquely, all parties are coming together to support a private Member's Bill that enjoys the support of many people.

As my hon. Friend is as assiduous as ever, I am sure that he will have the answers to any detailed questions that hon. Members may wish to ask.

Photo of Andrew Selous Andrew Selous PPS To Shadow Foreign Secretary, International Affairs

I support the Bill wholeheartedly; it is long overdue. It is perhaps a sad reflection of the direction in which our society is moving that Members of the House in 1994 did not think it conceivable that shops could want to open on Christmas day. In 2004, we find that there is serious pressure on shops to open, on many shop workers to be away from their families and those they love and—in particular—on parents to be away from their children on Christmas day. The Bill has my 110 per cent. personal support. I shall certainly do all that I can to ensure that my party gives it the fairest possible wind.

We have talked about clause 1, which is the main part of the Bill. I pay tribute to the organisation called Keep Time for Children, which springs from the

Relationships Foundation, based in Cambridge. It is quite appalling how many children do not see their parents, who may work both days of the weekend. The Bill goes a little way towards ensuring that, at least on Christmas day, families can be together. It is an excellent Bill, and there is obviously widespread agreement among hon. Members here. I wish it a fair wind. Things have slipped to a degree that many of us would not have imagined since the 1994 Act, and perhaps there will be further work to do on the subject to ensure that that precious family time, particularly for children, is safeguarded throughout our society.

Photo of Colin Breed Colin Breed Shadow Minister, Defence

I echo all that has been said so far, and wish to signal the 100 per cent. endorsement of the Liberal Democrats for this small but very important measure, which, as the hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) said, is long overdue.

I was not particularly in favour of the 1994 Act, although I was not in the House at the time. However, I accepted that the Act was the wish of the House. I am not absolutely certain that it was the wish of the whole country but, 10 years down the line, some of the things that those who were opposed to the 1994 Act warned about are coming to pass. It is a great sadness that we have to think about imposing this sort of measure. It represents a modest step back towards common sense and rationality in our trading laws. I hope that its passage through the House will not be impeded.

I also hope that the Bill will send the message to supermarkets and other large stores not only that they owe a debt of responsibility to the consumer—they are always saying that everything is for the consumer and about consumer choice—but that they are a major part of their communities, our society and the lives of the people who work for them. They say that working at certain times is voluntary, but many of us know that it is not quite as voluntary as they would like to suggest. Other pressures are placed upon their employees to suggest that they ought to work on certain occasions. This Bill will ensure that they do not have to do so. I wish it every success.

Photo of Ian Liddell-Grainger Ian Liddell-Grainger Ceidwadwyr, Bridgwater

I have two points to make. The hon. Member for North

Durham did not refer to service stations. Are they exempt? He mentioned bicycles, ships and filling stations but he did not mention shops in service stations. [Hon. Members: ''He did.''] No, he mentioned petrol stations but not service stations. Secondly, schedule 1(5) of the 1994 Act refers to a register being kept of shops that will not be able to trade, and states that that register will contain particulars such as the names and addresses of those shops. Will that register still be kept?

Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Llafur, North Durham

On the first point, I think I said that the legislation deals with shops at petrol stations and motorway service stations. That definition covers not only established small petrol stations with small retail outlets or shopping areas that sell things such as crisps and other snacks, but the kinds of petrol filling stations that are now emerging that have small supermarkets or mini-markets. The position of motorway service stations is clear. Some of them now have Marks and Spencer stores and similar outlets. As they are providing for the motorist, they would be allowed to open.

The provisions are the same as those in the 1994 Act. The important thing about the Bill is that it is a simple piece of legislation. It closes the loophole that has opened even though many Members did not want it to open when the 1994 Act was progressing through the House. To try to rewrite the Act would be cumbersome.

The hon. Gentleman talked of a register. I am unsure whether a register exists. The 1994 Act defines what a large shop is. However, enforcement of that is the responsibility of local authorities. Schedule 1(1) of the 1994 Act defines what a large shop is. There is also a definition of that in terms of floor area, because there are big differences between the sizes of shops when storage and trading areas are taken into account. A large shop is 280 sq m or 3,000 sq ft.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 2 to 5 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Bill to be reported, without amendment.

Committee rose at fifteen minutes to Three o'clock.