The Minister certainly claims that she understands market forces; she does so often.
I have mentioned before that this could be described as a domino clause, because those local authorities that do not implement it may well be influenced by what goes on in neighbouring authorities that do implement it. I guess that is a form of market forces. Perhaps it is the forces between neighbouring local authorities around the country that will, in the end, force everybody to comply and to relax Sunday trading rules for all.
Sadly, the Government’s consultation is an advocacy document for devolving Sunday trading rules. The Government have ducked and dived, parried all the evidence that has been presented to them, and blindly focused on what they want to hear, as they have only quoted selectively from the consultation. We can assume that that is the case, because of the 7,000 responses to the consultation received by the Government, they have focused their analysis on just three groups: large and medium-sized businesses; business representative bodies; and local councils. In other words, they are focusing on the people who stand to gain the most.
Using a very small sample from the 7,000 responses, the Government found what was undoubtedly for them the palatable figure of 76% of respondents supporting devolution in order to make their case, but there was only 76% support among those three groups. The Government have ignored, and not published, the figures that show the concern among small business owners, high streets, shop workers, families and family groups, and, indeed, faith groups. The people who will be affected the most by the change are being completely ignored in this process.
Since the beginning of the year, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has published five consultation responses, all of which have included a breakdown of respondents and analysis of their position, and how many responses in total are in favour of a proposal and how many responses in total are opposed to it. That has happened on a range of issues. However, that has not occurred for the consultation on Sunday trading reform. Why is that? It is because the Government know that their proposals are not backed by the majority of the public and the majority of stakeholders.
In making their case for Sunday trading reform, the Government have also used evidence that is laughably out of date to support their case. I will focus on three key pieces of evidence that the Government have used to make their case and to deal with the question that my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North asked earlier, in order to outline why the Government are misguided.
The first is Swedish sales data. The BIS press release announcing the Government response to the consultation of last August proudly stated that a change in Sunday trading resulted in a 5% increase in turnover in Sweden. In order to get that figure and find that 5% increase, the Government went all the way back to Sweden in 1972, when ABBA were formed. I am sure that somebody will be able to think of a suitable ABBA song to describe the appropriateness or otherwise of the way the Government have used that data. [Interruption.] I feel an intervention is coming.
The Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise (Anna Soubry)
Speak for yourself. The Government did that to find a 5% increase in turnover from changes to Sunday trading laws.
Sweden in 1972 is clearly not the same as the United Kingdom in 2016. The Government also fail to mention the wider impact after Sunday trading reform in Sweden. For example, small stores were decimated, with their market share dropping from 70% to 19%. That is an almost complete collapse in the sector.
The second bit of evidence was the Indepen report from 2006. The Government frequently reference that piece of research. It is 10 years old and makes a series of questionable assumptions and inaccurate predictions about changes in the market after it was published. Even without going into the detail of the data—the Association of Convenience Stores and the Federation of Small Businesses have done that on a number of occasions—we have to question whether the Government should be basing their policies on a decade-old study, let alone one from Sweden that is 44 years old. Why have the Government not commissioned their own studies? If they have, why have they not published them? Those studies would offer an up-to-date analysis and take into account the views of all stakeholders, including shop workers, small businesses and the public.
The third piece of evidence that the Government cite is from a report by the Centre for Economic Performance, and this is where they most seriously misrepresent the data. They have suggested that the report indicates that liberalising Sunday trading will lead to a 12.5% increase in consumer spending. That figure was included in national newspaper reports when the consultation was announced. It is astonishing to cite that figure and using the report in that way demonstrates that the consultation process is flawed and misleading, rather than objective.
The report identifies five levels of regulation of Sunday trading and helpfully tracks movement between the levels of regulation across different European countries. The United Kingdom is already at the second most liberalised level, and the benefit accruing from moving to the most liberalised level of Sunday trading is actually a 0.14% sales increase, not the 12.5% figure that the Government have suggested. Incidentally, the 12.5% figure comes from a binary shift from regulation to no regulation, rather than where there is already very limited regulation, as we have in the UK. The figure also relates only to food spending.
To cite the 12.5% figure in the context of the research and the proposals in the consultation suggests one of two things: either it seriously calls into question the Government’s ability to comprehend the report or it is a deliberate attempt to distort the report for the purposes of this debate. We must therefore use this opportunity to question whether the true impact of Sunday trading reform has been considered and whether the Government are acting in good faith in terms of parliamentary scrutiny and consultation with affected parties.
In contrast with the Government’s garbled, incomplete and inconsistent case for change, there is a simple and coherent case for leaving the current popular compromise on Sunday trading as it is. It enables consumers to shop, businesses to trade and shop workers time off to spend with their families.
All the evidence indicates that the compromise is working, the proposals are damaging and the case for change is not stacking up. A Populus survey shows that two thirds of the public support current Sunday trading laws. A survey by the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers shows that 91% of shop workers do not want a change in the law. Many larger retailers, including Tesco, Sainsbury’s and the Home Retail Group, have called on the Government not to make a change, and the British Retail Consortium has not backed the Government’s plans either.
The Social Market Foundation says that the proposals disregard the family test. Oxford Economics calculates net overall job losses as trade moves from small to large shops. A survey of local authority chief executives by the Association of Convenience Stores shows that most would use the new powers to give more opening hours to out-of-town shops and retail parks only because they feel that they would have no choice, because of the consequential impact of a loss of trade to neighbouring areas.
Another assertion made by the Government is that Sunday trading devolution will support high streets, increase footfall and help them compete with online retailers. That assertion is also entirely unfounded and no business group supports it. For example, the British Retail Consortium stated:
“These proposals are unlikely to give retailers and the communities they serve the boost the Government is hoping to deliver.”
There is common agreement that an inconsistent approach to the plans, without safeguards, will be difficult for businesses to manage and confusing for consumers. Sainsbury’s chief executive Mike Coupe said:
“There’s no customer demand for it, or colleague demand for it as far as we are concerned”—
in direct contradiction of what the Minister said earlier. Mr Coupe added: “The current rules work.”
Analysis of 50 large businesses’ Christmas 2015 sales figures showed mixed results. Not a single company, industry analyst or media commentator mentioned Sunday trading as a reason for poor trading results in response to the publication of those sales figures. Increasing trading hours does not impact on consumer spending habits, but would spread sales over the week and reduce retailer productivity because of higher staffing, heating, lighting and operating costs. It is ironic that at the same time as the Government are citing support for high streets as their reason for implementing the plans, they are removing the £1,500 retail rate relief that is helping many stores to survive.
We are fortunate to have a test case to show that reform of Sunday trading laws provides no economic benefit to high streets. During the 2012 London Olympics, the Government used powers in emergency legislation—again circumventing the proper consultation process—to remove Sunday trading hours across the country. For the period that Sunday trading laws were removed, despite the country being awash with hundreds of thousands of foreign visitors and good weather, retail sales declined: the British Retail Consortium retail sales monitor showed a 0.2% decline and the Office for National Statistics showed a 0.4% decline.
Oxford Economics also provided sales analysis of 3,000 small businesses across the country during the eight-week Olympics period when Sunday trading was unrestricted. The findings of the location-based retail sales analysis are fundamental in showing the impact of Sunday trading reform. They show a clear displacement of trade from small shops to large shops. The closer that small shops were to supermarkets, the more likely they were to lose trade. Oxford Economics used those data to show how the devolution of Sunday trading powers would result in a net loss of more than 3,000 jobs in the retail market, because of that displacement of trade.
Another concern about the impact of the changes on small convenience stores might be at a tangent to the debate, but what occurred to me because of the situation in my local area is that post offices are increasingly being located in convenience stores precisely because they are struggling to survive independently on the high street. By putting convenience stores at greater risk, we are also putting our post office services at greater risk. The Minister should bear that in mind.
So the Minister should. My hon. Friend must have been reading my speech over my shoulder—which would have been a remarkable achievement given that I am a little bit taller than she is—because I was about to say that the National Federation of SubPostmasters has also expressed its concerns about the impact of Sunday trading reforms on post offices.
We have a network of only 11,500 post offices because most of them are integrated into local convenience stores—the point that my hon. Friend was making—and those host businesses in effect subsidise the post office. A number of convenience stores and the National Federation of SubPostmasters have expressed concerns that as retail trade in their stores declines due to extended Sunday trading for large stores, those post offices will be put at risk.
To elaborate, I know from personal experience and local feedback that often Sundays out of hours are the only time at which many people use the convenience stores and so become aware that the post office services are available there. The Sunday footfall is important for those convenience stores.
That is right. The great British compromise that we have at the moment gives small retailers a one-day-a-week competitive advantage—it is a slight one, because they are not open for the whole day—and helps, as my hon. Friend said, to raise awareness that there is a post office in those convenience stores. Without that one-day advantage, there is bound to be less awareness of the post offices, which will have an impact on their ability to be successful.
I turn to online shopping. Extending Sunday trading hours will not help high streets to compete with online retailers. For some reason, the Government believe, as the Minister told us, that people shop online because of variations in trading hours on Sundays. There is no link in either consumers’ minds or behaviour between early morning and evening restrictions in Sunday opening hours and their use of the internet for shopping. That is supported by polling completed by Populus of 2,008 members of the public. It asked respondents whether they had shopped online during the Christmas period, with two thirds stating they had. Those respondents were asked to say why they had chosen to shop online and, unsurprisingly, none of them referenced Sunday trading hours as a reason.
Ministers continue to remind us that they are not changing the Sunday trading laws but just devolving the decision to local authorities or, as the Minister said, to local leaders. It is not the whole community, but one person in each local authority.
The Minister for Housing and Planning (Brandon Lewis)
Does the hon. Gentleman not trust his leaders—does he not trust his councillors?
We will come back to that point.
It is naive to believe that the devolution of the powers will not result in a blanket extension of Sunday trading hours across the country because of the domino effect I mentioned. Polling of local authority chief executives has shown that 45% of local authorities are heavily influenced by the action of neighbouring authorities’ policies and procedures. We are therefore likely to see far longer Sunday opening hours in the majority of areas within a short period, because there will be a domino effect across the country as one council follows the other.
We also know from the planning system that large businesses have slick procedures for lobbying local authorities to secure favourable local policies and new developments. That has resulted in the widespread development of out-of-town stores, which have driven footfall away from traditional town centres and harmed high streets. It will no doubt be the same for Sunday trading policies. The Minister often says that he is serious about supporting high streets; I think he is supposed to be the Minister responsible for high streets.
No, that is the responsibility of one of the Minister’s colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government.
My hon. Friend raises an important point in questioning whether the Minister is responsible for high streets. He shakes his head to show that he is not, but it would be interesting to know whether he has spoken to the Minister responsible for the issue about the impact it will have on high streets.
The CLG Ministers might not have consulted the rest of the country, published the impact assessment or told us how much opposition there is to the measure, but we can probably assume that they talk within their team.
I will put the hon. Gentleman’s mind at rest. He and the hon. Lady may be referring back to how the previous Labour Government used to work, but in this Conservative Government we do talk together. I used to be the Minister responsible for high streets. The Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones), is now that Minister. Not only have I consulted him, but he has consulted widely, including members of the Future High Streets Forum, who, like him, are positive about this measure for the future of our high streets.
Unfortunately, the Minister’s team has not published the results of that wider consultation, which is one point I have been making. If they are serious about giving local people a choice and this not being the decision of just one local leader, why have they not made provisions for local referendums, publication of local impact assessments or extensions to specific areas in their new clause? The current proposal does not provide a real choice for local people—a point supported by Gary Morris, a director at property consultancy WYG, who told Property Week:
“I believe there will be pressure from the out-of-town retailers and supermarkets to open longer. And that won’t necessarily be because they want to; it’ll be because they feel they need to just compete”—
as with local authorities. He goes on:
“I can envisage a scenario whereby out-of-town operators might look for regional disparities to make a case that they should be allowed to open to compete with centres further away with longer hours”.
We know from polling local authority chief executives that that is true: 52% have indicated that they would use the devolution of Sunday trading powers to support out-of-town retailers and supermarkets, not town centres and high streets. Such a change to Sunday trading can only displace trade and harm high streets. The Minister has chosen to ignore those important facts.
My hon. Friend is making a brilliant speech. I must go back to his reference to Sweden, ABBA and 1972 and put on the record my concern that decision making will become all about money, money, money rather than the wider community concerns on which all planning decisions should be made.
I thank my hon. Friend, because that was worth the half-hour wait. That was very good and she is quite right, of course. I will not try to improve on it.
It was a serious point.
And my hon. Friend makes the point brilliantly. It is a very serious point. Of course, the Government would say that what might be called trivial points about local decision making—I do not think that they are at all trivial—mean nothing because, at the end of the day, consumers want change and shop workers want the opportunity to work more hours and earn more money. In fact, the Minister did say that.
Again, the Government are ignoring the facts. In September, research from Populus showed overwhelming support for the existing Sunday trading compromise, with two thirds of the public supporting the existing measures. The majority—61%—agree that Sunday is different from the rest of the week as it enables shared time with family and friends. Only one in eight people thinks that there is not enough time to shop under the current Sunday trading hours. One in eight. We are changing the law to ignore the views of seven in eight. That is remarkable.
Sunday trading laws work for the country. They are an important part of the fabric of our society. Sunday is a communal day of rest when people of faith or no faith can spend time with their family and friends and recharge their batteries for the rest of the week. The same is true for shop workers, the most important stakeholders in this debate whose views are completely ignored by the Government.
Some 91% of shop workers do not want a change in Sunday trading laws. They support the current compromise that allows them to spend a couple of hours a week with their families. Let us not underestimate how important that is for shop workers who already work more weekend hours. Some 63% of people employed in retail are already working overtime, compared with an average of 57% across all sectors. Barely half the people who work in retail report being satisfied with the amount of leisure time they have, suggesting that many experience a squeeze on the time they have available to spend with their partners and children.
Shop workers already face significant pressure to work on Sundays. They currently have the right to opt out of Sunday working if they give written notice to their employer with a notice period of three months. As the Minister told us, the Government have proposed to enhance the opt-out for shop workers in larger stores by reducing the notice period to one month. Staff will be able to opt out of working hours that are additional to their normal Sunday hours, which are averaged over a 12-week period. There is simply no evidence that the existing opt-out rules help to protect Sundays for shop workers, so it is clearly questionable for the Government to suggest that extending the opt-out rules will alleviate pressure on staff in the sector, if and when the legislation is passed and implemented.
The fact is that many shop workers are unable to use the Sunday working opt-out because of pressure from management. To ensure that they can cover all shifts whenever necessary, retail managers request seven-day flexibility from staff. Those who apply for a job invariably have to complete an availability schedule as part of their application. If they do not include availability on Sundays, they are not offered an interview. Employment contracts in retail then stipulate that staff have to give availability across the days and times that they have indicated. If staff ask to opt out of Sunday working, they can be told that they are not fulfilling their contract.
One USDAW member described it as follows:
“Sundays used to be a day of rest. Now my contract says 5 over 7”—
that is, they have to work for any five days in a week. Another said:
“My employer now only takes on part-timers willing to work every weekend.”
In fact, an independent survey in September 2015 of more than 10,000 USDAW members working in large stores found that 58% are already under pressure to work on Sundays when they do not want to. One member responding to the survey said:
“I’ve been told I’d be letting the team down if I don’t work extra on a Sunday. If we refuse a request to work extra then they are extremely unlikely to honour a request for an appointment or for time off”.
Mary Creagh (Wakefield) (Lab)
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Sir David. I am not sure how many members of the Committee have done shop work, but I certainly remember my two years as a Saturday girl in British Home Stores. That was 30 years ago. Those were the days when there was no Sunday opening, but in the run-up to Christmas there were four Sundays. As a young woman living in recession-hit Coventry in the early ’80s, I certainly relished the chance to work on a Sunday—but that was also because I was getting double pay on a Sunday. On the rare occasions when I worked on a bank holiday, I was getting treble pay.
I think it is a real shame that over the past 30 years the retail industry has gradually eroded workers’ rights and pay and conditions, and is relying ever more on a temporary and part-time workforce, partly so as not to pay the employers’ national insurance contributions. Employers would find that people would be more likely to volunteer to work on Sundays if the pay and incentives were correct.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point and reminding us that there was a time when workers received overtime payments for unsocial hours. Bank holidays were triple time. I have similar experience, so long ago that I cannot quite remember, but I know that overtime payments were as my hon. Friend described, and there has been a fundamental change. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West will deal with some of those points a bit later.
Lucy Frazer (South East Cambridgeshire) (Con)
It is, again, a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. Is there not a flaw in the hon. Gentleman’s argument? If he is suggesting that currently 60% of shop workers complain about working on Sundays, a significant number are already working on Sundays.
Okay. I thank the hon. and learned Lady—
Jo Churchill (Bury St Edmunds) (Con)
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I have not answered the first intervention yet; I am not entirely sure how to, as it was a statement of the obvious that staff work on Saturdays—and, yes, staff work on Sundays. That is certainly true, but people want the chance to have at least some time on a Sunday. That is the argument, and that is the point being made by shop workers who feel under huge pressure already. That pressure can only grow if the number of hours is increased by the larger stores.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I want to make two points: I started my career in retail, not in the illustrious universities that many here went to. I was manager of the year for the retail group that I started with and then manager of the year for a company called the Body Shop International, in the mid-’80s. That gave me many years of working seven days a week.
People have two choices when they are in business: to make profit, and sustain, or not to make profit. The reason why people do not get paid triple or even double time is that society has changed and businesses could no longer afford to give choice on the high street if they chose to do that. We are beyond the time when that was possible. If the hon. Gentleman truly wants to do what he has argued—sustain the high street—payment must work across the seven days of a week. Fundamentally his argument is flawed, on the basis that if one predicates—
Order. I thought this was an intervention, not a separate speech.
I do not think any of us were suggesting going back to the 1980s and the deindustrialisation and destruction of industry that happened under the Thatcher Government. [Hon. Members: “Oh!”] In the current environment, we have an agreed compromise. That is what the Opposition are trying to protect. It is an agreed compromise between small businesses, staff, families and faith groups. It has widespread public support and the only people who seem to want to change it are those with interests in large businesses and those who feel they will have no choice other than to support it because of the domino effect around the country.
USDAW’s research has found that, even in workplaces with trade union reps to support members, many staff are pressured into not using the Sunday opt-out. The argument being made by Opposition Members, trade unions and shop workers is that it is about a level playing field and fairness. The survey by USDAW found that 28% of those who tried to opt out of Sunday working in large stores had been unable to. In small stores, the figure rose to 38%, reflecting the longer opening hours and greater pressure to work. The hon. Member for Bury St Edmunds was referring to smaller stores. That is a difficult reality for the staff as well as for the business owners. The point is to try to balance those two as much as possible.
Overall, for every two staff who are able to use the opt-out, only one is successful. In the vast majority of retail workplaces where there is no union organisation or support, the proportion of staff unable to use the opt-out will be far higher. There is immense pressure on retail staff to work on Sundays. Even in workplaces with trade union reps to support members, over a third of those who try to opt out of Sunday working are unable to, and even more are prevented by pressure from even trying to use the opt-out. Longer Sundays will make the pressure worse, and the changes in the opt-out will not prevent staff from being pressured into working more on Sundays, making them lose even more precious family time.
John Hannett, the general secretary of USDAW, says:
“Many shopworkers find they are unable to use the current Sunday opt-out due to pressure from management and the possible loss of working hours, which most cannot afford. For these reasons the Government’s so-called protections will mean little or nothing in practice.”
The protections for shop workers are not enough to prevent businesses from abusing their dominance to force shop workers to work for longer, and that will be exacerbated under the Government’s proposals.
Church and faith groups are strongly opposed to the Government’s reforms and are equally frustrated by the Government’s consultation process. The Bishop of St Albans, the right reverend Dr Alan Smith, recently said:
“The Government response makes no compelling case for improved economic or social benefits and will do nothing to dissuade those who are concerned that the policy will damage family and community life…Most fundamentally the consultation response neglects to recognise the social value of a shared day for community and family life. In a world of increasing commodification, the space for shared time and activities, central to human flourishing is becoming ever more rare. Increased Sunday opening hours will only exacerbate this trend. I hope the Government will reflect and think again.”
I am sure the strength of feeling from church and faith groups will be replicated in the other place, where the Enterprise Bill started without the Sunday trading proposals included. It was the Enterprise Bill. It was not the Enterprise and Sunday Trading Bill, which it will become after the amendment goes through. The Lords did not have time to discuss Sunday trading or to examine it in detail in Grand Committee or on Report. This is the first time it is being debated. It is important to remember that this is a Lords Bill and the first time we are debating this matter is in the Commons.
The Government have not made a credible case, economically or socially, for a change to Sunday trading laws, so much so that the Government consultation process has used outdated and misrepresented data to form a credible case for reform. Consumers, small businesses, large businesses, high streets, shop workers and faith groups support the compromise we have now. A change is not wanted or needed. The Government’s own Back Benchers are divided on the issue and, as such, the Government have chosen to award the Bill the smallest amount of time for scrutiny in Parliament. The Government are running scared from debating Sunday trading, which is why it was left so late. They are hiding behind the false devolution argument to deliver complete liberalisation by the back door and pursue their ideological ambitions over workable public policy. I hope that on Report, Government Members can persuade Ministers that it is a mistake and that they should rethink, go back to the drawing board and withdraw the proposal.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I am keen to add my voice to those who share deep concern about both the substance of the changes and how they have been introduced by the Government. I do so on behalf of shop workers in my constituency and across the country who are interested in the issue, small businesses and convenience stores in my constituency and across the country and the large number of people who, whether due to religious faith or otherwise, feel strongly that Sunday should be kept as a special day for faith, community or cultural reasons.
It is important to put it on record that although I speak on behalf of a wide range of people, I have a personal interest in the issue in that my husband works in retail, and the changes will have a direct impact on my family. I wanted to declare that interest. It is clearly not financial, but although I am not speaking about my personal experience, it informs my understanding of the impact that the changes will have, particularly on shop workers and communities throughout the country. I hope that it helps inform the debate as well.
There is a big question remaining in my mind, having heard the Minister introduce the proposals and my hon. Friend the shadow Minister make a strong speech setting out clearly why the Government have not made the case for the changes. I genuinely cannot understand why the Government are introducing them, why they are necessary and why they think that they are a good idea. We have a more than 20-year-old compromise on the issue, and the overwhelming consensus is that the public support the current arrangements. A recent Populus poll showed that 67% of the public, or two thirds, support the current rules about trading hours on a Sunday. Another poll by Ipsos MORI back in 2012 found that more than half the public actively oppose any extension to the Sunday trading hours. There is a clear level of consensus about the trading hours that the balance is about right.
The Government argue that this is about localism and giving local areas the opportunity to grow, create more jobs, be more competitive in an increasingly online world and reinvigorate high streets, but the truth is that without any proper consultation or results from that consultation published by the Government, the evidence available to us on whether those claims and intentions stack up shows that it will achieve quite the opposite.
Even large retailers, which the Government claim will benefit from the changes, share many of the concerns. Asda, for example, has admitted that it hopes that the changes to the Sunday trading hours will be dropped altogether, because it has concerns about the workability of the proposals. Other retailers worry whether there will be enough of an uplift in demand to justify the extra costs incurred through longer opening hours. My hon. Friend the shadow Minister clearly outlined the question about the cost-benefit analysis of extending hours for the same amount of trade.
Perhaps the biggest worry for large retailers is how they will cope with the complexity of hundreds of different rules for different stores throughout the country about when and for how long they can open on Sundays. One big supermarket group recently told The Times:
“This is all becoming more and more opaque. The government says it is trying to cut red tape but now it wants to give local councils this subjective ability to pick and choose which areas can have extended trading, and who will benefit from that. It all seems a bit of a shambles…and the data the government is using to support its argument is from 2006 before the recession.”
Surely the new clause flies in the face of the Government’s deregulation agenda, which we considered earlier. Will the Minister clarify whether the Government have undertaken an impact assessment, and whether they will publish it, on how the new clause will affect the Government’s business impact target, which requires Ministers to consider the economic impact of statutory provisions on businesses?
The Government claimed that this change will boost high street footfall, but what of the economic impact on businesses that will have to comply with tens, if not hundreds, of different regulations and Sunday trading restrictions? Far from cutting red tape for businesses, devolving powers over Sunday trading will do the opposite. Businesses large and small agree, and have expressed their concerns about that.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Sefton Central said, the best and only test we have of the effect of extending Sunday trading hours is their temporary relaxation during the 2012 Olympics. He talked about the difference between the retail sales in July, August and September, when that temporary relaxation was in force, and those of the earlier months of May and June, when the restrictions remained in place. ONS figures show that the level across all of those months was the same as the previous year, which calls into question the claim that extending Sunday trading hours will bring an increase in trade. It will, however, increase retailers’ costs.
Although the case for extending Sunday trading hours based on the economic impact on businesses is far from certain, it will have a big impact on small shops and convenience stores. The London Olympics give a useful indication of the impact that a permanent relaxation might have on small businesses and convenience stores, which play a vital role in all of our communities not only by providing post office services, which we have discussed, but by being available as a convenience—hence the name.
My hon. Friend referred to the Oxford Economics study that found that, as a result of the temporary relaxation during the Olympics, convenience stores within 1 mile of a supermarket lost £1,300, or 3.4% of their weekly sales. That evidence is very different to anything the Government have cited in support of the changes. I would be surprised if hon. Members on both sides of the House are willing to support their wish and hope—I have a dream, to go back to the Abba bingo—over the clear evidence from past experience that shows that the change will damage convenience stores and could cost the sector up to 6,500 jobs, far outweighing any projections for the jobs that may be created in the larger stores.
My hon. Friend made an interesting point earlier—I have been reflecting on it during her speech—about the risks to the retail sector, and in particular to the large stores. The sector does not have a unanimous opinion on this issue. A risk that has been raised is that if one store opens, causing every other store to feel that they have to do the same, they will end up becoming less profitable because there will not be enough footfall. Perhaps people in Wakefield do not want to go shopping or whatever else at 9 o’clock on a Sunday morning. They might be having a well-deserved lie-in or taking the dog for a walk.
Indeed. My hon. Friend makes an important point. [Interruption.] The Minister from a sedentary position keeps repeating the mantra that it is not obligatory. Is that what she is saying?
It is not compulsory.
The Minister says that it is not compulsory, but she seems to misunderstand completely the nature of market forces and retail competition.
She has never played dominoes.
As my hon. Friend says, perhaps the Minister has never played dominoes.
Will the hon. Lady give way?
I will happily give way to the hon. Lady, who has already given us a lecture on market forces. That would be very helpful.
Yes, I suppose it is about market forces again. Tesco convenience stores in places where there has been a lack of demand have dropped their hours back down, which indicates that, actually, it is not compulsory; it is up to the business to ensure that it optimises—[Hon. Members: “So why change the system?”] So larger ones have the choice. It is about choice.
I appreciate what the hon. Lady says, but the Government have a role and a responsibility to balance the interests of communities, the business community, local authorities and local planning decisions, which is where the debate was had 22 years ago when a compromise was struck. That compromise has worked and is sensible, and she has pointed out that some retailers have decided to drop back their hours where there is not enough demand. The difficulty with fully liberalising the retail legislation in this way is that it removes all of the current compromise that allows for that flexibility. Indeed, she makes the point that the current laws are working, and the Government have not submitted any evidence to justify why they need to change the system.
The Federation of Small Businesses and the Association of Convenience Stores, both significant voices for small businesses, are opposed to the measures. Small businesses are the backbone of the UK’s economy, making up 99% of the 5.2 million businesses in the country and employing more than 14 million people. Their voice should be heard, and the restrictions on Sunday trading play a vital role in supporting and sustaining our small businesses. Frankly, I am shocked that the Government seem to dismiss the concerns of small businesses so out of hand when they claim to be champions of small business, but we know that is not the case, and this proves it.
My final point is on the tens of thousands of people who work in the retail sector on Sundays for large retailers and who take comfort from the current arrangements, which enable them to go out to earn a living while still getting some time off with their family on a Sunday and retaining a semblance of a work-life balance. Surely the Minister can recognise that the new clause merely risks heaping more pressure on low-paid retail workers, for whom the Sunday restrictions are considered a fundamental right and protection. It is telling that his contribution to the debate so far was entirely focused on those workers being able to enforce those rights. A measure proposed by the Government that is focused entirely on how individuals and workers can enforce those rights highlights the issue and the difficult situation in which the Government are deliberately putting those workers.
Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab)
Would it be useful if the Minister clarified that point? We know the measure is controversial, and we will be returning to it on Report; lots of Government Members are also not happy with it. Even if the measures do not go ahead, will the enhanced workers’ rights be delivered by the Government because they think it is the right thing to do?
My hon. Friend makes an important point, and it would be useful to hear from the Minister that, even if the Sunday trading laws do not go ahead—the Minister should take on board the deep concerns on both sides of the House about the Sunday trading restrictions—he will still commit to the additional rights for workers to enforce the Sunday trading restrictions in their workplace.
Does the Minister recognise the concerns raised about work-life balance? He should address that issue, because it is a well-known aspiration of the Prime Minister to make the UK the most family-friendly country in Europe. Indeed, in 2014 he announced, to much fanfare, his family test, which says that
“every single domestic policy that government comes up with will be examined for its impact on the family… The reality is that in the past the family just hasn’t been central to the way government thinks. So you get a whole load of policy decisions which take no account of the family and sometimes make…things worse.”
I could not agree more. This has just come into my head, and I cannot resist sharing it with the Committee: in the light of the exchange at Prime Minister’s questions yesterday between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, does your mother know?
Given new clause 21, under which thousands of retail staff face working longer hours on Sunday—a day when their children are not at school and that is often reserved for family and friends—what will happen to the Prime Minister’s aspiration? Has the family test been carried out and, if so, why has the result not been published?
A recent answer to a written question tabled by the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes), who is on the Government Benches, suggests that the Minister is “carefully considering” the issues raised in the consultation, and the Minister has promised to publish the family test result shortly. Once again, we are debating an issue without the Government coming forward with any of the information on which a decision should be made. If the Minister can enlighten the Committee now about the result of the family test and enlighten us on what the Government’s deliberations have been and the conclusions they have come to, that will help to inform the Committee—and, indeed, members of the public, who I know take a keen interest in these issues.
It is fundamental that we should be in possession of the facts before we make decisions on these issues. Members of the public who are watching will be astounded not only that this Bill, which started in the House of Lords, did not include Sunday trading in its title, but that the Lords have not been given an opportunity to consider that. We are now debating it in the Commons, still without any impact assessment or information from the Government on the evidential basis for why they are bringing these measures forward. I question whether this is sound policy making at all.
In the absence of a Government family test, we are left to rely on others to inform us about this policy. There is information from the Social Market Foundation. It has done some work on this issue and has found that Sunday working encroaches the most on couple and family time together; fathers who work on Sundays miss out on time with their children not just on Sundays, but throughout the week; and children whose parents have to work on Sundays often spend less time doing activities such as reading or undertaking hobbies. I remind hon. Members that the Government’s family test requires the Government to consider the following:
“What impacts will the policy will have on all family members’ ability to play a full role in family life, including with respect to parenting and other caring responsibilities?”
On the basis of the Social Market Foundation’s findings—the only evidence that we have—new clause 21 clearly does not meet that test, so I wonder whether, as well as speaking to the Minister with responsibility for high streets, the Minister has spoken to the Prime Minister about his failure to take into consideration the Prime Minister’s much-heralded family test when bringing forward this policy.
The Minister will no doubt point out, as he already has, that new clause 21 will strengthen the rights of workers in the retail sector and specifically their rights to opt out of Sunday working hours. It is very important that the shadow Minister has put on record a request for the Minister to confirm that, whether or not these Sunday trading laws go ahead, those rights will be enshrined in law. However, as the general secretary of USDAW has pointed out, the protections will mean nothing to many retail staff. He says:
“Many shopworkers find they are unable to use the current Sunday opt-out due to pressure from management and the possible loss of working hours, which most cannot afford. For these reasons the…so-called protections will mean little or nothing in practice.”
Although we are fighting for those protections to remain on the statute book for those few people who can take advantage of them, the message is clear that the majority of workers will not be able to take advantage of them, whether they are on the statute book or not, and therefore the change in the legislation should not go ahead. USDAW found in its survey of retail workers that 58% say that they are already under pressure to work on Sundays and they are not usually or never allowed a Sunday off, so although there is little comfort to be found in those measures, we would like to see them on the statute book none the less.
Sunday is a special day. It is often the only day of the week when families can be together and parents can spend time with their children. Thanks to the restrictions that have been in place for 20 years or so and that are broadly accepted by the public, even parents who work in retail on Sundays—I speak from experience—are able to enjoy the uniqueness of Sundays.
The measures in the new clause put all that at risk. It is far from certain that Sunday trading will create jobs and reinvigorate the high street. Indeed, the evidence shows it will have the opposite effect and will impact detrimentally on small businesses and convenience stores. It will unravel the Government’s deregulation agenda, heaping yet more bureaucracy on businesses, and it will impact on the ability of retail workers to enjoy a semblance of work-life balance, which we know so many families struggle with already.
I fully support the campaign to keep Sunday special, because I believe that the status quo, which has worked well for more than 20 years and gives everyone a little bit of what they want, should be retained. I will therefore vote against the new clause.
Caroline Flint (Don Valley) (Lab)
It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Sir David. This debate saddens and disappoints me. I remember when the previous Government came to the Commons to seek support for extending the opening hours during the Olympics. I, along with others, listened in good faith to the arguments presented by the Government. Like Members of all parties, I was concerned that giving the green light to the extension would be the start of something much wider in England and Wales.
I am also saddened by the fact that in April 2015 USDAW received a letter written on behalf of David Cameron stating that the Government had no plans to relax the current legislation. The letter was written on behalf of the Prime Minister in 2015, and we have the same Prime Minister in 2016. However, a review was subsequently announced in June 2015 after the election. On two occasions, senior figures in our political system—the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Prime Minister—have seemed to say one thing to get the support of the House and the electorate, and then down the road it seems they have changed their view. Perhaps that was already their plan. As my hon. Friends have already outlined, we have what it is fair to call a great British compromise. It is not the case—
It is not “British”; the Scots have a different system.
I will come on to Scotland shortly. I am proud of being English; in England we do not have to do everything that they do in Scotland, and vice versa. That is the beauty of devolution. Sometimes we are right and they are wrong—and, to be fair to Scottish National party Committee members, sometimes Scotland gets it right and we get it wrong. I pay tribute to the fact that the Scots chose to go ahead with the ban on smoking in enclosed public spaces before England did. As public health Minister, I went to Scotland to learn from its success. It was a good example of seeing where things could be done differently and how we could learn from them.
I think England is very different from Scotland when it comes to the retail sector. No offence, but England is a much bigger country with a much larger population. The density of our cities and their proximity to each other—putting aside Glasgow and Edinburgh—means that the changes the Government are suggesting could end up, as my hon. Friends have outlined, having a mushrooming effect as one city makes one decision under one local authority and that leads to pressure on others. I worry about that.
According to a survey by USDAW of more than 10,000 shop workers, the vast majority work at least some Sundays. Most work every Saturday. Perhaps there is a reason why the Government want the changes. My hon. Friend the Member for Sefton Central made an interesting point: he said we need to tighten up the protection of workers’ rights in this area because 35% of staff in large stores would like to work fewer hours on a Sunday. That indicates, along with other evidence, that undue pressure is already being put on workers in retail today. Regardless of whether our Parliament decides to go ahead with the Government’s proposals, I hope that the Government will extend the protections under the existing arrangements to retail workers who work on Sundays.
I happen to think that not every day of the week should be the same. It is good to have something a bit different and a bit British. I am old enough to remember the halcyon days when we had half-day closing on a Wednesday. My grandparents were publicans. My parents worked in pubs, and I have worked in pubs. I remember when we opened at 12 o’clock on a Sunday and closed at 2 o’clock, then did not open until 7 o’clock that night. There are some issues around the opening hours of that sector as well.
I also remember when banks were first allowed to open on a Saturday. In fact, it was on a new Saturday opening of the NatWest branch in Richmond when my husband and I happened to go in with our children to get some pocket money for them and we managed to foil an armed bank robbery. Having done that and the robber having been apprehended by the police, my husband and I were put on alert that we might have to give evidence in court; on that particular Saturday, staff had been brought from another branch and had forgotten to put the cameras on inside the branch. As a result, there was no evidence, so my husband and I were the only persons who could put the armed robber in the bank and outside the bank at the relevant time.
There is often confusion about what the opening up of these arrangements means for staff. How ironic it is that all these years later, after all that extension of banks’ opening hours, we are now seeing bank closures. Throughout the villages in my constituency, I see banks closing from Monday to Friday, when consumers would like to see them open.
According to a statement from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills:
“The current Sunday trading rules are restrictive, stifling business efficiency and competitiveness and inhibiting consumer choice and reducing the ability of our major cities to compete for international tourism.”
In the words of Victor Meldrew, “I don’t believe it!” I happen to have in my constituency the excellent Yorkshire Wildlife Park, which is one of the fastest growing tourist attractions in Yorkshire. You are very welcome to visit, Sir David, if you happen to be in south Yorkshire on a weekend.
I thank my right hon. Friend for enlivening our afternoon deliberations with her armed robbery-foiling story, which I have heard many times. I heartily recommend the full version; I am sure we can all adjourn to Strangers’ at the close of the Committee to hear the unexpurgated version. However, she neglected to mention the meerkats at the Yorkshire Wildlife Park, which is a gross injustice to that excellent tourist attraction.
I thank my hon. Friend for that added promotion of the park. May I return the favour by mentioning the excellent Yorkshire Sculpture Park in her constituency of Wakefield?
The BIS statement says that these measures will somehow improve international tourism, but do you know what? I want people to come to the Yorkshire Wildlife Park on a Sunday. I want them to go to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park on a Sunday. I want proper measures to support international tourism outside London and the south-east, and we can do that by ensuring we have good transport links, good support and promotion and marketing of those wonderful assets and jewels in our tourism crown. In a few months’ time, we will have the Tour de Yorkshire, which will come through my constituency and is a major event to raise money and create jobs. What is this shabby deal we are being offered? Nobody is asking for this.
I am just wondering: do these wonderful tourist attractions have any souvenir shops?
Yes. To be clear, we all acknowledge that there is provision for Sunday opening. In England and Wales, stores that are larger than 280 square metres are allowed to open for six continuous hours between the hours of 10 am and 6 pm. Small stores—those under 280 square metres—do not have any restrictions on Sunday opening.
In her enunciation of the highlights of Wakefield, my right hon. Friend unforgivably neglected to mention the Hepworth Wakefield gallery, which is open on Sundays. It has an excellent café/restaurant and a shop. Both the shop at the Hepworth and the shop at Yorkshire Sculpture Park are open on Sundays because they are classified as small shops.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I am happy to take other interventions on how we support the UK tourism industry and do not undermine it by further encouraging people to shop even longer in the major shops in our cities and towns. I really do not think we need that.
David Mackintosh (Northampton South) (Con)
Will the right hon. Lady give way?
No. I am going to finish my point before I take another intervention. I do not think a change to Sunday hours is necessary, and there is no evidence for it. We certainly do not have the impact assessment with the evidence to support it. What is shabby about this whole debate is that none of this stuff was in the Bill on Second Reading. Nevertheless, Ministers spent an inordinate amount of time trying to explain what the proposal was all about and why it should go ahead. [Interruption.]
My right hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. From a sedentary position, in response to the important point she makes about small shops and other businesses that can take advantage of the existing Sunday arrangements, the Minister asks why that should not be available for larger stores. Does she share my concern that the Government just do not get it?
I do not think that they get it. We already have a flexible system that gives ample time for people to shop on a Sunday if they so wish, but within a framework that tries to make Sunday different from every other day of the week. Further extension of Sunday trading will not only put huge pressure on people who are currently working in large stores, 35% of whom would like to work shorter hours than they currently are, but undermine the fabric of what a Sunday should be about and the opportunity for families to be together.
I am a vice chair of the all-party group on women and work. Earlier this week we were discussing the big problems of childcare—and that was just from Monday to Friday, let alone the impact of having to find more childcare support on a Sunday. In the UK there are already too many families, some of whom I know and have met, in which the parents are working shifts to cover their own childcare because they cannot afford to pay for it or get it at a time that suits them. I do not want to be part of adding to the problems of those families.
We have heard a lot about interesting tourist attractions. Do people work at them on a Sunday?
Honestly, with the greatest respect to the hon. Gentleman, that is stupid. Nobody is not acknowledging the changes there have been in the working hours of the retail sector. In some cases, the arrangements make common sense, and compromise has happened. Nevertheless, to further extend the possibility of workers in the retail sector working ever-increasing hours from Monday to Sunday is a mistake. It is not just about the money; it is about how we see things and a way of life that is threatened by the Government’s proposals.
It concerns me that promises have been broken. It concerns me that we could see the domino effect, to which my colleagues have referred, whereby one city feels that it has to move in this direction and others follow suit. I hope that we would all agree that our high streets face major challenges in terms of internet shopping and how they can keep ahead. One of the biggest problems for the shops on my constituency’s high streets is that the landlords who own the properties that retailers rent are not keeping them up to standard, which has a massive effect on communities in the many villages and towns that I represent in Don Valley.
I also want to say—I was thinking about this during an earlier speech—that if we are to have longer retail hours on Sundays, what will the impact be on policing? How much more will the police have to deal with antisocial behaviour and crime in busy retail areas during opening hours? It happens too often and shop workers are often the victims. What impact will the change have on the amount of litter that accumulates during the longer opening hours? Has any thought been given to all the service areas that are so important to successful businesses and retail outlets? Will there be any knock-on effect on their responsibilities and duties?
I hope that the Government will reconsider the matter. There is cross-party opposition to the proposals. If something is not broken, why try to fix it? I was going to say that we have a British compromise, but it is a very English compromise, and I am going to stand up for England—and Wales.
Hannah Bardell (Livingston) (SNP)
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the last time in this Committee, Sir David. I appreciate that this is a hotly debated topic and that time is marching on, so I will be brief.
Our concern has always primarily focused on Scottish workers and, as the right hon. Member for Don Valley identified and as was mentioned before, we do Sunday trading differently in Scotland. The SNP welcomes the Government’s provision of additional employee protections in new schedule 1. Indeed, without the strong and principled action of the SNP, such protections may never have materialised. We welcome the Government’s withdrawal of their initial proposals, which has allowed for more debate and engagement between now and Report. On behalf of the SNP, I have had the opportunity to engage with a number of interested stakeholders, large supermarkets and retailers, smaller retailers and trade organisations, and I will continue to do so. We particularly look forward to the enhanced scrutiny on Report.
The hon. Lady mentioned trade associations, but not trade unions. There are 46,000 USDAW members in Scotland, so will she confirm that she will consult that union between now and Report?
Yes, we have previously consulted USDAW and had significant discussions. I pay tribute to its work, and we will absolutely consult it again.
We have had a long debate and some interesting contributions. It has been interesting to hear Opposition Members complain that the rules they put in place to protect workers are not working. That is one of the reasons why there is a package of options. I wonder whether they fully understand how the high street works, let alone whether they have actually fully read the new clause and schedule and understand how they knit together. The extra protections improve accessibility and are an integral part of the package. They would not be needed if we were not going forward. However, I appreciate Opposition Members’ recognition that the way things were done under Labour simply was not good enough.
In some instances, hon. Members, and particularly the hon. Member for Sefton Central, were missing the point. We are looking at devolving power to local areas. Just to correct him, I do not know how the Labour party works but certainly in Conservative councils, I would not think we have many leaders who believe that they are the sole decision maker. They work on a democratic basis where all councillors have their say, but that might be why we also have Labour councils asking for this power. As well as Manchester and Nottingham, more than 150 council leaders are calling for this devolved power. As I have said in other places around this House when discussing other legislation, I trust local people to make the right decisions for their areas, and I hope that Labour Members would as well.
It is incredibly frustrating to listen to the Minister talk about empowering local communities when he knows full well that he is putting local authorities up and down the country in an invidious position over central Government funding cuts. It is therefore no surprise that local authorities will do anything to try to mitigate the impact on their communities, but it is no excuse for the change in this legislation that the Government are ramming through.
The hon. Lady tempts me to digress, but I will not go too far and test the Chair’s patience. However, I gently say to her that putting aside the fact that this is about local authorities making decisions about what is good for their local community, she might want to bear in mind, on her point about local government funding, that over the past few years, local authorities have managed to increase their reserves from about £13 billion to more than £22 billion. The revenue support grant that she referred to is actually a very small part of the income that local authorities get from a whole range of different areas.
I also find it slightly ironic that Labour Members, on listening to some of the things that we say about devolution, talk about closing post offices. Having seen how many post offices Labour closed, that is a slightly odd thing to hear.
I remind the Minister of times when I spoke to him in a previous capacity, when I was a local authority leader before being elected to this place. I was asking on behalf of my local authority for more powers and for the retention of business rates, all of which will be helped by the measures outlined in the Bill.
My hon. Friend makes a very good point, which highlights the difference as regards our genuine belief in devolving power and delivering on that, whether it is through the Localism Act 2011, the Housing and Planning Bill or indeed, through this Bill.
To put the Committee’s mind at rest, I do not intend to accept the very tempting offer from Labour Members and run through a whole list of all the fabulous tourism offers around Great Yarmouth. I just encourage them to come and see for themselves, and hopefully, after the Bill gets Royal Assent, they will be able to do some shopping and spend their money there as well. I will also not break into song and sing “Mamma Mia” to reflect what my mother would think about the Bill—I would not dare to put the Committee through that, but I am sure my mother will be looking forward to shopping for longer on a Sunday.
The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North was absolutely right in one thing she said at least: the rules on which we are discussing devolving a new power are more than 20 years old. They predate the internet, and there is now a whole different world of retail. The hon. Member for Sefton Central talked in his opening remarks about devolution and other Members have talked particularly about convenience stores, which I value. I met some in my constituency just a few weeks ago, and some of them were talking about how this could actually increase their trade, because people get used to being able to shop for longer through the day. That mirrors what we have seen elsewhere—those convenience stores have managed to have growth of about 5% over the last year—and it is worth noting that the number of convenience stores in Scotland, where there is that free trade opportunity, is higher per head than it is here in England. That is a really good example from very close to home of how convenience stores can thrive.
Hon. Members have made a few comments today about people’s desire for their religious views to be recognised and that even those who are not religious might wish to keep Sunday special. I remind hon. Members, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe has rightly said a few times, that this is not compulsory. People do not have to shop on a Sunday. What this does is give an opportunity to people who want to take advantage of the wider flexibilities to be able to do so. That can play quite an important part in enhancing family life and, as I said, in creating more jobs for young people, women and others who want to take advantage of companies that decide that Sunday trading is in their interest and their customers’ interest.
I will just make a bit more progress. The point has been made a few times about larger businesses and the differentials that we could see as local authorities make decisions locally around the country. It is right, as hon. Members have said, that local authorities could make different decisions on whether they take and use the powers, the format, how long they extend them for or how they choose to zone in their area. Council leaders have given me very different examples of what they want to do, and I encourage that, because it recognises the differences across the country for local communities.
I will go further: it is not that big a jump to expect larger companies to get used to the variation and to deal with it. They already deal with such differences, whether that means the different valuations for business rates in different parts of the country or the fact that a council might have a business improvement district giving a different levy and structure if they trade there. There might also be an enterprise zone nearby. A range of such things already differ around the country and retail businesses are used to dealing with that. I am confident that they will continue to be able to do so in future.
I want to underline a few of the specific issues raised by hon. Members—it is important to be clear. Convenience store sales have risen in the past few years and the responses to the consultation by larger shops and shopping centres, as well as garden centres—let us not forget that many garden centres are small businesses—have been clear about how they frequently have to turn customers away as they close their doors. They also have customers looking around before they spend their money, which highlights the customer demand to be able to shop. Otherwise we would not also find that Sunday is the largest online shopping day of the week. High street shops will instead get the opportunity to compete. They will make a choice about whether they want to take advantage of that, and in what format—we are giving them a local choice.
A couple of Opposition Members mentioned the Olympics and the extrapolation from the data on what happened then. They might want to have a deeper look at that, because the ONS has said that over such a short period it is not possible to extrapolate such an inference from the data available.
On workers’ rights, the changes and the improvements that we want to make are clear: if shop workers opt out or propose to do so, they will have legal protection. I suspect that too few workers fully understand that, so we want to ensure that it is clearer, more prevalent, easier to access and fully understood.
The hon. Member for Sefton Central referred to figures from the London School of Economics, which has done some research. I gently point out to him that the figure he used is not one that the Government have used—it is a headline from the London School of Economics.
The Minister appears to have dispensed with the Opposition queries, but he has skimmed over my question about the family-friendly test. Will he comment, or has it gone the way of hugging huskies?
If the hon. Lady looks at Hansard this evening, she will find that I have been responding to a lot of the queries of Opposition Members, specifically hers. Only a few seconds ago I said specifically on the family-friendly test that the Bill will give families more flexibility and opportunity on how they choose to spend their time on a Sunday. It will be a big advantage for families. I am sure that if it were not, we would have had hon. Members from Scotland jumping up to explain how Sunday trading has ruined family life in Scotland, a religious and family-focused country. I love spending time there and I have not heard that. I suspect that we will find that Scotland is a very good place to bring up a family, despite the fact that Scottish communities have freedom on Sunday trading. We want to give the opportunity to enjoy that same freedom to communities in this country.
In a similar vein, a number of us have mentioned the Prime Minister’s 20 April promise through his spokeswoman, before the general election, that there were no plans to change the Sunday trading laws in England and Wales. Will the Minister tell us when the Prime Minister changed his mind, or was it only a meaningless pre-election promise intended to get him through the last two weeks of the general election campaign?
The hon. Gentleman is choosing to ignore the fact that since then there has been a general election, an entirely new Parliament and a Conservative Government, which is a good thing for our country. In 2015 the Prime Minister made it very clear at the Dispatch Box in this very House during Prime Minister’s Question Time that he felt it was time to review Sunday trading laws on the basis that they are outdated and were passed pre-internet.
Devolving the powers will enable local leaders, who are locally accountable, to decide for themselves what the right approach is to extending Sunday trading hours, reflecting local preferences, shopping habits and local economic conditions. It will provide consumers, businesses and shop workers with greater choice, opportunity and convenience. It will empower local leaders to support bricks and mortar shops in their local high streets and town centres, helping them to compete with the internet retailers that operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week and deliver on Sundays, too.
As I understand it, the Minister’s explanation for the Prime Minister’s damascene conversion between April and June is that he discovered the internet. Is that correct?
The hon. Gentleman is stretching it a little far to make a joke. If he looks back at Prime Minister’s questions, he will find that, as I outlined, the Prime Minister made the point that it was right to review Sunday trading laws in light of the fact that the current rules date from before the internet existed. I was very clear about that.
The change will also ensure that we get a bigger opportunity to drive competition and productivity, reducing prices and improving convenience for consumers. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman does not appreciate that we have a Prime Minister who cares about our economy and local communities having not only power, but local choice. We want to support our towns and cities to create jobs and have greater prosperity and to enable them to compete for lucrative international tourism, too. Larger shops opening for longer can benefit smaller shops, food establishments and tourism attractions by bringing footfall in. The larger shops draw footfall into our town centres and having them open is good for our town centres.
The Minister is making an eloquent speech, but it appears to be completely evidence-free. The evidence available to us appears to say the absolute opposite to him. Will he please provide some evidence base for what he is saying?
I outlined the logic behind what we are doing earlier today. The hon. Lady can also have a look at the Government response to the consultation, which is clear on these matters. We are determined to ensure that we deliver the amendments, which provide choice for local areas on what suits their local preferences and their local economic conditions, choice for retailers to open at times that better suit the needs of their customers and choice for consumers on where and when to shop for a wider range of goods and services.
The strengthened rights for shop workers mean that the benefits of the proposals can be delivered while protecting those shop workers who do not want to work at all on a Sunday or who do not want to work longer hours on a Sunday. They deliver flexibility at a local level, which is crucial in ensuring that local communities and local economies can play to their local strengths. Whether it is by capitalising on tourist spend or catering for shoppers later in the day, the amendments will help those local economies, and by extension our UK economy, to grow. That is why the amendments represent an essential modernisation of a piece of law that in reality is no longer fit for purpose in our modern consumer world.
Welcome back, Sir David. We have heard about people’s experiences. My first job was in Fine Fare, which is probably defunct now, stacking shelves and cleaning the toilets for 48.5p an hour. When I graduated to Marks and Spencer, my mother said it was the happiest day of her life. I have that grassroots experience of the retail industry, although it is not the considerable experience of the hon. Member for Bury St Edmunds.
I will not detain the Committee for a long, because of the time. We have had an extensive debate. Most of the issues have been aired pretty well, and I will not repeat all the points. The Minister, the right hon. Member for Broxtowe, often chunters about us talking about process, but there is a fundamental objection about the process and the manner in which the Government have gone about introducing these things. The Prime Minister made commitments in April and suddenly changed his mind upon discovering the internet a few months later and decided that something needed to be done desperately and urgently. In the meantime, the convenience of a general election had intervened, meaning he would not have to face the electorate for another five years.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the invention of the internet is an argument against Sunday trading, because it gives busy working parents the opportunity to buy online from supermarkets and department stores and to have things delivered at their leisure and convenience, rather than dragging the kids around the shops at the weekend? Frankly, that is something that most families detest and despise—certainly my family do.
The other growing trend is ordering things on the internet and picking them up in the shop at another time. That is increasingly how people shop these days; certainly my own wife does it frequently. [Hon. Members: “Ooh!”] Wait for it. I have yet to do that myself, because as a former Marks and Spencer Saturday boy, I like to try my suits on before I buy them. There are also, of course, different consumer rights for those who order online.
The changes have been introduced halfway through the Bill’s life, conveniently swerving around the Bishops in the House of Lords, who might have had something to say, as might other Members of that House, about keeping Sunday special. It is a highly controversial measure, and there is concern about it across this House, on the Conservative Benches as well as in other parties. That is why we properly have an extra half-day of time carved out on Report to discuss the Bill.
I was going to suggest that if working on a Sunday is nothing to be concerned about, perhaps that debate should take place on a Sunday here in Parliament, and we should all come back—I see the hon. Member for Bury St Edmunds nodding in approval. I would be certainly happy to do so if the Government want to table it on a Sunday, because I am sure it is no inconvenience whatever to anyone to come to work on a Sunday. [Interruption.] I do not sense universal assent to my proposal, but the hon. Lady was in favour of it.
As a result of that extra time, we will have an opportunity to test the opinion of the whole House on this subject. As this is a House of Lords Bill, it is not enactable in this House, so constitutionally, in this instance it is the Lords who have a significant say, and no Salisbury convention applies, because it was not included in the governing party’s manifesto. Indeed, the Prime Minister said that he would do the opposite, and had no plans to do anything about Sunday trading until his sudden discovery of the internet.
Therefore, if the Bill survives Report in the House of Commons and their lordships get it back, I am sure they will want to spend extensive time on the measure, given that they were not allowed to consider it because the Government did not have the courtesy to introduce it at the beginning of the Bill. As one of my hon. Friends pointed out, the consultation was extremely short and was then sat on for months after the Bill had gone through its stages in the House of Lords before the Government announced, on the cusp of Second Reading, that they had had another sudden revelation and decided that they needed to put the measure into this Bill, even though it was halfway through its parliamentary journey.
We need time to cogitate further on the measure, but in doing so, I have certainly been convinced by the arguments made by my right hon. and hon. Friends that we are likely to oppose it on Report. I enjoyed all their speeches. My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North spoke with a great deal of knowledge, not least, as she pointed out, because of her family interest, in the form of her partner’s occupation. My right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley entertained us hugely by telling us that she had foiled a bank robbery. The only disappointing thing was that apparently no video survives of that day; I am sure that we would all have liked to see it. We look forward to hearing the full story outside this room. She also made some vital points about why the measure should not be adopted. We also heard contributions in the form of interventions by my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield, and my hon. Friend the Member for Sefton Central set out an extensive case for why the measure is wrong.
I say to our colleagues from the Scottish National party that when people were debating a British compromise or an English compromise, I was feeling slightly forgotten over here in the corner, as a constituency Member representing a Welsh seat, because of course these measures also apply to Wales. However, they will affect Scotland and Northern Ireland. I know that USDAW has communicated with Scottish MPs on behalf of its 46,000 members in Scotland to say that its view is that the sort of premium pay that is available to workers in Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland for working on Sundays is already under severe threat as a result of the nature of the market and the prospect of these measures being introduced.
There is already a diminution in the availability of Sunday premium pay in the retail sector. I should tell my colleagues in Scotland that although this measure will apply directly only in England and Wales, I am afraid it will have a ripple effect on other parts of the United Kingdom. That is the point USDAW is making on behalf of its members. I encourage my Scottish colleagues to think about that seriously, as I know they will, when deciding their position on this measure.
I remind all hon. Members present that many retail workers in their constituencies will be listening carefully to this debate. I was looking at the figures and, to take some at random, I see that the hon. Member for Derby North has 3,300 retail workers in her constituency and that there are 5,000 in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield. They form an important part of our constituencies. We should consider them and consult them on their opinions.
The Government have made some bold statements on what retail workers want and think, and I hope they will listen to the lobby in Parliament on Monday when retail workers from around the country come to Parliament to talk to their MPs. I am sure colleagues will want to meet them and to hear their opinions before the matter comes back on Report. In sympathy with my friend, the hon. Member for Rugby, who is unfortunately not well, I will cut short my comments and simply say that we are against these proposals, 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.
Question put and agreed to.
New clause 21 accordingly read a Second time, and added to the Bill
New Clause 15
Review of the Groceries Code Adjudicator
‘(1) The Secretary of State shall carry out a review of the Groceries Code Adjudicator.
(2) The review shall cover—
(a) requests from the Groceries Code Adjudicator to extend her remit, and
(b) extension of the powers given to the Groceries Code Adjudicator since the introduction of the post.
(3) The Secretary of State shall place this review before both Houses within 12 months of the appointment of the Small Business Commissioner.”—(Bill Esterson.)
This new Clause would require the Secretary of State to review remit and powers of the Groceries Code Adjudicator.
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
We debated some elements of the Groceries Code Adjudicator as part of our lengthy discussions about the creation of the small business commissioner a long time ago—two and a bit weeks ago, at the start of our proceedings. There is a great deal of overlap in the nature and aims of the adjudicator and the commissioner. Both were created to give a voice to smaller suppliers in their dealings with larger companies and both were designed to address the imbalance in those relationships.
New clause 15 seeks to acknowledge that there will be considerable concern about the Groceries Code Adjudicator, which was set up in 2013, and the small business commissioner, when it is established, presumably later this year, and the extent of their powers, the breadth of their remit and the teeth they have to deliver in their sectors. I appreciate that the general review of the Groceries Code Adjudicator is expected this year. We are asking in the new clause for a specific investigation of the adjudicator’s role, which is particularly relevant to the Bill because of the relationship with the small business commissioner. The review we are asking for is to learn from the first years of the Groceries Code Adjudicator so that we can apply those lessons to the post of the small business commissioner. The new clause is a simple way of saying that we did not get it quite right in 2013 and that we have an opportunity to learn valuable lessons now. We ought to ensure that those lessons are taken on board at the appropriate stage, which is in this Bill.
On confidentiality, we have said repeatedly, here and in the Lords, that if small businesses complain about big businesses that are their customers, they risk damaging their business relationships. Now, the Groceries Code Adjudicator has said that a lack of trust is a barrier to suppliers who might have complaints. Lord Mendelsohn cited that as a key area of concern. Without robust provisions for confidentiality and without learning from the experience of the Groceries Code Adjudicator, we will be doomed to repeat those deficiencies with the small business commissioner.
When it comes to providing greater powers for the commissioner, we can learn lessons from the Groceries Code Adjudicator. In January 2015, the then coalition Government announced that they would give the Groceries Code Adjudicator the ability to fine supermarkets 1% of their annual turnover for serious breaches of the grocery code. This was a recognition that the adjudicator needed to back up their influence with greater powers, but it took almost two years after the creation of the post to ensure that those powers were available. The new clause would avoid repeating that delay as we create the post of the small business commissioner. It would ensure that the commissioner’s office has the powers needed to do the job from day one by learning from the experience of the Groceries Code Adjudicator.
When the position of Groceries Code Adjudicator was created, concerns were raised about its ability to fulfil the Government’s ambitions for it, because it was given too few staff and resources to deliver effective change. Let us remember that the Groceries Code Adjudicator works only three days a week and has only five staff, who are responsible for 7,000 direct suppliers and a further 300,000 indirect suppliers. As we have pointed out, it is clear from the Australian model that this could well be a cause of problems in the UK. The Groceries Code Adjudicator is another reference point from which we can learn, as she is an adjudicator working part-time with five staff responsible for so many suppliers. With the small business commissioner, we are looking at a similarly small team taking responsibility for an estimated 390,000 disputes from 70,000 businesses.
We had an impact assessment for the creation of the small business commissioner. It is a shame, is it not, that we did not have one for Sunday trading. The impact assessment for the small business commissioner estimated that the commissioner’s team would deal with only 500 complaints out of the estimated 390,000 disputes every year. From the experience and comments of the Groceries Code Adjudicator, we know that she is understaffed. She has made it clear that she was given a small office and spends much of her time just explaining what she can and cannot do, and is left with little time to actually deliver. That is why there has been only one investigation in two years, as good as that investigation clearly was. She has made it clear that she cannot cover the suppliers in the supply chain.
As it stands, we will be putting more pressure on the small business commissioner, because the volume of potential activity is even greater. We need to learn the lessons and that is what the new clause is about. If the Government will not change the Bill, we should at least try to speed up the process of evolving the role to meet the challenges that the small business commissioner will face. I hope the Government will learn and apply the lessons from the first years of the Groceries Code Adjudicator. Throughout the process, we have called for the remit of the small business commissioner to be broadened and for the commissioner to have the resources at his or her disposal to fulfil the ambitions that we all have for the post. We want the commissioner to be given the powers to deliver real change to the crippling culture of late payments and poor business practice.
We have repeatedly used the example of the Australian small business commissioner, because it is a good model and we stand to learn a good deal from it. New clause 15 is an attempt to make sure that the powers that we believe ought to be put in place now are at least fast-tracked for the small business commissioner, by keeping a weather eye on and learning from the experience of the Groceries Code Adjudicator.
Alan Brown (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (SNP)
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David, in this last sitting.
My thoughts are broadly in line with those of the hon. Member for Sefton Central. As we know, this Bill introduces the small business commissioner, which obviously has cross-party support. Amendments have been tabled that we thought might give the office of the small business commissioner more teeth, to allow it to work more efficiently on behalf of those it will represent. Obviously the amendments have not been accepted today, but hopefully the Government will consider that in future.
In thinking about the office of the small business commissioner, it certainly makes sense to think about the office of the Groceries Code Adjudicator. Given that this is a wide-ranging Bill anyway, it makes sense to use it as an opportunity to review the powers and purpose of the GCA and to learn from its short history.
When the GCA was created in 2013, my SNP colleagues gave their support at that time, but my hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan (Dr Whiteford) urged the Government to give the GCA enough power to address two key issues that she raised then. First, she highlighted the underlying problems caused by the concentration of power in the grocery supply chain due to the dominance of a handful of large supermarkets. We are well aware of the recent issue of Tesco breaking the code of practice and abusing its market position to prioritise its cash flow and finances over those of their suppliers. It was often excessively late with its payments. Tesco did that, but what was the outcome of the case? Yes, Tesco was named and shamed, which was good—the matter has been highlighted and Tesco has said it will not do it again—but the GCA, Christine Tacon, was unable to impose a fine, because she was only given the power to impose fines in 2015, two years after the establishment of her office.
The second issue that my hon. Friend highlighted was about sustainable food production and the ability of non-direct suppliers to supermarkets to make complaints that the GCA can investigate and follow through on. Recently we have seen evidence that this issue is rearing its head again, with the dairy farmers and the price they receive for milk. A stronger GCA may have been able to intervene and take greater action in support of the farmers or those at the end of a supply chain, who we need to survive in order to get the end product, provide local employment and have a greener product as a result of a smaller carbon footprint. Also, my hon. Friend the Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Calum Kerr) has called for the GCA to have greater powers over labelling, to make the supply chain from source to product much clearer.
Overall, the position of the GCA is welcome, but there are still imperfections. The new clause could allow some of them to be smoothed out. I support the new clause and certainly agree with the principle behind it.
It is obviously a pleasure, Sir David, to serve under your chairmanship in our final sitting.
In short, the Government are already committed to reviewing the GCA after next month. That commitment is in the Groceries Code Adjudicator Act 2013, so this very review is going to happen; it is in statute. Yes, we are looking at the terms of reference. We are preparing them to make sure they include all the things we want the review to look at, so we are looking at consideration of the remit and the powers of the GCA being part of that review.
The review will cover the period up to 31 March, so we will begin the public consultation shortly after that date, as part of the review, providing an opportunity for everyone to input their views. As I say, it is all there already in the 2013 Act. The new clause is just not necessary, because all these points are covered already.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun for his reminder of some of the issues, challenges and experiences of those who have sought help from the GCA in the last two years, and of the need for greater support and resource for the office of the GCA.
The reason for the new clause was to draw the parallels between the adjudicator and the commissioner. I acknowledged in my opening remarks that the review was already taking place, but it is important to have debates such as this to get the Minister on the record, as we have done a few times in Committee, and she has now made clear what will happen.
I want to pick up on the point the Minister made about public consultation, not least given the debate we had about Sunday trading and the role of consultation. I seek her assurance that the results of the consultation will be properly evaluated and shared, and analysed far more fully than the Sunday trading consultation that we will discuss. Opposition Members raised concerns about the nature of that consultation and its results. If consultation is done properly, the problems raised by the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun, which were raised by Members from all parties in a Westminster Hall debate that the Minister and I attended, will be analysed and dealt with properly both in the consultation and in the Government’s response. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
Clause, by leave, withdrawn.
New Clause 24
Provision of broadband: public communications to small businesses
“(1) The Secretary of State shall by regulations regulate the content of broadband providers’ public communications relating to the broadband speeds offered to small businesses.
(2) The regulations under subsection (1) shall require that in their communications with small businesses, broadband providers shall communicate the minimum speeds offered as part of their service as well as the range of speeds offered.
(3) The regulations under subsection (1) shall require broadband providers to offer a break clause in contracts should speeds not meet reasonable expectations.
(4) The Secretary of State shall direct Ofcom to define reasonable expectations for the purpose of subsection (3).”—(Kevin Brennan.)
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
New clause 25—Broadband: rollout—
“(1) The Secretary of State may by regulations set targets for electronic communications bodies to roll out, to businesses and commercial organisations, more than 95% coverage of—
(a) basic broadband,
(b) superfast broadband, and
(c) mobile phone coverage
by the end of 2016.
(2) The Secretary of State must prepare and publish an annual report assessing the progress that has been made on the targets provided for by subsection (1), and the impact of—
(a) basic broadband,
(b) superfast broadband and
(c) mobile coverage technology
on enterprise and growth in the rural economy.
(3) The report provided for in subsection (2) should be laid before both Houses of Parliament.”
New clause 26—Broadband: rollout to business parks—
“The Secretary of State shall direct Broadband Delivery UK to include business parks and industrial estates, including those in non-residential areas, in their plans for roll out of universal superfast broadband.”
I will be extremely brief. We rehearsed a lot of what I wanted to say on these new clauses, which are to do with digital roll-out, earlier in stand part debates on such matters. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
Clause, by leave, withdrawn.
New Clause 31
Business rate: Exemptions
“Agricultural land and buildings used for cultural events and festivals are exempt from business rates and the provisions outlined in sections 25 and 26.”—(Kevin Brennan.)
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
Subject to hon. Members, this might be the final substantial matter we discuss in Committee, certainly on the bits that I intend to cover. I hope we will have time at the end for the traditional points of order and it looks like we will, so I will not make such remarks at this point.
The new clause deals with festivals. The British farming industry is still under threat from a number of directions and the advice that all of us, under different Governments, have given farmers is to diversify, think laterally and be innovative. Many have done so and some have decided to use their assets such as land, barns and so on for occasional festivals and cultural events.
I know you are an MP4 fan, Sir David, so you will not be surprised to hear that my band—perhaps I should declare an interest, although we do not get paid—MP4 has performed at festivals in hon. Members’ constituencies from across the House, being a cross-party venture. The group includes the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Sir Greg Knight) and the former Member for Brigg and Goole. We have an interest because we have direct experience of participating as performers and of being in the audience at such events. I know that many right hon. and hon. Members enjoy festivals in their constituencies and right across the country.
The Valuation Office Agency—we are back on that subject again—is now pursuing those farmers for additional rates and in some cases it is making that retrospective by turning up at farmers’ houses and presenting them with bills that go back several years if they have held festivals on their land. In some cases, the rate demands have been as high as £60,000. That was discussed in the Lords, and Lord Stevenson asked for derogation to be offered for short-lived and one-off festivals. Such festivals, as we have heard, are often in rural areas and bring much-needed economic activity to many suppliers in the locality, even on a Sunday. The cultural benefits that can accrue should also be taken into consideration. Imposing steep business rates for occasional events may lead to the events not taking place.
In replying to the debate in the other place, Baroness Neville-Rolfe said:
“I can assure noble Lords that if there are no permanent physical adaptations to the land to facilitate, for example, festival use, and the duration…is only a matter of a few days, it is unlikely to attract a rating assessment in its own right, and any festival operator or land owner who is unsure of when they may incur a rates bill should contact the Valuation Office Agency… I also know that the Valuation Office Agency recognises the need for clarity and consistency in this sector and is working with the industry to draw up guidance to help event organisers. It hopes to have guidance ready…for the festival season next year.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 2 November 2015; Vol. 765, c. GC314.]
She said that last year. From previous exchanges in Committee, I thought that we were not encouraging people to go to the Valuation Office Agency and to start clogging up the system with even more requests for information and even more appeals against ratings, but that is the Minister’s advice. She seems to indicate that she anticipates that festivals such as the ones I am talking about, where farmers try to make innovative use of their land but where it is not the mainstay of their business in any way, shape or form—they are effectively hiring out their land; they are not building major infrastructure on their land—should not be attracting rates in the way that the Valuation Office Agency seems to be pursuing.
The festival season will soon be upon us. It is hard to believe it sometimes, looking at the weather, but spring is on its way—I think spring officially starts on Tuesday, St David’s day, and we may see the odd daffodil poking through soon. Will the Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise inform the Committee—[Interruption.] I am pausing so that she can hear what I am saying to her.
I am listening; don’t worry.
She says she is listening. She is remarkable, because she can speak and listen at the same time. That is one of her many remarkable talents.
Will the Minister inform the Committee of what progress has been made on this issue since it was discussed in the House of Lords in November? Can she clarify some of Baroness Neville-Rolfe’s comments? Baroness Neville-Rolfe said that
“if there are no permanent physical adaptations…it is unlikely to attract a rating assessment in its own right”.
When she said that, she talked about “a few days”, and I would like some clarity. Are we talking about two days, three days, four days? Will a week count as a few days, or is it less than a week? Some clarity would help people who are holding festivals, as would clarity on what constitutes a “permanent physical adaptation”. If someone builds a bridge over a stream, is that a permanent physical adaptation, or are we talking about the building of hard standing or something of that kind? If a farmer improves health and safety on their farm to accommodate lots of festivalgoers, is that the sort of thing that means the Valuation Office Agency will immediately start taking an interest?
Can the Minister assure us that the Valuation Office Agency’s advice will be uniform across the country? Has there been an attempt to provide clarity and consistency in ministerial advice to Valuation Office Agency officers? We have heard about the backlog of 300,000 rate appeals, so clarity and consistency of advice would help to prevent unnecessary appeals. I hope the Minister can say something positive about that, given what Baroness Neville-Rolfe said in the Lords about looking at the matter further.
Lord Stevenson informed the Grand Committee that Valuation Office Agency officers had begun to raise invoices against landowners for the use of their land for festivals. How did that start to come about? Has there been a central instruction to do it? What is the Minister’s view of the Valuation Office Agency pursuing such things retrospectively, sometimes going back several years? Does the Department have a position on whether that should happen or whether, if the Valuation Office Agency is going to start levying rates on festivals, it should not be done retrospectively?
This is a probing new clause. If the Minister can provide some information about the progress that the Government have made since this was discussed in the Lords, I will withdraw it at the end of her response.
If there is no permanent physical adaptation to the land to facilitate festival use, and the duration of the festival is a matter of only a few days, it is very unlikely to attract a rating assessment in its own right. That is true whether the festival is on agricultural land or anywhere else. We do not dispute that some event organisers struggle with the rules, so the Valuation Office Agency is working with the industry to help event organisers understand the rules and how to comply.
In many instances, the people organising that sort of event work hand in glove with their local authority. These are all local matters. I am of the view, perhaps unlike Labour Members, that we can trust local authorities to work with people, come to the right decisions and exercise bucketloads of good common sense so the rules are not misinterpreted or over-interpreted.
I have helpfully been told that the Valuation Office Agency’s review of festivals is now complete, and that rate payers should now be clear about any potential ratings liability. They are encouraged to contact the agency if they are in any way unclear about them. That review has taken place.
We have given local authorities wide powers to grant rate relief in such circumstances. Where they do so, central Government will pick up half the cost. We are looking at reliefs and exemptions in any event as part of the business rate review, which is due to report in the Budget next month. We do not want to pre-empt the result of it. I hope that answers the hon. Gentleman’s questions and satisfies him.
I beg to move amendment 19, in clause 38, page 54, line 30, at end insert—
“() paragraph 2 of Schedule2 (things to be included in Secretary of State’s report in respect of the business impact target), and section14 (which introduces Schedule 2) so far as relating to that paragraph;”
This amendment provides for paragraph 2 of Schedule 2 to come into force on Royal Assent.
With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendments 20, 21 and 22.
In short, amendments 19 and 20 allow earlier commencement of changes to the Secretary of State’s reporting duties under the business impact target. Amendment 21 will allow the funding power of UK Government Investments to be brought into effect by Treasury regulations.
Amendments 19 and 20 will ensure that the streamlined business impact target reporting requirements will take effect in time for the first annual report in June of this year. Amendment 21 affects clause 29, which is on the funding power for UK Government Investments—to be known as UKGI—and is currently commenced by the Secretary of State. As the Treasury has no Secretary of State, this is a technical amendment that will allow the Treasury to bring clause 29 into effect by making regulations.
Amendment 22 is a minor, technical amendment to clarify clause 38 and does not affect the substance of the Bill.
Amendment 19 agreed to.
Amendments made: 20, in clause 38, page 54, line 44, at end insert
“(so far as not already in force under subsection (1)).”
This clarifying amendment acknowledges that although Schedule 2 is generally to come into force 2 months after Royal Assent, one of its provisions (paragraph 2) will come into force on Royal Assent under subsection (1) of the clause (see amendment 19).
Amendment 21, in clause 38, page 55, line 4, leave out subsection (4) and insert—
‘(4) The following provisions of this Act come into force on such day as the Treasury may by regulations appoint—
(a) section 29 (UK Government Investments Limited);
(b) section 35 and Schedule 4 (restriction on public sector exit payments).”
This amendment provides for clause 29 to come into force by regulations made by the Treasury (instead of by regulations made by the Secretary of State).
Amendment 22, in clause 38, page 55, line 6, leave out “The remaining” and insert
“Subject to subsections (1) to (4), the” —(Anna Soubry.)
This clarifying amendment acknowledges that provisions that are to come into force by regulations under subsection (5) of clause 38 may already have come into force for particular purposes under preceding provisions of the clause.
Clause 38, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Amendments made: 23, in clause 39, page 55, line 15, leave out “and 15” and insert “, 15 and 18 to 21”
This amendment is made for drafting consistency. It ensures that the extent of paragraphs 18 to 21 of Schedule 1 is governed by clause 39(4), which provides for an amendment to have the same extent as the enactment amended. The enactments amended by those paragraphs extend to England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, so the clause’s effect is not changed.
Amendment 24, in clause 39, page 55, line 16, at end insert—
“() subsections (5) to (9) of section14 (application of changes relating to the business impact target in relation to the relevant period in which they come into force);”
This amendment clarifies that subsections (5) to (9) of section 14 extend to England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Amendment 25, in clause 39, page 55, line 16, at end insert—
“() section (Apprenticeships: information sharing) (apprenticeships: information sharing);”
This amendment provides for NC3 to have UK wide extent.
Amendment 26, in clause 39, page 55, line 17, leave out “Part 5” and insert “sections 22 and 23”
This amendment clarifies that the extent of clause 24 (which amends the Limitation Act 1980) is governed by section 39(4) (which means that it extends to England and Wales), unlike the other provisions of Part 5 (sections 22 and 23) which extend to England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Amendment 27, in clause 39, page 55, line 25, leave out subsection (2)
This amendment is made for drafting consistency. It removes subsection (2) of clause 39, which is not needed because the same effect is achieved by the general provision in subsection (4) of the clause.
Amendment 94, in clause 39, page 55, line 28, at end insert—
‘( ) Section (The Institute for Apprenticeships: transitional provision) extends to England and Wales.”
This amendment provides for NC23 containing transitional provision relating to the Institute for Apprenticeships to extend to England and Wales.
Amendment 28, in clause 39, page 55, line 29, at beginning insert “Subject to subsection (1),” —(Anna Soubry.)
This clarifying amendment acknowledges that the extent of certain amendments of enactments made by the Bill is provided for by subsection (1).
Clause 39, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
I beg to move amendment 29, in clause 40, page 55, line 33, leave out subsection (2)
This amendment removes the privilege amendment inserted by the Lords.
The amendment deals with the title of the Act and is very short. I am sure that it will not be controversial.
Amendment 29 agreed to.
Clause 40, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Amendment made: 77, in title, line 1, at end insert
“provision about Sunday opening hours and Sunday working;”—(Anna Soubry.)
This amendment amends the long title of the Bill so as to include a reference to the provisions about Sunday opening hours and rights to opt out of Sunday working, as provided for by NC21 and NS2.
On a point of order, Sir David. As we have now reached, in good time, as we always were going to, the point where we wrap up the Committee proceedings, I thought I should take the opportunity to thank you and your co-Chair, Ms Buck, for the excellent way in which you have chaired our proceedings and kept us all in order. Even though we attempted to wander off the path on occasion, you quite rightly led us back on to it, for which we are very grateful. I hope that you will pass that on to Ms Buck.
I thank the Clerks of the Committee, the Doorkeepers, the police, the civil servants and the Hansard reporters. On behalf of the Opposition, I thank the Ministers for the courteous way in which they have conducted proceedings and for responding to our questions most of the time. I also thank Government Members for their contributions, which have enhanced our debates. It is important that Members take the opportunity to participate in Committee.
I thank those members of the public who have attended and watched proceedings, and I thank the Whips for their help—
That is a step too far.
As a former Government Whip, I have some sympathy with my right hon. Friend, but there is a certain freemasonry of the Whips that always stays with one. I once had lunch with the former deputy Chief Whip of the Conservative Government, Sir Bernard Weatherill, who was also Speaker of the House. He told me that we could not have civilisation without sewers and we could not have Parliament without the Whips. I say to the Government Whip that both should remain pretty much underground for pretty much the same reason. Although he has wanted to contribute to our debates from time to time, there are very good reasons why he should remain silent.
I thank our staff who helped us to prepare. Having served on both sides of a Committee, I can say that debating a Bill in opposition is the parliamentary equivalent of digging a ditch: you work very hard down in a hole, sometimes not really making much progress, and nobody can see you. I am relieved, if I can put it that way, that we have reached the end of this stage of the Bill, but I thank our staff, meagre as they are, as well as the volunteers and others who have helped us to prepare for the Committee.
I thank our friends from the Scottish National party for their contributions, and I thank my right hon. and hon. Friends for their contributions, because they have been absolutely fantastic. On that basis, I commend the Bill as it goes off to Report. We will have a lot more to say at that stage on many of the issues we have discussed.
Further to that point of order, Sir David, I echo the comments of the hon. Member for Cardiff West and thank all the Clerks and staff and yourself and Ms Buck. This is the second Bill Committee that I have been part of, but it is the first for my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun, and I know I speak on his behalf when I say that it has been a largely enjoyable experience.
I did not say that.
Perhaps I am misspeaking.
We are disappointed that more amendments were not accepted, but it has certainly been interesting and engaging and, as the hon. Member for Cardiff West says, I am sure that there will be extensive debate when the Bill returns to the Floor of the House. I thank you again, Sir David, on behalf of myself and my hon. Friend.
Further to that point of order, I add my thanks for your chairmanship, Sir David, and for that of Ms Buck. It has been a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship.
I should put it on record that the first time I ever sat on a Public Bill Committee was to consider what became the Health and Social Care Act 2012. It took me quite a long time to recover from it; it was one of the longest-lasting Committees ever to sit in this place. I say that for the benefit of new hon. Members—you have had it very easy. That Committee took a long time and, Sir David, as you might remember, there was quite a long pause—as the Government called it—and then we all had to come back. It seemed to go on for ever.
This has been a very good Bill Committee. I know that the hon. Member for Livingston is a little disappointed that some of the amendments have not been accepted, but I think it is fair to say that there has been more agreement than there has been disagreement, which is certainly to be welcomed.
I thank all the Clerks and staff, and the staff of a number of Departments who have helped me prepare for my contributions. I also thank my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning, a fellow Minister but at the Department for Communities and Local Government. It is always good to work with him. A feature of this Government—we were laughing privately about this, something that people perhaps do not understand—is that Ministers all like each other, get on terribly well and are genuinely friends. We do not need to go into more detail, because there are others I need to thank.
I thank the Doorkeepers. They have been lucky, because we have not had too many Divisions. They have kept us safe and we are grateful for them.
Finally, I thank all hon. Members, including the Whips—rightly, because people do not realise the job that the Whips do, which is to keep things moving smoothly. I pay tribute to my PPS, who has been struck down by a vile lurgy. He sat here for almost the entire day, only to discover that he was not required to vote, so he has gone home to his bed, properly so. I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood, who I think is engaging in his first PPS duties. We look forward to many more such instances—a gentle hint to the Whip.
The Committee has been enjoyable and, although I do not know whether it is a first, we have actually finished early. We cannot all go home, but we can certainly all go and have a cup of tea. Thank you, Sir David, it has been a pleasure. We look forward to Report stage and to the many further debates on the Bill as it passes through the House.