EMERGENCY legislation that will suspend the Sunday-trading laws in England and Wales for eight weeks this summer (News, 23 March) has been passed by the House of Commons.
The Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, Vince Cable, said that the Sunday Trading (London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games) Bill would “give retailers the flexibility to capitalise on the commercial opportunities presented by the Games”. He gave the House an “absolute assurance” that it would not be used as a “Trojan horse” to introduce wider deregulation measures.
Although the Bill was passed with a majority of 147, it attracted opposition from across the benches.
The Conservative MP for Congleton, Fiona Bruce, said: “As a Christian, I believe that our minds and bodies were created to function best when incorporated into our week is a day when we do not have to function at full tilt. Some would call it a sabbath rest. I do. That is something that we ignore individually, and as a nation, at our peril, paying the price in increased stress, weakened family ties, and many other ways. . . I sincerely hope that this is not the Olympic legacy that this Bill creates.”
A Minister in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Conservative MP for Hertford and Stortford, Mark Prisk, said that, “as a practising Christian” he understood concerns about the Bill, but it “strikes the right balance between addressing legitimate concerns and ensuring that retailers have the flexibility to take full advantage of the tremendous commercial opportunities”.
Such concerns were raised in the House of Lords on Tuesday of last week by the Bishop of Bath & Wells, the Rt Revd Peter Price. “We are all consumers, but if Sunday trading was to become an unfettered norm, we would pretty soon all be workers, too, and the rich associational life of our nation — its charities, amateur sports, extended family life, and, yes, its churches — which is already desperately fragile, would crumble.”
He welcomed the Government’s consultation with Church House over the question, and the assurance that the relaxation in the laws would be temporary. He warned, however, that the Church would be on its guard against attempts to extend the “Olympic experiment”.
A survey in March of more than 20,000 members of the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers found that 78 per cent were opposed to the Bill, and just over half had previously come under pressure from their employer to work on Sundays.
On Tuesday, Lauri Moyle of the Keep Sunday Special campaign said it would remain “vigilant” in holding the Government to account for its promise not to liberalise Sunday-trading laws.