Retain limits on Sunday trading, C of E advises

23 October 2015

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EXTENDING shopping hours on Sunday is unlikely to boost the economy, but would steal time that should be set apart for community activities that serve the common good.

That is the official position of the Church of England, which has published its objections to the Government’s proposals to relax restrictions on Sunday trading. The document, written by the chairman of the Mission and Public Affairs Council, Philip Fletcher, sets out why the Church is against changes.

“For the sake of the common good”, he wrote, it was necessary to protect time for people to do non-work activities. He said that the Church of England’s opposition was not because it condemned all work on Sundays, or wanted to impose Christian worship on others. “The point at issue is not that Sunday is a uniquely and intrinsically ‘holy day’, but that society is diminished if all days are treated the same in commercial terms.”

The Church was against more Sunday trading, because it “recognises the importance of aspects of life other than commerce and work”.

The document, which was submitted to the Government’s consultation on Sunday trading last month, and published last week, criticises large retailers who are pushing to extend opening hours on Sundays.

Their motives were to grab market-share from smaller shops, Mr Fletcher wrote. At present, large stores can open for a maximum of six hours only on Sundays: smaller competitors have no restrictions.

A temporary relaxation of Sunday-trading laws in the lead-up to the London 2012 Olympics led to no significant growth in sales, the submission notes. “We do not believe that extended Sunday-trading hours will generate anything like the economic benefits claimed,” it concludes.

When the Chancellor, George Osborne, announced the proposals in his summer Budget (News, 10 July), he said that local authorities and elected mayors should be given the freedom to decide whether their area should extend Sunday trading.

But Mr Fletcher said that rich multinational corporations would trample over any attempts to restrict opening hours. “We do not see any current local structure of decision-making that is sufficiently powerful and robust to resist the wishes of large retailers,” he wrote.

He also raised concerns that Christian employees who wanted to attend a Sunday service could find it much harder if shops were allowed to open earlier than 10 a.m., as the current law stipulates.

The consultation, run jointly by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and the Department for Communities and Local Government, ran until 16 September. The Government has yet to release its response.

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