A VOTE in the House of Commons last week meant that the Government’s attempt to relax Sunday-trading restrictions was defeated, by 317 to 286.
Twenty-seven Conservative MPs defied the Government to vote against giving local authorities the power to extend Sunday-trading hours.
They were joined by Labour and Scottish National Party (SNP) MPs, who voted against the measure despite its affecting only England and Wales.
During the three-hour debate, MPs from all parties spoke against the Bill. Jonathan Reynolds, Labour, said that he was a practising Christian, and that Sunday was a day for him and his family to attend church. Given that Christianity was still Britain’s largest religion, Sunday should remain a “special day”, he said.
Another Labour MP, Gavin Shuker, a former church pastor, agreed, and said that Christians opposed extending Sunday trading not just to promote church attendance, but because of a “deep-rooted sense of who we believe people to be”. “We are created with the ability to rest as well as work,” he argued.
The junior minister given the task of leading the Government’s reforms, Brandon Lewis, suggested that the changes were necessary to help high-street shops fight back against online retailers.
In an attempt to fend off the backbench rebellion, the Government made late amendments to the Bill, strengthening protections for workers who do not want to work on Sundays.
But MPs were unconvinced, despite attempts by the Government to win back rebels: The Times reported that David Cameron spoke to several backbench Conservative MPs.
The Second Church Estates Commissioner, Caroline Spelman, proposed a compromise amendment which would have meant that only large shops in tourist areas, over the summer and Christmas seasons, would be allowed to open for longer on Sundays.
But this was never put to the vote, as the alliance of Labour, SNP, and disaffected Conservative MPs meant that the Government had its second defeat since winning power last May.
Responding to the vote, the Bishop of St Albans, Dr Alan Smith, who has led the Church of England’s opposition, said: “Our current Sunday-trading arrangements balance the needs of businesses and consumers with those of families and communities, and, as such, are backed by the majority of the public. Given the lack of clear evidence about economic benefit, and concerns about impact on workers and their families, it is right that the Commons has dropped these proposals.”