THE director of a coalition of 1300 churches in Britain has warned the Government that relaxing the laws on Sunday trading for a year, to stimulate the UK economy in the wake of coronavirus, would “not be good for the spiritual and mental health of the nation”.
In response to reports at the weekend that the Government was considering easing Sunday-trading laws, which would also help to meet demand for round-the-clock goods and services, the director of Affinity, an Evangelical network of churches, agencies, and individuals, Graham Nicholls, spoke of “serious concerns”.
“The long-term effect of abolishing Sunday-trading laws will be to the detriment of workers’ rights and further diminish the day as a shared family time. It will also significantly encroach upon the freedom for employees to gather for worship in the UK.”
Current trading laws, in place since 1994, allow smaller shops in England and Wales to open for longer on Sundays, while larger ones are restricted to six hours between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. The attempt in 2016 by the then Prime Minister, David Cameron, to devolve responsibility for rules on Sunday-trading hours to local councils failed after Tory MPs joined Opposition parties in voting against it (News, 18 March 2016).
Reported possibilities are that larger supermarkets would be allowed to stay open for longer, while cafés and pubs would be permitted to serve food and drinks outside without having to undergo the minimum 28-day statutory consultation period.
The Church of England’s Director of Mission and Public Affairs, Canon Malcolm Brown, said: “We believe that a day of rest, enjoyed in common by the majority of the population, is essential for well-balanced lives and flourishing communities: extending Sunday trading would deny this to numerous workers in retail and associated occupations.
“There must be clear enforcement of the right not to work on Sundays, and an explicit end date to ensure that any new rules are not a Trojan Horse for a permanent change which has never commanded a majority in Parliament.”
The Shadow Foreign Secretary, Lisa Nandy, said that relaxing the law could put frontline workers, including supermarket staff, at a disadvantage and harm small businesses. “We’ve just been applauding our frontline workers — supermarket workers are amongst those,” she said. “They are deeply worried about what this all means for them in terms of time with their families.
“This could hit our high streets very hard, as well, at a time [when] they are really struggling with coronavirus. I just think this is the wrong thing to do.”
The Prime Minister, his chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, and the Business Secretary, Alok Sharma, are said to support the measure, the Retail Gazette reports. “Some supermarkets that have local convenience stores unaffected by Sunday trading laws are opposed to reform but others, including Asda and Morrisons, are said to be in favour.”
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