A review of the initial responses to the government consultation on the devolution of Sunday trading
On Wednesday, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, (BIS) and the Department of Communities and Local Government launched a six-week consultation on Sunday trading, a summary of which is included in an earlier post. As the leader in Church Times on 10 July pointed out “[t]here are no new arguments about Sunday trading,” and it is probably too soon for formal responses to have been drafted, agreed and published. Nevertheless, spokespersons from a number of organizations have been prompted by the media into issuing statements, a selection of which is listed below.
Summaries of responses
- In its post Sunday Trading: should there be changes? Thinking Anglicans provides a summary of and links to various media reports, and comments from the Bishop of Hull, and from three bishops in Lancashire.
- Retail Week’s report Government begins consultation into devolving Sunday trading decision gives the points of view of those within the industry: supporters Sir Philip Green, Arcadia; Michael Ward, MD of Harrods; Sebastian James, Group CEO of the Dixons Carphone group, as well as those opposed to changes: James Lowman, Chief Executive of the Association of Convenience Stores; and John Hannett, General Secretary of the shop workers union Usdaw.
- The Grocers indicates that the proposals have proven controversial in some sectors, especially with smaller traders
Groups supportive of the proposed changes
- In addition to the comments reported by the trade bodies, above, the Open Sundays Campaign is supportive of the proposals, but has not issued a specific Press Release. Open Sundays is “a broad alliance of consumers, retailers, businesses, community groups and other people who care about the economy. We do not belong to any political party or affiliation, and anybody is more than welcome to join us. We are all united around one simple shared belief: that the law needs to change so that we can shop on Sundays”.
Groups opposed to the proposed changes
- Thinking Anglicans Church Times post Government ministers nudge Church on Sunday trading states that “[o]n Wednesday [5th August], a Church House spokesman stood by the statement: “Increased Sunday trading . . . seems quite contrary to the objectives of the Big Society, which once helped to shape policy and which the Church of England enthusiastically supported. Any further erosion of shared community life whether that is driven by central or local government will be detrimental to all of us … The bishops will reply to any letters sent to them by Government and the Church of England will respond in due course to the consultation.”
- The bishops of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales have issued a short statement entitled “[i]t would be a mistake to further deregulate the laws on Sunday Trading.”
- Usdaw (the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers) has issued the more detailed statement Keep Sunday special and reject Government trading law changes echoing the pre-election sentiments expressed on behalf of the Prime Minister to Keep Sunday Special, says “[t]he Sunday Trading Act is a great British compromise, which has worked well for over 20 years and gives everyone a little bit of what they want. Retailers can trade, customers can shop, staff can work; whilst Sunday remains a special day, different to other days, and shop workers can spend some time with their family.”
- The Association of Convenience Stores statement Details Published of “Unpopular and Unnecessary” Sunday Trading Plans makes specific reference to the Prime Minister’s comment, and notes the poll undertaken by ComRes in February this year which showed that 76% of the public are in favour of the current Sunday Trading regulations; of those who want a change in the law, 60% want further restrictions on Sunday opening hours.
- The Keep Sunday Special web page is entitled “Reject Government Plans to steal our Sundays” and includes the pre-election assurances made “on behalf of the Prime Minister” to the Keep Sunday Special Campaign on 20 April 2015, which stated: “I can assure you that we have no current plans to relax the Sunday trading laws. We believe that the current system provides a reasonable balance between those who wish to see more opportunity to shop in large stores on a Sunday, and those who would like to see further restrictions.”
The earliest restrictions on displaying or selling goods on Sundays and major feast days – the Fairs and Markets Act 1448, (27 Hen 6 c 5), and the Sunday Observance Acts of 1627, (3 Car 1 c 2), and 1677, (29 Car 2 c 7) – were of religious origin, although even the former provided exceptions for the four Sundays in harvest. However, in the 1930s a number of Private Member’s Bills were brought to ensure a day of rest for shop workers, the interests of small traders, as well as maintaining ‘the separate and traditional character of Sundays’.
This tension between religious- and workers interests and those seeking a less restrictive regime has been exacerbated by the demands of the larger retailers for longer opening hours. The Daily Telegraph quotes a Church of England spokesperson as saying “[the proposed changes] will have an impact on community activities of many kinds, amateur sport, contact across extended families and religious observance … Any further erosion of shared community life whether that is driven by central or local government will be detrimental to all of us.”
An important issue question not addressed in the Consultation is how the proposed changes will be incorporated within the already complex legislative provisions. Furthermore, as USDAW point out the devolution of trading hours to elected mayors and local authorities would be cause significant problems in the retail sector, “tying up business in red tape as they try to operate under different regulatory regimes in every area of the country”.