The Government has come under renewed fire for pushing forward attempts to weaken Sunday trading laws through changes to the Enterprise Bill.
The plans will give local councils power to extend shopping hours on Sundays, which critics have warned could pressurise workers and undermine family life.
The Government’s intentions were included in its response yesterday to a consultation on the issue conducted last year, and amendments were tabled to the Enterprise Bill.
More than 7,000 responses were received, and the Government noted that trade unions, religious bodies and a number of small businesses and individuals were against the proposals.
But the Government has decided to press on with amendments to the Enterprise Bill, claiming that the majority of local authorities and large and medium-sized businesses who responded were supportive.
The Government hopes that the amendments will be implemented in the autumn.
Most to gain
Business Minister Anna Soubry claimed that extending Sunday shopping hours “has the potential to help businesses and high streets better compete as our shopping habits change”.
The Church of England criticised the Government’s consultation response.
The Bishop of St Albans, Rt Revd Dr Alan Smith, said it is “unsurprising” that those with the “most to gain” were the strongest supporters of the proposals.
“In not publishing all the responses to the consultation and in choosing to press ahead regardless, Government has chosen to side with the interests of big business, over small retailers and communities”, he said.
He concluded: “In a world of increasing commodification, the space for shared time and activities, central to human flourishing is becoming ever more rare. Increased Sunday opening hours will only exacerbate this trend.”
Conservative MP David Burrowes said he hoped that the Government’s amendments would be defeated later this year, as over 20 Tory MPs and MPs from Labour and the SNP oppose the plans.
He told BBC Radio 4’s World at One: “Really it’s just the big West End shops in London that have been shouting loudest and we should listen to the people, to workers, who don’t want to be indirectly or indeed directly pressurised to work and spend time away from their families.”
Speaking on the same radio programme Gary Grant, the Christian owner of the toyshop chain The Entertainer, said that the Government has been undemocratic in pushing through its plans, and that councils will be under pressure to conform.
“If we want to create more jobs, if we want more lights switched on in shops, there’s other ways of bringing that about”, he explained.
The Government was forced to abandon plans to extend Sunday trading in November last year, after MPs from the Conservatives, Labour, the SNP and the DUP said they would oppose the move.