David Cameron is set to go toe-to-toe with most sides of the House of Commons, trade unions and even the Church of England after he revived plans to extend Sunday trading hours. The prime minister wants to give consumers longer to shop but Labour, the SNP and unions are against extended shopping hours – as are some Conservative backbenchers.
George Osborne promised in the Budget last year that power would be devolved to councils to decide Sunday trading laws in their areas. But the government backed out of a vote amid fears Labour and the SNP would shoot down the proposal.
The softening of laws would allow shops to open longer than the six hours they are currently permitted, but this has its critics. John Hannett, general secretary of the shopworkers' union USDAW, said the changes would see MPs renege on a commitment made before hours were relaxed for the 2012 Olympics for a "full public consultation and parliamentary scrutiny" on the issue.
The Church of England had also wants the shutters pulled down on the idea, saying it would erode family and community life. Another stumbling block would be the estimated 20 Tory MPs who could threaten to rebel and vote against the motion.
Labour's Carolyn Harris described yesterday during questions in the Commons how small traders are "worried that their only advantage over the supermarkets is the ability to have convenient store Sunday hours and over 91% of USDAW shop-floor workers saying they do not want to work longer hours on a Sunday".
Anna Soubry, small business minister, said handing local authorities the power to relax Sunday trading hours would mean they could decide if it "was not right for it for whatever reason," adding "they would not have to do it".
"That is the beauty of this policy. It devolves the powers down to local authorities so they decide what is best for them in their areas, and I can assure the honourable lady that a number of Labour councils welcome such a devolution of powers," Soubry added.
When can shops open?
The law currently allows small shops in England and Wales to open any day or hour. There are no trading hours restrictions in Scotland.
A small shop is one that measures up to and including 280 square metres. Once shops exceed that measurement the rules are:
- can open on Sundays but only for 6 consecutive hours between 10am and 6pm
- must close on Easter Sunday
- must close on Christmas Day
Who is exempt?
Luckily, not all shops have a limit on their opening hours. Airports and and railway station outlets, service stations and some pharmacies are exempt as well as:
- farms selling mainly their own produce
- outlets wholly or mainly selling motor or bicycle supplies and accessories
- suppliers of goods to aircraft or sea-going vessels on arrival at, or departure from, a port, harbour or airport
- exhibition stands selling goods