Sunday Trading law defeated in House of Commons

Sunday Trading law defeated in House of Commons

MPs rejected a government move to relax Sunday Trading laws in the House of Commons yesterday (9th March), meaning the biggest shake up of retail law in 20 years will not go ahead.

The Commons voted against the motion to allow local councils in England and Wales to decide whether large retailers can open for longer on Sundays by a majority of 317 votes to 286. Altogether 27 Conservative MP’s rebelled by voting against the motion, joining Labour and SNP MPs who also voted to reject it.

The government had moved to change the law around Sunday Trading hours to allow larger stores to open for longer on Sundays, saying it would give them a competitive advantage over internet traders.

However, there were concerns about the impact on smaller retailers, which benefit from larger businesses opening on reduced hours on a Sunday. Other critics wanted to “keep Sunday Special” as a family and leisure day.

Since 1994, small shops (up to 280 sq m, or 3,000 sq ft in size) in England and Wales can open when they want to on Sundays but larger stores are restricted to six hours between 10am and 6pm. Retailers can be fined up to £50,000 if they break the rules.

Planning minister Brandon Lewis said: "We respect the view of the House of Parliament. The Commons has spoken and given a very clear view - we have to absolutely respect that.”

James Daunt, m.d of Waterstones, said he was “ambivalent” about the outcome of the vote. “I think there were clear benefits to a relaxation of the Sunday Trading law for very large retailers like Waterstones but I could also see disadvantages for us as well,” he told The Bookseller. “We benefit from vibrant high streets and if the longer opening hours had a knock on effect to independent shops than that would have impacted on us eventually. At the end of the day the up side for us would have been pretty small, I think, so we are generally ambivalent towards it. In terms of whether it would have given us a competitive advantage over internet retailers, we still wouldn’t have been opening at 2am and 4am when you can shop on the internet.”

However, he added: “If the government really wants to create a level playing field they should address the issue of rates. That is the main distortion between physical and online retail and playing around the edges with this legislation is just irritating to be honest.”

The Federation of Small Businesses’ (FSB) policy director Mike Cherry said the outcome of the vote was a “major win” for small businesses across England and Wales. “Our members have been unconvinced of the economic case for relaxing Sunday trading rules and there has been no impact assessment to support the proposals,” he said. “FSB calls on Ministers to listen to the views of small businesses and the House of Commons on this issue.”

He added: “The current system can be seen as a great British compromise which allows families to spend time together, employees to work if they wish to, and provides much needed support for smaller retailers within their communities.”

Government ministers have strongly criticised the SNP for voting on an issue which doesn’t affect Scotland, because Scotland don’t have the same Sunday Trading laws as England and Wales.

Picture: Catherine Bebbington/Parliamentary Copyright