The government will move forward with plans to allow councils in England and Wales to relax Sunday trading laws in a bid to "help struggling high streets", despite opposition from MPs and trade unions.
During the second reading of the debate of the Enterprise Bill in the House of Commons yesterday (2nd February), business minister Sajid Javid (pictured) said plans to deregulate Sunday trading hours would be added to the Bill during the Committee Stage.
However, the announcement has brought widespread opposition from MPs, with shadow business minister Kevin Brennan saying pushing the changes through at this late stage of the Enterprise Bill was a “gross abuse of power”. Toby Perkins MP meanwhile adddc that it was “entirely the wrong way to legislate.”
According to the BBC, unions said ministers were “behaving disgracefully by trying to change Sunday trading by the back door.”
The existing Sunday trading laws allow small shops of less than 3,000 sq ft to open all day but prevent large stores from opening for more than six hours on a Sunday. The new proposals will allow local authorities to extend Sunday opening hours in their areas if they decide to.
Trade bodies have hit out at the plans with independent retailers saying the move will “damage” small high street stores.
James Lowman, c.e.o. of the Association of Convenience Stores, which represents thousands of local shops, said: “Changing Sunday trading regulations will not help the high street; it would actually damage small high street stores as trade would get diverted to large out of town supermarkets.
“While ministers talk of increasing high street sales, our survey of local councils shows that extended Sunday hours would be applied to out of town parks, hurting high streets.”
He added: “The government’s claim that there is a link between the growth of online retailing and the opening hours of shops is simply wrong. Many stores opened for very long hours on Black Friday, only to see more customers stay at home and shop online than in previous years. Shoppers are using the internet to search out lower prices, to save time, and to access a wide range of products. Sunday trading restrictions are not a factor in the growth of on line shopping.”
Booksellers have previously warned about the consequences of relaxing the trading laws, with Foyles c.e.o. Paul Currie arguing those which don’t open on a Sunday could lose out.
He said: “When Sunday trading came in, the view was that it would only spread existing sales, rather than add value. This seems to have been proved correct, it has not added sales, but if you don’t trade on a Sunday you will lose out. I suspect the same will be true of extended hours.”
James Daunt, m.d. of Waterstones, has said: "Where I am concerned is the impact it will have on the high street, if the large Tesco out of town is allowed to open 24 hours when other shops won't have the capacity to do that." However, Daunt added that he didn't think it would make a great difference to shops competing with online retailers.
Last summer, the Booksellers Association called on its members to respond to the BIS consultation on Sunday trading hours.
The government said the response to the consultation would be published “shortly”.