Sundays should be open for business

As someone who believes in the free market and wants Britain to be open for business, I was delighted to hear the news that the Government will be allowing local councils to extend trading hours on Sundays, through introducing amendments to the Enterprise Bill, which will allow changes to be made in the autumn.

Despite the claims by a coalition of Churches, trade union groups and religious Conservatives, nobody is putting a gun to local councils head saying that all shops must be open on Sunday. All that is happening is that local councils will be given the powers to extend Sunday trading hours if they so wish.

For me, that is what localism is about, allowing decisions to be taken away from a centralised government and instead being given to local councils who are closer to people.

The beauty of the move is that consumers will be provided with more choice, as local retailers will have a greater chance of being able to adjust their hours on Sunday, thus increasing competition. The result being that consumers have more choice to decide where to shop on Sunday and shops have an additional opportunity to make profit. This will lead to more disposable income for everyone and boost the economy. It’s amazing what you can do by taking decisions which allow the free market to grow unhindered by unnecessary regulations.

At present, we have a situation where due to the Sunday Trading Act 1994 small shops, classified as under 3,000 feet can open till their heart is content on Sunday, but any shop over 3,000 feet cannot. This creates an uneven playing field and holds back the potential for many goods to be bought and sold which would benefit our economy, whilst undermining workers’ ability to choose to work longer hours on Sunday. It also harms our ability to grow our position as an international shopper’s paradise, which is something we should be taking advantage of, considering the amount of people who flock to Oxford Street on Saturday.

Opponents of the Bill, such as the Conservative MP David Burrowes, have made claims that changes to Sunday trading laws will harm shop worker’s rights, but nothing could be further from the truth. In fact workers rights are actually increasing. For instance, they will be able to give one month’s notice to their employer if they do not want to work on Sunday, which is down from three months. Furthermore, they will have the right to opt out of working additional hours for religious or family reasons.

One of the main reasons I’m in favour of changes to Sunday trading laws is choice. Many people now see shopping on Sunday as a leisure activity, just as some people see it as a break from work to go to Church on Sunday. Sunday shoppers should be given the most time possible to enjoy it, especially as many families work all week and don’t have the option of shopping during that time. Also, shops are private sector entities and therefore should be free to make their own decisions. Some will decide to open on Sunday or open longer on Sunday and some will not, but at least if councils do extend Sunday opening hours that will be their choice, whereas at present they are restricted from doing so.

Many of those who oppose Sunday trading laws do it for religious Christian grounds but Mohammed Amin, Chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum, stated it best when he said in the Conservative Home’s comments section “Christians are no more entitled to impose their views about Sunday on the rest of us than would be Jews imposing restrictions on Saturdays or Muslims imposing restrictions on Fridays.”

More people are shopping on Sunday as our society changes and at present due to the straitjacket of Sunday trading laws, we as a nation have not been able to respond to this demand in an effective way to benefit our economy and to provide the choice people want.

Giving local councils the power to extend Sunday trading hours is just responding to this, by providing people more choice over how to live their lives. It makes perfect free market sense.

Stephen Hoffman is the Parliamentary Liaison Officer for Conservatives for Liberty. He tweets at @thehoff102

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The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Conservatives for Liberty