The case for abolishing Sunday trading laws

Following a recent office discussion about Sunday trading laws our local coordinator Charles Amos has written below why he believes they should be abolished.

The case for abolishing Sunday trading laws
by Charles Amos

Reform of Sunday Trading laws has divided the nation for decades. Indeed the current laws, which only allow shops over 3,000 square feet (280 square metres) to open for a maximum of six hours between 10:00 and 18:00, seem increasingly out of touch with the realities of life in the secular 21st Century. Yet on this issue it appears that the Church of England still maintains control over the narrative, at least in Westminster.

For decades the conventional wisdom on this issue was that Sunday should remain a sacred day of rest, free from the consumerism that many within the Church, such as Archbishop Welby, seem to despise. It is supposed to represent a period of time within the week when families can bond with their children and engage in spiritual activities such as prayer and charity work. As of 2016 only six faith leaders, including the Rt Rev Alan Smith the Church of England’s spokesman on economic affairs, have signed a letter to the Government urging against further proposed deregulation:

“We are concerned that the further deregulation of Sunday Trading laws is likely to disrupt the rhythms of community life that are so integral to the common good. In a world of increasing commodification the space for shared time and activities, central to human flourishing, is becoming increasingly rare. Needlessly extending Sunday opening hours will only exacerbate this trend.”

Today, in what is an undoubtedly a secular country, these laws are out of date, unhelpful and undeniably paternalistic. For it is the case that within the United Kingdom today the view of the “common good” has changed, and done so radically. For example Sunday Church attendance is at a record low of only 760,000. Sunday is no longer the day the Church want it to be, they must face that fact. It is also worth saying that if shops do open on a Sunday no one is forcing Christians to go to them. The current laws only restrict freedom and force religious doctrine onto the people.

However people have and are continuing to reject such doctrine. Indeed a recent survey for the campaign group Open Sunday found that 72 per cent of people support being able to shop whenever it is convenient for them. Nor is a relaxation of the 1994 Sunday Trading Act (the laws referred to) unprecedented. During the 2012 Olympic and Paralympics Games shops were allowed to open for a prolonged period of time for eight consecutive weeks. Shopping is no longer simply a chore, for many people it is now a leisure activity.

There are a number of economic advantages to deregulation. Economic growth would be encouraged and many European studies have found that deregulation nets employment increases by some 7 to 9 per cent. A cross party group of MPs recently estimated that economic output could increase by £1.4bn as a result of their relaxation. Research by the same group also found that Sunday is the second most popular day for shopping, with 44 per cent of individuals visiting a shop that day. Polling by YouGov has only confirmed these findings with 48 per cent of the public supporting a relaxation of the laws.

Furthermore Sunday jobs provide a perfect opportunity for young adults and especially students who can only work on the weekend due to study commitments. At a time also when online shopping is available 24 hours a day liberalising these laws would undoubtedly help large retailers such as John Lewis compete with their online rivals.

To conclude it is clear that there are large economic advantages to be gained via the abolition or liberalisation of Sunday Trading laws. In addition there is also the virtue of ending the unjustifiable policy of forcing businesses to be closed in certain hours. Let us put our trust in liberty, in the people by abolishing Sunday Trading laws.