Sunday trading laws remain unchanged

The government has today rejected calls from the major supermarket chains to allow them to stay open longer on Sunday.

Trade and industry secretary Alistair Darling said a widespread review of the ten-year-old Sunday trading laws had revealed “no substantial demand for change”.

As a result, major stores will continue to be restricted by the Sunday Trading Act 1994 which allows them to open for six continual hours between 10am and 6pm on a Sunday.

“With the Sunday trading laws having been in place for many years, it was important that we looked at whether they were still appropriate,” Mr Darling said.

He added: “We received nearly 1,000 responses to the consultation from consumers, religious groups, employees and business, with no substantial demand for change.

“On that basis, and having considered all the evidence from the review, we have concluded there should be no change to the Sunday trading laws.”

Business groups and unions had strongly opposed liberalisation of opening hours in England and Wales, arguing that it would give large supermarkets such as Asda and Tesco a greater competitive edge over small retailers.

And today the general secretary of retail union Usdaw, John Hannett, said he was “delighted” with the government’s decision, saying it reflected the support of its members and the 288 MPs who signed an early day motion on the issue.

A survey by the union revealed that 80 per cent of retail staff already had to work on Sundays and 95 per cent opposed any extension to the current six-hour limit.

“Britain is the most deregulated retail environment in Europe with 150 hours shopping a week,” Mr Hannett said.

“All our members want is the right to a sensible proper work/life balance and thanks to this wise decision they will be able to enjoy quality time with their loved ones on Sundays.”

The Forum of Private Business (FPB), which represents about 25,000 firms in the UK, said the announcement was a “victory for common sense”.

“An open all hours policy would have created further inequalities in competition,” said chief executive Nick Goulding.

“There are retail outlets such as garden centres that could benefit from a relaxing of conditions, but any deregulation must come hand-in-hand with a review of inequalities such as high business rates and poor or expensive parking in town centres suffered by shops in other sectors.”

Shadow enterprise minister Mark Prisk added: “It’s clear from the government’s own findings that there was no substantial demand for changes to the present regime, and given this, it would have been perverse to ignore consumers’ wishes.”