Further liberalisation of Sunday trading in England and Wales has been staved off, for the time being at least.
At the conclusion of a lengthy debate in the House of Commons, on 9 March, MPs voted by 317 to 286 in favour of David Burrowes’ amendment to remove the government’s proposals from the Enterprise Bill — a majority of 31. Conservative rebels lined up with Labour and the Scottish National Party to vote down the plans to give councils power to relax Sunday trading laws.
Commissioned by the Christian Institute, John Bowers QC, a leading authority on employment law, had already warned that the proposed amendments to employees’ Sunday trading rights were ‘inordinately complex’, and offered no protection for those who object to working on Sundays during an opt-out notice period.
There were no safeguards for shop support staff, drivers or people working in internet sales and telesales. There was also nothing to prevent employers from turning down a job applicant because they would not work on the Sabbath.
In October last year, Mr Bowers warned that liberalising Sunday trading in England and Wales could affect the way discrimination law is applied in Scotland. Although Scotland is not party to England’s Sunday trading legislation, Supreme Court rulings on employment still apply there, meaning that Scottish employees would also be affected.
Nola Leach, chief executive of Charity CARE, said the government’s plans had not been subject to adequate scrutiny. She said, ‘From a procedural point of view, there has been a lamentable lack of proper transparency’.