Intervening in the Sunday Trading hours debate

Yesterday I intervened in the debate about allowing local councils to decide whether to extend Sunday Trading hours. Currently stores are subject to reduced Sunday Trading Hours if they exceed 280 square metres or 3,000 square feet in size. I would have liked to speak but this was a very popular discussion. I am disappointed that it did not go through and believe that this is a great shame for high-streets in Wiltshire and local democracy. A great shame when our high streets are dying and need help.

My key concerns was that those opposing the relaxation to Sunday trading failed to explain why it is fair and right to ensure that we offer Sunday protection for those working in retail but not any other sector. Workers in a number of sectors work shifts on Sundays – the care sector, the NHS, tourism, hospitality, transport and catering to name a few. The point about it impacting on family time was laboured in the debate but the reality is only 1 in 10 people work in retail and a proportion of those are already working the extended hours in the smaller shops. So should we only care about the family lives of this group and ensuring that their Sundays are special? This seems a strange argument. Also many stressed the need to protect the special extended arrangement for small shops which contradicted their argument of the need to protect the family time of retail workers. You can not have one rule for one lot of people and argue the need for another rule for the rest – it is simply a form of discrimination.

I don’t believe Sunday is only a special day if you work in retail and a big store at that. It is special for all of us but we must remember Sunday trading already exists. This was done in 1994 so the change proposed would only have given the option for stores to open longer if their council thought it was best for the area. Keeping it in prospective this means those stores that open until 5.30pm in the week would only be open an extra hour and a half with mainly the supermarkets being the ones opening a lot longer. Why is it wrong to open a supermarket late but perfectly acceptable to open several ‘Local’ and ‘Metro’ supermarkets in our towns? It offered extra protection to the rights of employees who can opt out of working Sundays as well as the the chance to help assist Wiltshire’s High Streets against the Internet.

I am a Christian but I do believe in choice, freedom and trusting people to decide what to do in their own time. I am also a realist and cannot understand the difference of extending a few hours, given we already have Sunday trading hours. Family time is key but stopping this change will not secure family time – we must encourage families to do this. Also what about those people who want to have the chance to earn money on a Sunday when they are able to work? This includes students and stay at home parents who have their partners there to provide childcare. Is it really our job to make it harder to put food on the table for their family?

It is a shame and frustrating that the SNP voted against this when they already have these Sunday Trading measures. Their speeches talked about rights and fairness – how is this fair? As a strong champion of our local high streets I am disappointed that yesterday we failed to offer additional support.