The Church of England has become the first major Christian denomination in Britain to speak out against George Osborne’s plans to relax Sunday trading laws – legislation that prevents shops from opening longer than six hours on Sundays – saying the move will lead to a “further erosion of shared community life.”
Debate over the laws has raged since the 1980s, when Margaret Thatcher suffered her only Commons defeat as Prime Minister after a large Tory rebellion saw plans to relax the laws voted down.
Now Chancellor George Osborne has announced plans to try again, with a more modest proposal to let local authorities set their own laws regarding Sunday trading.
The move comes as a surprise as just before the election David Cameron wrote to campaign group Keep Sunday Special to say:
“I can assure you that we have no current plans to relax the Sunday trading laws. We believe that the current system provides a reasonable balance between those who wish to see more opportunity to shop in large stores on a Sunday, and those who would like to see further restrictions.”
Now the Church of England has issued a statement denouncing the move, saying:
“The Church of England has always maintained that a common day of rest is important for family life, for community life and for personal well-being.
“Increased Sunday trading will inevitably lead to further erosion of shared leisure time when a majority of people can count on being able to do things together. It will have an impact on community activities of many kinds, amateur sport, contact across extended families and religious observance.
“It seems quite contrary to the objectives of the Big Society, which once helped to shape policy and which the Church of England enthusiastically supported. Any further erosion of shared community life whether that is driven by central or local government will be detrimental to all of us.”
The Church of England is so far the only major denomination to speak out on the move. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, the Methodist Church of Great Britain and the Baptist Union of Great Britain were either unavailable or declined to comment when Breitbart London approached them earlier.
Campaign group Christian Concern did offer comment, however. Andrea Williams, the group’s director, told Breitbart London the move was “not progressive”.
“This further enforces a situation where no corporate rest is available for families to spend time with one another. If is therefore highly damaging to society and to social cohesion.”
She added that the move will lead to the “further exploitation of the most vulnerable in society,” who will “inevitably” be forced to work longer hours seven days a week.
The Christian Institute also criticised the plans. A spokesman told Breitbart London: “This is being dressed up as providing ‘more choice’ for people. But it’s not much of a choice for the shop worker who’s put under pressure by their employer to work at the expense of spending time with their family or at church.
“Although there is supposed to be an opt-out how many will use it when facing the fear that they will be looked upon unsympathetically, be passed over for promotion or even lose their job altogether.”
Referring to comments from Minister for Small Business, Anna Soubry, who described Sunday as the “most miserable day of the week” because she cannot go shopping, the group added: “Anna Soubry’s Sundays may be miserable but for many people, and especially Christians, it remains a special day, a day of rest.”
The plans are due to be announced in today’s budget.