David Cameron’s Conservative government seems intent on undermining the democratic process.
Bad news’ announcements (like the delay on rail electrification) are
delayed, commissioned research remains unpublished if the conclusions are
inconvenient, and there’s been a flurry of written statements on Fridays and at
the very end of the parliamentary session in a way designed to prevent proper
scrutiny. David Cameron himself has tried to turn Prime Minister’s Question
Time into Questions to the Opposition Parties as a way of
avoiding being accountable for his performance.
Therefore, it was entirely consistent that, after parliament had broken up
for the summer recess and most of the public were thinking about their summer
holidays, the government should announce a short consultation about changing
the Sunday trading laws.
The current Sunday trading laws were established in 1994. Basically, whereas
small shops can open all day, large stores were newly allowed to open for 6
hours a day. It is undoubtedly the case that retail shopping has dramatically
changed over the last 20 years. Out-of-town malls have threatened city centres
and, more recently, there has been a significant switch to internet shopping.
The big retailers were never satisfied with the 6 hour limit and would like
to see the abolition of all Sunday trading laws. They use international
comparisons to suggest that deregulation would lead to a significant increase
in some types of shopping.
I think this is mostly poppycock. People don’t suddenly have more money to
spend because the shops are open longer! In fact, if stores are open longer –
with all the associated costs – but spending does not increase, prices will
However, changing opening hours will undoubtedly have an impact on the
distribution of spending. The big retailers will want to buy market share,
whilst small retailers are likely to suffer.
The government is suggesting that, in different ways, some decisions on Sunday
trading could be localised. Superficially, that might look attractive but, in
reality, it might be difficult for one area to resist change if its neighbor
is open all hours.