Church of England open to ‘temporarily loosening’ Sunday trading laws

5 May 2020

The Church of England has hinted that it would not oppose a temporary relaxation of Sunday trading laws during this time of Covid-19 and national lockdown.

Speaking to The Telegraph, The Rt Rev. Dr Alan Smith, Bishop of St Albans and spokesman for the Bishops in the House of Lords, said “we must all think about innovative and flexible ways to protect our local economies,” though added that current proposals “lacked transparency.”

Boris Johnson has said that he is “looking at” the possibility of temporarily relaxing the Sunday trading laws and has received pressure from MPs to do so. Last month, a group of 40 MPs wrote to MP Alok Sharma, also Business Secretary, to suspend the current restrictions. Tory MP Nusrat Ghani, who organised the letter, said “it is absurd to keep these restrictions in place.”

Some newspapers have added their voices to the call with The Sun on Sunday writing, “Britain’s restrictive Sunday trading laws were already well past their sell-by date. But in the midst of the coronavirus epidemic gripping the country they are even more ridiculous.” Richard Walker, Chief Executive of Iceland, added “my hands are tied with these archaic Sunday trading laws. This is a moment of national crisis and we need our shops open.”

It is being argued that this would help ease social distancing measures that have been introduced to stop the spread of the coronavirus. The move has been opposed by some trade unions however, with Paddy Lillis, general secretary of Usdaw stating that “we do not believe that longer trading hours on a Sunday are part of the answer.” Bishop Alan did add that “it must not be at the expense of workers.”

A temporary relaxation was allowed, and was not opposed by the Church of England, during the 2012 London Olympics. Though at that time, many churches voiced their concerns that this could lead to a permanent relaxation of the law.

Bishop Alan had previously said in 2016, when the Government consulted on liberalising Sunday trading, that “in its submission to the Government’s consultation on extending Sunday opening hours, the Church of England voiced concern that changing the law would have a negative effect on community and family life, whilst delivering few, if any, additional benefits for the economy.”

The ‘Keep Sunday Special Campaign’, which campaigns to retain the existing regulations, has researched how our Sunday trading restrictions help communities, retailers and shopworkers, giving a day for rest and for families to spend time together.

Meanwhile, Church of England Bishops have faced criticism for continuing to maintain that churches should be closed even for livestreaming public worship and funerals. A group of 36 MPs has called on the Church of England to open its doors for small funerals. The Coronavirus Act restricts most church activity but allows churches to be used appropriately for livestreaming worship and for funerals.

Andrea Williams, chief executive of Christian Concern, said “The world is topsy-turvy when the Church of England argues for extending Sunday trading hours while voluntarily closing its own doors, well beyond what the government requires in its regulations. I hope that the bishops will be similarly bold and ask for churches to be allowed to open as soon as possible.”

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