Emergency legislation promised by U.K. Chancellor George Osborne will allow supermarkets and other big stores to open all day on Sundays during the London Olympics and Paralympics.
The surprise announcement was made by Osborne (U.K. finance minister), on the most recent episode of popular BBC current affairs program, the “Andrew Marr Show.”
“We’ve got the whole world coming to London and the rest of the country for the Olympics. It would be a great shame—particularly when some of the big Olympic events are on Sunday—if the country had a closed for business sign on it,” said Osborne.
The new opening hours would be for an eight-week period.
Many people see the proposal as the thin edge of the wedge to permanent full Sunday retailing.
John Hannett, general secretary of the shop workers union Usdaw, said in a statement: “Deregulation would do little to stimulate growth or create jobs, but would have a very detrimental impact on the lives of millions of shop workers and their families. Any change would fly totally in the face of the government’s commitment to be family friendly.”
In direct reply to Osborne, he continued, “To suggest that the current legislation, which allows shops to open for 150 hours a week, means Britain is ‘closed for business’ is frankly ridiculous.”
Present legislation under the Sunday Trading Act 1994 restricts shops over 3,014 square feet (280 square meters) to any six hours of continuous trading between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. on Sundays. The act covers England and Wales, as does the chancellor’s proposal. Scotland already has full Sunday shopping.
Ed Balls, opposition Labor Party member responsible for finance, told Andrew Marr there needed to be closer scrutiny before making changes.
Balls pointed out that because of the present law many parents who work in retail could be home watching the program, which airs on Sundays at 9 a.m., with their families.
Some religious lobbyists see the proposed change to be another step toward the secularization of the U.K.
Cristina Odone, a research fellow at the Centre for Policy Studies as well as a former editor of the Catholic Herald and deputy editor of the New Statesman, wrote in a blog article for the Telegraph: “Look at the wider picture. The coalition wants to legalize gay marriage, but refuses to push through a tax break for married couples. Government lawyers are defending the right of employers to ban staff from wearing a cross to work. Plans are afoot to remove bishops from the House of Lords. An ex-councilor fights to ban prayers as part of the formal proceedings of local council meetings—and wins. A couple with a sterling record of fostering children is banned from further fostering because of their Evangelical Christian views on homosexuality.”
Usdaw is meeting with Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt and the leader of the opposition, Ed Miliband, to discuss their concerns.
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