Sunday trading and the Olympics
Having a shared day of rest is important for the health of families and communities
Published 23 April 2012 | Sebastian Tarwater
There are two contradictory stories coming out of Downing Street at the moment. They are very nicely encapsulated by the Conservative mayoral candidates latest offering of wisdom at the churches’ hustings—of all places—where Twitter reports Boris Johnson as having said that you can serve both God and mammon.
I love Boris.
Meanwhile on Downing Street, in one of the doorways, you have the Prime Minister announcing his desire to make the UK “the most family friendly country in Europe” while calling ours Christian. Coming out of the other doorway at No 11, holding up the red box with the grin worthy of a Cheshire fat-cat, we see George Osborne looking for a little more coin. He wants the UK to be “open for business” during the London 2012 Olympic games. That puts family and faith on the one side and big business on the other.
In the spring Budget, Osborne announced the Government would introduce a Bill temporarily lifting the restrictions currently put on large shops that restrict their opening times on Sunday. The Bill is being shoved through parliament using the fast track mechanism, which is normally reserved for exceptional circumstances such as over issues to do with terrorism or natural disaster. The first debate is in the Lords on the 24th and if all goes to plan it will be through the Commons on 30 April.
The fact that the Government are pushing it through isn’t surprising because the Bill is controversial in many parts of society. Last year the Government held two listening exercises over whether to repeal the current restrictions and found the current settlement proportionate with no real appetite to change the law, and lots of appetite to oppose change.
But the Bill does make it clear that it’s a temporary measure, designed to allow big shops to open for eight Sundays—one week before the Olympics start, then during and between the Olympics and Paralympics. There is no doubt in anybody’s mind that they are trying to taste the fruit and see if they cannot squeeze a little more money into the coffers ahead of an attempt to make the proposal more permanent.
Long term, this confusion between what No 10 says and what No 11 does cannot last. If Cameron is serious about encouraging the family and wanting to uplift the UK as Christian, he should honour both the heritage of having a common day of rest and uphold Sunday as special for the sake of children and families, particular those working in manual shift work. While there are legal protections in place for workers the reality is that many will feel the pressure to work one and often both days on a weekend and will lose quality time with their children and other loved ones.
It also does not make sense in relation to the drive to be involved in the local community through volunteering in Cameron’s Big Society. Much of the voluntary work which goes on around the country happens at churches and much of that work happens, in part on a Sunday. Sadly for now it seems that Cameron’s promises in relation to the family and about his belief that we are a Christian country are not being matched with action. If he were to stop this Bill now it would be the best way of showing he is sincere. Barring that, a clear promise by a senior cabinet minister at the dispatch box saying that the Government will not scrap Sunday trading regulations in this parliament or ever would be the only way Cameron can claim that the Conservatives don’t worship both God and mammon, and keep Sunday special.
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