Sunday trading extension plan for 2012 Olympic Games 'a risk to society'
Extending Sunday trading during the Olympics could shatter the fabric of family and social life in the West, a senior Church of England figure has warned.
The Bishop of Bath and Wells says that the proposal could do irreversible damage to society.
The Rt Rev Peter Price says Chancellor George Osborne’s plan to kickstart Britain’s faltering economy during the Olympics could lead to further Sunday trading in the future.
But Richard Dodd, of the British Retail Consortium, whose members constitute 80 per cent of the retail trade, said Sunday trading had not led to the “collapse of family life” since the Sunday Trading Act was introduced in 1994.
“A lot of people shop on Sunday as a leisure activity. No one is forced to shop on Sundays, but it provides a lot of extra work for people,” he said, adding that there are differing views among the big retailers on whether they would wish to trade for longer on Sundays.
Sunday is the most intense shopping day of the week, because the trade is concentrated in so few hours. Some retailers believe, however, that extending the hours would simply result in the same spending being spread over a longer period.
The Bishop’s comments came in a House of Lords debate on the Sunday Trading (London Olympic and Paralympic Games) Bill, which proposes temporarily deregulating the opening times on Sundays of shops with a floor area of more than 3,000 square feet.
At present such shops are only allowed to open on a Sunday for a maximum six-hour period – usually between 10am and 4pm.
Bishop Peter told the Lords: “The number of people who can share a common day of leisure forms a critical mass below which many of our voluntary institutions cannot survive.
“Too often in debates on Sunday trading we have heard about the virtues of shopping as a shared leisure activity.
“But for people to shop, others must work.
“We are all consumers, but if Sunday trading was to become an unfettered norm, we would pretty soon all be workers too, and the rich associational life of our nation – its charities, amateur sports, extended family life and, yes, its churches – which is already desperately fragile, would crumble.”
He added: “The Church’s reluctance to enthuse about Sunday trading is not about its own institutional self-interest. Our churches offer ministry seven days a week, every week of the year, but Sunday remains the one day of the week when most people, by and large, are able to share common time for their own pursuits.”
"The work/life balance is not merely an individual concern, where the life part of the equation cannot be shared with a wider spectrum of other people. Our whole society, I believe, begins to break down if we do not have something that reflects that value.”