Lib Dem MPs split 3 ways over Sunday Trading laws

Our band of 8 split 3 ways last night in the Sunday trading debate which saw the Government defeated. That is not actually as bad as it sounds. Alistair Carmichael quite rightly decided it was none of his business as it was relating to England and Wales only. The SNP voted against, presumably to distract attention of the London media from the disastrous figures which showed that the oil price would have an independent Scotland with a massive £15 billion deficit. Maybe that will make people realise the bullet we dodged when we voted against independence. I won’t hold my breath, though. The SNP seem to be on a mission to upset England, too. Their excuse was that they were protecting workers’ rights in Scotland, a spurious assertion given that shop workers don’t generally get paid more for working Sundays, which are not restricted here. And if they were that bothered about workers’ rights, surely Nicola Sturgeon wouldn’t be quite as snarky with Willie Rennie when he brings up working conditions at Amazon. Let’s not forget that SNP cuts to local government are going to mean thousands of council workers losing their jobs, too.

A cynic might think that they were actively creating such antipathy towards them in the hope that it would encourage England to vote to leave the EU, even though they are in favour of and are campaigning for a Remain vote. It’s like when they said they wanted Ed Miliband as PM last year but told everyone in England and Wales to vote for the Greens and Plaid.

Is it a coincidence that Nicola went to London to give a pro EU speech the other week? There will no doubt be some scare story fuelled by the SNP  during the campaign that will attempt to drive people into the arms of Brexit. Scotland voting to remain and England voting to leave could trigger a second independence referendum and has already been cited by the Stronger In campaign as a reason to vote to remain. Actually, I’m not so sure. With oil prices on the floor, they would be struggling to win independence, even after a Brexit. I always said it would be my tipping point and I’d vote for independence, but I’m not so sure now. It would be a question of which choice looked least horrendous at the time. There would be no good choice.

Anyway, back to our lot. Of the remaining 7, Tom Brake, Norman Lamb and Nick Clegg voted with the Government in favour of enabling longer Sunday trading and Tim Farron, Greg Mulholland, John Pugh and Mark Williams voted against the Government.

I have to say I have a bit of difficulty understanding why we’d be against it. Maybe that’s because up here in Scotland we don’t have any of this nonsense. Shops traditionally used to be closed on the Sabbath – and there are still parts of Scotland where the Sabbath is strictly observed. When a family member lived in the Western Isles, she was frowned upon for doing her washing on a Sunday. However, there was no law against Sunday trading and it’s pretty much become the norm now. I find it very strange that I can’t nip to the supermarket at 8am on a Sunday if I’m in England. The main supermarket in Livingston only closes for a couple of hours either side of the nightclub across the road chucking out.

It is kind of ironic that the four who voted against will be in York this weekend being served their Sunday breakfast by staff in their hotel who are probably getting paid as little as shop-workers. There is also the delicious irony that Tim will be delivering his leader’s speech on Sunday. Although that might be described as him spending his leisure time as he sees fit.

I am probably being a bit unfair. John Pugh has been an active campaigner for Keep Sunday Special for a long time. Others will have genuine concerns about massive chains opening for longer and taking custom from smaller businesses, or the effects in rural areas or simply because they think people should be able to have a breather on a Sunday – although obviously not every job would allow that. There are perfectly legitimate reasons for them to vote the way they did.

Are LDV readers as split as the parliamentary party? What do you think?





* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • Hi Karen,

    I’m totally with you on this one, the current policy is plain odd, there’s no restriction on ‘working’ on a Sunday, just ‘trading’ for big stores – which means plenty of people in non-retail jobs or smaller shops work Sunday already.

    Furthermore, back in the dim and distant past when I worked at M&S on Sundays I went in at normal time anyway and spent first hour or two restocking or in the warehouse. We even opened the doors of the shop before 10am but didn’t allow people to buy anything!!!!

    On top of that the bill is specifically to *strengthen* workers rights to refuse Sunday shifts, so the workers rights argument really holds no water. I really can’t see a genuine reason for voting against this – especially now we’ve got online retailers open 24/7 every day taking trade from bricks and mortar shops that employ real people.

    It seems like those who did just wanted to give George Osborne an embarrassing bloody nose – and grudgingly I can see *some* short-term satisfaction in that 🙂

  • Peter Davies 10th Mar '16 - 9:07pm

    It’s a more important issue down here in London. Our transport system is massively overstretched and land values are ridiculous. The more days we can use our trains roads and retail space the better. We also have fewer people to whom Sunday has religious significance than most places. If Scotland gets to decide for itself, I can’t see why it’s a federal matter.

  • If John Pugh wants to Keep Sunday Special then he’s welcome to do so for himself, but I can’t understand why he’d force others to do likewise.

    And I’m with you on the SNP. Utterly baffling, and clearly purely political move for them.

  • Helen Tedcastle 10th Mar '16 - 10:21pm

    I am sure I won’t be the only one who finds it ironic that in the week when LDV has discussed women’s equality, some of its most vociferous advocates are questioning the rights of shop-workers – mainly low paid women – to have their family time on a Sunday protected.

    Interestingly, Usdaw’s survey of 1,500 staff in large stores in October 2014 showed that two-thirds already came under pressure to work on Sundays when they did not wish to, with even more carers coming under pressure – nearly three quarters.

    93% of Usdaw’s members do not want to see Sunday trading hours extended. Only 25% of parents are content with their current work-life balance, with 77% feeling that this is because of work constraints.

    Shopworkers fear that extending Sunday trading hours would mean they are forced to work more on Sundays, severely impacting their family time and work-life balance. (Social Market Foundation 2015)

    The recent intensifying of competition in retail, the squeeze on costs and overall staffing reductions have led to more widespread practices of changing staff hours ‘to suit the needs of the business’ and increased flexibility demanded of staff to match their working hours to the times when shops are most busy.

    So it is great to see four of our parliamentarians take the needs of low paid shop-workers into account and vote to protect their rights. What a pity three others couldn’t.

    It should also be pointed out that shops are open for six hours on a Sunday so popping out for a pint of milk is not forbidden. We have the best of both worlds at the moment and it is right to leave it as it is and not vote with George Osborne to deregulate the weekend.

  • A Social Liberal 10th Mar '16 - 10:26pm

    Well said Helen

  • If there is no day that is “special” its increasingly hard to get families together. There are various situations where I as a customer would like to be able to use shops for longer but in these days of 24×7 eCommerce its pretty selfish for consumers to expect low wage staff, many of them on 0 hours contracts to have no day in the week when they can spend with their relatives

  • I completely agree, Caron. I’m all for liberalising the Sunday trading laws, but I’d like to see a written-in assumption that workers can legally expect two days off per week, and ideally the same two consecutive days off each week to minimise uncertainty. It’s a pain for everyone else that weekends have funny trading hours, but we need to ensure that weekend workers get a “weekend” themselves too.

  • The logic of capitalism if unrestrained by other cultural pressures (which from the point of view capitalism) will always appear irrational would usher us to a world where every available waking hour is spent either consuming or producing and nothing is prioritised over those activities. That is the way we seem to be going and it appears to be conducive neither to happiness or mental health. I think a week with a definable rhythm is pleasanter and societies that accommodate such a rhythm are probably happier than those who treat every day as a replica of the next. One can of course set up one’s rhythm and live by it but its hard to live as an isolate in an increasingly connected world.
    There are weak economic arguments for liberalisation but there are only economic arguments not social arguments or arguments about individual or family welfare.

    People mistakenly look at this as a secular/religious issue and if they are secularist feel obliged to shun any form of regulation. However, I for one would not wish to prescribe what people do with recreation time. I just think its good if people especially shop workers and shopaholics have some recreation time. Its not the churches that are currently full on Sunday morning;its the parks. Traditionally it was a time for the contented secularist to lie longer in bed, have a more leisurely breakfast,call relatives etc. It could be like any other day spent stoking the fires of capitalism but I see no reason to think that creates a happier or more wholesome world or why that would appeal to a party prioritising mental health. Of course if by voting to keep some sort of restriction ,however feeble, I deprive someone of a valued opportunity or deny them something they think a fundamental right, then they don’t have to vote for me or my sense of where the public good lies.

  • I agree with Caron, it’s one of the perks of living in Scotland. Back when I was a constituency organiser in England I often worked a six day week, leaving me Sunday to do my shopping. Forcing me to do it between 10 and 4 simply meant I couldn’t use that time for leisure pursuits like walking in the countryside which kind of has to be done during daylight hours.

    When I did shift work I liked the variety and that I had time off in the week instead. As long as people have the right to choose themselves a day when they don’t work it’s better that it’s not the same one for everyone.

    It’s completely arbitrary that this only affects large shops. Why not small shops, bars, restaurants, cinemas, theatres, tv and radio stations etc etc?! And what about those of other religions who want a different special day? It really makes no sense at all. If we believe that none shall be enslaved by conformity then we have to scrap these archaic laws.

  • Whilst we can debate the merits of the SNP’s actions in this, one of the nuances I took away from this (and other SNP skirmishes with Westminster) was just how difficult it is to determine the regional scope and applicability of legislation and hence we need to be careful about any future devolution, whether it be to the existing assemblies or to a new English assembly. In fact the SNP seem to be making a case for the return of some devolved powers from Holyrood to Westminster…

  • Peter Davies 11th Mar '16 - 7:27am

    @Roland: I would have thought this was the perfect example of something where Scottish MPs should have absolutely no say over what happens in Camden or Kendal. There is a good case for devolving the power down to local authorities where other licensing matters are considered.

  • Eddie Sammon 11th Mar '16 - 7:47am

    A friend of mine is not religious at all but is against relaxing Sunday trading laws. Some people see it is an exploitation issue, rather than a religious one.

    I probably would have supported relaxing the laws, but I’m not too bothered either way.


  • David Garlick 11th Mar '16 - 10:24am

    I don’t think there would be any more money spent as a result of any extension of hours.
    Small traders and shopkeepers are under enough pressure from the big guys and we need to give them a break to enable them to survive. You don’t know what you have got until it’s gone and they are vital to keeping communities together.
    Family time is important for all and might just be the thing that enables a family to stay together with benefits for them and society. My vote is…

  • John Pugh and Helen Tedcastle are right.

    Not surprised that the so called classical liberals voted the wrong way without any regard for the low paid employees who will be exploited and the many small BAME shopkeepers who will be affected. Proper Liberals should think twice about the impact of the law of the jungle.

  • Stephen Hesketh 11th Mar '16 - 12:32pm

    As John Pugh says “People mistakenly look at this as a secular/religious issue …” and as a committed humanist and secularist I fully support him and our other MPs Tim Farron, Mark Williams and Greg Mulholland in voting against the Government in their attempts to further (neo)liberalise our laws.

    Personally, I believe the starting point of the debate should be people having a cast iron right in law to at least one full day per weekend (subject to genuine shift patterns, a ceiling on working hours and the non-use of zero hours contracts) to spend with their families and friends, or indeed their God or bed.

    There is surely so much more to a rich and liberal life than the manufacturing, supplying, buying and selling of objects and services.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 12th Mar '16 - 1:41am

    John Pugh

    Beautiful and eloquent sentiments and goals.But you admit the attempt is feeble , the actual proposal merely to continue the current odd hours of only big stores .You would do better to devise an interesting bill for a social liberal alternative .Such as protection for workers not getting that .

    David Raw
    Why must you turn everything intuitively into a divisive pointing at the so called , as you put it , classical liberals , and in the consistent desire to villify Nick Clegg , now put the admirable Tom Brake and much loved Norman Lamb into the mix because on this they had the same view .Did you not see that on Syria they did not ?!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1

  • Helen Tedcastle 12th Mar '16 - 1:09pm

    Tim Pollard
    ‘ And what about those of other religions who want a different special day? ‘

    What is interesting in this debate is how leaders of other faith communities support the campaign against George Osborne’s plan to deregulate the weekend to help the big shops.

    For example, speaking in London recently, the Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, condemned moves to loosen Sunday trading restrictions.

    He said: “You might ask what it has to do with the Chief Rabbi. I think it has got everything to do with every citizen of this country for one and all and I say that sincerely.

    “I lament the fact that we already have lost the respect for the Christian sabbath on a Sunday to the degree that it already exists. We as Jews identify strongly with the need for faith and what faith provides people with and as a result we are being confronted today with what I call an increasingly aggressive secularism – it’s not only atheism it is anti-religious, aiming to drive religion off the streets.”

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