“Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but on the seventh day you shall not do any work.”
A custom set in stone as part of the Ten Commandments in the Bible almost 3,500 years ago could be overturned by the Government which wants to hand over powers to set Sunday opening hours to local authorities.
The lid was lifted on the Government’s plans by Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne in his Budget statement on Wednesday.
Mr Osborne said: “We are to give more power to counties and to our new mayors...to set the Sunday trading hours in their areas.”
Current Sunday trading laws are set out in the Sunday Trading Act 1994 which applies to England and Wales where shops with a floor area of more than 280 square metres (3,000 square feet) can only open for a continuous, six-hour period between 10am and 6pm.
Retailers can be fined up to £50,000 for flouting the law, but in 2012 the rules were relaxed for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games in London and a year later, the Government reported a trade and investment boost of £9.9 billion.
At the time the law was introduced, Business Minister Norman Lamb said: “I want to make it clear that this is a temporary measure (for eight Sundays) and not a test case for a permanent relaxation of the rules in the future.”
However, the Government has been swayed by research from New West End Company which represents 600 businesses in London’s West End and showed that extending Sunday trading by two hours in London alone would create nearly 3,000 jobs and more than £200 million a year in extra income.
Dennis Hannant MBE, Spalding’s town centre manager, said: “In my view, the relaxation of Sunday opening hours fully reflects the wishes and lives of a large number of consumers in Spalding today, many of whom work six days a week and only have Sundays to go shopping with their family.
“Many of them combine this with a meal out or a visit to a pub, so to restrict opening times to six hours on a Sunday has never made sense to me.
“My aspiration for Spalding town centre is to have permission to hold specialist markets in Market Place on a Sunday – something that is not permitted at the moment – and to have all shops, both independents and nationals, open for business and a thriving restaurant and pub sector.
“In other words, I would like to see the town centre as a thriving entertainment centre for families on a Sunday.”
The arguments against relaxing Sunday opening hours include fears that it will increase British society’s commercialised and secularised trends, downgrade the special nature of Sundays as a day for the family and the potential damage to small businesses from competition provided by larger retailers.
Rev John Bennett, vicar of St Mary and St Nicolas Church, Spalding, said: “I wouldn’t be in favour of relaxing the law on Sunday trading because I believe it’s good for society to have a day in the week when the majority of people aren’t working.
“Relaxing the Sunday trading laws further would mean more people having no option but to work, making it even harder for families and friends to be together at weekends.
“There will need to be much strong protection in law for those who do not want to work on Sundays.”
The 1950 Shops Act regulated Sunday shopping hours, making it illegal for shops to sell most products on Sunday, before a compromise was reached with the 1994 Sunday Trading Act.
But retail expert Clare Rayner, a guest of Spalding and District Chamber of Commerce last week, wants to go further and she said: “We have to move away from the idea of the high street being primarily a transactional retail centre.
“It needs to become more of a community hub, with services, hospitality, entertainment and social activities, and it needs to adopt very different trading hours.”
Lincolnshire Chamber of Commerce chief executive Simon Beardsley said: “The proposed relaxation of Sunday trading laws will be seen by some as an opportunity, but regarded with concern by others. Whilst they potentially provide new ways to service the needs of an ever-demanding consumer, smaller local businesses are likely to need to look closely at the net reward that can be generated.”