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Government concedes defeat on plans to devolve Sunday trading hours to local areas

The UK government is to drop plans to give local authorities in England and Wales the power to set their own Sunday trading hours after losing a vote in the House of Commons, according to press reports.14 Mar 2016

The Guardian and other newspapers quoted 'Downing Street sources' on the government's intention to abandon the proposals after 27 Conservative MPs voted with Labour and the SNP against them. The amendment to the Enterprise Bill would have given local councils and elected mayors the power to extend Sunday trading hours in certain 'zones', and would have given shop workers in Scotland as well as England and Wales stronger rights to opt out of working on Sundays.

In a statement provided to Out-Law.com, housing minister Brandon Lewis would not confirm whether the government had dropped the plans or whether it would attempt to re-introduce them at a later date.

"This is a huge economic growth opportunity – thousands of jobs and actually that flexibility for customers and residents on a Sunday," he said. "We wanted them to have the same rights as they have in Scotland."

Responding in parliament on behalf of the government after the vote, business minister Sajid Javid said that the government would "listen to the will of this House".

Shops in England and Wales that are larger than 3,000 square feet in size are only permitted to open for a maximum of six hours on a Sunday. Separate rules, which the government had not proposed to change, prevent these shops from opening at all on Easter Sunday and Christmas Day. There are no restrictions on smaller shops' opening hours.

The government's intention behind the proposals was to "provide consumers, businesses and shop workers with greater choice, opportunities and convenience" as well as to give high street shops greater opportunities to compete with the internet. Local authorities would have been able to choose to extend Sunday trading hours throughout their areas or in specific parts of their areas, or to make no changes at all, had the plans been approved.

To protect shop workers who did not wish to work or to extend their working hours on a Sunday, the government had intended to reduce the 'opt out' notice period from three months to one month. It also intended to introduce a new right allowing those already contracted to work on a Sunday to opt out of working additional hours, again by giving one month's notice. Although these provisions are included in the current draft of the Enterprise Bill, Javid told parliament after the vote that they were now "unnecessary" and would be removed.

"It is difficult to understand why, at a time of increasing internet competition, retailers should not be allowed more flexibility in working with local councils to determine trading hours," said retail property expert Andrea McIlroy-Rose of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com. "It seems likely that this will be revisited in the future."