Full Sunday trading will be a tricky sell

What are your plans for this Sunday? There's a fair chance (aside from watching the footie) that it will involve a spot of retail therapy.

Britain's status as a secular nation of shopaholics was cemented back in 1994 when the last government broke the taboo of allowing retailers to trade on the Sabbath. But the rules imposed a six-hour opening limit on stores that cover more than 3,000 sq ft (as anyone who has ever popped down to the supermarket for that vital ingredient at 4.05 pm, only to find the shutters down, will know).

A group of major retailers - under the banner of lobby group Deregulate - has been campaigning for that six-hour limit to be ended in England and Wales. It persuaded the DTI to begin a review of Sunday trading laws at the start of the year. And as we report this week (see News), Deregulate is now hunting agency support, signalling that the campaign is about to escalate.

The group, whose backers include Asda, B&Q and Ikea, argues that relaxing Sunday trading laws will prevent the kind of stampedes that can occur from squeezing shoppers into a six-hour window. It also says longer hours will offer more employment opportunities and boost the economy.

Having achieved something of a revolution in 1994, surely its proposed evolution of the law is a formality?

Unfortunately for Deregulate, its call comes amid widespread antipathy towards major retailers. The Competition Commission is staging an inquiry into the dominance of supermarkets. Tellingly, neither Tesco nor Sainsbury's is backing Deregulate because they know such an association would only add to their image as high-street bullies. Moreover, the threat they pose to small independents comes more from their small-format shops, which avoid the Sunday restrictions.

Deregulate faces an uphill battle to get the media and public on side. And the Government will hold out for the assurance of their support before it gives any such proposal the green light.

Danny Rogers is away.

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