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Even people who aren’t religious want Sunday to be different

If I were in power I would bring in the Dutch system with a dash of the French: only corner shops open and lots of outdoor activities

By on Wednesday, 22 August 2012

In the Netherlands shops are closed on Sunday but cafes are open (Photo: PA)

In the Netherlands shops are closed on Sunday but cafes are open (Photo: PA)

Listening to the car radio last week, I happened to stumble on You and Yours. The question to be debated was “Should the relaxation of Sunday trading laws for the Olympics be made permanent?” I hadn’t actually realised that current Sunday trading laws restrict large shops from opening for more than six hours on Sundays or that this law has been relaxed for the eight-week period of the Olympics and Paralympics. There is now talk of the Government making this temporary relaxation permanent – hence the radio discussion.

This turned on two quite opposing points of view: those libertarians, affronted that there should be any restrictions on Sunday shopping, whose views were voiced by a chap called Robert Lloyd Griffiths of the Institute of Directors; and those arguing that Sunday should not become just another weekday, articulated by Mark Pritchard, Tory MP for the Wrekin. It struck me that this argument is rehearsed over and over again in other debates: whether to change the nature of marriage or leave it as it is; whether to let people eat, drink and smoke themselves to death if they choose, or try to stop them; whether to have censorship or not, and so on. As the phone-in radio programme reflected, those who hate any kind of restriction on their behaviour tend to think of themselves, while those arguing for laws and curbs on behaviour think more of the common good.

On the question, “Do we want Sunday to be like every other day of the week?” I instinctively respond, “No!” Libertarians would say that this is because I am a church-goer; why should my (very minority) interest affect their wish to be able to shop for as long as they wish on any day they choose? Reading about this question in the Telegraph, it is interesting to note that those opposed to unrestricted Sunday trading hours don’t generally mention religion or church-worship. They are the new agnostics, no doubt spurred on by watching the Olympics, who want Sunday to be different so that families can enjoy leisure time together, shop workers aren’t forced to go to work (to the detriment of their own family life) and more generally, so that the hectic pace of life is forced to slow down.

Apart from Pritchard himself, the two people on the radio who argued most eloquently to keep Sunday special were an English woman living in France and a woman who had lived in Holland. Neither were church-goers and the second woman even admitted: “I’m not a religious person, more of a shopaholic really.” The lady from France said “Sunday in France is heaven on earth”. Why? Because all large shops and supermarkets are shut, there are therefore no heavy lorries on the roads and small, specialist food shops can thus flourish without competition. The lady who had lived in Holland said that because all shops were shut (cafes are open) everyone knew it was a day for leisure purposes and families took advantage of this. Now back in England she wished it was more like Holland. A woman who phoned in from Scotland, where unrestricted trading is already in place, said she looked enviously south of the border.

Pritchard comments: “All of us deserve rest and that includes shop workers. As somebody who has worked in a shop on a Sunday, and not every Conservative MP has done that, I know there is a lot of pressure on workers to turn up.” Columnist Philip Johnston in the Telegraph admits to shopping at a Devon superstore recently on a Sunday; the girl at the checkout told him she wasn’t bothered about working until 6pm instead of 4pm “because Sunday is ruined in any case”. I sympathise with her; I don’t see the current six-hours opening law for large stores as the happy compromise it has been described; it still takes up most of the day. If I were in power I would bring in the Dutch system with a dash of the French: only corner shops open and lots of outdoor activities.

I went for a walk in our village yesterday and noticed several families out cycling together (the Chris Hoy/Victoria Pembleton effect?); others were dog-walking, picnicking or (mainly fathers and boys) fishing in a local pond. I know the sunshine helped but there was still a very pleasant Sunday feel to the day. The Rt Rev John Pritchard, the Bishop of Oxford, warns: “The danger is that we turn into a 24/7 shopping society where the natural rhythms of life are gradually obliterated.” Dr Johnson understood all this. His resolutions for Sunday July 13 1752 included church-going and spiritual reading but also social visits and dining with friends. That sounds the right balance.

  • paulsays

    ‘whether to change the nature of marriage or leave it as it is; whether to let people eat, drink and smoke themselves to death if they choose, or try to stop them; whether to have censorship or not, and so on’4 entirely separate and unconnected arguments!!!

  • Jm15xy

    Little shops flourishing because the competition is forced to close down: there is the reason for a ‘special’ Sunday.

  • Joe

    yes, and EVEN people who are not religious also love their children and want to eat.

  • http://twitter.com/wallaceme Mark Wallace

    There is a straw man here – that having shops over 280 square metres open would mean Sunday was “like any other day”. That’s self-evidently not true – what is it that makes Sunday special? Having to buy over-priced milk from a smaller shop, or the fact most people don’t work that day and individual families choose to treat it differently?

    We were told in 1994 that this was the end of Sunday being special and it hasn’t happened. The same applies now, because it is people – not Government regulation – that defines Sunday.

  • Meena

    “Reading about this question in the Telegraph, it is interesting to note that those opposed to unrestricted Sunday trading hours don’t generally mention religion or church-worship. ”
    Of course not. Only about 1 in 10 is an “official” catholic – and most of them don’t go to church anymore, and very few C of Es go to church. 

  • Honeybadger

    Supermarkets opening on a Sunday is a pain in the rear end. I live near a shopping centre. Looking across the road, it’s like another day.

    No wonder people get exhausted, skint and anti-social!

    You wouldn’t mind but some shops stay open until late on some weekdays, so why go to the expense of opening these money-guzzling giants for more hours on a Sunday? It hasn’t helped the economy so far.

    The bloody traffic is as bad, for a start. Shopping trolleys thrown about on the pavements like comotose aliens is another bugbear.

    Don’t shopworkers have a life to live, too?

    If people channeled their energies and efforts into going to Sunday Mass and/or just enrich their time with other activities besides parting with money, we’d be better off.

  • scary goat

    Yes.  Non-religious people like Christmas too….and Easter.  Sounds a bit like throwing out the baby but wanting to hang on to the bath water.

  • Dorothy

    The problem in the UK is that shops close on weekdays at 5pm… and for people working office hours,  there is no time to shop after work, apart from at the supermarket. If shops were open til later during the week, there would be no need to open on Sunday.

  • Meena

    Supermarkets at the weekends can easily give their staff a break. Most employ “Saturday girls” (students) at weekend. There are many girls looking for the opportunity and the money.

    Your problem is that you are fundamentally (again!) unsuited to live near a supermarket. Have you ever considered living somewhere NOT “on top” of a supermarket. It’s different there.

    As for living near a catholic church some years ago (it’s not much of a problem, now) it was a bugger.

  • Meena

    Yes, it’s a habit of Ms Phillips to “put the boot into” as many of her bêtes noires  as possible, and to take-up every chance of doing so.

  • http://jessicahof.wordpress.com/ JessicaHof

    Sounds as though the French and the Dutch have got a better handle on how to reconcile God and Mammon than we have.

  • paulsays

    Yes always cleverly weaving them in, as if they are background music, that you fail to question.

  • http://twitter.com/sundayshopping Tony Lohnes

    I agree with this article 100%. It’s not all about going to church, A lot of people want a common day off to spend together. I personally fought Sunday shopping in Nova Scotia, Canada and continue to.  The argument used with people about restricting them from shopping was used to piss them off. Like the government was doing them wrong. Yet in our province…we tell business owners to pay out a minimum wage. We make them pay out Holiday and vacation pay to employee’s. My point is should we do away with all of that too? What makes people feel that business owners are any different than us? At some point we have to have laws protecting people.  If a business owner was given a choice, would they pay taxes out of the goodness of their heart? You have to have laws to protect those who can not protect themselves. This is what we have governments for.  There should not be limited hours at all.  BUT a complete ban on Sunday trading (shopping). I invite you to visit our web site – http://www.saveoursundays.ca . We also have a facebook page and a You tube channel. I encourage all of you to continue to speak out. I have also done several interviews on radio, please have a listen. Our side has to be heard.