The Government suffered a humiliating defeat yesterday after its controversial plans to reform the Sunday trading laws were rejected by MPs.
The Commons opposed Chancellor George Osborne’s proposals to allow local councils to extend opening hours for large shops by 317 votes to 286, as 27 Tories rebelled by allying with Labour and the SNP.
Before the vote, Ministers had sought to limit the rebellion by promising to trial the changes in 12 areas, but said afterwards they would respect MPs’ views.
Critics of the plans – including FWD – said they would disadvantage small business, “chip away at Sunday’s special status” and put undue pressure on workers.
It is the Conservative government’s second defeat in the House of Commons since it was elected last May.
Before the vote, Ministers indicated they would seek to amend their proposals in the House of Lords if MPs approved them in principle. But while blaming the SNP for the defeat, Ministers conceded afterwards the plans would not be resurrected.
“We respect the view of the House of Parliament. The Commons has spoken and given a very clear view – we have to absolutely respect that,” said the Planning Minister Brandon Lewis.
FWD was part of the Keep Sunday Special (KSS) alliance, which also includes bodies like the Association of Convenience Stores and the National Federation of Retail Newsagents.
James Bielby, FWD chief executive, said afterwards: “The decision demonstrates just how unpopular the proposed changes to Sunday trading hours are, with the public, with business, and with the Government’s own party. We are delighted to be part of the extensive coalition of retailers, shop workers and religious groups which has opposed what amounts to a personal crusade by the Chancellor to enforce a measure for which there is little evidence, little political will, and little public support. The extra trading hours on a Sunday are the British public’s thank-you to small independent shops and the wholesalers who work with them, and it’s a popular compromise which we want to preserve.”
We’ll have much more on this story in the March issue of Wholesale News, out next week.