Sunday Opening Conundrums
Sunday trading laws are antiquated in England, but surprisingly liberal in Scotland. Is there really any sensible rationale for stopping market forces from deciding when shops should be open and closed?
My computer decided to go on strike yesterday evening, so it was up and organised this morning to get down to PC World for a spot of techno-chat…. hardly my favourite way to start Sunday, but better than not getting on with it and thus risking an on-going problem during next week, when I’ll have no time to visit computer megastores.
Anyway, there we were at just before 11 a.m.; and the car park was full, with huddles of folk (mostly chaps) no doubt swapping e-tech tales around the bolted entrance to the shop.
Strange, isn’t it, that we in England are not allowed to do our own thing on the day which is for most of us likely to be free? We have but six hours on Sundays to get our groceries (unless we use the corner shop), go to the garden centre, buy the Christmas presents, or whatever else we fancy.
The Scottish way
But even stranger is that, in Scotland, that place of the Sabbath and the Puritan streak, shops can open whenever they please. None of this ‘no garden centres open on Bank Holiday Sundays’ and so forth. If the shop thinks it will get custom, it can be open as far as I can see.
So why the miserable hours on English Sundays?
One reason is undoubtedly that the Unions have been uncomfortable with Sunday opening. They fear it will intrude on family life and maybe on church attendance (it’s apparently hard luck if your religious observance doesn’t fall on Sundays) or whatever.
This general argument I have some limited sympathy with, but it could easily be addressed by a rule which allows employees currently in retail (but not those entering later on) to refuse to work on Sundays in the future, if it’s so important. I’m not at all sure however that this caution is actually necessary; big stores have a large workforces to call on, and are usually quite flexible towards individual employee preferences for rotas etc.
The English idyll?
Maybe it’s all part of the nostaligia which seems to afflict certain aspects of English life…. misty lanes, bicycles, autumn leaves and cream teas. Change is always threatening to some.
I don’t know for sure that flexible, market-responsive Sunday opening would affect local businesses much one way or the other, but I do know that for lots of workers (health, law, entertainment, catering and much else) the choice to limit their own professional services on Sundays just isn’t there anyway.
These workers apart, people generally have time on Sundays to go out as families, and to catch up on chores and so forth. Constraining unnecessarily ways in which most of us can spend our precious free day / weekend is pointless. If you can buy alcohol till all hours now, why not also bits of computer?
Sunday trading is one commercial area where the Market alone really should be allowed to set the pace.