The government could face defeat over its proposals to relax Sunday trading regulations in a House of Commons vote later today.
The Scottish National Party has said it would oppose the plans alongside potentially dozens of rebel Conservative MPs. Combined with opposition from Labour, the government’s chances of pushing through the proposals appear increasingly slim.
Meanwhile, the Department for Business has refused to respond to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request on the consultation to devolve Sunday trading powers to local authorities, citing a “disproportionate level of disruption to the Department’s mainstream activities that would be caused in seeking to comply”.
The FOI request called on the government to release all of the responses to the consultation in an attempt to discover how many responses were in favour of retaining the existing rules. In a letter to Keep Sunday Special, the department confirmed that they have the information but will not release it.
A spokesperson from the Keep Sunday Special campaign said: “The government is not being transparent. In five other consultation responses issued this year, the Department has given a full breakdown of responses, but for some reason they are unwilling to reveal this information on Sunday trading.
“The government has failed to provide robust evidence for changes to Sunday trading regulations, reverting back to studies from a decade ago, and in some cases citing evidence from as long ago as 1970s Sweden.”
A number of leading c-store retailers say they have lost their faith in the government’s approach to both small business and policy-making as a result of the Sunday trading proposals.
Jonathan James, owner of James Convenience Retail, said: “What worries me is that it becomes political rather than what’s best for the country. A number of MPs want to just toe the line.
“It’s changed my mind on the government; you hope MPs vote for what they think’s best for their constituents, but this appears to be about what’s politically best. It’s very enlightening.”
Raaj Chandarana, of Tara’s News (Premier), High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, said: “They’re making it difficult for small businesses to trade. I’d love David Cameron to do a shift in a c-store so he could understand the pressures we’re under. The fact they have proposed this without the figures shows they just want to push it through.”
Paul Stone, who owns seven Spar stores in the Greater Manchester area, said: “I always thought the Conservatives were the Party of small business, but they’re legislating without regard for the impact on small businesses. They just don’t seem sympathetic to small businesses, and this has highlighted that more than ever.”
However, he said he was “very impressed” with the lobby in Parliament organised by Keep Sunday Special last Monday (29 February). “It was much easier than I thought to meet our MPs,” he said.
Jonathan added: “About 55 MPs came through in total, we took the fight to them. We all had the same purpose and stood shoulder to shoulder.”