Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

British Bid to Permit Sunday Shopping Draws Cheers, Jeers

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

British Bid to Permit Sunday Shopping Draws Cheers, Jeers

Article excerpt

BRITISH members of Parliament this week are being given a free vote on whether to abolish laws that heavily restrict doing business on Sundays. Unlike most votes in the House of Commons, parliamentarians will be allowed to vote regardless of their party's position.

If they decide to approve a seven-days-a-week shopping regime, they will do so in the teeth of criticism from church leaders, who believe Sunday should be kept special, and trade unionists worried that workers will be exploited under new rules.

Few areas of British life are as surrounded by chaotic regulations as trading on the Sabbath. Under existing law, for example, it is illegal to sell or purchase a Bible, but permissible to deal in pornographic magazines.

John Major, the prime minister, is leading the call for reform, but he is refusing to risk his government's reputation in the House of Commons vote due this Wednesday.

Instead, he is offering members of Parliament a choice of three Sunday-shopping options: total deregulation; partial deregulation, with small shops allowed to open any time and large stores and supermarkets limited to six hours; and a continuation of current rules, except for a free-for-all in the four weeks before Christmas. Mr. Major says he prefers the first option, but he is moving cautiously.

The last attempt to reform the 1950 Shops Act, in 1986, resulted in a narrow Commons defeat for Margaret Thatcher's government. Many Conservative parliamentarians, under pressure from constituents and religious groups, broke ranks and voted against the bill. Similar pressures persist today, which is why the prime minister is treading on eggshells.

When it became clear that the government was determined to hold a vote to resolve the issue, George Carey, the Archbishop of Canterbury, wrote in a Nov. 29 letter to the London Times: "The spiritual, psychological, and physical health of our nation would be poorer if there were no longer one common day in the week which was substantially different from the rest. …

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