Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Letter on Sunday trading

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Source: Finchley Press, 20 February 1986
Editorial comments: Item listed by date of publication.
Importance ranking: Minor
Word count: 543
Themes: Industry, Religion & morality

‘Character won't be changed’

The letter from Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher reads:

“I would like to reassure you that the government is not trying to alter the traditional nature of Sunday in this country.

“The government believes that shopkeepers should be free to choose when to open their shops, and that shoppers should be free to shop when they wish. We recognise that many people on grounds of conscience will not want to shop or to open their shops on Sundays and believe firmly that they, too, should be free to choose in this way. Equally no shop will open on a Sunday if there is no demand for it to do so.

“Eight million people already work on Sundays, about half of them regularly. There are two million shopworkers, but some of these work on Sundays already, and many will continue not to do so because their shops will stay closed anyway.

“Most people regard Sunday as different from other days of the week, and we neither intend nor expect that the proposed change in the law will make it just like any other day. Sunday has always been a day especially for worship, for relaxation and for being with one's family. But it is important to bear in mind that there have always been some people who have worked Sundays. This was true before the laws restricting Sunday trading were ever enacted; it was true throughout the Victorian era; and remains true today. It has always been accepted that those in public transport, the armed forces and the police should work on Sundays, and many other people in factories or in those shops already permitted to open have chosen of their own free will to work.

“The fact is the complicated regulations now in force are being increasingly ignored by shopkeepers and their customers, and many local authorities are unwilling to enforce the law as it now stands. They know that many people do not regard Sunday shopping as at all improper and that any attempt to enforce the regulations would be deeply unpopular and probably impossible in practice. For an increasing number of people Sunday shopping is necessary, or at last a great help in their lives. More than half of married women now go out to work, many of them full-time. They and the many single parent families are now forced to shop on Saturday, when shops are crowded, to provide for their families. Sunday shopping, especially when the whole family can go together, would help such people, and also families who want to make major purchases as a family in a leisurely manner.

“I would confirm that we gave the most careful consideration to proposals for reforming the present law in order to remove its notorious anomalies but stopping short of complete deregulation. There are, however, enormous difficulties in any such attempt. The Auld Committee looked at all possible suggestions for partial deregulation but reluctantly concluded that none would work because they would not form the basis of a fair, simple and readily enforceable system of regulation.

“We do not expect that the character of Sunday will be radically changed by our present proposals. No one will be forced to shop on Sunday and the Scottish experience, where there are no restrictions, suggests that only a minority of larger shops will open on Sundays. When the present legal and illegal opening pattern in England and Wales is taken into account the increase in Sunday opening is expected to be only small.”