Plans by the government to relax Sunday trading laws across England and Wales are facing defeat in the House of Commons, as the SNP claimed it would be voting against the changes.
The party told the BBC and the Guardian it had decided to vote against the proposed loosening of trading restrictions amid fears it could drive down Scottish workers’ wages – they currently enjoy a special Sunday premium.
Shopworkers’ union USDAW has persuaded the SNP that normalising Sunday trading hours in England and Wales would prompt big retailers to set a lower wage for workers across the UK.
As other opposition MPs are expected to join forces with some 20 Tory rebels, the plans are predicted to run into difficulty.
Conservative MP David Burrowes, who opposes the changes to Sunday trading laws, said there “is no particular demand” for the deregulation of Sunday trading “and goes against our concerns for workers for small businesses and families”.
The SNP’s Westminster leader, Angus Robertson, said: “SNP MPs could hold the balance of power in the House of Commons on Sunday shopping and we will not undermine shop workers. This legislation will impact on workers in Scotland and elsewhere in the UK and no pay safeguards have been offered by the Westminster government. The SNP will continue to work with the representatives of shop workers and we will oppose the Tory proposals.”
As a result of this, ministers are said to be debating whether the proposals might have to be pushed back or dropped altogether. Business secretary Sajid Javid is reportedly examining whether the Conservatives have the parliamentary numbers to win the vote.
George Osborne had outlined the plans in his Budget earlier this year, saying councils and mayors would get the power to set Sunday trading laws in their areas.
At the moment, large stores can currently only open for six hours every Sunday.
During the summer, the communities minister Brandon Lewis and small business minister Anna Soubry launched a consultation into whether to give councils the right to zone areas that would be free from restricted trading hours. The aim was to enable physical stores to better compete with the ever-growing force of ecommerce.
USDAW’s general secretary John Hannett however, said the changes would hinder rather than help local businesses. He said devolving the regulations would “create chaos for retailers and shoppers as every local authority will have different Sunday trading hours”.
“Our members working in retail are extremely worried that devolution will lead to deregulation by the back door, and that is why 91 per cent of workers in large stores oppose the proposal,” he added.
The Sunday Trading Act doesn’t apply north of the border, so shops in Scotland currently have more freedom than those in England and Wales. Government sources said the SNP was trying to block something which has no impact on their constituents.
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