What goes around comes around. Ever since the government relaxed the six-hour limit on Sunday trading for the duration of the Olympics, renewed calls for complete deregulation have been on the cards. An opportunity has arisen courtesy of the current deregulation bill, so once more unto the breach!

” Consumers can bypass all restrictions at the push of a button”

As a member of the former Shopping Hours Reform Council, which actively campaigned for the six hours, what struck me at the time was the hysteria generated by the prospect of allowing people to shop on Sunday. At least we don’t have to debate the principle all over again.

No, this time it’s simply a question of whether the 1994 Act has outlived its time and retailers should either be allowed to suit themselves or it should be left to the discretion of local authorities. Personally, I think that the only sensible change is to let retailers decide for themselves. The alternative would probably result in a postcode lottery like the old system of licensing hours used to be.

The 1994 Act has three pillars. First, the principle of protection for employees who don’t want to work on Sundays at all. Fine, keep it. Experience over the past 20 years suggests there is no shortage of volunteers for Sunday working in shops. Opt-outs can be accommodated.

Second, the restriction on opening before 10am was originally included as a sop to the Sabbatarian lobby so as not to discourage churchgoing. But church and chapel attendance now appears to be confined to a small minority while other religions for which there is nothing special about Sunday have grown apace. The logic of 10am is no longer valid, if it ever was.

Third, the position of shops under 3,000 sq ft is protected to a degree by the removal of all restrictions on their trading hours, and naturally their representatives have been the most vocal in opposing any further change.

So forget all the emotional stuff about employees, churches, family life and Sunday lunch. The real issue is protection for one sub-section of the retail industry, in practice the independent convenience shops. Is this still justified when consumers can bypass all restrictions at the push of a button? I think not.

Kevin Hawkins is an independent retail consultant