Confusion on Sunday trading 'to worsen'

THE GOVERNMENT will not attempt to enforce Sunday trading restrictions despite a clear ruling from the European Court of Justice that it has a right to do so under EC law, Sir Nicholas Lyell, the Attorney General, said last night.

With most local authorities also unwilling to enforce the 1950 Shops Act, supermarkets, DIY retailers and department stores will open this Sunday even though their arguments were dismissed in peremptory fashion by the European court.

Last night, lawyers said the muddle over Sunday trading could worsen after Christmas when councils that refused to take action could find themselves in court. The confusion would only end when the Government introduced legislation, the lawyers said.

At the European Court of Justice, retailers, spearheaded by the DIY group B&Q, argued that British legislation, which restricts Sunday shopping, fell foul of articles in the Treaty of Rome guaranteeing free trade within the EC.

But, giving judgment yesterday, the court said that EC law 'does not apply' to the issue of Sunday shopping. Hannah Reed, legal adviser to the Keep Sunday Special Campaign, said: 'It is not a European issue. The whole thing has been a smokescreen put up by certain retailers.'

Nevertheless, local authorities will remain 'cautious' about upholding the law, according to Steve Bassam, assistant secretary of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities. 'On the face of it, authorities should now move to enforce the legislation, but without the active support of the Government . . . I think there will be great reluctance to do anything other than to respond to local pressure,' he said.

Last night, it appeared unlikely that support from ministers would be forthcoming. Sir Nicholas said: 'I have considered whether I should also take action to enforce the law but have decided that the public interest does not require intervention at the moment. I shall keep the position under review.'

Kenneth Clarke, the Home Secretary, has already announced that the House of Commons will be asked to decide whether to tighten or liberalise the law, or maintain the status quo. Mr Clarke said he would prefer deregulation.

Until that legislation comes into force, probably in the summer of 1994, many local authorities will attempt to turn a blind eye to Sunday trading, with only a small minority seeking injunctions through the courts, lawyers believe.

Plymouth council in Devon, said: 'While we have tried to enforce the law fairly stringently, the fact that the Home Secretary has said that traders can do what they want means that we are in a quandry.'

Some retailers, such as B&Q and Asda, were unrepentant, pledging that their stores would remain open on Sundays. Others, such as Sainsbury's, were more cautious, saying that their shops would be open this weekend but that they would review the ruling.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This digital agency is passionate about helpin...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Exhibition Content Developer

£19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Based in South Kensington, this prestigi...

Recruitment Genius: Office Administrator

£16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established managed services IT...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

£15000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Advisor is r...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003