Sunday shopping laws reviewed

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The Government is expected to relax the laws on Sunday trading to allow supermarkets and other big shops to open longer.

The Department of Trade and Industry is appointing outside consultants to investigate the possible benefits of liberalising the rules that permit large shops to open for six hours between 10am and 6pm. Small shops can open when they want. Ministers want to relax the curbs after pressure from supermarket chains, which want the Government to bring England and Wales into line with Scotland, where there are no restrictions. But the move faces opposition from small traders and religious groups who want to "keep Sunday special".

Although no decisions will be taken until the spring, ministers will consider a compromise that stops short of an "open all hours" policy but which gives big shops more freedom. Options include allowing opening between 10am and 6pm and between 9am and 6pm, the present permitted hours for bank holidays.

Gerry Sutcliffe, the Consumer Affairs minister, promises the Government will consult interested groups such as retailers, trade unions, small traders, churches and family groups. He said: "There is a feeling that the law is outdated. But our minds are not made up and we want to have a hard-headed look at the pros and cons."