EDINBURGH/LONDON (Reuters) - British Prime Minister David Cameron was rebuffed in parliament on Wednesday when members of his own party joined with opposition lawmakers to block government plans to allow shops to open for longer on a Sunday.
In sometimes angry exchanges, lawmakers from all sides said there was little demand for such changes, which would put pressure on shop staff to work longer hours.
Cameron’s party is already divided over a June 23 vote on whether Britain should remain in the European Union.
Despite the proposed changes referring to England and Wales, the Scottish National Party voted with the rebels.
“Sunday is still special for many and the government should ... ensure that there is a proper place for Sundays, for families, for businesses and for workers,” Conservative lawmaker David Burrowes, who led the rebellion, said during a three-hour debate.
Under current laws, large stores in England and Wales can open for only six hours on a Sunday. The rules were suspended during the London Olympics in 2012, a change the government said had led to a surge in sales.
The government had planned to give local authorities the power to relax the rules on Sunday trading in their area, and tried to stave off a rebellion by offering a pilot scheme first in a small number of areas.
Many anticipated a domino effect as neighbouring areas had to follow suit or lose business.
The government says the boom in online shopping means high street retailers should be able to open longer to compete.
The SNP, which runs Scotland’s devolved government, says it is not opposed to extended Sunday opening as it already exists in Scotland, but objected to the potential loss of income for shop staff who work for employers operating throughout the UK, with UK-wide employment conditions.
More generous pay for working on a Sunday in Scotland could be in jeopardy, they argue.
“As someone who works 9-5, Monday to Friday, I appreciate being able to shop at the weekend. But it would be a shame if people here (in Scotland) have their pay cut because it’s been extended to the rest of the country,” said Anna Grant, 36, a design studio manager, shopping in central Edinburgh.
A report from economic consultancy Biggar Economics said Scotland’s workforce could lose 74 million pounds per year because of Sunday trading changes south of the border, with each Scottish worker losing around 1,300 pounds annually.
Reporting by Kylie MacLellan in London and Elisabeth O'Leary in Edinburgh; Editing by Ruth Pitchford