Parties to give own views on shop laws

BELFAST City Council has voted down a proposal which called for the restrictions to Sunday trading laws to be scrapped.

Stormont’s Department for Social Development (DSD) is currently consulting on the future of opening hour restrictions.

At a meeting on Monday night, Sinn Fein councillor Conor Maskey called for the city council to recommend – in its response to the DSD consultation – that the trading restrictions be lifted.

He said that, in these modern times, it is only right to get rid of the limits on trading hours.

Cllr Maskey also said he felt such a move would help businesses struggling in the recession.

However, the council voted instead to allow individual parties to submit their views to the consultation.

Groups representing traders, such as the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), are fiercely opposed to changing the current laws.

Roger Pollen, from the FSB, said yesterday that its 8,000 members feel any relaxation in the law “would put immense pressure on many small shops already open for over 60 hours a week in a bid to compete with multiple retailers”.

“Keeping the Sunday trading laws as they are will go some way to protecting independent retailing and ensuring that this important sector of the Northern Ireland economy is protected,” said Mr Pollen.

Currently, Northern Ireland’s Sunday trading laws are stricter than anywhere else in the UK. Under the Shops (Sunday Trading) (NI) Order 1997 (the Shops Order) small shops are allowed unrestricted opening on Sundays while large shops are restricted to opening for a maximum of five hours between 1pm and 6pm.

In England and Wales the law on Sunday shopping is more flexible. The Sunday Trading Act 1994 does not dictate the specific hours of opening but permits large shops to open for up to six continual hours on Sundays between the hours of 10am and 6pm.

In Scotland, there are no national restrictions on shop opening hours.