Allowing Sunday trading was a mistake, and family life has suffered as a result

The prospect of Poland phasing out Sunday shopping, as this magazine reports, might come as something of a shock to British readers, and may even strike some as a retrograde step, though it is worth noting that the initiative comes from the Polish trade unions, and has the support of the government, which wants to allow workers to spend more time with their families.

England has had Sunday trading since 1994, thanks to the Sunday Trading Act, which allows supermarkets to open for six hours on a Sunday. (Other parts of the United Kingdom have different arrangements.) At the time this legislation was opposed by the Keep Sunday Special campaign, which, to my shame, I did little to support. I regret that now, as I think that, despite the guarantees given that workers who did not want to work on a Sunday would not have to, I can see the results of the legislation: a lot of people, and not just in supermarkets, have to work on Saturdays and Sundays, and family life suffers as a result. In addition, many of these workers, who would like to go to Mass, cannot, as the provision of early morning Masses is not what it once was, thanks to the shortage of clergy.

I would be delighted if we could follow Poland’s example. This would re-establish the idea that everyone needs and is entitled to one sacrosanct day off a week. However, the climate in the UK is such that the tide seems to be turning in the opposite direction, towards further liberalisation, particularly towards the loosening of the six hour rule. The last attempt to do this was in 2015 but this was defeated in the House of Commons.

It is interesting to note that those who want more shopping on Sundays see shopping as some sort of panacea for the dullness of the Sabbath. Of course, they have a point. Sunday can be a miserable day, as can any day of the week: it all depends what you fill it with. If shopping is the only way to brighten your day, you are in a bit of a hole, I would have thought. There must be a better way of brightening up a day than a trip to the local megastore.

Goodness knows what the Poles will do, or perhaps continue to do, on shopping-free Sundays. Perhaps they will do the sort of thing Continental people have always done: go to Church, read the papers, have huge lunches, and go for walks in the parks, cities and forests, and in the latter, gather mushrooms (something our Polish brethren are very keen on.) On the whole, that sounds more palatable to me than wandering the aisles of the local supermarket.

Is there any prospect of Britain following suit? We live, sadly, under governments who regularly fail to do anything to prevent the erosion of family life and traditional values; indeed, quite the contrary: all our recent governments have embraced every single manifestation of social liberalisation, regardless of the cost to those who will not benefit, such as shop workers. The prospect of rolling back Sunday trading seems remote; but perhaps a consideration of the Polish example may prompt some at least to see the Sunday Trading Act as, at the very least, a mixed blessing.