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1994: Sunday trading legalised
Thousands of shops throughout England and Wales have opened legally today for the first time following a change in the Sunday trading laws.

The new law is not expected to herald a large increase in the number of stores open on a Sunday as many had broken the old law for years.

Action which was due to be taken against some under the 1950 Shops Act is now likely to be abandoned.

Only three major chains will today open branches for the first time ever - department stores Marks and Spencer and House of Fraser and supermarket Waitrose.

Both Marks and Spencer and Waitrose had opposed Sunday opening.

Under the new Sunday Trading Act, all stores in England and Wales are free to trade in all goods on Sundays.

Small shops - those under 280 square metres - can open all day.

Bigger shops are restricted to six hours of business between the hours of 1000 to 1800.

And, under a concession granted to appease anti-Sunday opening groups, they will not be allowed to trade on Easter Sunday or Christmas Day when that falls on a Sunday.

Protection for employees

But some large businesses such as pharmacies and motorway service areas will be exempted from the restrictions as are restaurants, hairdressers and other premises providing services.

Shops breaking the new law face a fine of up to 50,000.

The Act also provides protection from dismissal for employees who do not want to work on Sundays.

The shop workers' union, Usdaw, has said, if necessary, it will vigorously defend its members' rights at industrial tribunals.

The Keep Sunday Special Campaign remains as opposed as ever to the new law.

A spokesman said Sunday trading would lead to an "erosion of family life".

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Shoppers outside Marks & Spencer store
Some stores had resisted Sunday opening

A mixed reception as UK begins Sunday trading

In Context
There had been 26 previous attempts to relax the Sunday Trading laws.

Since the 1950s some aspects of the law had been effectively lifted to allow the holding of sporting events, the opening of cinemas and theatres and the operation of Sunday markets.

Campaigners argued the almost total secularisation of the Sabbath rendered the 1950 Act meaningless.

The 1994 law was a compromise which fell short of an attempt by Margaret Thatcher's government in 1986 to do away with all restrictions.

The following year Sunday licensing laws were relaxed to allow all-day opening for pubs and other places selling alcoholic beverages.

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