The Government rightly talk as often as possible about boosting the economy, creating jobs, helping business and returning to growth. This is an economic imperative and a political priority which is impossible to ignore. The rhetoric is there, but it concerns me that perhaps the dedication to helping the economy in practice is a bit lacking.
Now, I am more than willing to listen to practical reasons why particularly things can't or shouldn't be done. If a Minister believes that they simply couldn't find the spending cuts necessary to avoid the VAT rise, then I may disagree with them but I'll happily acknowledge that they have a practical case to make.
What I cannot understand or accept is why, given their public acceptance of the need to do everything possible to help businesses and the economy, any Government Minister would reject a proposal that would not only cost the Treasury nothing but would actually increase tax revenues by stimulating the High Street.
And yet - according to Harry Wallop of the Daily Telegraph - Business Minister Baroness Wilcox has done exactly that.
One of the biggest shopping days of the year, Boxing Day, will fall on a Sunday in 2011. Current Sunday Trading laws dictate that shops are only allowed to open for a maximum of six hours on the sabbath, which will mean Boxing Day opening hours will be drastically cut down from the 12 hours retailers would normally expect.
The retailers that survived the recession are understandably keen to seize every opportunity to do business, and the Christmas period is crucial to their sales figures. As a result, a wide coalition of business people - joined by Boris Johnson - have been campaigning for the Government to suspend the Sunday Trading laws to allow them to stay open on Boxing Day and make the most of the opportunity.
For some reason, Baroness Wilcox has rejected their proposal.
As a result, shops will be forced by law to shut their doors early even though there will undoubtedly be an enthusiastic crowd who want to continue spending money. This is heartbreaking for any business which has been through the last couple of years - they hated having to lay people off and shut shops, and they are keen to get back on with what they do best. Selling things.
This decision is petty and misguided. The result will be a slower recovery, and a lost opportunity to restore the retail sector. Britain suffered when people did not want, or were not able, to go shopping. Now that they are starting to get back out on to the High Street the Government should do everything possible to get out of their way and let them do so.
The businesses in question were only asking for a suspension of the law for one day, but I would go further. It is time we abolished the Sunday Trading laws entirely.
It has been sixteen years since the (widely disobeyed) prohibition on Sunday Trading was first relaxed to allow six hours of opening between 10am and 6pm. That tentative reform has proved wildly successful and has been welcomed in the most practical style by millions who chose to vote with their feet and go out shopping on a Sunday.
That they choose to do so is not universally popular - some well may deplore the fact that anyone would want to throw themselves into the High Street or a shopping centre on Sundays - but that should be an individual's free choice. No-one who doesn't want to shop is being forced to abandon their quiet afternoon snooze, or the family walk in the countryside for the tussle and hurly burly of a packed branch of Primark.
The only other argument against scrapping these restrictions is religion. The point is always raised, whenever this topic comes up, that "We are still a Christian country". This is of course true in a formal and official sense - but is the status of Christianity as our official national religion sufficient to restrict the economic rights of the whole population, including those (such as myself) who are not Christians?It is surely time for us to take the view that people have a right to live their lives as they wish, so long as they do not harm others by doing so. That means someone who is very religious has the right to wear concealing clothes, to deny themselves particular pleasures or to avoid shopping on Sundays. They do not, however, have a right to stop others doing any of those things.