Archive for the ‘Great Britain’ Category

Surprised By Government Grace: 6 February

February 6, 2017

At the beginning of this year I drove without due care and attention and knocked a man off his motorcycle. He was taken to hospital by ambulance. In other circumstances, what I did could easily have killed him. I tried not to think about how I would live without my driving licence. 

My first reassurance came from the policewoman who attended the crash. She showed no anger or judgement against me, rather care and concern as she made sure everything happened from them on as it should. The injured man’s brother came, furious with me, and she kept him away. She kept coming to me, as I sat in my car, asking if I was OK. Eventually she explained that she was worried that I had my eyes shut. I was praying hard for the man. 

This kind government official took time to phone me a couple of days later. She wanted to reassure me that the man had been discharged from hospital the same day with bruising and some skin damage, nothing more. What a relief! I was, and am, deeply grateful that I live in a country where I had to do nothing to help repair the damage I had caused to this man because it was all taken care of by the government, the NHS. They didn’t even charge it to my insurance. (Maybe they should..?)

The policewoman also said she thought that I would be invited to go on a course rather than face a charge in court. This was great news but seemed to me unlikely, much less than I deserved. She said I would hear within a month. 

Two days later I received the official letter inviting me to register for a course instead of being charged. Another huge relief! The people at the busy government office, understaffed compared with a few years ago and catching up after the holiday period, had made and processed my decision immediately. I was spared even three weeks of wondering. 

I was given a choice of where and when to attend the course. Six of us bad drivers came to learn Driver Alertness. Again no hint of anger or judgement from the trainer. He was calm, respectful, and subtly talked about his own impatience with elements of ‘the system’ to assure us that he understood those of us narked by being there. He focused on the learning, with only a little mention of what we had done. We were keener to talk about our driving ‘incidents’ than he was, starting with waiting in the lobby for the course to begin. 

The trainer gave time and detail to explain a key factor in my crash. This, and him pairing me up with another man with a similar crash, makes me think he knew our crimes. They key factor is that, if we look far left and then far right, our brains fill in the middle without us actually seeing it. (This is true for multi-tasking women as well as for one-track men.) Because I was not looking at the road near me, only at the gap further away, my brain did not register that the motorcyclist was there, so I pulled out. This knowledge is a great relief. There is nothing seriously wrong with me. I suffer from a common human fault of which I need to be aware and to correct. I now look far left, middle left, near left etc. This takes practice but is not too difficult. 

The ‘classroom’ learning was well led, with an impeccable mixture of lecture, delivered sitting, individual and pair exercises. It brought out the complexities of responsibility for driving accidents and therefore the need for all to be alert. We were then paired up and taken on the road by a driving instructor in his car. Mine was a BMW Mini. I have now driven one! (Once is enough.) 

We each drove for about 20 minutes and then the instructor gave his comments. He too was calm, cheerful, making suggestions rather than giving orders. He overrode the instruction given when I first learnt to drive, to move smartly through the gears to 4th. With modern cars especially, it is better to drive at 30mph in 3rd. He said that I would do better not to wait until the last minute to brake for an obstruction ahead. The gentle way he said it made it easy for me to accept. My fellow criminal drove most of the time with one hand on the steering wheel. The instructor picked this up gently and clearly, not arguing when the man said he didn’t think it mattered, but calmly mentioning it again and again. After lunch we drove for longer. The instructor was quick to praise the good, especially the improved, driving. A very helpful day. 

The UK Government has said to me: ‘We’ll take care of the immediate human damage, and make sure you have insurance to take care of the vehicle and maybe longer term human damage.’ (My insurers, NFU Mutual, were also impeccably kind and efficient.) ‘We’re not going to throw the book at you, not this first time. We know people make mistakes driving, we’re with you in that. We don’t want you to feel terrible about your driving, we want you to understand human weakness. We want to help you to drive better.’ 

What an amazing attitude! It’s called grace. Like Jesus who shows care and concern for everyone, aware of the requirements of the Law, but more focused on helping people feel better about themselves. (Jesus knows that most of us, prodded by the devil, feel plenty guilty enough about what we have done.) Jesus who is with us in our guilt, to take care of the damage we have caused, to deal with our accuser, and to help us to live a better, less damaging, life. Jesus who offers us a choice: law or grace, like I was offered the choice of a criminal charge or a helpful course. It’s great news and seems at first too good to be true. .

If our government act, sometimes at least, according to grace, maybe the UK is closer to being a Christian country than I had thought?

Roger Harper

 

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Rethinking Hell in London: 10 November

November 10, 2016

Rethinking Hell in London was a great conference with stimulating speakers, interested and perceptive attenders. Much fascinating talk about the subject at meal times, not usual at Christian conferences. We would have liked more people to share the truth-seeking. I left heartened and energised by gracious engagement with an important subject.

My message was that the traditional Hell is a distortion of the Biblical message of Hades and Gehenna. Part of the distortion is talking of one place instead of two, assuming that when Jesus used two names, He meant the same place.

This distinction was new to many there and challenged by one of the other speakers. Some said that the most useful part of my presentation was to chart the differences between Hades and Gehenna:

Hades                                   Gehenna

Torment                                Destruction

After death                            After Judgement

Has gates and keys                Is a fire, a lake of fire

Presence of Jesus                   Away from Jesus

Presence of holy angels          Same place as beast, devil, false prophet

No fear                                  Fear

Gospel preached                     ?

Jesus risen as first fruit           No resurrection from this second death

Ends at Final Judgement         ‘Eternal’

Part of the distortion is that on entering Hell, understood as after death, wicked people are supposedly told ‘Abandon hope all you who enter here.’ Jesus, in contrast, says ‘Don’t be afraid… I have the keys of Death and Hades.’ This means that Jesus has the power and authority of entry and exit to Hades, where the wicked go when they die. Jesus can go in and out of Hades and take people in and out of Hades. I consider Jesus not only can, but does. Jesus can and does seek and save the lost even in Hades. This is why we are not to fear.

You can hear me explaining this at the first, 2014, Rethinking Hell Conference in Houston, here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YyNeF4CF8hU

This year, as requested, I talked about responses to the message of Hades and Gehenna.

Complexity: An honest response might be: ‘One hell, that of endless torment, was bad enough. Now you are talking about two hells!’ We are so used to thinking that eternal life begins the moment we die. It takes time and effort to take in that there is life after death before Final Judgement and more, or no, life after Final Judgement.

Clarity and Confidence: ‘I have got really excited about the whole thing. Now you wouldn’t expect someone to get excited about hell, but you might understand someone getting excited about there being no hell…’ The words of David Munby to his congregation in Barnsley, Yorkshire. A Church Warden wrote: ‘Now there is more clarity and less mystery, more appreciation of Jesus as my Saviour and the Saviour of others, more connection with God as my loving Father.’

Comfort: One elderly woman in a Malaysian home group had tears in her eyes as she thought about the hope of Jesus using his keys for her good non-Christian parents. She is far from alone.

One man in my prison was much disturbed by being inside when his mother, not a Christian, was terminally ill and then died. He had had sessions of bereavement counselling but was still distressed. As his release approached, the issue became more acute. I talked with him of Jesus being able to take messages to people who have died, (because He has the keys of Hades and came to serve us.) The man wrote a letter to his mother with all he wanted to say. We placed it on the Communion table. I told him that this was not only a symbol. Jesus really was taking those words and delivering them to his mother. A few weeks later the prisoner considered that he had no further need of talking about this either to myself or the bereavement counsellor. He was simply less distressed than before and could face his upcoming release in a better frame of mind.

Talking to Jesus, asking Him to pass on a message, is much better than the common, unhealthy, practice of talking directly to the dead, either at the grave or when looking at the stars.

Repentance: When our emphasis is ‘Don’t be afraid. Jesus has the keys, even after death,’ this feels like ‘Don’t be afraid. Jesus has the keys to unlock a better future for you in this life as well.’ There is always a point in repentance. All will need to do it, and the sooner the better. It is never too late.

Disturbance: Many people, particularly in the UK, believe that ‘we all’ (except maybe the few really wicked people) go to heaven because we’ve led decent lives. The message of Hades and Gehenna can make these people uncomfortable, disturbed. When talking in churches it is best to begin with the more comforting message of Paradise and the New Universe. The words of Jesus, and of John the Baptist, however were deliberately disturbing to those who considered they were basically all right on their own.

Being ignored: David Hilborn, Principal of St John’s School of Mission and Editor of the Evangelical Alliance Report The Nature of Hell wrote of my book The Lie of Hell ‘it deserves serious attention and a serious response.’ Instead there has so far been virtually no response.

Why carry on with the message of Hades and Gehenna?

Because it is Jesus’ truth.

Because it can unite Christians. Traditionalists who hold to the idea of ongoing torment for the wicked after death can see that this happens in Hades. It is ‘for ages and ages’ but not eternal. Universalists who hold to the idea that most, maybe all, people will eventually reach ‘heaven’ can see that Jesus having and using the keys of Hades makes this likely, though not certain.

Because it might unite Protestants and Roman Catholics. Can Protestants accept Hades as Biblical, separate from and preceding Gehenna, the Hades to which Jesus has the keys and to which the Church has access, the gates availing nothing? Can Catholics accept Hades as the lost ancestor of Purgatory, the truer, more original, teaching of the Church founded on the revelation given to Peter? Protestants would have to learn what is the role of the Church beyond this life, instead of dismissing the idea of any such role for the Church. Catholics would have to learn the true nature of Hades, of which Purgatory is an artificial shadow, and from which release is not earned through penance or prayer, but given as free gift through the gracious forgiveness of Jesus and to which the Church bears witness.

Because it might improve society. Sociologists have shown a link between a general belief in an ‘or else’ after death and both lower crime rates and economic growth. See https://rogerharper.wordpress.com/2012/07/22/hell-on-the-net-controversy-and-crime-july-22/

With the message of Hades and Gehenna we help the Church, and the nations, to be transformed by the renewing of our understanding. We spearhead a unity that the Church has not known for hundreds of years. We annihilationists become redundant because there are no more conflicting schools of thought but one Church built on the foundation of Jesus’ teaching, Hades and Gehenna. We are agents of renewal in faith and hope and love for everyone.

 

A hell of a message? My paper at the Rethinking Hell Conference: 15 September

September 15, 2016

A hell of a message? Proclaiming ‘the other place’ after death, to people in the UK is the title of the Paper I will be presenting at the Rethinking Hell Conference in London, October 7 & 8, in one of the ‘Breakout’ sessions. http://www.rethinkinghellconference.com/

Breakout is a good heading for what I have to say.  Jesus enables people to break out of ‘hell.’ This understanding, drawn from the Bible, breaks out of usual, historic, Christian teaching.

The organisers asked me to cover more of the ‘So what?’ particularly in the UK context. I have explained in detail the Biblical basis for the ‘breakout’ view of ‘hell’ in my book The Lie of Hell (www.laddermedia.co.uk) and in my Paper in A Consuming Passion (http://rethinkinghellbooks.com/resources/aconsumingpassion ) So what difference does the message of Hades and Gehenna make to people, to churches, to society? This year’s Paper gives my answers along with those of others who have grasped this understanding.

I will give an overview of how people in this country now see ‘hell’, and have seen it in the past, particularly in the 19th Century. Then look more closely at the Church of England understanding, somewhat muddled (not unusual) but surprisingly Biblical. Jesus taught of two places for the wicked after death, using two different names, Hades and Gehenna. Hades is the remand prison before Final Judgement. Gehenna is the destroying fire into which the devil will ultimately be thrown, along with any people who still want to be attached to the devil and his ways. Jesus has said he has the keys of Hades and this is to take away our fear. He can let people in and out of Hades. This means that there is hope and comfort for everyone, along with a warning that all of us will need, sooner or later, to admit our mistakes. Through this understanding there is a possibility of bridging some of the great Christian divides, including the divide between Protestants and Roman Catholics.

Some people may well think that I am making some outrageous claims. There should be lively debate.

Please join us if you can: http://www.rethinkinghellconference.com/

Afterwards I will post more of my claims and the response to them.

Roger Harper

Justin Welby depressed at Greenbelt about Gay Marriage: 2 September

September 2, 2016

Justin Welby is depressed about gay marriage. On Saturday, at Greenbelt, he was interviewed by Kate Botley. He was delightful, engaging, humorous, positive. He talked about himself, when asked, honestly and humbly. He talked about the Church with love and hope. He emphasised the church being filled with the Holy Spirit. He talked about Jesus and how he, Justin, has to, and delights in, talk about Jesus. In South Sudan in a Cathedral with the dead bodies of some of the staff in plastic bodies outside, he talked about Jesus. What else can you do?

Then a question was asked about gay marriage. As Justin answered a dark cloud seemed to grow and grow over him. He was no longer expressing hope and love, but heaviness, anxiety, depression. He didn’t seem to see or have much faith for a way forward. He talked at length about how homophobia is not on and what the Church has been doing and how hard the issue is. Very hard. Very very hard. Gloom.

Justin seemed to forget his guiding principle of talking about Jesus. Yes! Talk about Jesus and gay marriage. That’s part of the way forward. We’ve talked enough about Leviticus and Romans and how we all feel about gay marriage. We’re Christians, for God sake! We follow the Christ. Let’s talk about Jesus and gay marriage. When we read through the Gospels what light do they shed, about gay marriage? My reflection on doing this is at https://gaymarriagemaybe.wordpress.com/listening-to-jesus/ This is one view. Let’s all do it and see what comes.

Justin seemed to forget about being assured that the Holy Spirit is in the Church, leading us into all truth, including the truth about gay marriage. Let’s also listen to what the Holy Spirit is saying to the Church of England. Justin knows about guidance and prophecy and discernment. He just needs to bring out his knowledge and say ‘Let’s work out how to listen to the Spirit and then do it. Let’s aim to be people like those in Acts who came to being able to say “It seems good to the Holy Spirit and to us that…” Let’s all be open to the Spirit surprising us.‘ My reflection on this, for what it’s worth, is at https://gaymarriagemaybe.wordpress.com/listening-to-the-holy-spirit/

All Justin has to do is be true to himself, talk about Jesus and the Holy Spirit, and smile and relax. Justin wants ‘good disagreement.’ On Saturday he was so taken up with saying what he thought needed to be said officially that he missed a lovely example of good disagreement.

The question at Greenbelt was ‘My partner and I will be married next year. I know God will be blessing our relationship. I know the Church won’t now be blessing us. When do you think the Church will be able to?’ All delivered in grace and good humour.

Justin could have said ‘Thank you for your gracious attitude. You’re not castigating the Church for being homophobic and unjust. You’re accepting, with regret, where the Church is now. You want the Church to move ahead on this. You envisage it taking some time yet. Your attitude is lovely. You have given us a great example of good disagreement. And no, I don’t know when (or if) the Church of England will move ahead as you want. Jesus doesn’t know when He’s going to come again. Only the Father knows. There are some things the Archbishop of Canterbury doesn’t know either! If we can all have your gracious patient attitude we may well come to agree sooner than if we castigate each other. Part of the trouble is that people get up on their high horses to discuss this. Let’s ban the high horses, listen to Jesus and to the Holy Spirit. Amen?’

Peace and joy be with you Justin.

Roger Harper

Jesus on the Fringe: 23 August

August 23, 2016

Some of my experience of last week’s Edinburgh Fringe is here. http://www.premierchristianity.com/Blog/Why-Jesus-is-more-popular-than-ever-at-Edinburgh-Fringe

Thanks to Nigel Harper I also met an old school mate, now musician, who did not dismiss my idea of working together on ‘Jacob: The Musical.’ Who knows?

Roger Harper

Leaving Europe for Bad Reasons: 15 July

July 15, 2016

Britain’s Leave Europe vote is significant and needs to be recorded clearly. When the consequences are experienced we will know what to apologise for.  Here is the view of one who was predicting a Leave majority, not surprised on June 24th.

‘The referendum was about openness and tolerance versus insularity and fear of “the other”, self interested nationalism versus the common good of the nations of Europe working together.’ Paul Oestreicher writing in the Church Times. Yes indeed.

A picture from Facebook about British insularity:

InsularBritain

A majority in Britain chose a nationalism that is not only self interested, selfish, but proud and based on a slanted view of history. ‘We won two world wars. We don’t need that lot!’ This was said to me by a leave supporter with the agreement of others at the pub bar. Bad history. We needed our Allies to win the wars. Britain did not win the wars all by itself.

Remembering the wars is big in Britain, too big. TV programmes, books, films, hark back, especially to the Second World War. People like remembering because it brings a warm proud feeling. We naturally remember our own people. Yet this constant remembering of the plucky Brits gives us the mistaken impression that other people, other nations, had an insignificant role. Our excessive one-sided looking back gives us a slanted one-sided view of the present and the future.

Other Leavers wrote or said that Britain used to be great, you could walk out of one job into another, you could afford, with hard work, your own house, people were friendly and helpful to each other. They blame Europe and immigrants for diminishing their quality of life.

Yes British life has changed dramatically. This has far more to do with leaving Christendom than anything else. Most Brits grew up with Sunday School and Christian RE. Loving neighbours, not walking by on the other side, hard work, education, kindness, including to strangers, church-going, were promoted. Bullying, materialism, individualism, partying, alcohol, sex, were all restrained. We didn’t have much choice; that’s just how life was.

Now we have the choice. We can be as individualist, materialist, free-loving, with as much alcohol or drugs, as we like. Most people have gleefully chosen ‘freedom’ to indulge over ‘having religion rammed down our throats.’ This works at all levels, to the top where the City of London pursues more money more relentlessly with less concern for the well being of this or any other nation.

This has been the Great Change in British life, chosen by us not inflicted on us by Europe or immigrants. (I don’t bemoan the Change. We now also have less hypocrisy, more truth, more authentic Christian faith and enthusiasm.) If anything, Europe and immigrants have helped restrain the excesses of the new materialist ‘freedom.’ Europe has restrained bosses wanting their workers to work 50 hours a week when convenient. Europeans have bought up and maintained British companies when their City owners only wanted to sell them for short-term profit. Many immigrants have brought with them Christendom attitudes of hard work, appreciation of education, and church-going. These attitudes are an influence for good in areas where they are only a memory among the local Brits.

Europe or immigrants have not brought only the good, but the balance is on this side. Last Sunday, early evening, walking down the main street in Normanton, Derby, I mixed with East European and Asian immigrants shopping, chatting, looking and acting smart and responsible. The two people who accosted me for 20p / 50p were scruffy, semi-spaced out, White British.

Some Leave voters had genuine concerns about further European integration, the cumbersome working of a coalition of 28 nations, and the negative effect of large scale immigration on wages. For most it was much more instinctive, based largely on selfishness, pride, false history, suspicion of foreigners, blaming others instead of recognising our own faults. ‘If only we were on our own, controlling all our own affairs, life would be better!’

We’ll see. If life outside Europe turns out to be far from better, indeed notably worse, repentance will be needed. Repentance for selfishness, pride, false history, suspicion of foreigners, blaming others instead of recognising our own faults. And not heeding the many warnings given at the time.

The Church will have to join in the repentance, for not looking and speaking more clearly. ‘It beggars belief that the Church of England chose to have no official view on all this…’ continues Oestreicher. Yes indeed. The Leave campaign was based on values very different to loving your neighbour as you love yourself. The Church should have pointed this out.

This week truth about invading Iraq was conveyed in the Chilcot Report in findings almost identical to what was said at the time by people like Robin Cook, former Foreign Secretary and Leader of the House of Commons. Then too the Church neither looked nor spoke clearly and so shares some of the blame.

Even now the Church is officially saying ‘We just need to be nice to each other. Leaving or remaining makes no difference, is certainly not something which God might have a view on.’ This attitude ‘lacks the biblical sense that God acts in history in wrath and chastisement as well as in deliverance,’ according to Bishop Michael Bourke in a letter to the Church Times. He goes on to write of a call that ‘requires our nation to stand under God’s judgement…’ Time will tell if this judgement comes.

To me it looks that Britain’s post imperial and post Christendom, decline will only be accelerated by leaving the European Union. We’re in this mess together. Will we repent when needed?

BritainUpTheCreek

Stay in Europe, to be blessed by Europe: 4 May

May 4, 2016

We Brits should maintain our place in Europe. Staying helps us fulfil our national purpose. Staying supports the vision of peace through economic cooperation. Staying honours the good kind leaders. Leaving Europe means choosing selfish splendid isolation, making us slaves to the money mills of the City of London who have no interest in building good British companies, or good British life.

Britain’s national purpose is to have one foot in Europe and one foot in the Commonwealth. The nations of Europe are our closest neighbours; we have more natural family connections with the Commonwealth. Our athletes compete in the European Championships and the Commonwealth Games. Britain fulfils its destiny when it links Europe and the Commonwealth. Indian leaders mostly urge us to stay in Europe http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-india-35915389

Exiting Europe would be a decision to stand on our own feet, independent of anyone. We would dwindle, increasingly cut off from both Europe and the Commonwealth. We have to maintain our place, our foot, in Europe, while also seeking stronger ties, economic and political cooperation with the Commonwealth.

Peace through economic cooperation was the founding vision of the European Union. Seeking peace, using economics to pursue lasting peace, especially in mainland Europe. Seeking first the peace that God wants, knowing that other things will follow, as Jesus said. This vision is still good and needs our support. Now that lasting peace in Europe has been achieved, the priority is to see how the vision and the method can be extended beyond Europe. How can peace through economic cooperation be extended to Pakistan and South Africa and Jamaica and Australia? We need to be working on this, inside Europe.

Splendid isolation is selfish. ‘We want to get out because we have been putting in more than we have been receiving,’ is a common exit argument. In other words ‘We don’t want to be net givers, we want to be net takers, or not in the club. We don’t want to use our historic wealth largely derived through our Empire, ie from other nations, for anyone but ourselves.’ Choosing to leave Europe means choosing selfishness. Woe betide us then!

The City of London is not our saviour, but our ruination. Currently a huge number of British based companies are fostered by European leadership and investment. We don’t like to think about this too much. ‘Our’ electricity companies have German, French and Spanish (Scottish Power) ultimate ownership. So do many other companies. Leaving Europe would make it much more likely that these owners would give up, like BMW giving up on recalcitrant Rover.

You would have thought that the substantial Investment Houses of London would be foremost in nurturing good British companies, good British prosperity, over the long term. The reality is that the City focus is not on long term prosperity but on next quarter’s profit. JCB has flourished precisely because it has nothing to do with the stock market. https://rogerharper.wordpress.com/2010/06/14/israel-helping-victims-and-jcb-14-june/  The City of London asset strips for the benefit of the rich of the world. To maintain and develop good companies in Britain we need Europe.

We also need to continue in Europe for American, Canadian, Indian, and especially Japanese owners to continue to nurture companies here. Japanese car plants were built in Britain partly because we are part of the European Union. Leaving Europe would make the Japanese think again. Honda would be the first to leave, with catastrophic results.

Pro-Europe leaders also seem to me a much more likeable, trustable, lot. John Major rather than Nigel Farage, Barack Obama rather than Boris Johnson (both American), our world-leading University Professors rather than our Titled Landowners. By their fruits, by their character, can we see who to follow.

Seeking the peace and welfare of our neighbours, as ourselves, brings blessing. Dwelling in unity, sharing at least elements of a common household, with our brothers and sisters, brings blessing. Seeking to stand on our own selfish feet brings an isolation which may feel splendid at first, but becomes cold and crabby, bitter and bigoted, ineffectual and impoverished.

Government trying to kill off Sundays: 23 February

February 23, 2016

The UK Government is trying amend the current Enterprise Bill in order to increase Sunday Trading through devolving power to Local Authorities. This will kill off the small remaining space in the week for community rest. UK readers, please write to your MP, especially if they are Conservative, and ask them not to support this sick scheme.

Ill thought-through. The Government’s case is built on forecasts of possible economic benefit, surveys which show a substantial number of people would like their choice of when to shop widened, support for traditional rather than internet shopping, and a proclaimed need for London to compete internationally with other tourist destinations.

The Government give no detailed working of the economic forecasts. They do not demonstrate how the substantial increased salary and energy costs to retailers would be offset by increased sales. Rather, the findings of customer surveys indicate that people do not envisage spending more. People only envisage a wider choice of when to shop for the same amount of goods.

The Government quote no economic evidence. The most obvious such evidence would be from the extension of Sunday Trading for the Olympics. The Government do not mention this, probably because in that period there was a slight decrease in Sunday spending compared to the previous year. The slight decrease coupled with bigger overheads for retailers put pressure on retailers to raise prices. More widely the Government show no evidence that the extension of Sunday Trading so far in this country has led to more sales overall, rather than displacement of sales, or has created more jobs, or has lowered prices. These would be obvious figures for the Government to produce if they exist.

The Government give no evidence that increased Sunday Trading would reduce internet shopping. They could quote surveys of why people use internet shopping, which indicate that not being able to go to a shop before 10am and after 4pm on Sundays is a significant factor. The lack of such evidence probably indicates that Sunday shopping hours are an insignificant factor in people’s choice to shop online. The growth of internet shopping in the UK is much more due to the good, quick, delivery services possible in a nation more compact than others.

The Government take no account of proven economic success. Germany has the most successful economy in the world. Germany also has far less Sunday Trading than the UK at present. If our Government are, as they state, ‘committed to increasing the UK’s productivity’ they should learn from our most productive neighbour.

The Government are saying ‘We guess this will be good economically, but we are giving no evidence to support this view.’

The Government also give no indication of the administration costs of their scheme. Each Local Authority would have to spend valuable time and money consulting, debating and deciding their local rule. They would need to employ people to administer and enforce their policy. Some of these would already be employed, for instance in Trading Standards, but the added workload would be to the detriment of their existing work. The Government have given no costings for all this, hardly a business-minded approach to running our country. The probable reason for lack of costings is that their scheme would add to the administration costs of the country as a whole without bringing any assured benefits.

The Government also give no indication of the environmental costs of their scheme. Our international commitments mean that we must reduce carbon emissions, reduce energy consumption. All Government policies should have this in mind. The Government gives no assessment of the environmental impact of their scheme, while many businesses have to make such assessments for their expansion plans. The probable reason for lack of such assessment is that it would be very difficult to show how the increased fuel use for running shops for longer could be offset.

Hasty The lack of proper evidence and assessment shows that the Government’s scheme is being rushed. The amendment is being added to a Bill in its late stages to enable a quick decision and implementation. The Government are already saying that the changes ‘will’ take effect from the autumn of this year. They disregard the possibility that their scheme may not be accepted in the Commons. The Government state that there will be enough debate in Parliament, while also making sure that the Upper House has no opportunity for such debate.

Devious Before last year’s election, Conservative Central Office wrote clearly on behalf of David Cameron that the Party had no plans to change the existing good compromise on Sunday Trading. No apology has been issued for this misleading.

The Government’s explanation of their amendment begins by proclaiming that not allowing shops to open before 10am of after 4pm on Sundays is ‘stifling.’ This is a clear exaggeration. Their case continues with rhetorical language. and little substance.

The Government’s response to the Consultation last September quotes exact figures for people supporting their scheme and no figures for other views. These other views are dismissed in more general terms. They quote the number of Conservative Council Leaders and Members (misleadingly reported in the Press as Leaders alone) who wrote in support of their scheme, without indicating what proportion of Conservative Council Members this constitutes. 149 such people sound like a substantial number, but not when compared to the greater number of Conservative Council Members across England who declined to offer such support.

One example of such response is from South Oxfordshire District Council who indicated to the Government that they were in favour of the scheme. Their own consultation of local people showed 45% in favour and 56% against. (Their figures! http://www.southoxon.gov.uk/sites/default/files/Sunday%20trading%20hours%20-%20consultation%20summary%20-%20SEPT%202015.pdf ) Other Local Authorities may well have supported the Government Scheme more from Party loyalty than local opinion.

Extending Sunday Trading, in some Local Authorities, would have a greater, visible, impact on our communities than most other Government legislation. It would be a major and noticeable change. The Government should not be seeking to introduce such change through a late amendment in an unrelated Bill.

Harmful to our nation The Government highlight that they are trying to implement a request from shops in Knightsbridge and the West End of London. They make no mention of the rest of the country. As well as adding costs to every Local Authority, their scheme will lead to dissension and division within and between Local Authorities and to confusion as to which shop is open where. Such confusion is likely to put off shoppers.

The Government state that they want to give Local Authorities the ability to prioritise some sectors over others eg high street rather than out of town. The Government want to do this by giving the large retailers what they want and by disregarding the views of convenience store owners. There is a clear mismatch between what they state and what they are proposing. If the Government are concerned to support the high street and smaller traders, they should listen more to the representatives of these sectors and maintain the current compromise.

The Government make no mention of the impact to our society in any terms other than economic. They seem to be unconcerned about anything other than the economic theory of the free market. Sunday as a day of rest, including rest from shopping, is a significant marker in our national life that we humans are more than economic units. Our Government wants to remove this marker.

The detriment of longer Sunday Trading to shop workers and their families has been well expressed, not least by the Union USDAW. Thought should also be given to people who live on or near busy roads who at present relish the comparative quiet early and late on Sundays. If shop workers were working earlier and later, public transport to enable them to travel to and from work would also probably need to be increased, whether the transport workers want this or not. This would add to the overall cost of public transport. Of course this does not apply to London, where there is a full Sunday public transport service already, but the Government should think not only of London.

The Government indicate that they are siding with many large retailers and London shops. They are breaking a long established, well supported, national compromise to favour one interest group based in London.

The Government also seem to be in thrall to free market ideologues. In some ways having a complete Sunday of retailing will make little difference. This is only a matter of a very few hours in a whole week. It is not at all clear that shops would benefit economically. Yet the Government insist on bringing their scheme to the Commons, using up valuable Parliamentary time and energy. A few months ago the Government said, realistically, that they would not take their scheme any further. Now they are pushing it again. It seems that there are some people, connected to the Government, who find even a few hours of respite from retailing an affront to their free market ideology. They must be allowed to sell whenever they want. It is their right. The market, or more particularly the dominant market traders, must not be curtailed in any way.

Please urge your MP to vote against the Government amendment. Better for them to vote for family time on Sundays, for shop workers’ rest, for corner shops, for restricting the carbon output of big stores, for a clear national policy, for our current ‘classic British compromise,’ for national values other than those of the free market.

Roger Harper

Paris Attcks: We shall not be moved. Nous restons en place. 14 November

November 14, 2015

After the murderous bombings in Paris what now?

The day after the July 7 bombings I was in London, sitting on a near empty Tune train, pulling into one sparsely peopled station after another. I felt afraid, as did everyone else. There was hardly any talking between us few passengers.

From somewhere inside me came the old protest song ‘We shall not be moved.’ I sang it quietly to myself. ‘We shall not, we shall not be moved.’ The song bolstered my confidence, quietened my fear, strengthened my determination to keep travelling where the bombers had attacked. ‘Just like a tree that’s planted by the riverside, we shall not be moved.’

 The thought of singing out loud came to me. I wasn’t bold enough to do it. Apart from having a notoriously bad singing voice, I worried that the scattered few passengers would think me odd, at least.

 Now I wish I had sung out. Maybe someone would have understood. Maybe it would have helped a fellow passenger as it had done me. Maybe it would even have spread…

 WE SHALL NOT, WE SHALL NOT BE MOVED. We shall not be moved from eating out in our city centres. We shall not be moved from going to concerts and football matches. We shall not be moved from living in a free and open society. We shall not give in to the terrorists’ aim to make us terrorised. We shall act as unterrorised, as normal, as free.

 The public response after the Charlie Hebdo killings was the same. People took to the streets, holding pens. We shall not be moved from publishing and reading satire, of anything and everything.

 Now the French Government is calling people to stay indoors. Communal events are closed. No street demonstrations are allowed until Thursday. Is this the right response?

 I understand the need to keep people safe. Parisians must be stunned by shock. Eating out now, celebrating over food, could feel disrespectful to the many dead and injured.

 Yes, let those who need to stay at home and mourn do so. But, please, let those who want to go out, who want to find and create solidarity, who want to sing ‘We shall not be moved…’ also do so, as they did in Paris and other towns at the beginning of this year.

Please keep the friendly football match between England and France on Tuesday. Maybe the stadium will resound, maybe even in French as well as English: ‘We shall not, we shall not be moved!’ ‘Nous restons, nous restons en place!’

Roger Harper

PS I’ll be at Wembley on Tuesday for the match!

UK Government plans to extend Sunday trading can be stopped: 24 August

August 24, 2015

The UK Government is asking people to give their views on its proposal to give local authorities the freedom to allow longer Sunday trading hours where they want. You can read the full Government rationale at https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/451376/BIS-15-359-consultation-on-devolving-sunday-trading-rules.pdf 

Our Government quotes unsupported prediction that extended Sunday trading will bring economic benefit. Keep Sunday Special show how fabricated this claim is: http://www.keepsundayspecial.org.uk/evidence/mythbuster How can shops paying more for staff time, heating buildings for longer, mean that prices will be lower? How can local authorities take on this extra administrative role without diverting stretched resources from other areas? 

Our Government disregards the detriment of extended Sunday trading – social, environmental, spiritual. Allowing this proposal to go ahead means saying ‘Possible economic benefit is all that matters to us as a nation.’ More families will be unable to find time to meet when no-one is working. More carbon will be released into the atmosphere. More people will feel their only worth is economic.  

The present rules on Sunday trading are widely regarded as a good British compromise. The last attempt by Government and large retailers to break this compromise, in 2006, was defeated by a targeted campaign. This year’s attempt can also be defeated. We must not allow a good working compromise to be replaced by division and dissension between and within local authorities.

Please can I encourage UK readers to return the Response, by 16 September, with a clear ‘No?’ https://bisgovuk.citizenspace.com/ccp/devolving-sunday-trading-rules

Please encourage others also to respond. 

To write to you MP go to https://www.writetothem.com/

If you would like to do more, including going in person to the Minister concerned, please comment. 

Roger Harper

PS How strange that this consultation is taking place in holiday season when many UK Christians are already much involved countering the Bill in Parliament to allow Assisted Dying!