UK's Morrisons asks for longer Xmas trading hours

Wed Nov 21, 2012 1:30pm EST

* Morrisons lobbying for longer trading hours on Dec. 23

* Morrisons CEO to meet UK business minister Thursday

* Wal-Mart's Asda backing Morrisons on issue

By James Davey

LONDON, Nov 21 (Reuters) - Wm Morrison Supermarkets, Britain's fourth-biggest grocer, is lobbying government for Sunday trading laws to be relaxed on Dec. 23 this year, arguing that the second day before Christmas is usually the busiest shopping day of the year.

With Dec. 23rd falling on a Sunday retailers are restricted by law to opening for a maximum of six hours.

Morrisons wants an extension of two to three hours so it can avoid chaotic scenes in stores, Chief Executive Dalton Philips told reporters on Wednesday during a media visit to a store in Camden, north London.

"(David) Cameron talked this week about an economic war. We should be open longer on the 23rd, it's ridiculous," he said in reference to a speech made by the Prime Minister at a Confederation of British Industry conference on Monday that called for a slashing of rules and regulations that are holding back UK business.

"We did this during the Olympics and I think the government needs to be consistent on that," Philips added, referring to a relaxing of Sunday trading rules this summer.

Philips and Andy Clarke, chief executive of Wal-Mart's Asda, Britain's second biggest supermarkets operator, have written to Michael Fallon, minister of state for business, on the issue and Philips will also meet with him on Thursday.

Last week Morrisons posted a worsening decline in sales and parted company with its commercial director, saying it had to do a better job of telling customers about policies such as its emphasis on in-store butchers, bakers, fishmongers, cheesemongers and greengrocers and its focus on producing much of the food it sells - elements all show-cased in the Camden store.

"I think it's going to be a very competitive Christmas market," said Philips.

Shares in the firm closed on Wednesday at 257 pence, valuing the business at about 6.06 billion pounds ($9.66 billion).