UK government ministers are reportedly planning to ban supermarkets and other large stores from opening on Christmas Day.

The UK's trade and industry secretary, Patricia Hewitt, has admitted in a leaked letter the move may cause controversy and may prompt non-Christian faiths to call for similar treatment for their religious holidays, reported the Sunday Times.

Trade unions have been calling for a ban on Christmas Day trading to protect workers' rights.

Major UK retail chains were, until recently, all closed on Christmas Day. Last year some supermarkets, including Safeway, the Co-op and Budgens opened a number of outlets across the country. Hewitt said she was taking action because of concerns that other retailers may start to follow suit, the newspaper said.

"I believe we can defend our position on areas of possible controversy on the basis of the unique nature of Christmas Day as a holiday for all those living in the UK and the adverse effect which opening by large stores in particular would have on it," the Sunday Times quoted the letter as saying.

"If large stores are to be prevented from opening on Christmas Day, new regulation seems to be the only way to guarantee that action by competitors does not become an issue and that they remain closed."