Select Committee on Deregulation and Regulatory Reform Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20-29)



  20. My concern, Chairman, is that it would be the exception which is going to blow this thing out of the water, because people will not have had the chance to have tested it out properly, in terms of challenging it, being consulted at this given time. We may well have been having this dialogue within the industry and on this Committee for the last two or three years, but the people who live next door to some establishment do not know all this is going on, they do not know—as far as I am aware—that something is going to happen a few weeks before Christmas that may well have an impact on this given year. That is the point.
  (Dr Howells) I can understand that, Mr King, and I hope very much that the publicity which might come out of this Committee's deliberations and any press releases we put out about it will be designed to educate people about what is going to happen. Can I say, also, that in terms of the Criminal Justice and Police Act of this year, if we look at the alcohol licensing provisions which will be brought into force, remember, on 1 December 2001, there is now a police power under Sections 17 to 18 to order the closure of on-licensed premises instantly for up to 24 hours due to disorder or excessive noise. They have not been able to do that up till now, and that is a big step forward, it seems to me. By the way, we have made sure that licensees understand the seriousness of that very punitive measure that the police can take against their premises if they do not conduct an orderly house. We know that there is a follow-up procedure which allows the alcohol licence for the premises to be reviewed by the licensing justice, even if that licence has already been awarded. Again, a very, very serious action that can be taken. There is guidance to the police which has been issued, which has been drawn up in consultation with the industry and with other interested groups, and we are going to circulate it to all licensees in October so that they are very much aware of it and we will try and make sure that the public is aware of it so that people are not coming to this, in the last few days of the year, blind, so to speak. So I take your point very much, but we will certainly try to ensure that people are aware that the powers are there now to ensure that houses are run in an orderly fashion.

  Chairman: I would say that the Police Federation view on the practicalities relating to Section 17 of the Act is less enthusiastic and they expressed that view at the time of consultation. We will look at that point a little bit further because we know what you have said. We also have your opening comments on the two-year rule, so we look forward to seeing what you are going to submit on that, but we will not pursue questions on that today because I think we are much nearer agreement on that, but we will look at what you are going to send us rather than ask questions. We move on to one thing we have known was going to occur from the day the King died on 6 February 1952. Assuming that the Queen lived, the Jubilee was going to be in 2002 and we celebrate it at the time of the Coronation. So we have a few questions on the Jubilee.

Mr Rosindell

  21. Could you, perhaps, give us some details about how you are progressing with this situation in respect of the Golden Jubilee next year? Could you also tell us what time you expect licensees to have to prepare for this?
  (Mr Cunningham) With regard to the Golden Jubilee, the current situation is that we are ready to lay a Draft Order before this Committee and, of course, the House of Lords. The actual consultation has shown that something like (I cannot remember the figures exactly) 94 per cent support the proposal. We would, therefore, hope that an Order could be made by Spring of next year. The proposal, as you will recall, is for a two-hour extension on normal permitted hours, so we would assume there would be quite substantially less restriction order issues arising then because that is not going to be a great deal more than is normally permitted through some of the other extension systems that are available to licensed premises—special hours certificates and that kind of thing, which normally operate. We originally considered laying the two orders together. We decided not to do that, principally, because we firstly took the view that we were asking the Committee to consider matters before this Committee was selected and elected and we thought you would only do that with one thing, because we could avoid it with the Golden Jubilee, so we laid only the New Year Order. Since then, the two-year rule issue has arisen and become a focus of discussion between the legal advisers of both Committees and the Department. Obviously, what becomes crucial with the Golden Jubilee Order is the resolution of the two-year rule, but our intention to lay the Draft Order is very much dependent on what occurs as a result of the findings of this Committee and the House of Lords on the two-year rule. I think the Department's view, and the Minister will confirm, is that if we had to choose, the priority would be for the Golden Jubilee. So we would probably feel it appropriate to drop the 2001 if the position that the Committees took was that only one Order was permitted within two years.
  (Dr Howells) Which we hope it will not.


  22. On the question of reform, there is obviously a fundamental review taking place at the present time, and as a devil's advocate perhaps I will ask you how you feel it is appropriate to proceed with these individual pieces of reform when there is such a review taking place?
  (Dr Howells) If I may, Mr Chairman, I certainly do not accept that the very minor changes that we are proposing—and very temporary changes—constitute Government trying to change policy by stealth. I do not think that is true at all. We have been very specific about the Orders that we have laid and about their limited nature. I cannot answer for other departments, clearly, but for my own department there are some interesting possibilities, of course, as far as the new system is concerned, since we can start to deregulate in this way. We are looking, as you know, at restaurant hours, we are looking at the possibilities of some changes to some facets of gambling and I certainly would not want to give this Committee any impression that we are not looking at those things. Of course we are. Any minister faced with not being able to get an important piece of potential legislation on to the Queen's Speech looks at any possible way of getting the legislation that they believe in on to the books, and this is certainly the case as far as DCMS is concerned.

  23. Does your Department recognise that in principle a number of Regulatory Reform Orders in licensing or gambling could amount to a significant policy change in the area?
  (Dr Howells) No, I do not. In terms of the way I see deregulation, Mr Chairman, these are very modest, from my perspective. Others may disagree with me.

  Chairman: This Committee may. A final few questions from Mr Cotter.

Mr Cotter

  24. Albeit a bit late, can I welcome the Minister to his post because he has made it clear today—setting aside this particular decision—he is going to be a strong advocate of the tourism and hospitality industry, coming from a premier resort of the country, Weston-super-Mare—if not the premier resort. Setting that aside, can I ask the Minister: in an area so politically contentious as licensing and gambling, how far do you expect it to be possible to detach elements of reform which might be delivered by regulatory reform rather than by primary legislation? Bearing in mind it is a contentious area.
  (Dr Howells) Mr Chairman, I guess this question can be answered at two levels, first of all the official level, which is the Department's and Government's attitude, and I will try and answer, if I can, as somebody who has been immersed in this since June, because of the seriousness of the blight that has been put on much of the tourism industry especially in areas like Mr Cotter's since the onset of the foot-and-mouth disease. I think we can go a very long way in terms of relaxing some of the regulation which currently I think is burdensome to parts of the industry, but that if we succeed in doing that (which I think we must try to do in order to alleviate the burden on the industry) then we have to make sure that we take the public with us. I went into some detail about the new criminal and civil sanctions that are available against those who do not behave themselves in terms of the way in which they run licensed premises and allow things to happen because I think we have got to convince the public that those powers are there at the same time as we say "But wait a minute, we have got some very peculiar and very restrictive laws in this country when it comes to this sector", which is a burgeoning sector, remember. Parliament hardly ever debates successful industries; Parliament only ever debates failing industries, and the fact is that until this year—apart from a kind of blip during the Gulf War—the tourism and hospitality industry has been growing at a tremendous rate. It has become increasingly important to all parts of our economy but especially so to areas such as rural areas where because of the way in which technology and patterns of farming have moved, employment in farming has declined dramatically. Somebody told me the other day that they had calculated that even in remote areas the hospitality industry and the tourism industry between them is worth four times that of farming, and many times that in terms of employment. So it is absolutely essential, I think, that we do not sit back, we do not delay too far on this but we say "Let us see how we can help the industry by deregulation". I would much rather do it through primary legislation, through a proper licensing bill, but if in a congested Parliamentary timetable we cannot get that, then we have to look at the opportunities offered us by various deregulatory routes.

  Mr Cotter: Thank you, Minister, for some interesting comments.


  25. Has any other Member any other point? Is there anything, Minister, that you or your colleagues would like to add before we finish?
  (Mr Cunningham) I have one point I would like to make. If it would be helpful to the Committee to see the draft of the guidance that will go out to the police and be available to licensees about Section 17 of the Criminal Justice and Police Act, which gives a fairly full indication of how powers should be used, we would be happy to provide that to the Clerk, if it would inform the Committee.

  26. That would, indeed, be useful, yes.

Dr Naysmith

  27. What sort of guidance do you anticipate would go out to residents who might want to make an application for a Restriction Order? Could that be done through just press publicity?
  (Mr Cunningham) Press would be the logical thing, and through our websites. We would certainly explain how an application should be made and what the possible effect of that application might be. That could be done, as I say, if both Committees reported or gave favourable indications at the end of this stage, in mid-November. We could actually put something to that effect which would obviously say "If an application is made, you would have the opportunity to do X, Y and Z." That is, basically, I would think, the best means that we can use. We can use the press to direct people to where they can get that information.

Mr White

  28. When you talk about the press, most people get their information about this from their local press rather than the national press. It would be in the local press you would look for that?
  (Mr Cunningham) Yes. We could also help local authorities to have that kind of information. We could encourage them through the LGA to put that information out through their publicity sources.


  29. Can I thank the Minister and his team for coming along? We have found that useful. If Members of the Committee will stay for a few minutes to discuss further business. Thank you very much.
  (Dr Howells) Thank you very much.

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