Select Committee on Deregulation and Regulatory Reform First Report

Background to the proposal

7. In April 1999, the Government laid before Parliament a proposal for a Deregulation (New Year Licensing) Order. The proposal would have allowed on­licensed premises and registered clubs to sell alcohol throughout the night on every New Year's Eve from 1999 onwards. Our predecessor Deregulation Committee concluded that the Order should go ahead as proposed.[6] Their colleagues in the Lords, however, concerned about the unpredictable and unprecedented nature of the Millennium celebrations, recommended that the proposed relaxation apply only to New Year's Eve 1999 (the Millennium), and that a review of the arrangements should take place before any further proposal for a permanent relaxation of permitted hours on future New Year's Eves was brought forward.[7]

8. In July of that year, the Government laid before Parliament the draft Deregulation (Millennium Licensing) Order 1999. As recommended by the Lords Committee, the Order provided for extension of permitted hours on New Year's Eve 1999 (and New Year's Day 2000) only. Both Committees recommended approval of the draft Order,[8] it was approved by both Houses, and it came into effect on 29 July 1999.

9. In accordance with the recommendation of the House of Lords Select Committee, the Home Office reviewed the impact of the Millennium Order on the events which took place between 31 December 1999 and 1 January 2000. The Home Office drew the conclusions that the Millennium celebrations were successful, that the impact of the Order was entirely beneficial, without any significant public order incidents, and that the restriction order provisions, though little used, worked well. However, after taking the views of the police and the Magistrates' Association it concluded that the Millennium celebrations were unique and atypical; and that they could not be regarded as an adequate trial of a normal New Year. The Government therefore further concluded that an additional trial of extended hours on New Year's Eve would be necessary before any deregulation proposal was brought forward concerning all future New Years' Eves.[9]

10. Regrettably, no proposal was brought forward relating to New Year's Eve 2000. An abortive attempt was made by the Government to explore with the Lords Committee the possibility of permitting a deregulation order under the 1994 Act applying to New Year's Eve that year to be made without going through the usual deregulation procedure, but it was not until the end of October that year that the Government concluded that such an approach would not be possible.[10] No preparations for the making of an order applying to New Year's Eve 2001 B to serve as the trial referred to above B appear to have been made until November 2000.[11]

11. A consultation paper relating both to the current proposal and to a proposal to extend permitted hours on the occasion of Her Majesty's Golden Jubilee (3 June 2002) was eventually published by the Home Office on 19 March 2001.[12] The closing date for the consultation was 11 June 2001 (a period of 12 weeks); the Department told us that account was taken of all representations received by and including 20 June.[13] On 8 June responsibility for licensing, and thus for this proposal, was transferred from the Home Office to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

12. The proposal was laid before Parliament on 28 June. This was some two and a half weeks before this Committee was established, thus effectively reducing the statutory 60 days set down in the Act for Parliamentary consideration to just over 40. This was a highly unsatisfactory situation, and we very much welcome the Government's recognition that the circumstances were unique and should form no kind of precedent.[14] We appreciate that it was necessary to take this step in order to ensure that any resulting Order could be brought into effect in time for New Year. It should not, however, have been so, and the circumstances only arose through the failure of the Department to get its act together more timeously.

13. Inconvenience to this Committee, however, is perhaps the least of the difficulties to which Departmental incompetence has led. As we explain below, it brought the very practicality of this Order into doubt, causing considerable uncertainty both amongst licensees and amongst those local residents who have cause to believe that extended opening hours will mean greater nuisance associated with premises in their neighbourhood. The Department's attempts to explain why this proposal was brought forward so late were wholly unconvincing.[15] Given its long history, there is no good reason whatsoever why the consultation should not have taken place and the proposal put before Parliament at a much earlier stage. Bearing in mind particularly the proposal which will have to be brought forward if licencing hours are to be relaxed on the occasion of Her Majesty's Golden Jubilee next year, we very strongly recommend that DCMS make every possible effort to ensure that any future proposals are laid before the House well in advance of the dates to which they are intended to apply.

6  Third Report from the Deregulation Committee, Session 1998/99 (HC532). Back

7  Eighteenth Report from the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee, Session 1998/99 (HL73). Back

8  Fourth Report from the Deregulation Committee, Session 1998/99 (HC 710); Twenty-fourth Report from the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee, Session 1998/99. Back

9  Explanatory Statement, para 13. Back

10  HC Deb, 26 Oct 2000, col 204W; Appendix 3, para 30. Back

11  Appendix 2, paras 30, 31. Back

12  Liquor Licencing Deregulation: Consultation on Licencing Hours for New Year's Eve 2001 and during Her Majesty's Golden Jubilee in June 2002, Home Office, March 2001. Back

13  Explanatory Statement, para 16. Back

14  Appendix 2, para 34. Back

15  Appendix 2, paras 29B34; Q2. Back

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Prepared 8 November 2001