Select Committee on Deregulation and Regulatory Reform First Report

Appendix 12

Letter to the Clerk of the Deregulation and Regulatory Reform Committee from the Chief Executive of the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (dated 12 September 2001)

Proposal for the Regulatory Reform (Special Occasions Licensing) Order 2001

The Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR) is in receipt of a copy of your letter dated 19th July requesting comments and views on the above Regulatory Reform proposal, which is intended to relax licensing hours on New Year's Eve this year. The ALMR is the trade association representing the interests of bar, pub and other licensed retailers. Currently around 100 companies are in membership, ranging from independent singleton operators to pub, bar and restaurant chains and tenanted pub companies. Between them, our members own and/or operate 25,000 premises.

The ALMR fully supports the aims and objectives of the proposed Regulatory Reform proposal, and believes that its introduction will considerably simplify the procedures and reduce the costs which currently pertain to applications for late night entertainment and trading over the New Year period. An earlier Deregulation Order permitting extended trading over the Millennium period was a great success, easing pressure not only on licensees but also on court and police time. The Association has consistently argued for the need for a long-term solution to the question of New Year's Eve trading to be found. We do not believe that separate arrangements organised on an annual basis are the best way forward and believe that a comprehensive reform of the law confirming extended New Year's Eve opening for the foreseeable future — provided that the necessary protection is maintained — is the only way of providing true certainty.

We share the Committee's concern that the late laying of this proposal has severely limited its practical value. The earliest such a proposal could be confirmed would be early December, and discussions amongst our members suggest that many are now apply for Special Orders of Exemption to ensure that they are able to plan their New Year's Eve entertainments with some degree of certainty. However, we do not believe that there is no merit in proceeding with the scrutiny of the proposals, and indeed would strongly urge the Committee to do so. The reasons for this are threefold:

—   Special orders of exemption are granted by the Magistrates on a local basis and this will inevitably lead to discrepancies between areas. While the Magistrates Association has recommended that its members automatically approve extensions of up to 12 hours, and look favourably on those applying for longer, the Association does not believe that this will translate into the full flexibility and deregulation contained in the proposal. Our members have indicated that whilst they will plan on the basis of the hours granted to them by the Magistrates under the Special Order of Exemption, they would nevertheless take advantage of any extension to this provided by a late adoption of the Regulatory Reform Order. The same situation applied to the Millennium period and many pubs simply extended their planned opening hours in the light of the Deregulation Order. Adoption of the Order would therefore not be without practical business benefit to many small pubs and bars, particularly those in rural or community settings.

—   The Government has clearly stated that this proposed Order is designed as "trial run" for future deregulation of licensing hours over the New Year's Eve period. The Millennium experience was clearly a positive one, with few complaints or public order concerns, but it has been decided that a further trial under normal trading conditions is necessary before more comprehensive reform is introduced. As has already been noted, the ALMR firmly believes that the present process of deregulation of hours on an annual basis is unsatisfactory and is not conducive to effective business planning. Many of our members took advantage of the Deregulation Order for the Millennium and had anticipated being able to continue with these arrangements over the last New Year period. This was frustrated due to bad legislative planning and there is a very real danger that this will prove to be the case again this year. As has been noted above, sufficient pubs would take advantage of extended hours, even at the anticipated late stage of introduction, to make it a realistic test of the arrangements. The ALMR would therefore be extremely concerned if the industry was to miss out on demonstrating the positive benefits of more comprehensive reform at the end of this year.

—   The ALMR shares the Committee's high hopes for the revised regulatory reform procedure and has already been in discussions with the Small Business Minister and the Ministerial team at DCMS to discuss ways in which it may be used to lift regulatory burdens from pubs and bars. However, the industry's experience of the Deregulation procedure was not, on the whole, a positive one, and it would considerably dampen its enthusiasm to work with the Government and the Committee to effect meaningful change if this proposal was derailed despite considerable support from all sides.

The ALMR therefore strongly urges the Committee to press ahead with its scrutiny of the draft proposals. We should very much welcome the opportunity to present oral evidence to the Committee on this order, or provide more detailed commercial case studies explaining how it would be used by operators if adopted. We have written in a similar vein to the Government, expressing our disquiet and stressing the need to press ahead with approval of the proposal subsequent to the Committee's deliberations.

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Prepared 8 November 2001