Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation Eighteenth Report


16 JUNE 1999

By the Select Committee appointed to report whether the provisions of any bill inappropriately delegate legislative power, or whether they subject the exercise of legislative power to an inappropriate degree of parliamentary scrutiny; to report on documents laid before Parliament under section 3(3) of the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994 and on draft orders laid under section 1(4) of that Act; and to perform, in respect of such documents and orders, the functions performed in respect of other instruments by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.

Proposal for the Draft Deregulation (New Year Licensing) Order 1999


1.  Under the Licensing Act 1964 normal opening hours on week-days for pubs are 11 am to 11 pm. Subject to court approval, night-clubs and many restaurants close later: up to 2 am for night-clubs (3 am in Central London) and up to 1 am for restaurants. The courts can also grant extensions for special occasions.

2.  This proposal,[1] which was laid before Parliament on 13 April, would allow registered clubs and licensed premises to serve drinks throughout the night of each New Year's Eve. It was announced in a Home Office press release in the following terms:

"People will soon be able to celebrate the New Year around the clock … Results from a recent consultation exercise seeking views on opening hours for New Year's Eve supported the Government's preference for an all-night relaxation of licensing hours.

A draft deregulation order laid yesterday[2] would allow pubs and clubs to open from 11 am throughout the night every New Year's Eve. Closing time would be at the normal time - 11 pm - on New Year's Day.

The new arrangements would come into effect in time for this year's Millennium celebrations.

Licensees would not be obliged to open for these hours they could still decide their opening times, within the limits allowed. There will also be powers to limit hours for premises causing nuisance."

3.  The proposal is confined to England and Wales.


4.  Licensing hours imposed by the general licensing laws[3] are a restriction on the way publicans run their businesses. Any extension to licensing hours is a reduction of this interference with their freedom to decide what hours to open for business. Similarly the proposal reduces the burden on the freedom of club members to decide when to open and close the club bar.

5.  In evidence to the Committee the British Institute of Innkeeping referred to over 1,800 responses it had received to a survey of its members. It pointed out that there was "much greater support for longer hours in the tenant/lessee and free trade sectors and … these are independent business people running smaller outlets … maximum deregulation will be warmly welcomed by these small businesses".

6.  In written evidence to the House of Commons Committee the Police Federation of England and Wales disputed the claim in the draft regulatory impact assessment attached to the Government's consultation paper that the Government's preferred option (reflected in the draft order) would offer "significant savings to the courts and police".[4] It said that "clearly our members are experiencing cancelled periods of leave and rest days to accommodate the Millennium bank holiday celebrations. It has been made abundantly clear by our chief officers that there is a necessity for this situation and a knock-on financial effect. Accordingly there is no suggestion that this situation will not be reflected for subsequent years."

7.  The Institute of Alcohol Studies (IAS) pointed out that the Consultation Paper had estimated savings for the licensed trade at £28 million, whereas the Explanatory Memorandum had reduced this figure to £6.7 million. Moreover, the new estimate was "based on the assumption that all licensed premises will seek extended hours, an assumption which … is very unlikely to be true". The IAS also considered that "any burden on the licensed trade is presumably small compared with the benefits of being granted extended hours". Nevertheless, a burden on the licensed trade would clearly be reduced by the proposal. Importantly, in the Committee's view, small businesses would be among those most likely to feel the benefit of this reduction in burden.

8.  The Committee is satisfied that the proposal reduces a burden on licensees.


9.  The Home Office's consultation paper sought views on two options for relaxing permitted hours on New Year's Eve. Both the consultation paper and the explanatory memorandum[5] made clear that "the Government's preferred option was for an all-night relaxation, but it also sought views on a more modest 5-hour relaxation".

10.  Inexplicably, given the exceptional nature of the start of the new Millennium, the consultation document included the following sentence as a single paragraph: "Please note that the Government is not proposing different arrangements between the Millennium and other New Years; the same regime would have to apply on a continuing basis."[6] In the Committee's view, whilst it is appropriate for the Government to make clear its own preference in a consultation paper, there is no convincing reason why "the same regime would have to apply on a continuing basis" - the Committee sees very obvious differences between the Millennium and other New Year's Eves. As we observe later, there is also a powerful case for assessing the situation after the Millennium New Year's Eve.

11.  Consultation documents went out on 9 November 1998 and responses were requested by 12 February. The list of bodies consulted by the Government is short for such a controversial proposal. There were, however, 313 responses, as follows:

  • 75 supported all-night relaxation for every New Year's Eve (mainly licensed trade and local authorities)
  • 115 supported all-night relaxation for the Millennium Eve but did not offer a view on subsequent New Year's Eves (mainly members of the Campaign for Real Ale)
  • 21 supported a 5-hour relaxation for every New Year's Eve (mainly local authorities)
  • 7 supported longer hours but expressed no preference over how long
  • 33 supported longer hours, but only for the Millennium Eve (mainly police, courts and local authorities)
  • 49 opposed both options (mainly residents' associations and individual residents)
  • 8 opposed both options for the Millennium Eve but did not offer a view on subsequent New Year's Eves
  • 5 expressed no clear view.[7]

12.  There was thus a clear majority of respondents supporting an all-night relaxation for the Millennium Eve. There was not a majority for an all-night relaxation for every New Year's Eve - the Government's proposal. Indeed, the explanatory memorandum reports that "many respondents, including the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Magistrates Association, felt that decisions on relaxing hours for subsequent New Year's Eves should await the outcome of any all-night relaxation on the Millennium Eve."[8]

13.  The Explanatory Document lists (at Annex A) the bodies consulted. The list reveals that it is easy to consult those involved in relevant businesses, magistrates, local authorities, the police and well publicised pressure groups but very difficult to consult private individuals whose lives may be affected by a proposal. News of the proposal reached some in that group, for the list of names and addresses of respondents includes 14 associations representing residents in various parts of London (but none from elsewhere). The list also includes many individuals, including several members of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA).

14.  Organisations representing Welsh interests were badly under-represented in the Government's consultation exercise. This caused us concern on two grounds. Firstly, attitudes by many people in Wales to Sunday drinking have traditionally been strongly held. As The Lord's Day Fellowship in Wales emphasised in their evidence to us, "for decades all the [licensed] premises were closed in Wales on a Sunday".[9] Second, the Government's substantial failure to consult a number of organisations representing Welsh interests, including the Welsh Local Government Association, is all the more surprising following the passage of the Government of Wales Act 1998. We attempted to rectify this failure by inviting a number of organisations representing Welsh interests to put their views to us in writing.

15.  We consider that the Government's consultation exercise was adequate, but only barely so.



16.  The main reason Parliament has legislated to control the sale of alcohol by confining sales to licensed premises and limiting the hours during which alcohol may be sold and consumed on those premises is to provide protection against the abuse of alcohol. Social attitudes have changed and the law has also been relaxed so that it is possible to argue that the licensing laws provide little or no protection against abuse - pubs are already open for such long hours that there is more than enough time for someone with a "problem" to drink to excess. According to this argument the extension of hours over New Year's Eve will not lead to anyone beginning to drink at a late hour, rather it will offer the opportunity to those who have been drinking for a long time to continue even longer. The argument is that with longer hours the consumption per hour will fall and there will be fewer "last drinks" and so less drunkenness.

17.  Any localised break down in law and order as a result of excessive drinking is usually caused by a small minority of people. The Methodist Church thought that it was "clearly absurd that individual applications for extension should have to be made, and …[was] strongly in favour of a general [limited] relaxation". But it pointed to the dangers which could be posed by an anti-social minority. "The British are in many ways learning to handle their drink better. Licensed premises are slowly becoming more civilised, as food and drink are made available to families. There still is, however, an element of binge-drinking in our society, shared now in Europe only by the Swedes, the Irish and ourselves. Our fear is that a minority of drinkers will want to drink their way through the period available, if the 12-hour extension is granted. This will result in harm to drinkers and infringement of the rights of others."[10]

18.  The problem is that the current proposal is for an unprecedented occasion, and no-one can be certain what will happen, and therefore whether necessary protection will be maintained. The Home Office's website on Emergency Planning in the United Kingdom and the Millennium Date Change states that "the threat posed by the Millennium bug to the continuation of essential services and other factors associated with the Millennium date change, such as severe weather, large crowds out celebrating or staffing problems in key organisations, means that contingency planners must anticipate a higher than usual level of incidents."[11] During the four meetings in which we deliberated on this proposal we therefore considered the question of necessary protection with particular care.


19.  A side effect of the licensing laws is that those who live near licensed premises or clubs and find that the noise from them disturbs their evenings, see the enforcement of "closing time" as ensuring that they get some sleep. For this category of people the proposal may well reduce a necessary protection.

20.  There are several aspects to the neighbourhood problem: the noise of a busy bar, the amplified music and the noise when customers leave the premises, shout to one another in the street and slam their car doors before driving off. The Explanatory Document argues that there will be a reduction in noise in the street because there will, in effect, be no end to licensing hours and customers will drift away when they are tired rather than leaving together when "thrown out". The Committee regards this argument as somewhat doubtful as residents may lose more sleep if there is a steady stream of disruptions throughout the night. In any event the proposal only allows publicans to stay open all night and many publicans will call time when they are exhausted rather than keeping a pub open for every hour allowed. The Explanatory Document (paragraph 18) says that about 5 per cent. of licensed premises also have a public entertainments licence. Since very many times that number of licensed premises have amplified music, the arguments about the public entertainment licence cannot be a complete answer to those who fear that their sleep will be ruined by all night noise.

21.  The proposal does, however, provide a remedy. The draft Order adds to the Licensing Act 1964 new clauses concerned with "restriction orders". Such an order can be made by licensing justices (for licensed premises) or magistrates' courts (for clubs) where it is desirable to avoid or reduce any disturbance of or annoyance to neighbours or to avoid or reduce disorderly conduct. An application may be made by the police, local residents or local authorities. Each order can relate to one pub or club only. If an order is made, it would last for three New Year's Eves but there is a right to apply for revocation or variation and there is also a right of appeal to the Crown Court - although there can be few residents' associations which would have sufficient resources to make opposing such an appeal a real option, and a residents' association would be likely to be ruined if ordered to pay the costs of a successful appeal. Local authorities may also have other priorities for limited resources.

22.  In evidence submitted to the Committee the Free Church Council of Wales considered the proposals for restriction orders inadequate. "They place an unnecessary burden, in terms of time and costs on those making applications, whether the police, local residents or local authorities. There is an inherent disincentive in these proposals. Moreover anomalies are bound to arise as between different petty sessional divisions and different local authority areas."

23.  The National United Temperance Council wrote that the present protection to the public would be diminished because "hitherto the police and magistrates have provided this by considering the grant of extended hours, and the onus of applying has been on the licensees. That protection has been removed, and residents would have to seek protection themselves, by applying to the courts. This would put expense upon individuals, rather than those seeking to benefit from the longer opening hours." The Committee considers that the proposal has shifted the onus of maintaining necessary protection from licensees (who stand to gain commercially from longer opening hours) to residents, who have no such commercial self-interest and may be ill-informed about the restriction order system or personally ill-equipped to apply for one.


24.  The House of Commons Committee invited evidence from the Trades Union Congress (TUC) on the Government's proposals. The TUC emphasised the following points which had been made by the Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU):

"(1) That any extension in working hours must be voluntary for the individual concerned, in particular in relation to any requirement to work later than normal closing time.

(2) It must be the responsibility of employers to provide free transport to staff who are working late to ensure that they are able to travel home in safety.

(3) Many workers in public houses are employed on part time contracts and many are female. Proper consideration and protection for these workers is a major requirement to be built into any regulations or legislation which relaxes licensing laws either specifically for the Millennium/New Years Eve or more generally."

25.  The Brewers and Licensed Retailers Association, on the other hand, wrote to the Commons Committee that "staff should not be expected to work beyond their contractual hours without their express agreement and we anticipate that premium rates will be paid in order to attract sufficient staff to operate the premises."


26.  For many people the Millennium New Year's Eve will be anything but a holiday. Some people, for example those in the IT service industry, may be working voluntarily at premium rates. The emergency services, on the other hand, are expected to be working at full stretch chiefly for the benefit of society as a whole. In the view of this Committee, those working in the emergency services are equally entitled to "necessary protection". It must be one thing working late at night to save some-one's life, and quite another to be battling with drunken revellers making a nuisance of themselves in an already over-stretched Accident and Emergency Department. Moreover, as the Home Affairs Committee of the Board for Social Responsibility of the Church of England observed in its response to the Home Office's Consultation Paper, "the danger is that workers could be on duty for lengthy periods, at a time when they may have to deal with customers who have drunk heavily."[12] We considered the emergency services particularly carefully in connection with the maintenance of necessary protection.

27.  Several written submissions expressed concern about the ability of the emergency services to cope with the effects on their operations of extended licensing hours. The Free Church Council of Wales said that "to substitute for the permitted hours a 24 hour open period will place an impossible burden on police forces, already under-manned, and on the casualty services in hospitals and the ambulance service which are at breaking-point, as it is, in the peak-drinking periods at week-ends and on public holidays."

28.  The UK National Committee for the Prevention of Alcohol and Drug Dependency (NCPA) noted that the deregulation proposal had been based on cost savings, but might well have the effect of escalating costs to other sectors, including within the justice system, as a result of drink related offences. "Police costs will also be shifted and increased … with additional costs accruing from the cancellation of police leave … costs to the NHS and voluntary support bodies on stand-by for the occasion will increase and produce a burden on the health-care system. The recent[13] seasonal outbreak of flu has demonstrated that the service has proved barely adequate to meet crisis situations; these may coincide with prevailing adverse winter weather factors."

29.  The Institute of Alcohol Studies (IAS) argued in evidence to the Committee that extended drinking hours were acceptable so long as the Government could provide assurances in regard to the maintenance of public order and the operation of public services over the holiday period. It asked for publication of the evidence on the basis of which the Government had come to the conclusion that its proposals would not have adverse effects.

30.  The IAS cited evidence of research findings following deregulation in other countries. In New Zealand police had complained of "alcohol problems taking them away from other work, especially between 12 am-4 am when they were having to deal with town centre drunks instead of dealing with a spate of burglaries. In Perth, Australia, extending night-time drinking hours was followed by violent and sexual assaults more than doubling in and near late night trading hotels and clubs, compared to outlets keeping normal hours, and late night trading postponed or delayed alcohol related violence, road crashes and other accidents until after midnight when police and emergency services were more expensive and less able to cope with the increased demand."

31.  In the UK, the IAS reported that one finding of the Safer Edinburgh Project published by the Scottish Office was that "deregulated closing times made the policing of the city more difficult, as the result was considerable numbers of people wandering homewards through the city centre streets throughout the night. The random incidents that occurred in consequence meant that police resources became overstretched and had regularly to be diverted from the dedicated high visibility patrolling that was intended to maintain public order."

32.  In written evidence to the House of Commons Committee the Association of Chief Police Officers of England, Wales and Northern Ireland suggested that "the hesitancy towards this proposal stemmed mainly from a concern that there is no precedent upon which to base expectations of such a decision. Until forces can evaluate the Millennium experience, they cannot judge the implications for policing the event in the future, nor can they assess the sufficiency of resources to cope with this type of situation on a rolling basis."

33.  The Home Office's explanatory document accepts that "many respondents, including the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Magistrates Association, felt that decisions on relaxing hours for subsequent New Year's Eves should await the outcome of any all-night relaxation on the Millennium Eve". In addition to its proposal of a system of restriction orders the Government's response to this was that "concerns about relaxing permitted hours centre on the need to protect against disorder and disturbance to residents. The Government feels that its proposal would not reduce protection and it is therefore safe to relax permitted hours for subsequent New Year's Eves at this stage."[14]


34.  The Millennium New Year period is guaranteed to be a noisy one, with or without any relaxation in the licensing laws. For example, large-scale firework displays are planned and many church bells are being renovated up and down the country so that they can be rung simultaneously on 1 January 2000. Whilst we have considerable sympathy for residents who may be disturbed, we take the view that they are likely to be disturbed on the Millennium New Year's Eve anyway, with or without the present deregulation proposal. The exceptional nature of the celebrations that are already planned for the Millennium leads us to accept that it is possible that no necessary protection will be lost if the proposed relaxation is allowed for that New Year. We would also see no need for "restriction orders" if the proposal is limited to that occasion.

35.  The maintenance of "necessary protection" through the licensing laws - or their deregulation - raises complex questions of the maintenance of public order and the operation of public services over the holiday period. We agree with the IAS that, despite the responses which the Home Office received to its consultation document, the Government's explanatory memorandum on the proposal fails almost completely to answer these questions. The IAS said in its evidence that "presumably, the Government is convinced that its proposals will not result … in additional disturbances on the streets or seriously ill people not being cared for properly in Accident and Emergency Departments because of intoxicated (and often abusive) revellers putting undue strain on the system. It would clearly be helpful for the Government to publish the information, evidence and advice on which it has arrived at these confident conclusions. In view of the possible impact on the health service, this should be done by means of statements by the Secretary of State for Health as well as the Home Secretary."

36.  In an unprecedented situation, it is difficult to come to a firm conclusion as to whether necessary protection would be maintained under the proposal. We have concluded that, in order to guarantee necessary protection, in so far as this is possible, that in laying the second stage deregulation order before Parliament the Home Secretary and Secretary of State for Health should justify the Government's claim that the emergency services will be able to cope with the likely effects of the deregulation order over the Millennium period.

37.  Furthermore, we consider that Parliament does not have sufficient evidence to agree to the deregulation proposal for each New Year to come. We accordingly recommend that the draft order be amended so that it applies to the Millennium New Year's Eve only. In the light of this experience consideration could then be given to a further deregulation proposal applying the extended licensing hours to all future New Years.


38.  The start of the new Millennium will be an extraordinary occasion, with an expectation of widespread protracted celebrations up and down the country. The situation is without precedent; the manner in which many people will celebrate, and the numbers involved, would have been unthinkable fifty, let alone a thousand, years ago. No-one can predict how the millions of people expected to be involved in the celebrations will respond to the proposed relaxation of licensing hours. The Government hopes that "people will be less inclined to rush their drinking and will be able to leave gradually when they are ready. This should mean more civilised drinking and fewer flashpoints as people leave to go home."[15] The alternative scenario is that of a "36-hour nationwide binge",[16] accompanied by breakdowns in law and order during celebrations which are nasty, brutish and long.

39.  We hope that the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Health will be able to provide the assurances which we are seeking and that the emergency services will be able to cope with the likely effects of the deregulation order over the Millennium period. We have also recommended the amendment of the draft Order so that it applies to the Millennium New Year's Eve period only.

40.  Everyone must hope, but no-one can know for sure, that the Millennium Eve celebrations will be harmless fun. If they are not, then at least the amendment of the draft order along the lines we have proposed should ensure that in future people can revert to celebrating a happier New Year.[17]

1   The proposal was laid before Parliament in the form of a draft of the Order and an explanatory memorandum from the Home Office. Back

2   A note to the press release said that "the Deregulation (New Year Licensing) Order was submitted to the parliamentary deregulation committees on 13 April", but no mention was made of the fact that the two committees have to approve the proposal. Back

3   In previous reports this Committee has called for a general review of licensing legislation, rather than proceeding piecemeal through deregulation orders. The Government announced last May a comprehensive review of liquor licensing legislation. It aims to publish proposals for public consultation by early 2000 (HL Deb., 7 June 1999, col. WA 123). Back

4   Consultation document, see also paragraph 8. Back

5   Paragraph 22. Back

6   Consultation document, paragraph 14. Back

7   Explanatory memorandum, paragraph 23. Back

8   Explanatory memorandum, paragraph 25. Back

9   The proposal applies equally when New Year's Eve falls on a Sunday. Back

10   Response to the consultation document from the Public Issues Office of the Methodist Church, 12 February 1999. Back

11   The same document states that "the Home Secretary has agreed to place himself on standby in London over the Millennium date change period". Back

12   The submission was considering workers generally, and not only emergency service workers. The same submission referred to the first hand experience of the Church of England in dealing with the impact of heavy drinking, including child abuse and violence as well as disorder. It stated that 40 per cent of domestic violence was related to alcohol. Back

13   The NCPA written evidence to us was dated 1 February 1999. Back

14   Explanatory memorandum, paragraph 25. Back

15   Explanatory memorandum, paragraph 25. Back

16   Alcohol Alert, Issue 3 (1998), p 23. Back

17   This report is also published on the Internet at the House of Lords Select Committee Home Page (, where further information about the work of the Committee is also available. Back

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