Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation Ninth Report


15 March 2000

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.




1. Under the Sunday Observance Act 1780 the commercial organisation of public dancing on Sundays is prohibited. The provision about Sundays in the Licensing Act 1964 limits the licensing hours on that day so that licensed premises and registered clubs cannot serve alcohol late at night.

2. This proposal[1] would allow charging for admission to public dances which start on Sundays. It would also amend the Licensing Act 1964 so that in future special hours certificates may permit extensions of the hours during which alcohol may be sold on Sunday evenings. According to the summary of the proposals on the first page of the Home Office's consultation document, this extension would be "only until 12:30 am". However, as paragraph 22 of this same document explains, under the heading of "protections for residents", "this will not apply where a Sunday is the eve of a bank holiday other than Easter; instead the normal weekday hours (2 am, or 3 am in central London) will apply."

3. The Committee reported in October 1995 (1994-95, 15th Report) on the proposal for the draft Deregulation (Sunday Dancing) Order 1995.[2] The differences between the two draft orders are that the current draft changes liquor licensing hours in casinos as well as in dance halls and contains a number of new provisions intended to give magistrates greater powers.

4. The proposal applies to England and Wales, but does not apply to Scotland or Northern Ireland. In Scotland, the holding of publicly organised dancing on Sundays is governed by the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982. In Northern Ireland, the Sunday Observance Act (Ireland) 1695 placed no restrictions on Sunday Dancing. Both Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own liquor licensing legislation. In evidence to the House of Commons Deregulation Committee the Royal Ulster Constabulary pointed out that although in Northern Ireland public dancing is permitted on Sundays, under the Licensing Order (NI) 1996 alcohol can only be sold on a Sunday until 10 pm. We discuss the Scottish experience of Sunday dancing in paragraphs 21-25 below.


5. As was the case in 1995, the Committee received a considerable number of submissions on this proposal, as did the Deregulation Committee in the House of Commons. All the evidence submitted directly to us is printed with this report, although we have printed only one copy of the identical letter submitted by many members of the British Entertainment & Discotheque Association Limited (BEDA). As usual when reporting on deregulation proposals, we have also drawn on evidence submitted to the Commons Committee, as the two Committees operate a sensible arrangement to lessen the burden on our witnesses that all evidence submitted to one Committee is automatically copied to the other.

6. Because of on-going concerns about the issue of maintaining necessary protection for residents, and in particular representations from the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea that the proposed safeguards would not work, the Committee heard oral evidence from the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea in the presence of the Home Office, so that they could reply. The full transcript of this evidence is also printed with this report. The Committee did not seek oral evidence from representatives of industry on the removal of the burden on them, because we have no doubt that the proposal would indeed remove a burden on the industry.

7. In addition, the Home Office made available to the Committee copies of all 328 of the responses which it received to its consultation paper. We have borne these in mind, together with the evidence which the two Parliamentary Deregulation Committees received directly, in preparing this report.

8. The Committee is grateful to all those who assisted with our scrutiny of this particularly important deregulation proposal.

The Committee's 1995 Report

9. In the report already referred to the Committee rejected the proposal for the draft Deregulation (Sunday Dancing) Order 1995. It did so for the fundamental reason that the Committee considered that the subject matter of the proposal was inappropriate to be dealt with by a deregulation order, reporting that "the degree of controversy associated with this proposal makes it unsuitable for a deregulation order". The Committee also considered that consultation was not adequate and that necessary protections were not maintained and needed to be reinforced and extended. We re-examine that issue later in this Report.

Changes in the laws relating to Sunday Observance

10. As the Home Office's consultation document noted, the effects of the Sunday Observance Act have been removed from many forms of entertainment and amusement. In all cases, this has been done by primary legislation.

11. The Sunday Entertainment Act 1932 enabled cinemas to open in some areas, subject to certain conditions, and permitted admission charges to them. The 1932 Act also removed the bar on Sunday admission charges to musical entertainments at places licensed for music and dancing; to museums, art galleries, zoological and botanical gardens and aquaria; and to lectures and debates. The Sunday Cinemas Act 1972 permitted cinema Sunday opening anywhere, subject to normal licensing conditions (this provision was consolidated in the Cinemas Act 1985). The Sunday Theatre Act 1972 permitted the use of a theatre for the public performance of a play, including an opera or ballet, on Sunday afternoons and evenings. In addition, the Licensing Act 1964 allows premises at which an extended hours order or a special hours certificate is in force when entertainments begin on Saturday night to continue into the early hours of Sunday morning.

12. More recently, sporting events and activities were removed from the scope of the Sunday Observance Act by section 21 of the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994. Section 20 of the same Act relaxed the restrictions on cash betting on Sundays.

13. Business In Sport and Leisure (BISL), which believed that the current law is an unjustified restraint on business and should be changed, was one of several witnesses to refer to other changes already made to the law relating to Sundays, "particularly with permission given for shopping, paying to watch football and other sporting events, allowing cinemas to open and permitting horse racing on Sundays and cash betting. This change in the law would not only benefit our members who operate facilities affected by the current law, but also benefit tourists to this country who find it very difficult to understand why they cannot buy a drink on Sundays after 10.30 p.m. The change in the law would also be of great benefit to the organisers of charitable events on Sundays and to organisers of many more local dances and events."

14. Although all the previous changes to the law relating to Sunday observance have been made by primary legislation, the Government has also consulted on a separate proposal for a deregulation order relating to licensing hours for restaurants. Several witnesses commented in passing on this proposal also. BISL was in favour of the proposal to permit restaurants to apply for an extension of hours for restaurants on Sundays to 12.30 a.m.

15. The Lord's Day Observance Society (LDOS) saw the restaurants licensing proposal as "stage two" of the Sunday dancing proposal. "The combination of these two consultation papers appear to reflect broader Government policy which seems to be pursuing a policy of greater liberalisation of the liquor licensing laws generally, and specifically as they affect Sunday." It viewed the proposals as "the result of consistent leisure industry pressure for the complete eradication of all trading restrictions with the sole aim of enhancing profits. Like most things in life, however, one individual's personal freedom is another's bondage. Whilst the changes may indeed be to the advantage of the licensing trade and leisure industry we have no doubt that the rights of local residents and others for a quiet life, free from alcohol-induced social difficulties and its associated problems, will be further infringed."

Viscount Astor's Bill

16. In November 1996, Viscount Astor introduced a Private Member's Bill to deregulate Sunday dancing. His Bill was modelled closely on the 1995 deregulation order. During consideration of the Bill by the House of Lords, amendments were introduced, and approved, to strengthen protections for residents and others from unwarranted noise and nuisance. Although approved in its amended form by the House of Lords, the Bill ran out of time for consideration in the House of Commons.

17. At second reading Lord McIntosh of Haringey said of that Bill:

"The legislation does not represent a glorious history for the Government. They sought to put the measure through under the deregulation legislation and were comprehensively shot down by the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee, and quite rightly so, although I approve the objective of the legislation."[3]

The likely impact of the present proposal

18. The Home Office's press release of 17 January 2000 described the Sunday Dancing proposal as part of the Government's on-going commitment to deregulation, seeking to extend to dancing the relaxation of the Sunday Observance Act 1780 already given to theatres, cinemas, concerts, amusements, art galleries, sporting events, and zoos. It may well be that the present proposal - the first to be sought by means of a deregulation order - will have the greatest potential impact in terms of noise,[4] principally because it extends licensing hours where dancing takes place, discotheques and nightclubs being by their nature noisy places and normally operating to late hours.

19. The Business in Sport and Leisure Limited evidence referred to a previous Home Office Minister promising "Dancing in the Streets" when he announced the then Government's plans for the first Sunday Dancing deregulation proposal.[5] The current Home Office Minister, in a press release launching the proposal, referred to "Sunday Night Fever".[6] It is clear that this proposal is not about charging for tea dances and the like. It is essentially concerned with dancing in the evening, at which drinks would be available, and which would go on to the early hours of Monday morning. There is no suggestion that there would be a market for evening dancing licences if these occasions would be "dry".

20. Apart from those who attacked the proposals on Sabbatarian grounds, almost all those who have opposed it in responses to the Home Office or in evidence to us have done so on the grounds that late night drinking on a Sunday will place unacceptable burdens on those who live near places of entertainment. We discuss this issue later under the heading "Necessary Protection - Residents".

The Scottish experience

21. With their evidence the British Entertainment & Discotheque Association Limited (BEDA) submitted a memorandum on the Scottish Experience of Sunday Dancing. This provides some indication of the likely effects of the deregulation proposals in England and Wales. "According to the Pepsi Barometer Industry Survey 1999, Sunday has clearly established itself as the third most popular trading night of the week, contributing on average 14% to clubs gross revenues". Further research prepared for BEDA by the Economists Advisory Group confirmed this and also confirmed that a similar pattern would emerge in England and Wales.

22. According to BEDA Scotland Chairman, John Fox:

It is thought that the special considerations proposed for Sunday trading, including the early (12.30 am) terminal hour will lend itself "to the older more sophisticated customer", in England and Wales, as in Scotland.

23. We note that in Scottish cities the city centre and residential areas are for the most part separate, more so than is the case in England and Wales. This lessens the problem of noise associated with discotheques and nightclubs in Scotland. Nevertheless, special protections for residents do exist in Scotland.

24. In evidence to the Commons Committee the City of Edinburgh Council drew attention to the fact that it applied an "inaudibility condition" to regular hours extensions through Bye Laws made under the Licensing (Scotland) Act 1976. This requires any amplified music or vocals etc to be inaudible in nearby noise sensitive premises after 11 pm on any day.

25. Likewise Strathclyde Police, also referring to the Licensing (Scotland) Act 1976, drew attention to the fact that it provides that "the following are competent objectors to an application for the grant, including provisional grant, renewal, permanent transfer of a licence or the regular extension of permitted hours:-

  • any person owning or occupying property situated in the neighbourhood of the premises to which the application relates or any organisation which in the opinion of the Board represents such persons;

  • a Community Council, which has been established in accordance with the provisions of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973, for the area in which the premises are situated;

  • any organised church which, in the opinion of the Licensing Board, represents a significant body of opinion among persons residing in the neighbourhood of the premises;

  • the Chief Constable, the Fire Authority or the Local Authority for the area in which the premises are situated. Provided that the due process has been followed, any such objector can be heard by the Board at the time when the relevant application is being considered."

Licensing issues raised in submissions

26. The Inner London Magistrates' Courts Committee, which considered the proposals "generally sensible", was concerned "that Sunday is the only relatively quiet night for residents in the capital and wonders therefore whether it would not be more sensible to allow drinking until midnight with drinking-up time thereafter."

27. The Justices' Clerks' Society, which did not object to the proposals, believed "that staff may come under pressure to work on Sundays despite the Work Time Directive and indeed they may find that they are asked to opt out of it, if so this would not be desirable." The Society also suggested "that the impact of implementation be softened. A number of licensees and club secretaries will want to come to court for the appropriate certificates to be varied and to avoid overloaded court lists it may be desirable to allow people to apply at once for the variation but for the named certificate to have effect at a later date e.g. the commencement date of the varied permitted hours under the deregulation order."

28. North and South Westminster Liquor Licensing Committees also considered the proposals "generally sensible", whilst expressing concern about the impact on the local community. They pointed out that these Committees dealt with the largest licensing workload in the country, covering the heart of the West End of London. They suggested "that the latest time for selling alcohol under a 'special hours certificate' should be 12.00 am rather than 12.30 am. This would allow drinking-up time and time for people to vacate premises and enable a quiet time to start before 1.00 am."

29. South East Hampshire Licensing Justices thought that "if Sunday hours are to be amended, it would be best if the arrangements were the same as for every other day of the week. To do otherwise may only make the system even more muddled and unclear. In particular a considerable amount of confusion will arise if there is a general finishing time of 12.30, but a different one for Sundays preceding bank holidays, but not if that Sunday is Easter Sunday. However, the justices feel that employers' groups ought to be consulted before a final decision is made, as there is a possibility of increased employee absenteeism on Mondays if the proposals are brought into effect."

30. A number of submissions suggested that it should be easier to revoke licences. The North Wales Association of Town Councils asked whether a provision could be included to enable the automatic revocation of a licence in the event of problems arising within a particular locality.

31. Alcohol Concern said that at present a special hours certificate could only be revoked because of disorderly behaviour inside the premises. It suggested that disturbance outside a premises, as well as inside, should constitute grounds to restrict or revoke a special hours certificate on any day, not just Sundays.

32. Watford Council, one of several to suggest that local authorities as well as the police should have the power to apply for a restriction preventing a Special Hours Certificate from operating on a Sunday, thought it important that such applications should be able to be made on the grounds of actual or potential disorderly conduct or disturbance to residential premises in the vicinity, not just on the grounds of actual disorder.

33. City of Westminster Council, on the other hand, said that it would "strongly urge the Government to amend the proposals so that any person and not just the Police can seek to prevent a Special Hours Certificate operating on Sundays. The priorities of the Police may well differ from those of the Council or local residents and the proposals should be amended to reflect this."


34. Last session the Committee complained that the Government was reforming the law relating to casinos by "salami slicing". These comments were debated on the floor of the House on 23 July 1999, when the House approved the deregulation order concerned. The relevant extracts from Hansard are printed in Appendix 3 to this report. A few months on, here is another proposal relating to casinos. However, the extension of this proposal to casinos has attracted no opposition from those who were not opposed to extended hours at dances and we do not see the proposal as raising separate issues for us to consider.

Is this an appropriate subject for a deregulation proposal?

35. In our 1995 report, as we have already noted, we rejected the previous proposal for the fundamental reason that we considered that the subject matter of the proposal was inappropriate to be dealt with by a deregulation order. We also noted that all previous changes to the Sunday observance legislation had been made by primary legislation, and that the proposed relaxation of the licensing legislation made this proposal more likely to have an adverse impact on law and order than, for example, the earlier changes which enabled theatres, museums, art galleries and zoos to open on a Sunday. We concluded that the degree of controversy associated with that proposal made it unsuitable for a deregulation order.

36. There are, for some people, religious objections to this proposal. We are grateful to those individuals who wrote to us to express these views, and we appreciate that they are clearly strongly held. We also noted, however, that the Churches Main Committee, the General Synod of England and Wales, and the Methodist Church[7] were all consulted by the Home Office, but did not respond, although many individual churches and smaller religious groups did. We concluded from this that even in the mainstream Christian groups there appears to be less opposition to relaxation of the Sunday observance legislation than may have been the case even a few years ago.

37. In their submissions in response to the Home Office's consultation paper a number of local authorities pointed out that the Sunday Dancing prohibition was not enforced in many parts of the country. Bexley Council, for example, said that "as the consultation paper states, premise managers have been effectively circumventing the law for many years. Prosecutions are very rare. This proposal will therefore regularise the current situation and this authority supports this proposal".

38. Similarly Southwark Licensing Unit said that "the current restriction is outdated, is not enforced in many areas of the country, and is subject of many schemes aimed at circumventing the control. Its removal will assist business and enforcing agencies alike ... The costs of amending public entertainments licences to take into account changes to the Sunday Observance Act will be minimal. However, the costs and associated increased workload generated by later Sunday drinking, allied to the provision of public dancing, could be considerable." City of Westminster Council said that "if the proposals become law it is expected that the Council will gain greater control over entertainment on Sundays. This is because there will no longer be a need to form Sunday Clubs to try and circumvent the current law." Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council said that "the restrictions imposed by the Sunday Observance Act 1780 have been enforced by the local police in this area and as a consequence night clubs do not open on a Sunday. Some attempts have been made to 'get round' the legislation by the formation of "Sunday Clubs" and the holding of "Charity Nights", which has created administrative and enforcement problems."

39. We are persuaded by the consultation process that this proposal is not now the subject of such controversy as would continue to make it unsuitable to proceed with it by deregulation order. There is substantial local authority support for the proposal, although some of those who were broadly supportive sought some modification or amendment of the proposal. There is strong opposition from a minority of local authorities, principally on the basis that the proposal would create disturbance and nuisance for their residents. For several individual respondents also their objections were not so much based on the "special nature of Sunday" in the religious sense but on the understandable desire for the continuation of one quiet evening in the week.

40. In these circumstances we do not think we should suggest that every change to the Sunday Observance legislation should be made by primary legislation. But we also think that the legitimate concerns over the maintenance of necessary protection remain valid in today's multi-cultural society. Everyone needs a chance to recharge their batteries once a week. For historical reasons, the quiet evening in England and Wales is Sunday, which is also the evening before the start of the working week for most people.

41. The proposed relaxation of the licensing laws will operate differently according to the particular area and the proximity there of licensed premises to residential accommodation. So this is an issue essentially best decided by the authorities at local level rather than rigidly by the legislature for the entire country. It was on the practicality and extent of the protections which should exist at local level that we therefore concentrated. This issue we discuss later in this Report.


42. As the Home Office's consultation paper notes, "the leisure and entertainment industry is constrained by the prohibition in the Sunday Observance Act 1780 on charging for admission to places where dancing takes place on Sunday. Similar constraints do not apply in other areas of the industry." The Committee agrees with the Home Office's analysis that "the continuing ban on admission charges to dances effectively means that discotheques and similar establishments where public dancing takes place do not open on Sundays."

43. The Government considers this to be an unjustified restriction on business. These proposals to remove dancing from the scope of the 1780 Act, and to make an appropriate relaxation to the Licensing Act 1964, would enable dances and discotheques to be conducted on a commercial basis on Sundays, and for alcohol to be sold at those events after the end of normal licensing hours.

44. The estimated benefits to industry are considerable. Research for the industry umbrella organisation BEDA suggested that the proposal could boost entertainment industry revenues by around £130 million each year. There would be benefits for related industries, including in the drinks industry where sales could rise by £19.5 million each year. There would also be extra business for fast food outlets and taxi firms. BEDA also estimated that allowing discos to operate on Sundays would create an additional 3,000 jobs within the industry.

45. There are between 2,000 and 3,000 discotheques and similar premises in England and Wales. A BEDA survey showed that the vast majority of these, 93%, would want to open on Sundays.

46. There would be some cost to industry attached to the proposal. Every operator wanting to sell alcohol beyond 10.30 pm on Sundays would have to apply for a variation of their special hours certificate. BEDA estimated that each application would cost around £275 plus legal fees ranging from a few hundred pounds to thousands of pounds for a contested application. "However, BEDA believes that these costs would be negligible compared with the benefits that the industry would gain from being able to operate on Sundays."[8]

47. In evidence to the Committee the British Resorts Association, representing 56 Local Authorities with substantial tourism interests, said that the proposal would help its members in "maximising an already seasonal market, and countering the somewhat staid image of the domestic market compared to comparative overseas destinations." It also pointed out that the night life on offer overseas was especially attractive to younger holiday makers. "The current legislation with its archaic restrictions in England and Wales does not ... help the British resorts to compete on equal terms with some of the more popular comparable destinations abroad. Your proposals will not put British resorts on an equal footing, but they will at least go some way to help redress the balance."

48. The Committee is satisfied that the proposal would reduce a burden on the entertainment and tourist industry and on casino operators.

1   The proposal was laid before Parliament on 17 January 2000 in the form of a draft of the order and an explanatory memorandum by the Home Office. Back

2   HL Paper 102. Back

3   HL Debates 15 January 1997, col. 266. Back

4   Paragraph 26 of the Home Office's consultation paper acknowledges that "generally, concerns about noise and nuisance are very strongly associated with alcohol-induced misbehaviour, and the Governments' proposals are directed towards appropriate controls on the supply of alcohol."  Back

5   "Business In Sport and Leisure has throughout its existence been behind a change in the Sunday Observance Act 1780. It was at our Annual Conference in November 1994 that Michael Forsyth, then the Minister in the Home Office promised 'Dancing in the Streets'." Back

6   Home Office press release 17 January 2000: "SUNDAY NIGHT FEVER - GOVERNMENT PLANS TO REMOVE SUNDAY DANCING BAN": "Sunday Night Fever" could soon be sweeping the country under Government plans to remove the 220 year old ban on Sunday dancing ... Home Office Minister Mike O'Brien said: "Our proposals will give freedom of choice for people as well as remove an unnecessary regulation on business" "Be it line dancing, square dancing, ballroom or disco, it is plainly daft to have a ban on dancing because it is a Sunday. If people want a bit of Sunday Night Fever, that's fine with me ..." Back

7   We are grateful to the individual Methodist Minister who wrote to us. Back

8   Explanatory memorandum, paragraphs 20-24. Back

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