Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation Ninth Report

Reply from the Home Office

1. Thank you for your letter of 20 January about the Government's proposal for a draft Deregulation (Sunday Dancing and Licensing) Order 2000.

2. The Home Office is ready to provide any written and/or oral evidence which the Committee may require. As requested, I have set out below further explanation of the points made in paragraph 37 of the explanatory memorandum concerning the absence of a right for local residents to seek revocation of a special hours certificate.

3. The proposal in respect of Sundays is a reflection of the general statutory scheme for special hours certificates set out in the Licensing Act 1964. For what appear to be good reasons, the existing scheme adopts different approaches to grant and revocation. The law gives the licensing justices a broad discretion to refuse an application for a special hours certificate on grounds that could include issues such as the potential impact on crime, disorder, noise, nuisance and disturbance in a particular locality. Information on these issues may come from any source, including local residents. This would be under-scored in the current proposal by adding the requirement for the justices to address specifically the special nature of Sunday. The system is essentially proactive in attempting to ensure that potential problems do not arise at all.

4. Where a certificate has been successfully obtained the situation changes. A business may begin to develop in new ways and this can involve substantial investment. In order to provide business with some degree of certainty once a certificate has been granted, Parliament decided that the certificate should not be taken away or restricted easily, unless there was evidence of disorderly or indecent conduct on the premises. The 1964 Act identifies the police as the appropriate body responsible for bringing these matters to the attention of the licensing justices. In keeping with the concept of Sunday as a special day, the proposal before the Committee broadens the grounds on which revocation can be sought by the police (in respect of certificates relating to Sunday) to include disturbance or annoyance to local residents. Where revocation is an issue the police will be able to act as a filter for vexatious or frivolous complaints, and are best placed to take an objective view of whether unreasonable or unlawful behaviour is causing disturbance and annoyance in the locality.

5. Notwithstanding this approach, it is also important to consider the special hours certificate in the context of the general licensing scheme described in the 1964 Act. In addressing the question of necessary public protection, a key point is that a special hours certificate can only be granted in respect of premises:

  • licensed under the 1964 Act, i.e. holding a justices' on-licence; and

  • holding a public entertainment licence granted by the local authority for music and dancing; or

  • a licence to operate as a casino.

6. This brings into play public protections associated with those licence schemes. These licences are renewable on regular bases. Any person may oppose renewal of these licences, for example, on grounds of excessive noise, nuisance or disturbance caused within a neighbourhood. Such objections could relate to hours at which the special hours certificate was the authority for trading. If either the justices' on-licence or the local authority licence permitting music and dancing or the Gaming Board's licence is not renewed, the special hours certificate automatically becomes invalid. This system therefore provides an important deterrent to venues that allow excessive disturbance to any residents on any day of the week. While we are not necessarily suggesting that it is desirable for local residents to threaten the livelihood of individuals in the hospitality and leisure industry because of problems at particular hours on one day of the week, the possibility of jeopardising renewal of the main trading licences has an important deterrent value that is beneficial to Sundays as well as other days.

7. We therefore consider that providing local residents with a right similar to that of the police to seek revocation a special hours certificate is unnecessary and undesirable. The existing scheme appears to balance successfully the need for the involvement of public residents before any permission is granted and for the police to move swiftly to counter disorder with the need for some degree of certainty to allow proper business planning. We therefore consider that it should be the starting point for the model adopted for Sundays. By giving weight to the special nature of Sunday, and affording the police wider powers to seek revocation in respect of that day, the proposal modifies the model sufficiently to provide proper public protection.

8. The Committee question why a different approach was taken to public protection in the draft Deregulation (New Year Licensing) Order 1999. That proposal envisaged a change to permitted hours at the New Year. In other words, there would be no application process at all and licensed premises would automatically be entitled to extended hours on the days in question. In order to ensure proper public protection, it was therefore necessary to include a process whereby local residents could, in advance of the New Year, seek to restrict hours in respect of certain premises. Our view is that the proposals are not inconsistent in concept. In both cases, the Government has been seeking to ensure that the system provides for the elimination of problems before new trading arrangements come into place.

If any further clarification would be helpful, we should be happy to provide it.

Andrew Englefield, Legislation Clerk

2 February 2000

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