Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation Ninth Report

Memorandum by Wandsworth Borough Council

SUMMARY This report summarises the Home Office consultation paper on the Government's proposals to amend the Sunday Observance Act 1780 to allow charging for admission to public dances which take place on Sundays and to amend the Licensing Act 1964 to allow alcohol to be sold at public dances after 10.30pm in England and Wales. The report also sets out the result of the consultation process on the proposal to relax liquor licensing hours on New Year's Eves.

The Committee are asked to approve the response to the consultation paper on the Sunday Observance Act 1780 as set out in the report and to note the relaxation of the licensing hours on Millennium Eve.

1. Recommendation—The Committee are recommended to instruct the Head of Environmental Services to respond to the consultation document as laid out in paragraphs 13 and 14.

2. The Committee are also asked to note the outcome of the consultation process on the Home Office paper on the Government's proposals to relax liquor licensing hours on the Millennium Eve and for subsequent New Year's Eves.

3. Introduction—The Home Office has issued a consultation paper setting out the Government's proposals to amend the Sunday Observance Act 1780 to allow charging for admission to public dances which take place on Sundays and to amend the Licensing Act 1964 to allow alcohol to be sold at public dances after 10.30 pm on Sunday Observance Sundays in England and Wales but only until 12.30 am on the following morning. It also seeks views on associated changes for registered members clubs, casinos and late night restaurants. The Government has in mind to make the necessary legislative changes by means of an Order under the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994 which has the power to remove or reduce certain statutory burdens so long as necessary protection is not reduced. A copy of the consultation paper has been placed in the Members' Room.

4. Current situation—charging for music and dancing. The Sunday Observance Act 1780 prohibited charging admission to entertainments and amusements to which the public were admitted on Sundays in England and Wales. Parliament has since removed this prohibition from many Sunday activities, but it still applies to public dances. Scotland has no such prohibition. It should be noted that the legislation does not prohibit the entertainment from taking place. However, it does prohibit the levying of admission charges. Thus, licensed Sunday Entertainment can take place at present and, whilst the music may be charged for, a charge cannot be levied for dancing. The restrictions initially embodied in the Sunday Observance Act have been amended over the years. The Sunday Entertainment Act 1932 enabled cinemas to open and charge for entry on a Sunday. In addition, this Act removed the bar to 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 Theatre Act 1972 permitted the use of Theatres for the public performance of plays, including opera and ballet. More recently sporting activities were removed from the scope of the Sunday Observance Act by means of the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994.

5. Current situation—liquor licensing hours. The Licensing Act 1964, which applies to England and Wales, provides for special hours certificates. These can be granted only in respect of on-licensed premises which are licensed for music and dancing and which provide substantial refreshments. Special hours certificates permit alcohol to be sold as an ancillary to the music and dancing and refreshment beyond the normal licensing hours up to 2 am (or 3am in certain parts of Central London) or until the time the music and dancing ends whichever is the earlier. However, these certificates are not available on Sundays. The Licensing Act 1964 does not allow premises at which a special hours certificate is in force when entertainment begins on Saturday night to continue into the early hours of Sunday morning.

6. A registered members club which has appropriate facilities for music and dancing may be granted a special hours certificate. Casinos also qualify for these certificates but need not provide entertainment in addition to substantial refreshment (other than gambling). In both cases, the certificates may operate only until a latest time of 2am (3am in certain parts of Central London).

7. The Licensing Act 1964 provides for extensions of general licensing hours in restaurants and similar licensed establishments where musical entertainment as well as substantial refreshment are provided. The sale of alcohol beyond the normal hours must be ancillary to the entertainment and refreshment and on this basis can be allowed up to 1am. These orders at present permit extensions to only weekday hours.

8. Burdens to be removed—The Government contends that the continuing ban on admission charges to dances effectively means that discotheques and similar establishments where public dancing takes place often do not open on Sundays. This is an unacceptable contraint on certain parts of the leisure and entertainment industry particularly in view of the fact that many other forms of entertainment may now be undertaken on a Sunday.

9. Similarly, it is felt that it is unacceptable for registered members' clubs to be unable to provide music and dancing on a commercial basis on Sundays or for registered clubs, casinos and restaurants to be unable to sell alcohol after the end of normal licensing hours.

10. The prohibition on admission charges for dances also constrains charitable and non-profit making bodies which might organise dances (such as tea dances) on a Sunday.

11. Protection for residents—The Government recognises that some people are concerned about the possible impact of allowing extended licensing hours on a Sunday. In order to address these concerns, the Government proposes to include the following amendment to the Licensing Act 1964:

    (a) a requirement for the liquor licensing authority to consider the special nature of Sunday before reaching a decision on a special hours certificate

    (b) a latest time for selling alcohol under a special hours certificate of 12.30am, except on the eve of a Bank holiday other than Easter when the normal weekday hours of 2am (or 3am in Central London) will apply

    (c) power to exclude Sunday from a special hours certificate on the ground of disturbance caused outside the premises as a result of their use on application from the police.

These protections will not apply to restaurants holding an extended hours order (able to sell alcohol to a latest time of 1am). In such cases, restaurants are only allowed to serve alcohol with table meals. Entertainment is provided only as an ancillary to the meals and is confined to background music or, at the most, two live performers and generally does not give rise to nuisance.

12. Protection for employees—It is felt that existing legislation adequately protects workers who do not wish to work on Sundays. In addition the British Entertainment and Discotheque Association (BEDA) which represents about 80% of those who own dancing establishments, has prepared a voluntary code of practice to enable staff to opt out of Sunday working if they so wish. Under the Code BEDA members would allow workers to opt out of Sunday working without any notice period if it was, for example, due to religious or family reasons. The code provides for independent arbitration in any case of dispute. Although voluntary, BEDA have stated that they will make it a condition of membership for an applicant to sign up to the code.

13. Response—The Government seeks views on its proposals and on whether it is felt necessary to introduce transitional arrangements to ease the impact of implementation. It also seeks information on the likely cost to business and local authorities if these measures were introduced.

14. In general, the proposals relating to public dancing are to be welcomed as the existing arrangements are anachronistic and difficult to enforce. It is unlikely that the proposals will have a great impact on this Council as action can be taken by the Head of Environmental Services in respect of existing premises, provided that the application falls within the Council's policy guidelines for Public Entertainment Licences. It is unlikely that many of the existing premises will seek an amendment to their licence outside the policy framework. It is also unlikely that the amendment to the Sunday Observance Act will, in itself, generate new applications for a Public Entertainment Licence. The cost to businesses will be small (the cost of a variation to the licence in year 1 then a slightly increased annual fee thereafter. Indeed, the additional fee is more than likely to be offset by any additional profit made by the applicant). There will be little additional cost to the Council and, in any event, such cost will be covered by the increased fee to be paid.

15. However, it is of concern that the proposals seek to allow an extension of a special hours certificate until 12.30am on Sundays. It is the view of this Council that the limit of 12 midnight should be imposed in respect of events held in the evening when the following day is a traditional work day as it is felt that such events can generate an increase in noise and disturbance for local residents.

16. Liquor licensing deregulation in respect of New Year's Eves—On 19 January 1999—the following consideration of Paper No. 99/66 - this Committee directed the Head of Environmental Services to oppose the suggested all-night relaxation of liquor licensing every New Year's Eve as laid out in the Home Office consultation document. It was felt that such a relaxation would result in an unacceptable risk of disruption and nuisance to residents in a highly residential area such as Wandsworth. however, the proposal to extend licensing hours to 4am on the morning following Millennium night only was supported by the Committee due to the particular nature of the night in question (Paper No. 99/66).

17. The Deregulation Committee considered the Draft Deregulation (Millennium Licensing) Order 1999 and recommended that a draft Order be laid before the House that, if implemented, would have relaxed liquor licensing hours for a continuous period of 36 hours on the Millennium Eve and for subsequent New Year's Eves. However, following the report on the proposals by the House of Lords Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation, the Order has been amended to provide for an extension of opening hours for the Millennium Eve only. This means that premises holding a liquor licence will be able to sell alcohol continuously from 11am 31 December 1999 until 11pm on 1 January 2000. Provision is made within the Order for the police, any person living in the neighbourhood, or anybody representing persons who do, or the local authority in whose area the premises lie to apply to the licensing justices for a restriction order. If granted such an order would impose an earlier closing time on individual premises in order to avoid or reduce disturbance or annoyance to local residents or disorderly conduct by customers.

A R Waren, Head of Environmental Services
1 September 1999

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