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Deregulation (Sunday Licensing) Order 2000

1.14 p.m.

Lord Bassam of Brighton rose to move, that the draft deregulation order laid before the House on 12th December 2000 be approved [First Report from the Deregulation Committee].

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the order supplements the Sunday Dancing Order, which was made on 21st December--amid much jollity, I might add, and it led to much jollity--and which became law on 28th December. It permitted commercial dancing on Sundays for the first time in more than 200 years.

The order is designed to provide for special hours certificates and extended hours orders to be available to casinos, nightclubs, discotheques and restaurants on Sundays. It is a complex document and it may be helpful if I provide a little explanation.

On other days of the week, special hours certificates, which are authorised by magistrates, allow casinos and nightclubs to supply alcohol to customers up to 2 a.m. or, in the West End of London, up to 3 a.m. Extended hours orders allow restaurants providing food and entertainment to serve alcohol up to l a.m. The legislative intention has always been that the supply of alcohol after the end of permitted hours should be ancillary to activities such as dancing, eating or gaming.

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Special hours certificates and extended hours orders cannot currently be granted for Sundays, and permitted hours end at 10.30 p.m. So, for example, the situation is that a discotheque can obtain a licence for music and dancing on Sundays, but may serve alcohol at the dance until only 10.30 p.m. The restriction also applies to charities holding fund-raising balls.

The draft order would allow magistrates in certain circumstances to grant such certificates and orders on Sundays but only until 12.30 a.m. However, where a Sunday falls on a day before a bank holiday--other than Easter Monday--extensions up to 2 a.m. would normally be permitted, or up to 3 a.m. in the West End of London.

The draft order also provides for special consideration, which would apply to applications in respect of Sundays. Before granting such a certificate or order, the magistrates must: have regard to the special nature of Sunday, and to guidance issued by the Secretary of State on that subject; and consider objections that are made by the local authority and that are based on the residential character of the area in which the premises are situated, and they must give reasons.

I should mention that the guidance on the special nature of Sunday has been compiled after considering comments that were submitted by the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee of this House. If the order is agreed to, the guidance will be sent shortly after that to all licensing benches and magistrates' courts in England and Wales.

Furthermore, where a special hours certificate has been granted and includes Sundays, the police, local residents, local business or the local authority may seek to exclude Sundays on the grounds that the premises are causing disturbance or annoyance or because people frequenting the premises are exhibiting disorderly behaviour in the vicinity.

In the interests of maintaining public protection, it also remains the case that those nightclubs and discotheques applying for special hours certificates for Sunday nights must as a starting point have a music and dancing licence issued by the local authority which relates to Sunday.

The order has a long history. The previous government brought forward a similar proposal in 1995. Unfortunately, they were unable to win the support of the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee of this House. It was then strongly of the opinion that Sunday dancing and drinking was too controversial to be the subject of a deregulation proposal. Happily, times have moved on, as the House showed by approving the Sunday Dancing Order in December.

The draft order represents a significant move by the Government from our original proposals, which were laid before Parliament in January 2000, and it contains a positive response to the concerns that the committee expressed in its reports last year and before then.

The time of 12.30 a.m. is a compromise over later opening. It is the earliest closing time that the industry considers to be economically viable when running a

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discotheque. Acknowledging a special nature for Sunday is a compromise. Those noble Lords who have read the licensing White Paper will know that in a multi-faith society we do not consider it right to treat any day of worship specially or differently from days that are of similar importance to other faiths. Strengthening the influence of the local authority and of local residents are compromises because we felt that our original proposals already balanced the needs of business with necessary public protection.

The draft order is therefore not as deregulatory as some within the leisure industry would have wished. However, we have compromised because we believe that the order can still significantly help consumers and the hospitality, leisure and tourism industries. We are grateful to the committee because it, too, has shown a willingness to compromise. It has moved from a position that we believed was impossible to implement lawfully. We are delighted that it has been able to recommend the draft order in its present form for your Lordships' approval. That shows that the Government and the committee can work together successfully to achieve a satisfactory outcome that is acceptable to us all. The draft order was approved in another place on 18th January.

Moved, That the draft deregulation order laid before the House on 12th December 2000 be approved [First Report from the Deregulation Committee].--(Lord Bassam of Brighton.)

1.20 p.m.

Lord Goodhart: My Lords, this order started life as the draft Deregulation (Sunday Dancing and Licensing) Order. The two parts, dancing and licensing, were then decoupled and the dancing order was approved by your Lordships' House a few weeks ago. However, the two remain linked in practice: the extension of hours for dancing in clubs and discos is largely meaningless unless drink is on sale at the same time.

The licensing issue, as the Minister said, led to long proceedings in the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee, which were discussed in the 9th Report of our last Session and published in March last year. There is no doubt that attitudes towards Sundays have changed quite radically in recent years. Since 1994 football and other sporting events for which admission is charged now take place on Sundays. The Sunday opening of shops is widespread: indeed in parts of London there seems to be more traffic then than on weekdays as people come into London to shop.

Since 1995, as the Minister has said, the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee has rejected the proposal for the extension of dancing hours on Sundays on the ground that it was too controversial. Last year the committee took the view that the provision of entertainment on Sundays--or, in practice, in the early hours of Monday--was no longer seriously controversial on Sabbatarian grounds.

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Although 22 individual churches, mainly Baptist churches, objected, none of the main church bodies consulted by the Home Office chose to respond.

There were, however, a considerable number of objections on the grounds of noise and disturbance. The point was made by a number of objectors that restaurants and clubs cause noise and that, even if soundproofed to prevent internal noise getting outside, noise is inevitably caused by people arriving and leaving. Monday, for most people, is the first day of the working week and a restriction on the hours of Sunday licensing has meant that up to now they have been able to get a slightly earlier and quieter night.

The committee paid particular attention to the views of local authorities. The consultation process resulted in 68 responses from local authorities, of which 58 were in support of easing licensing restrictions. Five were basically sitting on the fence and five were against. On the face of it, therefore, there was a very clear majority in favour of relaxation of the licensing law, but it is not quite as straightforward as that. A high proportion of local authorities which supported the easing of restrictions were those of resort towns or districts where those towns were situated.

It is very understandable that in towns of that kind the local authority should want extended hours, and the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee saw no reason to deprive them of that wish. However, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea in particular argued very strongly against the relaxation, on the ground that many areas containing both leisure and residential premises can be found in the borough. That is something I can vouch for, having lived there for a long time and having been the candidate for Kensington in three parliamentary elections.

The Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee invited the Royal Borough to give evidence, and it sent a team which was led by the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham. The committee was very impressed by that evidence and took the view that the best answer to the problem was to allow local authorities to decide for themselves whether or not to opt into the changes contained in the order. They would be best placed to decide whether commercial benefits to local traders outweighed the disturbance to local residents.

Unfortunately, the Government received legal advice that it was to ultra vires to delegate to local authorities the power to decide whether or not to opt in to the order. The committee was not convinced that the advice was correct, but recognised that there was a serious legal issue. As a result, a compromise was reached: anyone applying for a special hours certificate for Sunday must notify the local authority and the local authority may make representations to the licensing justices. If the justices override those objections they must give reasons for doing so.

There is also a power for the local authority, the police or residents to apply for the revocation of a special hours certificate applying to Sunday. As has been mentioned, the order also contains powers for the

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Home Secretary to issue guidelines which have been published in draft to guide justices in taking their decisions.

I have gone into this background at a certain length because I believe it is useful to place it on record. Of course, I am speaking here on behalf of my party and not on behalf of the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee, of which I have been a member since 1998. We believe that decisions on special hours certificates should be taken by local authorities rather than by justices. Local authorities are in the best position to know the views of the inhabitants, and they are accountable to them. We in my party therefore regret that the legal advice which was received by the Government made it impossible to accept the committee's proposals.

However, we believe there are good grounds for deregulation, and accept that the present order is the best that can be done to ensure local control. We look forward, in the event of the Government being returned to office, to the implementation of their proposals on a fundamental reform of the licensing system, which will transfer the control of licensing matters from the licensing justices to local authorities.

1.27 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Bristol: My Lords, the Deregulation (Sunday Licensing) Order 2000 is a sensitive issue for many Christians, as has already been indicated, and those of your Lordships who have been at the receiving end of the "Keep Sunday Special" campaign will know that the arguments are strongly made.

I wish to assure your Lordships that I do not seek to oppose this order. I would like to make one comment and also to seek reassurance. I welcome the Government's recognition of the special nature of Sunday. As has already been indicated, this is dealt with in the appendix to the Second Report of the Select Committee on Deregulation. It is interesting to note that it takes one paragraph to argue for the special nature of Sunday--which gives--and two paragraphs to take away the special nature of Sunday.

We recognise that this is a special area for those who live in a society which is both multi-faith and multi-cultural, but I would like to remind your Lordships' House that the inherited structure of the week and of the year which we live by has its base in the Christian tradition. I am grateful for the fact that Easter Sunday is to be given a special status. I therefore welcome the way in which this matter has been dealt with, even if some people believe that it has not achieved quite the right balance.

Secondly, I seek reassurance from the Minister that, if residents make objections to the granting of a late licence on Sundays, those objections will be given due consideration and not just treated as "window dressing" in this order. Will the First and Second Reports of the Select Committee on Deregulation play an important role in the opportunities given to local authorities and local residents to make their objections clear?

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In thanking the Government for the sensitivity with which they have listened to and dealt with the views we have raised, may I say that we are grateful indeed and I shall support this order.

1.29 p.m.

Viscount Astor: My Lords, the first Sunday dancing order came to us in December, just before Christmas--just in time to save an event the Government had planned for New Year's Eve, which of course fell on a Sunday. Sadly, it could not save the Dome, which collapsed soon afterwards.

We welcome this order. There is widespread public support for this reform, and the reform will be balanced by the responsibilities. The special nature of Sunday will be preserved. Clubs will need to apply specifically for a Sunday, and employees' rights will be protected.

There are many beneficiaries other than nightclubs. That will include charities and other organisations which wish to hold events on a Sunday. Indeed, I believe that it will help save many businesses in seaside resorts, something about which the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, coming from Brighton, knows more than I do. I should declare an interest. I am a director of a company which may derive some benefit from being able to open on a Sunday.

The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, said that this is a compromise, and indeed, it is. I believe that it takes account of the special nature of Sunday. The licensing authorities must take account of that and, specifically, the issue of disturbance to local residents which was raised by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol.

I believe that Sunday will still be special, just as it is still special north of the Border in Scotland, where, of course, they have been able to dance on Sundays for many years. I welcome the order.

1.30 p.m.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, your Lordships' House has been witness to a great historic compromise. All noble Lords who have entered into this short discussion appear to have willingly embraced that compromise. The noble Viscount, Lord Astor, has an interest in dancing. No doubt that is a vigorous interest. I share that interest but not in quite the same way. I should like to encourage him to invest in Brighton, but there we are. The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, explained some of the difficulties, but, again, he spoke in favour of the compromise and urged us to bring forward new measures on licensing which will deal with the whole package and, in a sense, will overtake the order at which we are looking today. It is a compromise welcomed also by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol.

I am more than happy to give the right reverend Prelate the reassurance which he seeks about residents' concerns. Of course they must be adequately addressed and considered. Indeed, the mechanism used to take on board residents' concerns with regard to early Sunday morning deliveries during the passage

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of the Sunday trading legislation was not a million miles away from having part of its authorship in myself. I take a particular interest in those issues, coming, as I do, from a local authority background and having heard many of the arguments about protecting the interests of local residents close to areas where there is intense leisure activity. So we do take those points very seriously indeed.

I am grateful for the support that this order has received. I am sure that your Lordships will endorse the order. All of those who enjoy Sunday dancing, whether for business, profit or pleasure, will support this too. I commend the order to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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