HL Deb 15 January 1997 vol 577 cc261-70

7.50 p.m.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

This Bill is a modest but long overdue measure which will legalise the sale of tickets for public dancing on Sunday nights and allow night clubs to open and trade on Sundays. My interest in this measure derives from my long association with the tourist and leisure industry, first in business and secondly as a government Minister. I have long been convinced of the need for a change and I am delighted to have the opportunity to introduce this Bill this evening.

The leisure industry has worked for several years to create the right environment for the reform of the 1780 Sunday Observance Act. That is what we are now doing.

These efforts have been led by the British Entertainment and Discothèque Association with the support of consumer bodies, the British Tourist Authority and the British Resorts Association, and, most importantly, the Association of Chief Police Officers, who fully support this Bill.

Night clubs have become increasingly sophisticated establishments which are often part of multi-million pound, out-of-town complexes, and play host to a range of social activity. The late night entertainment sector currently employs over 130,000 people and has an annual turnover of £2 billion. Every weekend more than 1 million people visit night clubs. Opening on Sundays will create up to 3,000 new jobs and generate a net increase in sales to the industry of £130 million.

Relaxation of this law was first introduced in Scotland in the late 'seventies and it has proven to be a great success. It is now the third most popular night of the week and has added an average 13 per cent to clubs' gross revenues. It has opened a new market for Scottish clubs and the night has proved extremely popular with the more mature crowd, and particularly with women. Legislation continues in the same vein as the recent changes to the Sunday trading law which now permits a whole host of social entertainment, including gambling and drinking, on a Sunday. We must also remember that it is not merely a case of allowing night clubs to open. Should this Bill become an Act, it would allow a variety of other activities such as charity functions to operate dances and events legally on a Sunday.

I understand that the original reason for the ban in 1780 was to prevent dubious characters from subverting contemporary laws on religious matters by holding events which were part entertainment and part prayer meetings. Apparently money was extracted from people who attended and the nature of the proceedings seem to have varied between charlatanism and sedition.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, I know the feeling!

Viscount Astor

My Lords, I am glad the noble Lord, Lord Graham, is so well versed in his history.

Accordingly, the authorities of the day held those gatherings to be sufficiently undesirable to warrant proscription. The purpose of this Bill is to remove that absolute proscription on the grounds that the reasons which held sway in the 18th century perhaps no longer have that force today. The Bill would therefore make possible the commercial running of music and dancing events of any kind on a Sunday. It would also make possible the selling of alcohol at those events.

If the Bill becomes law, it will do no more than allow access to the licensing regimes where this is barred. The licensing regimes both for liquor and public entertainment are strict. I am certain that licensing authorities will exercise the same rigour for events on Sundays as they do for events on weekdays, and as they do for pubs and other premises which are open seven days a week.

I make two points. First, the Bill does no more than allow business operators to cross the threshold and enter the licensing system from which they are presently barred. Secondly, projections, which are an important part of the existing licensing system, will apply with no less vigour. The Bill contains essentially three sets of provisions. Two are of an essential nature and one is more incidental. Clause 1 disapplies the 1780 Sunday Observance Act from entertainment, music and dancing. The effect of the clause will therefore be to make possible—subject, as I made clear, to the usual licensing processes—the holding of commercially run dances on a Sunday.

Under Clause 2 premises holding dances on Sundays will be allowed to make application for a special hours certificate. These certificates, granted by licensing justices when they consider it suitable, allow premises which have a public entertainment licence from the local authority to sell alcohol after normal closing time.

Those are the main provisions of the Bill. There is one additional provision which is by way of a consequential matter. At present a restaurant with an alcohol licence may continue to sell alcohol with meals up to 1 a.m., if it provides some form of entertainment for its customers. The entertainment usually takes the form of one or two musicians, for example, a piano player. This activity is distinguished from that with which the Bill is primarily concerned because no public entertainment licence is required. An extended hours order is grantable by the licensing authority. No doubt for reasons of consistency, these extended hours orders are not available on Sundays. The Bill will enable restaurants to apply for an extended hours order on Sundays if they wish to do so. As on other days of the week, the licensing justices will be able to impose limitations on the application of the order if they see fit.

This Bill is the result of a long drawn out consultation process. The industry has spent a great deal of time liaising with local authorities and the police. I believe this Bill has much support in the country. A change is long overdue. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.— (Viscount Astor.)

7.56 p.m.

Viscount Brentford

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Astor for his detailed explanation of this short Bill. In my capacity as chairman of the Keep Sunday Special campaign he probably would not expect me to agree to it without asking some supplementary questions that arise from it. It is important that we should bear in mind the fact that when your Lordships previously considered Sunday shopping, it was finally agreed by Parliament that large shops should be limited to any six continuous hours between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. That meant that no shop with a floorspace exceeding 3,000 square feet could be open after 6 p.m. on a Sunday. Parliament in its wisdom made that decision in order to keep Sunday evenings as a quieter and less active time when families could meet together and there would be less demand for employees to work.

That restriction on shops sought to prevent noise, excessive traffic and other nuisance on a Sunday evening for the benefit, largely, of local residents.

I question why this same restriction should not apply in the situation we are discussing as these different forms of nuisance will surely increase as a result of this measure. It surely would create significant disturbance for local residents in the areas in which these different enterprises were open.

I was interested to hear my noble friend say that 3,000 new jobs would be created as a result of this Bill. That seems to imply a couple of things. First, a large number of premises will open as a result of this Bill becoming law. Secondly, I should be grateful if my noble friend would confirm that new jobs will be created and that employees who are already working a full week will not be stretched a little further. Who will do the 3,000 new jobs, and where will they come from?

Finally, will the Minister elaborate further on the number of places which would be likely to qualify for opening? How large are they? What kind of locations will they be in? I am concerned about the effects on local residents. I shall be interested to know to what extent people in the area will be affected. Will the premises be in residential areas or in out of town shopping areas where local residents will not be affected? That clearly would be more satisfactory. Will there be any employment protection to stop people losing their jobs during the week if they are unhappy to work on Sundays? We have debated that issue a great deal across the Floor of the House over the past 15 years.

I should be grateful for more help and information in order to evaluate the seriousness of the problem that will be created by the Bill before I and others will be happy with the change.

8.1 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee

My Lords, I believe that voting generally should be free, and a subject such as this is certainly one for a free vote as that term is normally understood. I make the point because I do not wish my noble friends who perhaps take a different view of activities on Sunday from that which I take to be regarded as committed by what I say today.

I believe that it is generally appropriate that people should be able to do on Sundays what they can do on other days of the week. I welcome the extending of the choice of leisure activities inherent in the Bill. I understand that there is some confusion in some quarters about the effect of the present laws. That in itself has led to anomalies.

However, I have two major areas of concern. While my starting point may be different from that of the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, I raise the same issues. First, I refer to protection for residents and neighbours of the premises concerned. There will be more activity. It is true to say that residents look forward to a day off if they live near premises which are troublesome in a general sense. The problems are not necessarily, for instance, a result of loud music from premises but a result of the behaviour of people as they leave. Those people may not be aware that they are disruptive. When one is in a fairly happy state of mind late at night, in one's own terms one may be behaving reasonably. But those trying to get to sleep nearby would not agree. It is very difficult to control loud conversations in the street, the banging of car doors, and so on.

That matter was raised in evidence to the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. In evidence its representatives said: For noise on the streets, the local authority has great difficulty indeed … we cannot deal with the sort of problems on the streets from these sorts of premises, that is, people shouting on the streets; people congregating on pavements; people slamming doors; revving cars; taxis arriving to pick people up. We have no power and the police powers are fairly limited because they only deal with it if there is a breach of peace … we would have to monitor it and it is very expensive monitoring all these things like nuisances at night". Licensing and restrictions that may be imposed through that procedure are not the answer. The noble Viscount, Lord Astor, referred to the licensing authorities exercising, I think the term used was rigour. But in evidence to the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee the Justices' Clerks' Society put a substantial question mark over what might be done through the licensing procedure. Its representative was asked whether he was satisfied that the system of music and dancing licenses issued by local authorities and subject to appeals to the courts provides sufficient protection for residents potentially affected. He said: Our general answer is 'not very satisfied'". He was asked: Do you consider there should be a wider potential for objection for an affected resident?". He said, Yes I do, not only at the time of grant but also a proper review machinery so that an individual who feels aggrieved by disturbance can petition the court for revocation of that certificate". It is an important point. I understand that the police have the powers to apply for revocation.

It is a question as to whether the Government will give local authorities—I believe that they would be the right recipient—reserve powers to tackle the matter when noise nuisance legislation does not work—for instance, when it would be sensible simply to prohibit certain times for opening. There should be a discretion for each local authority because in different areas the circumstances are different. I believe that there is an area of concern to be tackled.

What experience has been gleaned from the deregulation of shopping hours? What have we learnt? I believe that there are some problems. It would be sad not to take advantage of that experience.

The second area concerns employees' rights. The noble Viscount, Lord Astor, referred to the Sunday Trading Act and said that the Bill was in the same vein. It is, but not with regard to the protection of employees. I see no reason not to include a replication of the protections contained in the Sunday Trading Act. I refer to the right to refuse to work on Sunday; the concomitant right not to be dismissed for refusing to work on Sunday; and the right not to suffer detriment for refusing to work on Sunday. If the Bill goes forward, I hope that those protections could be written into the legislation. Subject to that, and having spent my time raising criticisms, I say again that I support the general thrust of deregulation.

8.8 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, like the noble Baroness, I am constrained to start by saying that anything that I say on this as on any other Private Member's Bill is my own opinion. My party does not take an opinion collectively on Private Member's Bills. However, those who remember the progress of the Sunday trading legislation will know that my personal predilection has always been for greater freedom for activities on Sunday. The Bill clearly is in line with that. It seems rather anomalous that we have licensed almost every other kind of entertainment except dancing and the ability to serve alcoholic drinks with dancing. I am rather surprised by the calculations which the noble Viscount makes of the extra number of jobs. I should have thought that that was an anomaly that would have been of great importance on only a few occasions in the year. Although I do not question his figures, I am surprised to learn that the impact has been so great in Scotland.

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.

I shall not be very original. I share both concerns of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. I share the concern of the local authorities that there should be a reserve power to enable them to take action when there is clearly a breach of the licensed conditions and there is the eventuality of disturbance to neighbours of the premises in which the dancing and drinking will take place. I also share her concern that there should be the same protection of employment as that provided by other Sunday trading legislation.

The noble Viscount referred in his opening speech to the amount of consultation that had taken place on the part of—I will not say the promoters of the Bill, since it is not a private Bill—those who are concerned about the measure with local authorities and other organisations. I am a little surprised, if that consultation was so thorough, that there should not have been agreement about the reserve powers of local authorities and protection of the rights of those who will be needed to work on Sunday nights. I hope that the noble Viscount will support any action that is taken at later stages of the Bill to secure that those defects are remedied. However, with those provisos, I support the Bill.

8.10 p.m.

The Earl of Courtown

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Astor on his very fine exposition of this proposed measure. I should like to say at the start that Her Majesty's Government support the Bill.

The Bill's provision would give effect to the same proposals as were contained in the draft regulation, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Mclntosh, which was put before the House in 1995.

I do not propose to detain your Lordships with a detailed account of the history of that deregulation measure, with which the House is I think familiar. Suffice it to say that there were concerns on a number of fronts, and I should like to mention briefly those which seem to me to have some significance.

Perhaps the point of greatest concern in this House was the view expressed by the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee that legislation on this particular subject, touching as it does on aspects of Sunday observance, was not appropriate for the deregulation order process. I have to say that that was not a view which Her Majesty's Government shared, but nevertheless it was a view of which we were required to take note. However that might be, that particular issue has been resolved by the very welcome initiative which my noble friend has taken in introducing primary legislation.

There were also concerns about the effectiveness of the consultation process—something which the Government are required to carry out prior to introducing a proposed deregulation measure. It may be fairly said that enthusiasm led the day. Be that as it may, that matter too, relating as it does to the deregulation order process, is no longer an issue. Indeed, it may be said that there has been an enhanced level of consultation about Sunday dancing, because the normal processes of debate and consideration which attach to a piece of primary legislation have actually been augmented by the process of direct consultation which took place on the proposed deregulation measure.

So if anyone thinks there was originally insufficient time properly to consider these proposed changes to the law, that perceived defect has now been handsomely corrected.

I know that there were concerns in some quarters, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, the noble Lord, Lord Mclntosh of Haringey and my noble friend Lord Brentford, about the position of workers who now might be expected to work on Sundays if Sunday dancing becomes lawful. It is clear that the industry has made strenuous efforts to tackle this question. The voluntary code of practice which has been proposed by the British Entertainment and Discothèque Association will watch over many of the problems that are envisaged by the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Mclntosh.

I should like to mention briefly one other matter about which some people have expressed concern; that is, the important issue of protection for residents from nuisance. It is inevitable, and perfectly understandable, that when new activities are proposed—or, more accurately in the present case, when the existing boundaries of activities are to be extended—people who think themselves likely to be affected by the new arrangements may feel some anxiety. What I should like to make quite clear is that the existing arrangements for protection of the public as they apply to the other days of the week will be applied in full to Sundays. That is true both of the local authority licensing arrangements for public entertainments and for the liquor licensing regime, which is the responsibility of the licensing justices.

Both regimes contain provision for objections to be heard and for the licence or certificate to be revoked or not renewed when there is due cause. I hope that will be sufficient reassurance in relation to any of the concerns mentioned by noble Lords. As a matter of comparison, the current liquor licensing regime applies the same safeguards to Sundays as to weekdays. The permitted hours on Sunday are slightly shorter—noon to 10.30 p.m., as opposed to 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. on weekdays, but that is the only distinction.

I should like to go a little further concerning the areas of protection for the public mentioned by my noble friend and the noble Baroness. Local authorities have a wide discretion in relation to public entertainment licences and take account of objections from the police, fire authorities and the public. The local authority may revoke a licence if the holder breaks its conditions, or may refuse to renew the licence.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, made a particular reference to the police. The police may move for revocation, but the public may instigate that move on the part of the police. The same consideration also applies to local licences. The licensing justices also have the same wide discretion on whether to grant a special hours certificate, and may revoke a certificate where there has been disorderly or indecent conduct.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, my noble friend Lord Brentford and the noble Lord, Lord Mclntosh of Haringey, were concerned over the rights of employees in this area. Those employees who do not wish to work on Sundays will normally be given the opportunity to opt out of Sunday working. The British Entertainment and Discothèque Association, as I mentioned, has prepared a voluntary code of conduct which will enable employees to opt out, with the offer of independent arbitration in the event of disputes between employer and employee, and proposals for re-employment or compensation where arbitration upholds complaints.

My noble friend was also concerned about the venues for such activities on Sundays. It is envisaged that there will be no new premises expected. One must remember that there is also a very flexible labour market. We have found that such activities are increasingly being located further from residential areas.

Dancing is now virtually the only activity which continues to be caught by the Sunday Observance Act 1780. Other forms of commercial entertainment— cinemas, theatres, concerts, sporting events—are now lawful, and there is a strong case in equity for removing the isolation in which public dancing finds itself. It seems particularly difficult to defend, for example, the criminalising of tea dances for charity, which is the effect of the present law.

I do not assume that the outcome of this Bill, if it becomes law, would be that most people in the country would suddenly change their habits and go dancing on Sundays. I am quite sure that most would not. But the point is that those who would choose to do so—and there are not insignificant numbers who would—should be given the opportunity if they want it. Always provided of course that they should do so in a way which does not offend or disturb others.

I welcome this Bill, and I commend it to the House.

8.19 p.m.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister. He answered most of the questions put forward this evening. Perhaps I may briefly make a couple of points. We are only bringing the law into line with that in Scotland, as it has been for nearly 20 years. I know that those arguments have never convinced my noble friend Lord Brentford. They did not convince him when we debated the Sunday trading laws and I am sure that they will not convince him now. However, it is right to say that we are only doing what happens in a large part of this country already.

There are important points about the effect on local residents: excess traffic, noise, and matters of that sort. However, I remind the House, as did my noble friend the Minister, that there are, as it were, two discretionary checks: the public entertainment licence, which is given by the local authority, and the special hours certificates. Licensing justices would retain the discretion to refuse the special hours certificate. Licensing authorities may revoke a licence and the police may move a revocation.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, talked about Kensington and Chelsea. That was an issue when this matter came up in relation to deregulation. The debate has moved on since then. One of the criticisms was lack of consultation. There has been much more consultation since then and as a result I feel that there is a fair agreement between local authorities and the Government now on this issue and there are no longer areas of disagreement as there were.

Of course employment rights are important. The industry has shown itself willing to produce a code of conduct guaranteeing nightclub workers the right to opt out of Sunday working without fear of redundancy or detriment to their chances of promotion. The code will also allow for an independent BEDA funded tribunal to be set up to arbitrate on any disputes.

It is a late night industry and by such definition the staff of clubs and discothèques—

Viscount Brentford

My Lords, could I ask my noble friend whether he could arrange for copies of that voluntary code of practice to be circulated to all those who have participated in this debate?

Viscount Astor

Yes, my Lords, I shall certainly see whether I can arrange that.

The staff work flexible, non-conventional hours. It is the nature of the business. I hope that I have answered any points that noble Lords have raised. I feel that my noble friend the Minister fairly well answered all of them. I trust that your Lordships will give the Bill a Second Reading.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

House adjourned at twenty-two minutes past eight o'clock.