HL Deb 23 July 1999 vol 604 cc1262-5

3.2 p.m.

Lord Burlison rose to move, That the draft deregulation order laid before the House on 9th July be approved [24th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this order is designed to reduce burdens on pubs and clubs who wish to extend their licensing hours for the forthcoming millennium holiday. The order automatically extends licensing hours for the night of the Millennium Eve. These millennium licensing hours fill the gap from the end of licensing hours on 31st December, taking account of any existing extensions, up until opening time on 1st January 2000.

The order will not apply to off-licence premises. Although this means pubs will be free to open from 11 a.m. on Millennium Eve until 11 p.m. on New Year's Day—a total of 36 hours—the Government believe it unlikely that many will choose to do so. They are unlikely to have the staff or the customers to operate so long without a break. This order provides them with the opportunity to choose the opening times that are most convenient to them and their customers within the overall period allowed. To protect local residents from disorder or undue disturbance the order produces a system of restriction orders which will allow courts to curtail the new hours in premises where there is a real risk that problems could arise.

One point I draw to your Lordships' attention is that unlike routine extensions of hours for special events where any entertainment licence is automatically extended to run with the extra liquor licensing hours, this order will not automatically extend the duration of entertainment licences. Events that require entertainment licences can present a greater risk to the public from noise and large crowds than extended drinking hours only. Local councils already have a discretion in respect of the duration of entertainment licences. The Government believe that they should continue to exercise that discretion on the Millennium Eve.

The background to the order now before the House is that a public consultation exercise on the proposed legislation took place between November 1998 and February 1999; the proposal for a draft order was laid before Parliament in April; and that was duly considered by the respective Committees of the House and in another place. At that stage the Government were proposing that the longer hours should apply to every New Year's Eve. However, the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee was concerned that possible disturbance and disorder might result from longer hours. It recommended that the proposal should be amended to apply to this year only and that deregulation for future New Years should be considered in the light of that experience.

The Government believe that their original proposals would have maintained the necessary protection against disturbance and disorder; however, they recognise the committee's concerns, which were shared also by the police and the courts. The proposal has therefore been amended in accordance with the committee's recommendation and the new arrangements will apply to the coming New Year's Eve only. The Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee has considered the amended order and has recommended approval by the House. The draft order was approved in another place on 20th July. I commend the order to the House.

Moved, That the draft deregulation order laid before the House on 5th July be approved [24th Report from the Deregulation Committee].—(Lord Burlison).

Baroness Anelay of St Johns

My Lords, I rise briefly to support the making of the order. We on these Benches welcome the fact that the Government have amended the original order in response to the recommendation of the Eighteenth Report of the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation. After all, the millennium celebrations will be special. I believe that this country is leading the world in making them special. No one wants to be a kill-joy, but all on these Benches wish to be sure that public safety will not be put at extra risk by all-night opening hours.

It is right that the order should apply to Millennium New Year's Eve only and not to future end-of-year licensing in general—unless and until, of course, Parliament has sufficient evidence to agree to deregulation for each New Year to come. As the report of the committee stated, we do not have access to that evidence at this stage.

I have read carefully the statements made by the Home Office, the Secretary of State for Home Affairs and the Secretary of State for Health. They provide reassurances that the emergency services and the A & E departments of hospitals should be able to cope with, if I can put it this way, the ill-effects of the millennium celebrations which will be suffered by some of us—I hope not too many.

The Home Office statement refers to the representation made by the Magistrates' Association. I wish to draw attention to that statement. The Magistrates' Association had suggested that there should be a September deadline for restriction order applications in order to allow the courts to arrange any necessary extra hearings to hear the New Year applications. The Government rejected that plea on the basis that people might not be well enough organised in time to make the application before September. I wonder whether that is true. I believe that the millennium celebrations are special. It is so well known that there will be difficulty getting staff to be on duty that night that people have been making bookings exceptionally early—indeed, as early as 1st January this year in some places. I believe that the September deadline could have been met.

Have the Government had any further discussions with the Magistrates' Association about such a deadline and the implications that any late applications may have upon the smooth running of the courts service and upon residents who might wish to object to such applications?

My final point relates to concerns that have been expressed that residents' associations may not be fully aware that they are permitted to object to the extra opening hours over the millennium just as they might at other times. Representations were made by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea concerning the possibility that residents' associations might not, simply as a result of Home Office publicity regarding the order, have cottoned on to the fact that they can make such objections. I have in front of me a copy of the Home Office press release dated 14th April. It is headlined: Pubs and clubs to open around the clock on New 'Year's Eve". It states: The new arrangements would come into effect in time for this year's Millennium celebrations".

There is, of course, nothing in the press release that is inaccurate. In fact, once the order has gone through the House, what it says is true. The difficulty raised by Kensington and Chelsea in particular is that the press release appears to indicate that the law will be as stated, and that no one can change it. Do the Government have any plans to publicise the fact that it is open to residents' associations to make objections, if they so wish, to the 36-hour run of opening time that is available? We on these Benches support the making of the order.

Lord Burlison

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her comments, and in particular for her support for the changes that are being made.

I recognise the concerns of the Magistrates' Association that the suggestions it made at the time were not totally accepted by the Government. Having said that, I am sure that indications have been given to the Magistrates' Association and similar bodies that the Government are prepared to carry on consultations with them.

With regard to residents' objections, we expect longer opening hours to allow for more relaxed and civilised drinking—and therefore, we hope, to lead to fewer problems. However, the order gives the courts powers to limit the opening of individual premises where there is a real risk of problems arising. Applications to limit hours can be made by residents and by local police authorities. I also take the noble Baroness's point regarding the ability of residents to object under these circumstances.

With regard to the statement on the changes to the law, the view is shared by the police. The whole point of scrutinising the process is to enable the Government to listen to any views that might be put forward and to take on board any serious concerns. That is what we are doing, and I hope that each of those areas has been considered. If I have missed any points raised by the noble Baroness, I am prepared to write to her. I commend the order to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.