HL Deb 06 December 2001 vol 629 cc1022-5

8.33 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department of Culture, Media and Sport (Baroness Blackstone) rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 16th November be approved [5th Report from the Regulatory Reform Committee].

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, if approved, this order would be the first ever regulatory reform order to be made under the Regulatory Reform Act 2001, which received Royal Assent shortly before the general election this year. We therefore have an opportunity to make a little history.

The order is designed to extend permitted licensing hours from normal closing time on New Year's Eve this year until 11 a.m. on New Year's Day 2002. By adding to the existing hours, this would in effect allow on-licensed premises and registered members' clubs to open continuously—if they wish to do so—from 11 a.m. on New Year's Eve until 11 p.m. on New Year's Day 2002. This is a period of 36 hours.

"On-licensed premises" include, for example, pubs, nightclubs and restaurants. "Registered members' clubs" are non-profit-making clubs such as the Royal British Legion, working men's clubs, and Labour, Conservative and Liberal clubs, which often run special events on New Year's Eve.

In addition, the order would permit the police, local authorities and any local resident to apply to the licensing justices for a restriction order limiting the additional hours on grounds of likely disorder or disturbance. The final decision on whether to grant such a restriction order would be for the justices after considering the evidence.

The tourism industry, which includes the hospitality industry, has had a dreadful year. The effects of foot and mouth and the awful events on September 11th have been immensely damaging. The order is an opportunity to give the hospitality industry a small boost at a very difficult time. Ordinary people, too, will benefit by having the opportunity to enjoy themselves when and where they want on a night of national celebration.

I want to thank the members of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee of this House, who have spent considerable time scrutinising the order and who have worked closely with the Government to agree appropriate terms for it.

The committee had concerns about the timing of the order and about the legal interpretation of the Regulatory Reform Act 2001. In its report of 21st November to the House, the committee explained its reluctance to approve this order if the effects of Section 1(4) of the Regulatory Reform Act 2001 would have subsequently prevented it approving an order in respect of licensing hours at the Golden Jubilee. Section 1(4) is referred to in the reports as "the two-year rule" and it prohibits an amendment to the same provision in primary legislation twice within two years. However, following advice from Treasury Counsel, the committee has noted in its report that: The restrictions currently applying to the sale of alcohol on all New Year's Eves and during the Golden Jubilee have been transferred from Part III of the Licensing Act 1964 to this Order. These provisions can subsequently be amended without falling foul of the "two year rule' contained in the Regulatory Reform Act 2001". In giving its approval, the committee added, however, that regulatory reform proposals should not normally be drafted in this way to circumvent the provisions of Section 1(4). I can give the House the assurance that we shall comply with the committee's view.

The timing of the order was also an issue of concern for the parliamentary committees concerned with regulatory reform because of the limited time that magistrates would have to process applications for restriction orders before New Year's Eve. The committees, however, accepted the assurances given by the Magistrates' Association in a letter to the House of Commons committee. It said that magistrates would still support the order becoming law as late as mid-December, and that licensing justices were willing and able to deal with any applications for restriction orders in the time available.

The timing of the order provides no time for licensees to appeal against a restriction order imposed by magistrates, and the appeal provisions were removed from the order on grounds of practicality. However, I can assure the House that future orders—for example, the one concerning the Golden Jubilee—will restore these provisions.

Finally, I can confirm to the House that the terms of the order are fully compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. The order was approved in another place on 28th November and I commend it to the House. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 16th November be approved [5th Report from the Regulatory Reform Committee].(Baroness Blackstone. )

Baroness Anelay of St Johns

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that explanation. Perhaps I may begin, as ever, by reminding the House of my unpaid interest as patron of the Restaurant Association of Great Britain. The association will benefit from the making of this order.

The Minister rightly pointed out that we are making a little history tonight. I hope that on future occasions orders will not run up against some of the time constraints and the redrafting that has been repaired on this occasion—although it might be argued that the super-affirmative process that has been introduced by this system provides a greater opportunity for proper consideration and thereby the redrafting of orders. As a result of that it behoves the Government even more to think of the time limits with regard to the laying of orders.

I make it clear from the start that I support the making of the order. I certainly take full account of the points made by the Select Committee in its fourth report which were very firmly in favour of the order being made. I shall not take up the time of the House by referring to those points in detail. The Minister was absolutely right to add to that list the importance of the order to the tourism industry. As the Minister said, it has suffered two dreadful blows this year. The order will assist the industry, one hopes, to have a slightly better level of business than otherwise would be the case and indeed should reduce the regulatory cost burden that otherwise it would have faced if it had to make applications for orders. Indeed, David Quarmby of the British Tourist Authority pointed out that the order will bring us into line with our European competitors and provide yet another reason for people to enjoy the New Year in Britain.

I had concerns before I came to the House on three matters. I therefore gave notice to the Minister's office of those three matters. The first was the issue of the two-year rule. The second was the late coming into effect of the order, which means that there are only 11 court sitting days—if tomorrow is the day on which the order takes effect—on which magistrates can hear applications for restriction orders. I was also concerned about the need to withdraw the right of appeal by licensees because of the late bringing forward of the order. I am grateful for the explanation that the noble Baroness has given and particularly for the assurances that she has given on these matters. She has therefore made it possible for me to cut out about three-quarters of my speech and I simply support the making of the order.

Lord Addington

My Lords, I support the order. Most of my questions were about the timing restriction. As both noble Baronesses have covered them I should like to say that we are generally in favour of the order. It is a hopeful sign which will enable people to enjoy their holidays slightly more and give a little input into an industry which has taken rather a battering.

I hope that the general liberalisation of licensing laws, if it ever happens, will not be done on such a squeezed timescale. Having said that, generally speaking, I am in favour of the order.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, and indeed to the noble Lord, Lord Addington, for their support for the order. I hope that the outcome will be as positive as it possibly can be and that plenty of people will be able to have an extremely enjoyable New Year's Eve and New Year's Day as a result. With hindsight we entirely accept that we should have begun the process slightly sooner. Part of the problem was that people did not anticipate that a delay would be caused by the general election and so parliamentary days were lost prior to the summer recess. I am grateful for the support expressed for the order.

On Question, Motion agreed to.