HL Deb 27 March 2002 vol 633 cc319-23

8.29 p.m.

Lord Davies of Oldham

rose to move, That the draft regulatory reform order laid before the House on 28th November 2001 be approved [15th Report from the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee].

The noble Lord said: My Lords, if the order is approved, it will amend the Regulatory Reform (Special Occasions Licensing) Order 2001 and will relax permitted licensing hours for two hours after their normal end on 3rd June this year. I can assure the House that the order is compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

This year, 3rd June is the Bank Holiday Monday immediately preceding the national holiday granted on 4th June, when Her Majesty will attend St Paul's for the Service of Thanksgiving in respect of her Golden Jubilee. The order to be amended is the order approved by the House last December, which provided extra hours during last year's New Year's Eve. Public houses, bars and restaurants normally close at 11 p.m. on Monday. If the order is approved, the normal closing time for on-licence premises and registered members clubs on 3rd June will therefore be 1 a.m. Nightclubs will still be free to open later if they are normally permitted to do so by the licensing justices. Their closing time will continue to be to be 2 a.m. in most parts of England and Wales and 3 a.m. in the West End of London.

The order also provides for the police, local authorities and local residents to seek orders from the licensing justices and magistrate's courts restricting the extra hours provided by the order for the purposes of preventing potential disturbance or disorder.

In December, my noble friend Lady Blackstone gave the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, an assurance that future orders of this kind would restore the right of licensees or registered members clubs to appeal to the Crown Court against decisions by magistrates to impose restriction orders. This order fulfils that undertaking. The one-off net saving to the hospitality and leisure industry resulting from the order is estimated to be £8.9 million. This arises because of the removal of the need to apply for permission from the courts to open later on the night in question— the night of 3rd June 2002.

I want to take this opportunity to express my thanks for the work of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee of this House. The work that the committee has done in scrutinising the order has been exceptionally good. I welcome the committee's decision to recommend it to the House. I am sure that extended hours will add greatly to the enjoyment of many people during the period of the Golden Jubilee celebrations. I commend the order to the House. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft regulatory reform order laid before the House on 28th November 2001 be approved [15th Report front the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee].—(Lord Davies of Oldham.)

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 members of the association will benefit from the making of the order, which will extend licensing hours for an extra two hours over the period 3rd to 4th June.

I concur with everything that the noble Lord has said with regard to the celebration of the Jubilee. It is an enormously important occasion for us all—and it should have a significant and welcome impact on tourism at that time. Like the Minister, I take note of the fact that the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform, in its 15th Report, is satisfied that the amended order is in a form which is appropriate for affirmative resolution today.

Let me make it clear that I support the making of the order. However, there are matters that should he raised today as a result of the two amendments which the Government had to make to the draft order as a result of the concerns raised by the Select Committee of another place in its 5th Report, at paragraphs 26 and 27. As a result of those concerns, perhaps I may take a moment or two to set out why I believe that the Government need to learn from the glitches that have found their way into this order and into the New Year's Eve order, so that we do not face these problems again.

The first concern raised by the Select Committee was the old one. Is there enough time? Is enough time being allowed for the system of restriction orders referred to by the Minister to be able to operate properly?

When we debated the special occasions licensing order on 6th December 2001, I commented on the problems that flowed from the late tabling of that order. The Minister has referred to the fact that I raised the issue of the Government having to withdraw the right of appeal by licensees. That was a blot on that particular statutory instrument. The Minister is right. His noble friend Lady Blackstone gave an assurance, and I am happy to be able to welcome the fact that she has put that assurance into effect in the order that is before the House. It is now just as it should be in that regard.

A second problem arises from the late tabling of the special occasions order which has also now hit this one; namely, will there be enough time for the magistrates to hear applications for the restriction orders? In its 5th Report, the Select Committee of another place noted that there had been problems with the operation of the special occasions order. When that order was passed by this House in December, the Minister reported, by reference to the Select Committee report, that the, licensing justices were willing and able to deal with any applications for restriction orders in the time available". I welcomed that assurance. I felt able to cut short my remarks—I chopped them by about three-quarters—and agreed to the making of the order. We all went away thinking that all was fine.

We now learn, however, that in practice there was not a 100 per cent success rate in this matter. From the report of the Select Committee of another place, we learn that in at least three licensing districts the licensing authority's final session before the new year took place too soon after the order came into force for it to be possible for applications for restriction orders to be made. It was therefore not possible for local residents—or for that matter, local authorities or police forces—to make use of the provisions which were designed to ensure that the necessary protection was maintained.

The Select Committee of another place therefore commented, at paragraph 27 of its report, that it was "dismayed" that the assurances that it had been given by the Government had turned out to be false, and said that it would pursue the issue with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. The Select Committee asked the Government for certain assurances about the procedure so that the problem should not be repeated in the provisions for this Jubilee order.

We are told in the reports from the Select Committees in both Houses that the Government have amended the order so that licensing justices will be able to hear applications for restriction orders at any time, not merely on the dates normally set aside for licensing sessions—when justices with particular expertise in regard to licensing normally sit, and the public know from long experience that those are the set dates. It is fortunate—and we should thank the magistrates—that they have been prepared to get the Government off the hook by being so flexible and helpful.

That sounds like a pragmatic solution; but, as so often, pragmatism leads to other problems. The problem now, because the order comes before the House too late for the normal procedure to be followed—that is, of the appeals being made on the normal dates on which licensing magistrates would sit—is: how do people know what the new procedure is, and that they can go along on any day and make their applications?

We are told by the Select Committee of another place in its 7th Report that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport gave the committee details of the publicity strategy that it intends to follow in order to make sure that those who are likely to be affected by the opening hours during the Jubilee period will be aware that they can, if they wish, apply for a restriction order, and that the details of how to go about it will be made clear.

The Select Committee was obviously satisfied with the plans put forward by the Government. The problem is: how do we see them? I made inquiries with the Printed Paper Office to find out whether there was an open record of what the publicity would be, and the PPO could find no reference to it. A footnote in the Select Committee report states that there is an Explanatory Memorandum. But neither I nor the Printed Paper Office could find any public record of it. That is not a very good start for a publicity strategy. Can the Minister give the House a flavour of the publicity strategy that will be adopted. Will he give an assurance that the Explanatory Memorandum with regard to the publicity will be placed in the Library in both Houses.

I can only repeat what I said in December. All this goes to show that it is vital for the Government to get their act together in regard to these deregulation matters, so that the normal procedures that people expect to happen do happen, and that there is a proper time within which people can make applications for restriction orders, and then time for the licensees affected by them to appeal against them if it is proper to do so.

There is no doubt that after the successful passage of this order through the House—which I hope will be the case—the Government will lay an order in due course in respect of next New Year's Eve. The reason why I have taken some time over this matter is to say: please let us get it right next time.

Viscount Falkland

My Lords, we on these Benches accept the order and thank the noble Lord for explaining it so clearly. The licensing laws in this country are complex, and these kinds of changes are equally complex. I shall have to read the noble Baroness's speech tomorrow in order to understand it fully. I admire the erudition that she has demonstrated.

Behind licensing in this country is a cultural wish on all occasions of celebration to imbibe alcohol. The noble Lord rightly said that a great many people get enjoyment from that. But it must be balanced against the likelihood of a great deal of inconvenience, if not worse, to the public services—whether to the police, nurses or ambulance workers—on this and other such occasions.

My noble friend Lady Barker has just pointed out to me that the date in question is the day after England's first World Cup game, so the imbibing of alcohol is likely to be even more intense than has been considered thus far. Of course, I wish everyone well who is arranging this event. I shall be abroad, as will many others who can afford it. That said, perhaps we shall learn something more and perhaps the culture of drinking in this country will change as a result. We can but hope.

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, I thank the two noble Lords who have contributed to the debate. To the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, I say that I cannot imagine why on Earth he should think that an increase in the consumption of alcohol might attend England's World Cup fixtures. I understand that at least one of them will be played at 7.30 in the morning. One would have to be a hardened and committed drinker to be massively concerned to drink at that time. I hear what the noble Viscount says, and I recognise that we may all have cause for celebration as England progress satisfactorily through the early stages of the World Cup. From what I can see, the early stages look like being the most difficult.

I appreciate the welcome given by the noble Viscount and the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St Johns. I shall address several important points. Of course, I can give an assurance that the memorandum will appear in the Library of both Houses; I apologise for the fact that that has not yet happened.

I understand the anxieties expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St Johns, but this order is not quite the same as the order relating to the new year, when there is an extensive increase in the hours. The noble Baroness will recognise that we are discussing an extension of the hours only from 11 o'clock to 1 o'clock, as far as concerns licensed premises. That means that the impact on the wider public who might be critical or the measure is reduced that bit more. Even so, I recognise the importance of the points that the noble Baroness made, and I can assure her that it is intended that anyone who wishes to object to the extension of a licence should have the opportunity to do so.

I am happy to relate that I am not close to those who are responsible for the PR operation of this department. I hasten to add that I am not, in fact, close to those in charge of the PR operation of any department. The further away that one can be at present, the happier and more secure one feels at the Dispatch Box. I assure the noble Baroness that steps will be taken to ensure that the wider public knows its rights in relation to the legislation. The order is designed to enhance general public enjoyment and celebration of the Jubilee events. I am sure that we all concur with that objective. Secondly, the order saves the industry a considerable amount of money because, otherwise, every part of it would have to apply separately and at considerable cost.

As was said on both Front Benches opposite, the order merits support. On that basis, I commend it to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.