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Lord Rowallan: My Lords, I rise to ask the Minister two very brief questions. Basically, if we are relaxing the requirement that someone has to be there in person

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and making it possible for people to be able to do it by post, why do we have to give 24 hours' notice? I really cannot see any reason for that. Being a card-carrying member of a casino group, I find it very peculiar that I have to give notice to go to a casino of the same group of which I am a member within the same town, let alone anywhere else, before I go into it.

I do not see that we are making it any easier for people to get in or that we are improving the situation at all by just saying that you can do this by post as opposed to going there personally. They are actually extremely good places to go and have a very cheap meal of an evening with anybody, apart from the gambling side of it. I just think that we are making it incredibly difficult. I question why we are so much against the ability to be able to get in as and when we really want--providing, of course, that we are of age.

Lord Elton: My Lords, my eyes were drawn to this order because I was a member of the Select Committee on delegated powers when the first of these orders came in and the first slice of the salami was taken off the sausage. It seems to me to be a rather regrettable way of treating statute law to lower it gently, gently, gently until the toes touch the water, as it were. I do not think that this is how we should proceed. When responding to my noble friend on the Front Bench, it would be very helpful if the Minister could give an undertaking that the Government will review this piece of legislation and either bring it up to date or keep it in its present state. It should not come to us for a fourth time by way of another slice; indeed, at some time, someone holding the sausage will get his fingers cut off.

Lord Burlison: My Lords, I can understand the concern about the salami approach to the issue. I am sure that this is not the first occasion that the issue has been raised in relation to gambling as a whole. The Government do not accept that the changes here would encourage excessive gambling. These are comparatively modest changes, which remove some of the irksome restrictions that are no longer necessary in this day and age. They have been the subject of very public consultation and have been very carefully considered by the deregulation committees. It should be borne in mind that casinos are very strictly regulated in this country. The noble Baroness mentioned the age limit of 18 and that is something that I should certainly wish to be maintained.

The House of Lords committee commented in its report that it was concerned that amendments to the gambling legislation were being made on a piecemeal basis by deregulation order and that the gambling law should be reviewed. Although this is the first under this administration, in the past there have been seven others. The committee was, however, content with this order. Proposals would be laid only if they had been fully consulted on and were consistent with the general principles of gambling regulation. There are a number of concerns in this area; namely, keeping gambling crime free; ensuring that gaming is honest and fairly conducted; that players know what to expect and that the vulnerable are protected.

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Changes could not be made under the existing law to the extent that the industry would like, but we are considering this issue. A review would be a large task involving three major Acts of Parliament on betting, gaming and lotteries. The legislation still achieves its primary objective of keeping gambling crime free. As regards further use of the power, we do not want to rule out judicious use of appropriate changes which are in the public interest.

The noble Lord, Lord Rowallan, asked about the need to apply for membership 24 hours in advance. I understand his point but we need to maintain strict controls on membership. At present we do not seek any means of obtaining membership other than on a bona fide basis. Although I am not fully aware of the facts behind the 24-hour period, I shall write to the noble Lord on that issue and, if necessary, discuss it with him further at a later date.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Deregulation (Millennium Licensing) Order 1999

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.

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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

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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.


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