Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation Thirty-Sixth Report


29 NOVEMBER 2000

By the Select Committee appointed to report whether the provisions of any bill inappropriately delegate legislative power, or whether they subject the exercise of legislative power to an inappropriate degree of parliamentary scrutiny; to report on documents laid before Parliament under section 3(3) of the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994 and on draft orders laid under section 1(4) of that Act; and to perform, in respect of such documents and orders, the functions performed in respect of other instruments by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.




1. The Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994 provides a two-stage process for the parliamentary scrutiny of deregulation orders. A document containing the proposal is laid under section 3(3) of the Act in the form of a draft of the order, together with explanatory material; and we and the Commons equivalent committee have 60 days in which to consider and report on it. The Government then lay under section 1(4) of the Act a draft order, either in its original form or amended to take account of the two committees' views, for approval by resolution of each House. In the Lords a motion to approve a draft order can only be moved after we have made a second report on it.[1]


2. In March of this year we reported on a proposal for a Draft Deregulation (Sunday Dancing and Licensing) Order 2000.[2] Under the Sunday Observance Act 1780 the commercial organisation of public dancing on Sundays is prohibited. The provision about Sundays in the Licensing Act 1964 limits the licensing hours on that day so that licensed premises and registered clubs cannot serve alcohol late at night. The proposal we reported on in March would have allowed charging for admission to public dances which start on Sundays. It would also have amended the Licensing Act 1964 so that in future special hours certificates could permit extensions of the hours during which alcohol may be sold on Sunday evenings. That proposal also included changes to the liquor licensing hours in casinos as well as in dance halls.

3. The March proposal - and the present proposal - applies to England and Wales, but does not apply to Scotland or Northern Ireland. In Scotland, the holding of publicly organised dancing on Sundays is governed by the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982. In Northern Ireland, the Sunday Observance Act (Ireland) 1695 placed no restrictions on Sunday Dancing. In earlier evidence to the House of Commons Deregulation Committee the Royal Ulster Constabulary pointed out that although in Northern Ireland public dancing is permitted on Sundays, under the Licensing Order (NI) 1996 alcohol can only be sold on a Sunday until 10 pm.

4. When considering deregulation proposals the Committee always follows the wording of the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994. It considers whether a deregulation proposal would remove or reduce a burden; whether there has been adequate consultation; and whether necessary protection would be maintained under the proposal. In our March 2000 report we had no difficulty in reporting "that the proposal would reduce a burden on the entertainment and tourist industry and on casino operators", and "that there was adequate consultation". We were also "satisfied that the proposal would maintain necessary protection for employees". Our sole reservation about the previous proposal was that necessary protection for residents would not be maintained under it.

5. Our concerns about the earlier proposal had nothing to do with the proposed removal of the antiquated restrictions on Sunday Dancing. Although the current legislation against this dates back to 1780, its origins reach back considerably earlier, to the Puritan legislation of the preceding century. There are very few people today who object to dancing on Sundays on religious grounds, and none of the people who wrote to us expressing their deeply-held religious views objected to the original proposal on the grounds of dancing alone.

6. As we said in our 9th report, on the previous proposal:

    "The current Home Office Minister, in a press release launching the proposal, referred to 'Sunday Night Fever'. It is clear that this proposal is not about charging for tea dances and the like. It is essentially concerned with dancing in the evening, at which drinks would be available, and which would go on to the early hours of Monday morning. There is no suggestion that there would be a market for evening dancing licences if these occasions would be 'dry'.

    Apart from those who attacked the proposals on Sabbatarian grounds, almost all those who have opposed it in responses to the Home Office or in evidence to us have done so on the grounds that late night drinking on a Sunday will place unacceptable burdens on those who live near places of entertainment."

7. Our concern about the necessary protection of residents was such that we concluded that it would not be maintained under the previous proposal. Our recommendations on that proposal were as follows:

    "We have approached this proposal in the light of the continuing need, in our multi-cultural, multi-faith society, to balance the wishes of those who want to have 'a good night out' with those who want - on one day a week - to be able to continue to enjoy a good night's sleep. The Committee's key concern about this proposal centres on how the proposed special hours certificate system would work to ensure the maintenance of "necessary protection" to residents and others who would be adversely effected by this proposal. To this end, we have recommended the amendment of the draft order to make the changes optional - a local authority would have to resolve that the provisions should apply in its area before the changes would take effect there.

    We also recommend that when laying the 'stage 2' order before Parliament the Government should also publish, in draft, its guidelines on 'the special nature of Sundays', together with an explanation of the status of the guidelines.

    We therefore accept - if, and only if, the amendment for an 'opt-in' provision which we have proposed in paragraph 88 is included - that the proposal for the Draft Deregulation (Sunday Dancing and Licensing) Order 2000 meets the requirements of the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994 and is appropriate to be made under it."[3]


8. Until the publication of our March 2000 report both the present Government and its predecessor had always accepted the recommendations of this Committee in respect of deregulation orders. This made the second stage of scrutiny straightforward, and also meant that the time which elapsed between the two stages of the parliamentary procedure was usually fairly short. On this occasion the Government initially disagreed with our recommendation, and the Minister indicated in a letter of 6 June - nearly 3 months after our report was published - that he considered it ultra vires. We believed that it was intra vires, but recognised that it was not an easy point of law and a protracted correspondence followed in which the Committee repeatedly expressed its willingness to consider new approaches to the necessary protection issue. Eventually the Government came forward with a constructive compromise proposal, and we indicated our willingness to accept this in a letter of 28 September. So far, despite further letters from the Committee reminding the Government of our acceptance of its compromise proposal, no order embodying this suggestion has been laid.

9. We are bound to express surprise that the Government has now separated the Sunday Dancing proposal from the Licensing proposal. At no time - even in the Minister's latest letter of 17 November - was it suggested that the issues of Sunday Dancing and Licensing should be separated. We had in fact considered this possibility fleetingly in one of the many meetings in which we considered the original proposal prior to the publication of our March report. But we dismissed it immediately on the grounds that there is almost no commercial demand for alcohol-free dances, and we therefore made no mention of our consideration of this issue in our report, or indeed in our subsequent letters to the Minister.

10. The Government has now, two days before Parliament is expected to be prorogued,[4] laid a new text of the draft Order before Parliament. This new draft Order is restricted, in the Governments own words, to providing that "the entertainments and amusements to which the Sunday Observance Act 1780 applies do not include dancing by members of the public or any musical or other accompaniment to such dancing".[5]

11. This new draft Order does not apply to the licensing aspects of the previous proposal. The Government has announced it intention to proceed with these at a later stage.[6] We would comment on any such proposal then.


12. The immediate effect of the present proposal is likely to be limited. The Committee is unaware of any great public demand to participate in fee-paying dances at which alcoholic refreshment is not permitted. The draft order does not contain any transitional provisions modifying the effect of existing music and dancing licences. Such a licence is a requirement before public dancing can take place in premises[7] and evidence which we saw at the earlier stage revealed that many such licences contain terms forbidding Sunday dancing. We were also told that in some areas there is a 28 day consultation period before an application for variation of a licence can be considered.

13. It follows that some premises could be used for public dancing on a Sunday immediately the Order is made while others, no less deserving, might have to wait over a month before taking advantage of the change in the law.

14. We had always previously taken the view that the Sunday dancing and licensing issues were linked, and had therefore expressed our willingness in principle to accept a deregulation proposal which reflected this reality.

15. Our concerns about the maintenance of necessary protection under the previous proposal were related solely to the problems of noise, and sometimes violence, following prolonged drinking. As we have already said, we think it unlikely that many commercial organisations will want to organise Sunday dances without there being a parallel relaxation of the licensing laws. We are therefore satisfied that necessary protection would be maintained under the present draft order.


16. We received a considerable number of submissions on the original proposal, as did the Deregulation Committee in the House of Commons. Since the publication of our report in March we received several letters, mostly in support of the Committee's stance. We are grateful to all those who took the trouble to write to us, and have printed the evidence submitted directly to us with this report. All these letters were, of course, based on the Government's original proposal, and not on the very limited proposal which is now before Parliament.


17. This proposal has been laid before Parliament at a very late stage in the Parliamentary session. Although by long-standing convention the Committee has 15 days to consider and report on it, for some of these days the Committee will technically not exist, since we have to be re-appointed at the start of each new Parliamentary session. We understand the concern within Government that the draft Order should be in place before the coming New Year's Eve, as this falls on a Sunday. It is in our view regrettable that a draft Order which we might have approved months ago has been laid before Parliament barely a month before the Year's end. Nevertheless, in the interests of those people up and down the country who wish to organise dances on Sundays, and in recognition that the prohibition on their doing so is at least two centuries out-of-date, we have agreed this report in the hope that in the future all Sunday dancers can enjoy a happy, if somewhat sober, New Year.

18. The Committee reports that the draft Deregulation (Sunday Dancing) Order 2000 is in a form satisfactory to be submitted to the House for affirmative resolution.

19. We are required by our terms of reference to perform, in respect of documents and orders laid under section 1(4) of the 1994 Act, the functions performed in respect of other instruments by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. The Committee has concluded that there is nothing in the draft order which the Joint Committee would have needed to draw to the attention of each House.[8]

1   Standing Order 70(1)(b). Back

2   HL Paper 46, ordered to be printed 15 March 2000. Back

3   9th report, paragraphs 88-90. Back

4   The draft order was laid before both Houses of Parliament on Tuesday 28 November 2000. Parliament is expected to be prorogued on 30 November. Back

5   Paragraph 2 of the draft order. Back

6   Paragraph 10 of the Statement by the Home Office. Back

7   There is a relaxation of the requirement for a licence for public houses when only recorded music is provided. Back

8   This report is also published on the Internet at the House of Lords Select Committee Home Page (, where further information about the work of the Committee is also available. Back

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