CASE STUDY NINE: DRAFT DEREGULATION
(MILLENNIUM LICENSING) ORDER 1999
135. The proposal for the Draft Deregulation (New
Year Licensing) Order 1999 was laid before Parliament under section
3(3) of the 1994 Act on 13 April, and would have allowed registered
clubs and licensed premises to serve drinks throughout the night
of each New Year's Eve. We reported on the proposal session in
our 18th report of last session, dated 16 June 1999.
136. Our conclusions on the stage 1 proposal were
"In an unprecedented
situation, it is difficult to come to a firm conclusion as to
whether necessary protection would be maintained under the proposal.
We have concluded, in order to guarantee necessary protection,
in so far as this is possible, that in laying the second stage
deregulation order before Parliament the Home Secretary and Secretary
of State for Health should justify the Government's claim that
the emergency services will be able to cope with the likely effects
of the deregulation order over the Millennium period.
Furthermore, we consider that Parliament does not
have sufficient evidence to agree to the deregulation proposal
for each New Year to come. We accordingly recommend that the draft
order be amended so that it applies to the Millennium New Year's
Eve only. In the light of this experience consideration could
then be given to a further deregulation proposal applying the
extended licensing hours to all future New Years."
137. In 1999 the Government amended (and renamed)
the draft Order so that it applied to the Millennium Eve only.
In addition, the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for
Health provided the assurances which we had requested that in
their view the emergency services will be able to cope with the
likely effects of the relaxation of the licensing laws during
this 36-hour period. We were satisfied with this approach.
138. In the event, the Millennium New Year's Eve
appears to have passed off relatively peacefully, and, subject
to receiving the formal report from the Home Office to this effect,
we would be satisfied that necessary protection had been preserved
and we would see no obstacle to an order extending the relaxation
to all future New Years. On several occasions this year we have
written to the Home Office to remind Ministers of our willingness
to consider a further deregulation proposal, this time applying
to all New Year's Eves. We wrote, for example, to Mr O'Brien on
4 July reminding him of this recommendation, and emphasised that
"time is running out for consultation to be conducted on
a New Year's Eve deregulation order to be operative for this year,
and for the subsequent parliamentary scrutiny, particularly given
the late return of the House of Commons after the summer recess."
Lord Haskins, the Chairman of the Better Regulation Task Force,
supported us in this endeavour, and suggested that the New Year's
Eve licensing proposal should be subject only to "second
stage" parliamentary scrutiny, lasting only 15 days. Whilst
the Committee had doubts about the vires of this proposal,
we agreed that the Chairman should write to Mr O'Brien proposing
that it should be submitted to the Law Officers for their opinion.
Provided that the Law Officers, and the House of Commons Committee,
were content that Lord Haskins' proposal was intra vires
we said that the Committee would approve it, and would go on to
consider the report on necessary protection in the usual way.
139. Lord Haskins' proposal was not proceeded with
further, and on 26 October the Government published written answers
in both Houses of Parliament stating that the deregulation would
not proceed this year, laying the blame at the Committee's door.
The answers, and a subsequent letter from Mr O'Brien, suggested
that our report of 15 March 2000 commenting that we would be highly
unlikely to look at fresh deregulation proposals without a general
reform of the licensing laws discouraged the Government from consultation
on a follow-up New Year's Eve proposal. We found this surprising.
The Committee's comments referred to any proposals to deal with
new areas of the licensing law and not to work in hand. In the
light of our reports in June and October 1999 we would have expected
at very least an enquiry from the Government at official level
seeking clarification as to whether the Home Office's understanding
140. The Committee has enjoyed excellent relations
with all Government departments, and indeed at official level
the Committee is in very regular contact with the Home Office.
The Committee regard this isolated, and indeed unique, incident
of disagreement with a Government Department as an unfortunate
141. We are obviously disappointed that the Government
left it too late in the year to lay a further deregulation proposal
before Parliament in time for it to have effect for the coming
New Year's Eve, and that it failed to respond to our various communications
urging it to take action on this issue. The absence of a deregulation
order will have adversely affected hundreds of licensed premises
up and down the country, in addition to the magistrates who will
have to consider their licensing applications. We hope that we
will be able to consider and approve a deregulation order covering
all future New Year's Eves at the earliest possible opportunity
at the start of the next parliamentary session.