Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation Ninth Report


Memorandum by the British Entertainment and Discotheque Association

Introduction

1. The British Entertainment and Discotheque Association (BEDA) is pleased to submit evidence to the Committee to assist their deliberations concerning the Deregulation (Sunday Dancing and Licensing Order) 2000.

2. Having campaigned for this change for ten years BEDA welcomes these proposals. We believe they represent a sensible, balanced and timely way to reform an antiquated Act. They are consistent with the Government's modernising agenda that promotes the right of individuals to determine how to spend their leisure time while acknowledging the right of others to peace and quiet.

3. BEDA believes there is widespread support for this reform. The Home Office consultation process identified some of the many organisations, from the business community through to local government and the police, that espouse reform. Support also extends beyond those organisations that responded to the Home Office consultation exercise. Organisations such as the English Tourism Board (now the English Tourism Council); numerous local authorities including all 56 members of the British Resorts Association and the Local Government Association; and the Association of Chief Police Officers all support these proposals (see Appendix for joint letter urging reform). In addition, reform of the 1780 Sunday Observance Act is, of course, supported by the Better Regulation Task Force (Review of Licensing Legislation - July 1998) and the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (see the DCMS's Tourism Strategy).

Background

4. BEDA is the trade association that represents over 800 nightclubs and discotheques throughout the country. Members include all the major nightclub operators: First Leisure, Kingfisher Leisure, Luminar Leisure, Northern Leisure, NUS, Punch Retail, the Po Na Na Group and Springwood Leisure. BEDA also represents several hundred independent nightclub owner/operators and associate trade members who supply the industry. BEDA members account for around 80% of the nightclub industry measured by capacity and turnover.

The Proposals

Amendment of the Sunday Observance Act 1780 so that charges can be made for public admission to dances or discotheques on Sunday in England and Wales

5. We fully support the proposals to amend the Sunday Observance Act 1780 so that charges can be made for public admission to dances or discotheques on Sunday in England and Wales.

6. These proposals will be widely welcomed and have broad support in the community at large. Attendees at nightclubs and discotheques have long been confused by the restrictions that prevent opening on a Sunday. A BEDA survey indicated that 93% of nightclub owners would wish to apply to open on Sundays in order to meet perceived customer demand. Experience from Scottish nightclubs indicates that Sunday nights are particularly appealing to an older, more sophisticated customer (often women), that clubs are able to target with appropriate music and themed evenings. This is particularly true in smaller towns that are dominated by one club, which by opening on Sundays is able to cater for a wider range of consumers.

7. However, support for these proposals will not just be limited to operators of venues and their customers. Charitable, non-profit bodies and educational classes have all been prevented in the past from operating under this Act with dance schools and afternoon tea dances being shut down. Therefore, these proposals will open up new fundraising opportunities for charities as well as benefiting the nightclub industry and its employees.

8. Economic research carried out by the Economists Advisory Group has indicated that the liberalisation of Sunday Dancing could boost industry revenues by around £130 million per annum. The same research also indicates that other related industries will benefit directly, e.g. sales in the drinks industry could rise by £19.5 million per annum and restaurants will gain more customers. Indirect beneficiaries will include fast food outlets and taxicab firms who will gain extra business from nightclub audiences. Taxicab trade associations, representing around 54,000 licensed vehicles have described nightclubs as a significant source of their revenue because of the premium rates charged for night time fares (NFTCA).

Amendment of the Licensing Act 1964 so that in future special hours certificates may permit extensions of the hours during which alcohol may be sold on Sunday evenings, but only until 12:30am

9. BEDA welcomes the proposals to allow the sale of alcohol on Sunday evenings. However, from a commercial perspective, there is a strong case to allow later licensing on a Sunday consistent with other days in the week. Clearly, from a trading standpoint the industry believes that venues should be given the opportunity to operate beyond 12:30am if this is not disruptive to the local environment. Late night venues need to be aware of their impact on the surrounding environment on every night they trade. BEDA believes this approach could be extended to Sunday and that trading until 2am (or 3am in parts of central London) would not result in any adverse impact.

10. However, the industry recognises that for many people Sunday is different from the rest of the week - an earlier terminal hour will reflect this view. Therefore, because BEDA members have constantly sought to take on board the views of the wider community, BEDA does not oppose the proposals for a 12:30am terminal hour on Sundays. The Government may wish to consider whether the deregulation Order should include a mechanism to permit the terminal hour to be extended until 2am (or 3am in some parts of central London) by order of the Secretary of State without the need for further legislation.

The proposals for registered clubs, casinos and restaurants

11. BEDA supports these proposals. As with nightclubs, there is no longer any justification for maintaining antiquated restrictions. BEDA agrees with the Home Office that while conditions need to be in place across the board as a safeguard, they need not apply to all venues, e.g. restaurants will face less regulatory control than venues where the consumption of alcohol is the primary activity.

Protection for Residents

12. BEDA has consistently argued that any liberalisation of licensing hours must incorporate or retain safeguards to ensure well run venues and protection for local residents. Therefore, we believe it is right that these measures should in some way respond to the different nature of Sunday. Moreover, as an industry we have long experience dealing with the added difficulties and disturbances that can stem from drinking late into the night. Therefore, BEDA supports the proposals to protect residents, i.e.:

  • "the requirement for the liquor licensing authority to consider the special nature of Sunday before reaching a decision on a special hours certificate; and

  • "the power to exclude Sundays from a special hours certificate, on the grounds of disturbance caused outside the premises as a result of their use."

Nightclubs will also need to apply for later Public Entertainments Licences to open until 12:30am on a Sunday. We support this requirement as it will ensure that residents have a further opportunity for their views to be represented through their locally elected Councillors.

13. BEDA also recognises the value of an earlier terminal hour as a mechanism to help protect residents. We support the proposed exceptions to this - i.e. except on the eve of a Bank holiday other than Easter on the basis that these are more akin to Saturdays from the perspective of audiences seeking late night entertainment.

14. We agree with the Government that these measures to protect residents will minimise the need for any additional policing requirements. It is likely that local authorities would not grant permission for Sunday opening in those areas where significant extra policing would be required. In other areas police already handle public houses that close at 10:30pm on Sundays.

Protection for employees

15. A BEDA survey (analysed by the EAG) of 2,257 nightclub industry employees suggested that 69% of respondees[25] would be willing to work on Sunday. This evidence and the fact that the late night industry has traditionally operated flexible and voluntary staffing arrangements for weekend working confirms our belief that there will be a more than adequate supply of employees willing to work on a Sunday. Moreover, we agree with the Government that existing practices and legislation ensure necessary protection for workers. Incidentally, EAG's research suggests liberalisation may expand the late night sector to such an extent that an additional 3,000 jobs will be created.

16. As a further safeguard, BEDA has prepared a voluntary code of practice that enables staff to opt out of Sunday working if they so wish. The code provides for independent arbitration in any cases of dispute and BEDA is prepared to pay for the costs of any individual taking a case to arbitration under this code.

17. BEDA, representing about 80% of the industry by both turnover and venues, would be prepared to make adoption of this code part of our conditions of membership. We cannot, of course, force non-members to adopt the code but we are willing to extend our offer to pay for the costs of any individual taking a case to arbitration under this code to any nightclub employee - regardless of whether or not they work for a BEDA member club. In addition to this, we would welcome moves by the Government to incorporate the code into any statutory guidance that may be issued on the implementation of these proposals.

Transitional arrangements

18. Clearly the introduction of Sunday trading will have to be handled sensitively. Regulators, operators and the public will all need to be made aware of the new application process and the opportunities to make representations. BEDA therefore suggests that the deregulation Order should allow a period of three months during which applications for special hours certificates covering Sundays can be heard and granted to take effect upon a due date. In practice, this would mean that any application for a special hours certificate to cover Sundays would have no effect until a specified date three months after the Order had become law; and that any subsequent grant should take immediate effect.

19. Inclusion of this proposal would ensure that as many Sunday special hours certificates as possible would come into force on the same day. In turn, this would reduce confusion amongst any operators who might mistakenly conclude that the successful passage of the deregulation Order would automatically permit Sunday opening.

20. Concern has been expressed to us by local authority representatives that some liquor licensing authorities may have difficulty interpreting the amendment proposed by the Government to the Licensing Act 1964 that requires "the liquor licensing authority to consider the special nature of Sunday before reaching a decision on a special hours certificate". The wide variation of circumstances within individual local authorities would make a blanket policy inappropriate. Therefore, BEDA agrees with numerous local authorities that this requirement should be considered on a case by case basis rather than through the adoption of a blanket policy covering all applicants to a given local authority. We would urge the Government to consider including advice to this effect in any statutory guidance that is issued. This will help to ensure that these long-awaited reforms are implemented fairly throughout England and Wales.

Transitional costs

21. While there will be costs to the industry in applying to trade and operating a venue on a Sunday these will be voluntary costs with obvious financial benefits. The true cost to the industry is the £130 million of revenue per annum that venues are missing out on due to the present restrictions.

22. Regional variations contribute to the difficulty of estimating the cost of making an application to open on a Sunday. Local authorities may well make a charge for applications to vary licences to cover Sundays. A large number of premises already have permission for dancing as normal on Sunday. Where an application is necessary, in addition to the charge, there may be legal fees if a contested hearing is necessary. Every application for a special hours certificate will attract a fee of £25 payable to the Magistrates and is likely to have to be advertised in a newspaper at an average cost of around £250. In addition legal fees will almost certainly have to be paid which could range from a few hundred pounds for an uncontested application to thousands of pounds for an application that is vigorously contested. However, BEDA believes that these costs will pose a negligible cost to the industry compared with the current loss of revenue that results from the present restrictions.

23. BEDA recognises that those local authorities that receive applications for variations in licences will face costs when considering these requests. However, we agree with the Government that these costs will be entirely recoverable through the application fee discussed in the above paragraph. Moreover these requests would only be for the first year.

24. BEDA members' operational experience suggests that it is highly unlikely that a venue operating solely on a Sunday night would constitute a viable commercial venture. We therefore agree with the Government that these reforms would not give rise to demands for fire authorities to conduct additional fire safety inspections.

Conclusion

25. BEDA has long campaigned for reform of the 1780 Sunday Observance Act and subsequent amendment of the 1964 Licensing Act. Beneficiaries of these proposed reforms extend beyond our membership to the wider business and charitable communities as well as to the many individuals who for so long have been frustrated that they cannot spend their leisure time as they would like.

26. Our experience as operators in the late night entertainment sector demonstrates the need to strike a sensible balance of rights for consumers and safeguards for the public and employees. We believe that granting late night venues the opportunity to apply to trade on a Sunday but with the safeguards outlined above will achieve this necessary balance between increased consumer opportunity and local resident protection.

27. As set out above, BEDA has invested a significant amount of time and money devising a code of practice that enables staff to opt out of Sunday working if they so wish. This includes a commitment that BEDA will pay for the costs of any individual taking a case to arbitration under this code. However, we are confident that there will be a more than adequate supply of staff willing to work on a Sunday and that an additional 3,000 jobs will be created.

28. In short, these proposals are good for tourism, in tune with the times and will provide a welcome boost to the industry by increase turnover and employment opportunities. We therefore believe they will be widely welcomed and offer our support.

February 2000


25   11 did not answer the question. Back


 
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