Is this an appropriate subject
for a deregulation proposal?
35. In our 1995 report, as we have already noted,
we rejected the previous proposal for the fundamental reason that
we considered that the subject matter of the proposal was inappropriate
to be dealt with by a deregulation order. We also noted that all
previous changes to the Sunday observance legislation had been
made by primary legislation, and that the proposed relaxation
of the licensing legislation made this proposal more likely to
have an adverse impact on law and order than, for example, the
earlier changes which enabled theatres, museums, art galleries
and zoos to open on a Sunday. We concluded that the degree of
controversy associated with that proposal made it unsuitable for
a deregulation order.
36. There are, for some people, religious objections
to this proposal. We are grateful to those individuals who wrote
to us to express these views, and we appreciate that they are
clearly strongly held. We also noted, however, that the Churches
Main Committee, the General Synod of England and Wales, and the
were all consulted by the Home Office, but did not respond, although
many individual churches and smaller religious groups did. We
concluded from this that even in the mainstream Christian groups
there appears to be less opposition to relaxation of the Sunday
observance legislation than may have been the case even a few
37. In their submissions in response to the Home
Office's consultation paper a number of local authorities pointed
out that the Sunday Dancing prohibition was not enforced in many
parts of the country. Bexley Council, for example, said that "as
the consultation paper states, premise managers have been effectively
circumventing the law for many years. Prosecutions are very rare.
This proposal will therefore regularise the current situation
and this authority supports this proposal".
38. Similarly Southwark Licensing Unit said that
"the current restriction is outdated, is not enforced in
many areas of the country, and is subject of many schemes aimed
at circumventing the control. Its removal will assist business
and enforcing agencies alike ... The costs of amending public
entertainments licences to take into account changes to the Sunday
Observance Act will be minimal. However, the costs and associated
increased workload generated by later Sunday drinking, allied
to the provision of public dancing, could be considerable."
City of Westminster Council said that "if the proposals become
law it is expected that the Council will gain greater control
over entertainment on Sundays. This is because there will no longer
be a need to form Sunday Clubs to try and circumvent the current
law." Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council said that "the
restrictions imposed by the Sunday Observance Act 1780 have been
enforced by the local police in this area and as a consequence
night clubs do not open on a Sunday. Some attempts have been made
to 'get round' the legislation by the formation of "Sunday
Clubs" and the holding of "Charity Nights", which
has created administrative and enforcement problems."
39. We are persuaded by the consultation process
that this proposal is not now the subject of such controversy
as would continue to make it unsuitable to proceed with it by
deregulation order. There is substantial local authority support
for the proposal, although some of those who were broadly supportive
sought some modification or amendment of the proposal. There is
strong opposition from a minority of local authorities, principally
on the basis that the proposal would create disturbance and nuisance
for their residents. For several individual respondents also their
objections were not so much based on the "special nature
of Sunday" in the religious sense but on the understandable
desire for the continuation of one quiet evening in the week.
40. In these circumstances we do not think we should
suggest that every change to the Sunday Observance legislation
should be made by primary legislation. But we also think that
the legitimate concerns over the maintenance of necessary protection
remain valid in today's multi-cultural society. Everyone needs
a chance to recharge their batteries once a week. For historical
reasons, the quiet evening in England and Wales is Sunday, which
is also the evening before the start of the working week for most
41. The proposed relaxation of the licensing laws
will operate differently according to the particular area and
the proximity there of licensed premises to residential accommodation.
So this is an issue essentially best decided by the authorities
at local level rather than rigidly by the legislature for the
entire country. It was on the practicality and extent of the protections
which should exist at local level that we therefore concentrated.
This issue we discuss later in this Report.
42. As the Home Office's consultation paper notes,
"the leisure and entertainment industry is constrained by
the prohibition in the Sunday Observance Act 1780 on charging
for admission to places where dancing takes place on Sunday. Similar
constraints do not apply in other areas of the industry."
The Committee agrees with the Home Office's analysis that "the
continuing ban on admission charges to dances effectively means
that discotheques and similar establishments where public dancing
takes place do not open on Sundays."
43. The Government considers this to be an unjustified
restriction on business. These proposals to remove dancing from
the scope of the 1780 Act, and to make an appropriate relaxation
to the Licensing Act 1964, would enable dances and discotheques
to be conducted on a commercial basis on Sundays, and for alcohol
to be sold at those events after the end of normal licensing hours.
44. The estimated benefits to industry are considerable.
Research for the industry umbrella organisation BEDA suggested
that the proposal could boost entertainment industry revenues
by around £130 million each year. There would be benefits
for related industries, including in the drinks industry where
sales could rise by £19.5 million each year. There would
also be extra business for fast food outlets and taxi firms. BEDA
also estimated that allowing discos to operate on Sundays would
create an additional 3,000 jobs within the industry.
45. There are between 2,000 and 3,000 discotheques
and similar premises in England and Wales. A BEDA survey showed
that the vast majority of these, 93%, would want to open on Sundays.
46. There would be some cost to industry attached
to the proposal. Every operator wanting to sell alcohol beyond
10.30 pm on Sundays would have to apply for a variation of their
special hours certificate. BEDA estimated that each application
would cost around £275 plus legal fees ranging from a few
hundred pounds to thousands of pounds for a contested application.
"However, BEDA believes that these costs would be negligible
compared with the benefits that the industry would gain from being
able to operate on Sundays."
47. In evidence to the Committee the British Resorts
Association, representing 56 Local Authorities with substantial
tourism interests, said that the proposal would help its members
in "maximising an already seasonal market, and countering
the somewhat staid image of the domestic market compared to comparative
overseas destinations." It also pointed out that the night
life on offer overseas was especially attractive to younger holiday
makers. "The current legislation with its archaic restrictions
in England and Wales does not ... help the British resorts to
compete on equal terms with some of the more popular comparable
destinations abroad. Your proposals will not put British resorts
on an equal footing, but they will at least go some way to help
redress the balance."
48. The Committee is satisfied that the proposal
would reduce a burden on the entertainment and tourist industry
and on casino operators.
1 The proposal was laid before Parliament on 17 January
2000 in the form of a draft of the order and an explanatory memorandum
by the Home Office. Back
HL Paper 102. Back
HL Debates 15 January 1997, col. 266. Back
Paragraph 26 of the Home Office's consultation paper acknowledges
that "generally, concerns about noise and nuisance are very
strongly associated with alcohol-induced misbehaviour, and the
Governments' proposals are directed towards appropriate controls
on the supply of alcohol." Back
"Business In Sport and Leisure has throughout its existence
been behind a change in the Sunday Observance Act 1780. It was
at our Annual Conference in November 1994 that Michael Forsyth,
then the Minister in the Home Office promised 'Dancing in the
Home Office press release 17 January 2000: "SUNDAY NIGHT
FEVER - GOVERNMENT PLANS TO REMOVE SUNDAY DANCING BAN": "Sunday
Night Fever" could soon be sweeping the country under Government
plans to remove the 220 year old ban on Sunday dancing ... Home
Office Minister Mike O'Brien said: "Our proposals will give
freedom of choice for people as well as remove an unnecessary
regulation on business" "Be it line dancing, square
dancing, ballroom or disco, it is plainly daft to have a ban on
dancing because it is a Sunday. If people want a bit of Sunday
Night Fever, that's fine with me ..." Back
We are grateful to the individual Methodist Minister who wrote
to us. Back
Explanatory memorandum, paragraphs 20-24. Back