The government has decided to commemorate Her Majesty the Queen's succession to the throne with a public bank holiday and relaxation of the permitted hours on June 3 2002. The proposed extension is for the permitted hours to end at 1am on June 4 2001.
I am delighted to see that the government has decided to relax the permitted hours again. In addition to the Golden Jubilee proposals, it is further proposed that the normal limit on opening hours in England and Wales should be relaxed on December 31 2001 and into New Year's Day 2002, for all licensed premises other than off-licences.
It seems to me that the previous experiment of liberalisation at the millennium was successful, without mass rioting in the streets.
The gloom merchants who believed extending the permitted hours to introduce afternoon drinking pre-1988, were once again out in force prior to the millennium 72-hour bonanza and were similarly unjustified.
It is interesting that the government proposes an extension in respect of both events, but with a justification for shorter hours for the celebration of the Golden Jubilee.
As far as New Year's Eve is concerned, although the widely held perception by the police, industry and the general public is that the millennium celebrations were successful and without incident, the government has accepted the police view that the millennium celebrations were unique and did not provide an ideal test of the relaxed hours during a normal New Year's Eve.
It is, therefore, suggested that a "normal" New Year's Eve would provide a more accurate test. If the relaxation for all night permitted hours goes ahead, the government would review the impact immediately and bring forward a further deregulation proposal for similar arrangements to be applied to all subsequent New Year's Eves.
By contrast it is felt that the extended hours, which will be tested for New Year's Eve, should not apply to the Golden Jubilee celebrations in view of the nature of the celebrations.
While it is appropriate that certain extensions should apply by way of blanket approval, rather than individual applications for special order of exemptions clogging up the courts and leading to discrepancies around the country, it is felt that very late-night extensions are not required.
By contrast with New Year's Eve, where the focus of the evening is midnight, the Golden Jubilee celebrations are thought to be focused around family events, where much later extensions for licensed premises cannot be justified in the same way that they can on New Year's Eve.
The government is also proposing to retain restriction orders for earlier closing times on individual premises, on application made by the police or local residents, in order to avoid or reduce disturbance or annoyance to local residents or disorderly conduct by customers.
You will be aware that a similar system was in place during the millennium relaxation, although it was a little-used facility. It is felt that, despite the limited number of applications for restriction orders, it may have been that there was a general acceptance as far as the millennium celebrations were concerned due to its very unusual nature.
It is thought there maybe a rather less liberal attitude adopted on a year-by-year basis if licensed premises are allowed greatly extended permitted hours on each New Year's Eve.
It is interesting that the deregulation proposed will not vary public entertainment licences (PEL) for premises which have the benefit of such licences.
Local authorities obviously have a complete discretion about the terminal hour of any public entertainment which is provided and decisions are taken on a local rather than national prescribed basis.
The government feels that the events which require a PEL could present a greater risk to the public from noise and large crowds, in particular localities, rather than extended drinking hours and parties in licensed premises across the country.
Local authorities will be entitled to consider how late organised entertainment should be allowed when applications for annual entertainment licences are considered.
It is felt that the arrangements worked well at the millennium and should be applied at each New Year and on occasions such as the Golden Jubilee.
In my view it is unfortunate that the usual situation will not prevail when a special order of exemption is granted, in that any premises which have the benefit of a PEL are automatically allowed to extend the provision of entertainment to coincide with the terminal hour of the special order of exemption.
In reality what will happen is that occasional applications for PELs will have to be made clogging up local authority administration, which would appear to be one of the issues the government was trying to avoid.
If you have any comments or concerns, the government invites your thoughts. In particular the government would like you to answer two questions, as follows:
- do you support an all-night relaxation between December 31 2001 and January 1 2002?
- do you support a limited relaxation of the permitted hours on June 3 2002 as part of celebrations of the Golden Jubilee of Her Majesty the Queen's succession to the throne, extending them from 11pm on June 3 2002 until 1am on June 4 2002?
Comments on the proposals should be forwarded to Philip Drummond, Licensing and Gambling Unit, Room 1180, Home Office, 50 Queen Ann's Gate, London SW1H 9AT by June 11 2001.