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Deregulation (Sunday Dancing) Order 2000

Volume 620: debated on Thursday 21 December 2000

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4.34 p.m.

rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 28th November be approved [9th and 36th Reports. from the Deregulation Committee, Session 1999–2000]

. The noble Lord said: My Lords, it falls to me to move the final order of the millennium year and I suppose that in a way it is a quite good one to move. One might describe it as the "boogey on down, bop 'til you drop order". What lies between people having a good time on New Year's Eve and not having a good time on New Year's Eve is actually us, because if we do not approve the order we will not be going to the Paradox, the Zap Club, the Catfish Club or the Fridge; nor will we be taking our pleasures in the Ministry of Sound. People will be marching on the ministries to demand better deregulation. Having listened to some of the earlier debate, I guess that it is good and perhaps novel for the Home Office to be bringing forward a measure which does away with a regulation and perhaps does something to enhance my department's reputation as no longer being the home for blue meanies. This is the order that helps in that respect.

The order is designed to allow commercial dancing on Sundays for the first time in over 200 years. As I have explained, this will greatly benefit nightclubs, discotheques and charities which cannot currently charge for entry to a public dance on Sundays. The order achieves the change by removing dancing and musical accompaniment to such dancing from the scope of the Sunday Observance Act 1780.

The order will therefore sweep away an antiquated and unnecessary prohibition which has no place in a modern, multi-faith society. The 1780 Act has already been disapplied in respect of most other forms of public entertainment, so there can be no justification for retaining special provisions for dancing only. The order would enable people to enjoy commercial dance events, subject to licensing rules for public entertainment, whether they be a discotheque or a tea dance.

The House will want to note that this order does not alter permitted licensing hours on normal Sundays, which currently end at 10.30 in the evening. Licensing hours on normal Sunday evenings and early Monday mornings are the subject of a separate order which we hope that the House will consider in the new year.

We believed that it was sensible to separate the two orders because there was little or no controversy about allowing people to dance on Sundays, while issues of public protection do arise in respect of the related licensing hours. Anxieties expressed earlier this year, during the parliamentary scrutiny of the original draft of this order, focused on "hours" and not on "dancing".

All sides of the House will want to ensure that the Sunday dancing order comes into force in time for this New Year's Eve, which falls on a Sunday, so that public events involving dancing can go ahead on that special day. On each New Year's Eve, most licensed premises obtain "special orders of exemption" which, if granted by local magistrates or by the Commissioner in the case of the Metropolitan Police District, allow the sale of alcohol beyond normal permitted hours. So where premises have a special order of exemption and a public entertainment licence, the provisions of this order will enable them to charge for a dance on New Year's Eve and enjoy a drink or two, or perhaps several more, as well.

The Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee recommended approval of the draft order on 29th November; it was approved in another place yesterday. For all of those good reasons, and the fact that I shall certainly want to go dancing on New Year's Eve, I commend the order to the House.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 28th November be approved [ 9th and 36th Reports from the Deregulation Committee, Session 1999–2000].—( Lord Bassam of Brighton.)

My Lords, I am not a dancing man and I do not intend to join the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, in the Catfish club or any of the other establishments he mentioned.

My Lords, perhaps on another occasion we could celebrate in some other way. As I said, I do not intend to dance on Sunday and I do not intend to oppose the order. I have only one question to put to the noble Lord: why has the order come to this House so late? We have reached 21st December. The year comes to an end on Sunday, 31st December. No doubt the noble Lord's noble and learned friend Lord Falconer will wish to dance in the Dome, if there are to be any celebrations there. Could not this order have been brought forward somewhat earlier?

Despite its lack of political controversy, I understand that some people do feel quite deeply about this matter. Given that, I wonder why the order could not have been brought forward slightly earlier so that it could have received a somewhat fuller discussion than it will receive on the last day before we break up for Christmas.

My Lords, I have already warned the Government Chief Whip that I may have within me a speech lasting half an hour on this subject.

My Lords, would the noble Lord object if we now adjourn for Christmas and allow him simply to carry on?

My Lords, the noble Lord did warn me that I would have to switch off the lights if I did so.

It is entirely appropriate that Lord McNally of Blackpool and the noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton, should take the last waltz on this occasion. My claim to expertise in dancing stems from the fact that I used to sell chicken sandwiches in the Tower Ballroom while Reginald Dixon played and the merry throng danced.

This is an important order. It is absolutely ridiculous that we should still need to deregulate an Act from 1780.

I draw attention to the reports that show that throughout the 20th century this Act has been slowly picked apart. Each time it was picked at—the Sunday opening of cinemas, the Sunday opening of bars and so on—it was suggested that civilisation as we know it was bound to come to an end. But, lo and behold, it did not.

The Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee made the point that we have always previously taken the view that the Sunday licensing and Sunday dancing issues were linked. We therefore expressed our willingness in principle to accept a deregulation proposal that reflected this reality. We may talk about tea dances, but dancing and drinking go together and it was silly—or perhaps a little cowardly—to have separated the two. I can only assume that it will help the hip-flask industry and that old stand-by at tea dances, whisky in the teapot.

I understand the concerns about public order. Instead of clinging on to these absurd regulations and imposing blanket bans, public order should be maintained by proper policing and the withdrawal of licences from pubs and dance halls which cannot maintain it. It is interesting that the report mentions the Scottish experience, where Sunday has clearly established itself as the third most popular trading night of the week.

I welcome the order as part of a process—which should be accelerated—where people are able to spend their leisure time and money as they think fit, rather than being nannied by ancient laws. That process should move forward. Where there are concerns for public order, there should be other powers for the police and local authorities to clamp down on miscreants; we should not try to impose blanket refusals. We should allow people to do those things which are perfectly within their rights and add to their general enjoyment.

On a previous occasion, we found out that on Sunday afternoons the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, read the local government journal. Now the House has on public record a full list of the clubs of which he is a member.

My Lords, as a semi-professional musician, perhaps I may say how much I welcome this order. It will benefit me and thousands of others who earn their livings as musicians and the providers of discotheque music. It has not been a problem for me in the past, but I have never played the Tower Ballroom in Blackpool. I am, however, free for this New Year's Eve.

My Lords, if the noble Lord, Lord Henley, would like me to work through it, I have a four-page brief containing an explanation of why this order has taken so long to reach this stage. It started its life before Parliament on 17th January this year, but many representations were made and there was a lot of discussion in the deregulation subcommittee which held it up a little. But we have now got there. If we pass this order—as I am sure we will—this New Year we will be able to enjoy jazz and—

My Lords, in regard to the deregulation sub-committee, if one looks at its membership, one can be absolutely certain that none of its members had to declare an interest.

My Lords, the noble Lord is being a little unkind. Perhaps they should declare an interest.

No matter whether you enjoy the last waltz or boogying on down to the latest sounds, I am sure we are doing something which everyone will acclaim. Whether it is jazz or funk, I am sure that we will all want to be there. I hope that your Lordships will agree to the order.

On Question, Motion agreed to.