Extended licensing hours for the Rugby World Cup? Don’t hold your breath

Last week, the Institute of Licensing stated on its website that:

There will be no national exemption order for the forthcoming rugby world cup in Japan. The Home Office has confirmed to the Institute ….. “There are no plans to relax the licensing hours for the Rugby World Cup 2019”

The reference to a “national exemption order” was to the Home Secretary’s power under section 172 of the Licensing Act 2003 to make a licensing hours order for special occasions when she considers that a period  of time (described in the 2003 Act as “the celebration period”) marks “an occasion of exceptional international, national, or local significance” that is sufficient to justify a national relaxation of licensing hours restrictions.

Recent examples of such orders include the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012, the FIFA World Cup in 2014, the Queen’s 90th birthday celebrations in 2016 and the Royal Weddings in 2011 and 2018. In the absence of such an order, licensed premises wishing to open outside the hours permitted by their premises licence (in order, for example, to coincide with the screening of a major sports event) need to apply for a temporary event notice (or a series of such TENs).

However, things may not be as clearcut as the Institute of Licensing believes, given a press release by UKHospitality yesterday entitled “Relaxed licensing hours will give pubs and fans a World Cup boost” that reads as follows:

UKHospitality has called on the Government to relax licensing hours for pubs in England and Wales for the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

With the tournament being held in Japan, some fixtures featuring the home nations will kick-off before 11am, outside of normal licensable hours. Pubs will still be able to open, but most will not be able to serve a celebratory pint and will miss out on a huge opportunity to boost trade and provide a fantastic atmosphere for rugby fans.

UKHospitality has therefore called on the Government to relax hours for certain England, Scotland and Wales group games as well as relaxations for later knock-out games.

The Rt Hon Sir Vince Cable MP for Twickenham, the centre of rugby in England, has also written to the Home Office in support of the relaxation.

Sir Vince said: “Twickenham is the epicentre of English rugby and I hope the World Cup is a huge success for the team and that our pubs can play a part for those supporting back home.”

UKHospitality Chief Executive Kate Nicholls added: “With early kick-off times, the majority of pubs in England and Wales face difficulties offering customers the full experience. This will be a huge opportunity missed for many pubs around the country. Times are currently challenging for businesses and the Government can give them, and rugby fans, a huge boost by granting an extension for this World Cup.

“Pubs can only apply for 15 exemptions in a year, so unless the Government grants the extensions for the World Cup, pubs will have to choose whether to gamble on applying for them for the tournament or saving them for the Christmas period. We want pubs and fans to be able to enjoy both.

“The Government has a great opportunity here to support the UK’s pubs, many of whom are struggling against rising costs in a tough environment. This is a once in a lifetime chance to support pubs and give rugby fans a chance to enjoy the tournament even more.

The press release goes on to clarify that UKHospitality has asked the Home Office to relax licensing hours for the following Rugby World Cup matches taking place in Japan at the following UK times:

  • Ireland v Scotland – 8.45am Sunday 22 September
  • Australia v Wales – 8.45am Sunday 29 September
  • England v Argentina – 9am Saturday 5 October
  • Scotland v Russia – 8.15am Wednesday 9 October
  • Wales v Fiji – 10.45am Wednesday 9 October
  • England v France – 9.15am Saturday 12 October
  • Wales v Uruguay – 9.15am Sunday 13 October

In our view, with one other matter of major national significance presently dominating the Government’s attention, it is probably very doubtful that, at this late stage before the Rugby World Cup competition commences, the Home Secretary will have sufficient time now to conduct the required consultation process before, even if so inclined, making a licensing hours order. However, we would welcome any news proving that our pessimism is misplaced!