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Welsh assembly finance, local government and public services minister Sue Essex has welcomed the ending of the requ...
Welsh assembly finance, local government and public services minister Sue Essex has welcomed the ending of the requirement to hold polls on whether licensed premises selling alcohol should open on Sundays. Successive Welsh Office and Welsh Assembly ministers have lobbied hard for legislation to have the polls abolished.

The minister said: 'I am pleased to hear that the government has listened to our call for these polls to be abolished. Ending the polls will remove the uncertainty to investment by those operating licensed premises and could save local authorities the expense of holding the polls - which ranges from between £50,000 to £200,000 per authority.'

The UK government announced today the scrapping of the requirement in Sections 66 and 67 and Schedule 8 to the Licensing Act 1964 which requires local authorities in Wales to hold polls every seven years, when they are petitioned by 500 or more electors. The change came into effect following the commencement by the Department of Culture Media and Sport of the relevant provision in the UK government's Licensing Act 2003, which recently received royal assent.

The polls were held to establish whether local authority areas in Wales should be 'dry' or 'wet' on Sundays. The polls were introduced by Section 6 of the Licensing Act 1961 (which was subsequently consolidated in the Licensing Act 1964). This was one of the earliest pieces of primary legislation tailored to meet Wales' specific circumstances. Polls were held in 1961, 1968, 1975, 1982, 1989 and 1996. The next opportunity to hold Sunday opening polls would be in October.

Prior to 1961, when the first Sunday opening polls were held, licensed premises in all parts of Wales were closed on Sunday. This went back to Gladstone's Sunday Closing (Wales) Act 1881. By 1989 all local government areas, except Dwyfor, had voted in favour of opening licensed premises on Sundays. In the last poll, in 1996, voting was triggered in only two of the 22 local government areas, Gwynedd and Rhondda Cynon Taff, and both areas voted to be 'wet'.

Since 1996 successive secretaries of state for wales and assembly ministers have given undertakings that the polls would be abolished as soon as parliamentary time became available because of: the general lack of interest in petitioning for polls; the difficulty in justifying the closure of licensed premises when other establishments for example rugby and social clubs, were not subject to the legislation; and the harmful effect of the legislation on some tourist areas and on investment in the licensed sector.

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