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Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Licensing Act 2003: proposed overhaul

The House of Lords Select Committee on the Licensing Act 2003 has produced its report. As some of the proposed changes are administrative, I'm can't be sure how they may affect the ordinary drinker. Here are some of the main findings:
  1. The committee, dissatisfied with the operation of licensing committees, proposes abolishing them and passing their functions to planning committees. Licensing appeals should no longer go to magistrates' courts but should, like planning appeals, go to the planning inspectorate.
  2. They rejected the principle of Late Night Levies and concluded that in practice they aren't working as intended. Unless amendments that have already been made prove to work, they should be scrapped. They proposed business improvement districts as a more feasible option for tackling problems in the late-night economy. They also propose repealing Early Morning Restriction Orders, which no local authority has yet introduced.
  3. Fees for licensing should be set locally, not nationally, although councils should note that they can only charge for the actual cost of processing applications: demanding more could be illegal.
  4. The Licensing Act should apply to sales airside at airports.
  5. If Minimum Unit Pricing is (a) found lawful by the Supreme Court, (b) introduced in Scotland and (c) successful in reducing excessive drinking, it should also be introduced in England and Wales.
  6. Scotland's example should also be followed in helping disabled people to access licensed premises by requiring licence applications to include disabled access statements.
My assessment:
  1. I'm not sure whether, for routine applications, this would have much impact on ordinary drinkers. I suspect any difference would be small. However, it could well be another matter if applications go to appeal: the planning inspectorate is not a local body and has form in overturning local decisions. I can't assess how this would affect licensing appeals, but I have some reservations about local decisions being handed to an unaccountable national body.
  2. The abolition of late night levies may benefit some establishments that moved their closing times to midnight to avoid paying the levy, and will be a cost all premises open after midnight will no longer have to find. The use of business improvement districts is likely to bring pubs, bars and clubs closer to other businesses in the area, rather than being ostracised as potentially troublesome neighbours, a view I feel the levies can encourage. 
  3. As long as councils don't see this as a money-spinner in these times of cutbacks, I don't see too much of a problem with this.
  4. I agree; I'm surprised this is not the case already.
  5. This is how minimum pricing can be introduced all over Great Britain. I am opposed to minimum pricing because, as I wrote in 2013, "I consider that the phrase 'responsible drinking' means that the drinker is responsible both for the quantity that he or she consumes and his or her behaviour. As responsibility rests with the person, not the product, I oppose both excessive taxation and minimum prices on the product, especially as both measures disproportionately affect the people with least money, while having a diminishing impact the higher you go up the income scale. I don't believe that anti-social behaviour and binge drinking are the preserve of the poor alone." Concerning my last point, I'll just say 'Bullingdon Club'.
  6. I can't see any problem with this, although I'd hope there'd be exceptions for historical buildings that would be seriously damaged by having to be made accessible. Having said that, accessibility has to be the norm.
A bit of a mixed bag there, I'd say, with minimum pricing probably being the most contentious. One argument against the measure has been that it contravenes EU law. With the UK heading towards the exit, this obstacle will at some point cease to exist, meaning that, sooner or later, minimum pricing will be imposed across the whole country.

2 comments:

  1. "With the UK heading towards the exit, this obstacle will at some point cease to exist, meaning that, sooner or later, minimum pricing will be imposed across the whole country."

    Is this what Brexit voters meant by "taking back control?"

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Funny to think that, while many people believe that leaving the EU will result in a bonfire of red tape, in reality the UK government will be dictating to retailers what they must by law charge for alcohol. That's undeniably control.

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