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Major overhaul proposed for ‘fundamentally flawed’ Licensing Act

By Liam Coleman , 04-Apr-2017
Last updated on 05-Apr-2017 at 10:59 GMT2017-04-05T10:59:22Z

Scrutiny: after 10 months of deliberations, the committee has outlined its recommendations
Scrutiny: after 10 months of deliberations, the committee has outlined its recommendations

The chair of the House of Lords inquiry into the Licensing Act 2003 has described the legislation as “fundamentally flawed”, and a number of proposals have been made to fix it in a report published today (4 April).

The 10-month inquiry into the act saw the Government, police, pub industry leaders and trade bodies give their thoughts on the effectiveness of all aspects of the legislation.

“The act is fundamentally flawed and needs a major overhaul,” said Baroness McIntosh, who chaired the inquiry.

The Lords’ report is scathing of local authority licensing committees and recommends that licensing in future come under the jurisdiction of planning committees.

McIntosh said that the committee was “shocked by the damming evidence” that was given on local licensing committees.

“It was a mistake and a missed opportunity to set up new licensing committees when the planning system was already available to regulate the use of land for many different purposes,” she said.

“The planning system is well suited to dealing with licensing applications and appeals, and the interests of residents are always taken into account.”

Industry groups have welcomed the Lords' views on issues such as late-night levies, early morning restriction orders, and the licensing of airport pubs and bars, but have aired caution on other proposed licensing regulations.

The end of late-night levies?

The report recommends the scrapping of late-night levies and proposes business improvement districts as a more “feasible option” for tackling problems in the late-night economy.

“We believe, on balance, that [the late-night levy] has failed to achieve its objectives and should be abolished,” the report said.

Baroness McIntosh told The Morning Advertiser that the committee was recommending the introduction of voluntary schemes and business improvement districts because these would be “much more effective for bringing businesses together”.

Minimum unit pricing recommended

At last year’s evidence sessions, two common topics for debate were the feasibility of introducing minimum unit pricing and whether a fifth health objective would benefit the act.

Minimum unit pricing is currently under proposal in Scotland and the committee has concluded that if the policy proves successful, it should be introduced in England and Wales.

One part of the Scottish legislation that the Lords did not recommend introducing in England and Wales was introducing a fifth licensing objective around public health, however.

“We felt that a fifth 'health' objective would be very difficult to implement because it can't be related to a particular premises,” McIntosh said.

‘Weight of evidence’

The committee was set up to scrutinise what has and hasn’t been effective since the act came into force in 2005.

The Home Office now has two months to respond to the Lords’ 186-page report and the recommendations will then be debated in the House of Lords.

Baroness McIntosh believes that the “weight of evidence should speak for itself” and the proposed changes will, therefore, be accepted at the various legislative processes.

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