But on the minister’s own admission, no court has got near the existing level of £10,000 so far. It is simply, in my view, a piece of window-dressing.
Far more dangerous is the increase in the ‘voluntary’ period of closure which may be requested by the police, from a maximum of 48 hours to what is the equivalent of 14 days with no alcohol sales. This can occur if they come up with two examples of underage sales on the premises in a period of three months.
This is punitive in the extreme. Experience shows the police regularly using the current maximum period and often selecting the closure period at the busiest time, usually weekends. If they are given the opportunity for a fortnight’s closure, they would be likely to use it in many cases, undoubtedly risking the viability of the business itself in the case of smaller pubs and other outlets.
The alternative is for the premises licence holder to opt for a prosecution and a court hearing, so that at least he can plead his case. The police take no account of due diligence or who made the sale, but the magistrates may well do. It may be a better option to take a conviction and fine than close for a protracted period.
Again, one has to question why the police should be given such heavyweight powers without any surveillance by the courts. It is very similar to the abuse of closure notices for breach of conditions, which is now widespread. This is an example of the general attitude of the Home Office towards the licensed trade, and the oft-repeated view that these measures are necessary to combat drink-fuelled violence and disorder.
Yet even those local authority people to whom I have been speaking say that the current measures in place under the Licensing Act are adequate and do not require strengthening in this way. The review system is there to deal with underage sales, and a suspension provision is provided there.
The Home Office claims that these changes are necessary, but has produced scant proof. We just have to live with it.