During the course of my evidence to the Community Pubs Enquiry, I put forward some suggestions for ways in which the current Licensing Act could be improved.
This "shopping list" of possible amendments was put together on the basis of my daily contact with licensees who are based all over the country and was aimed at making the procedures easier or removing difficulties — not any change in policy or structure of the licensing laws as they stand.
I was, therefore, pleased to see that some of them made their way into the final report and that at least two of them have been actively followed up at the Department for Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS).
A small but vitally important concession concerns the immediate problems that occur for the wife or family if the premises licence-holder dies suddenly.
Under the old law, an automatic protection order was put in place, without any requirement for formalities or applications. This would last for at least two months, until the licence could be transferred.
All that has been abolished. Now, the premises licence will definitely lapse if the holder dies. That is clearly stated in the Licensing Act 2003. However, the personal representative of the deceased person, who may well be his wife, has to give what is called an "interim authority notice" to the council. This will immediately cause the licence to be reinstated, so that the business can carry on trading, as long as there is someone to act as Designated Premises Supervisor (DPS). If she does not hold a personal licence, it is hoped that there is someone else in the pub who does, so that they can become the DPS.
But giving the notice is not enough. Within seven days she must give a copy of the notice to the police. If that is done, she has two months to sort out her husband's affairs, because the interim authority will last for that period.
My view is that this is a very cruel and unnecessary burden on a recently bereaved person. The last thing she will be thinking about in the first week is filling in licensing forms. I proposed that something should be done, either to allow more time or to provide for an automatic interim authority in such cases.
The provisions of section 50 of the new Act mean that she could then reinstate the licence in her own name. Barring any police objections, which should be unlikely, the licence will be revived immediately, a transfer will take effect and there will be no more formalities.
Drinking after hours
Q. What technically is the situation on drinking after hours under the new laws? We have not had a problem, but one of our colleagues has said he has some customers who are refusing to leave, saying it isn't illegal to drink after time.
A. It is true that the law has changed with regard both to permitted hours and drinking-up, but it is not true that customers can stay as long as they like.
The fact that there are no permitted hours as such means that there is no specific law on selling after hours, as there used to be. Now, if you sell after the hours stated on your premises licence, you can be prosecuted for "conducting a licensable activity other than in accordance with an authorisation"!
Alternatively, the police can call for a review of your licence, and further conditions may be imposed, or your hours cut back, if it is shown that you are selling outside the agreed times.
As far as drinking-up time is concerned, this too has been abolished, although I have seen it included on many premises licences as a hangover from the 1964 Act. In fact, the customers are probably right to say that continuing to drink is not in itself illegal, as no licensable activity is involved. However, this means that other factors may come into play, including any "closing time" for the premises which may have been inserted into the licence conditions.
But above all, customers remain in the pub at the discretion of the licensee. You can still insist that people drink up and leave, as in the good old days!
Notice for comedian?
Q. We are having a special comedy night at this pub, at the suggestion of one of our regulars. When I discussed this plan with my manager, he said that we would need to obtain council permission to run entertainment as it was not covered in our licence. He suggested a temporary event notice (TEN). Is this what we need?
A. Probably not. A TEN is only required in circumstances where anyone is putting on "regulated entertainment" for the public or a section of the public. This means entertainment of the type listed in Schedule One of the Licensing Act 2003.
In general, the type of entertainment covered there is musical or sporting, although plays and other theatrical performances are also included. But a comedy act falls within none of these, and even if there was a little music involved, as long as it was considered ancillary to the non-regulated entertainment it would be exempt.
You would only need a TEN in your pub if you wanted to provide additional time for the sale of alcohol, or for music and dancing, or possibly for an indoor sporting event for an audience. But comedy acts are not covered by the legislation.
Son helps in the bar
Q. Our son is now 15 and sometimes would like to help out behind the bar, when he is not at school. Someone told us that you wrote about this and said it was not illegal, but we cannot find the details. Could you please advise us directly?
A. There is now no prohibition on your children working behind the bar under the age of 18. Those were contained in the 1964 Act and have now been repealed.
The only restriction that is now placed on anyone working in the bar under the age of 18 is that they cannot sell alcohol unless each and every sale is specifically approved by an adult. So they could not sell a drink if you were out of the bar at the time, nor can you give them a "general" permission.
Apart from certain restrictions on hours of work, which would probably not apply in your case, there is no legal problem about your teenage son working for you and gaining some experience.