At the bottom of the pile

By Peter Coulson

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Licensing act Crime License

Coulson: there will be a robust examination of bill
Coulson: there will be a robust examination of bill
Opposition peers have promised a robust examination of the Policing and Crime Bill, says Peter Coulson.

Opposition peers have promised a robust examination of the Policing and Crime Bill as it makes its way through the Committee Stage in the House of Lords.

But what complicates matters is that the Bill is compendium of different measures, some of which assume greater importance depending on the attitude of those who are debating it. Licensing changes may be seen as small beer, in more ways than one.

However, for once I am in optimistic mood. This is the kind of Bill where compromises can be made in order to get the whole measure on the statute book.

Not everything in the proposal is cast in stone, and although Jacqui Smith had the reputation of being intransigent when it came to legislation, there have already been changes in the way in which discretionary conditions of premises licences are to be approached. Now that we know, in theory, what the bank of conditions is going to be, there is a period of a couple of months where sensible and well-reasoned argument can be brought to bear on which of them make sense in practical terms.

It is, I think, a measure of how difficult the theoretical policy issues have become that the first proposed mandatory condition runs to some 340 words, trying desperately to cover every eventuality "without penalising the majority of responsible retailers," as the saying goes. The problem faced by the licensed trade — as it was with Alcohol Disorder Zones — is to maintain an opposition to the idea of mandatory and discretionary conditions being applied by the Government and local auth-orities, while at the same time

seeking to moderate and confine the proposed conditions so that they are at least workable if they are introduced.

It has to be remembered that breach of any of these conditions will become an offence under section 136 of the Licensing Act, which could result in a hefty fine or even suspension or revocation of the licence.

So we have effectively reached the stage where it is not just actual criminal acts against the terms of the Licensing Act that will be punished, but the failure to match up to these complex conditions, some of which are ambiguous as framed and which, by the Home Office's own admission, may be difficult to implement without catching the innocent as well as the guilty.

It seems that once again, under the guise of "consultation",

the licensed trade and other interested groups are being asked to write the script for the Home Office, which has for months been struggling with the wording of these conditions, as it did with the formula for ADZs. In the document Safe, Sensible, Social, which launched these proposals, they admit that there is an enormous variety of licensed premises to be covered, yet they persist in trying to find a form of wording that fits everyone at the same time.

It is an impossible task, based on headline-seeking initiatives that are clearly aimed at a small minority of outlets. As I have written before, it

is a sad indictment of our whole national approach to alcohol that a ban on the "dentist's chair" type of promotion has to be included on every licence in the land. Is that really proportionate or necessary?

Although mention of the licensing issues was made in the first Lords debate on the Policing and Crime Bill, much more attention

was paid to other issues, including prostitution and lap dancing, where there are peers queuing up to have their say.

It is very much to be hoped that the technical changes to the Licensing Act that are proposed do not end up at the bottom of the pile for consideration and change.

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