Mark Daniels: Personal Alcohol Licences... Fact, or Fantasy?

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Related tags: Licence, Alcohol, License

On Monday's Jeremy Vine show on Radio 2 - this week hosted by Vanessa Feltz - a former Labour councillor put forward the idea that a licence to...

On Monday's Jeremy Vine show on Radio 2 - this week hosted by Vanessa Feltz - a former Labour councillor put forward the idea that a licence to purchase alcohol should be introduced.

Apparently, John Cowan came up with the idea after watching alcohol lobbyists generously supply individuals at a Labour conference with copious amounts of booze, but I can't help thinking he might have got the idea elsewhere...

On 1st April last year, The Publican ran a lovely little story on introducing alcohol licensing​ - that, eventually, was revealed as an April Fool's prank.

I'd put it to the news crew at the magazine after originally coming up with the idea as a serious suggestion to put in one of my blogs but, eventually and after much thought, realised that such a system, whilst noble in its intent, is actually little more than risible.

I'm sure Mr Cowan feels his idea is quite noble, too, and listening to him on the programme this week I thought the idea still carried some weight.

Until, that was, he mentioned that the way it would work would be that each time somebody purchased alcohol they would have to produce their licence, which would be scanned and would then record the amount of alcohol purchased, the time of day and, crucially, the brand purchased...

He went on to suggest that the licence would be similar to a driver's licence, which carries varying degrees of penalty points and fines in the event of breaching the laws of the road.

The big difference between this and a driving licence, though, is that each time I get in my car I don't have to show somebody I'm licensed to do so, and I don't have to tell them where I'm going or what brand of oil or fuel I'm purchasing.

If, however, each purchase in my pub requires a customer to produce their licence to be scanned, the information probably isn't going to be used to prosecute that person for disorderly conduct.

More likely, it would be used to sell on the 'brand' information to brewers and wholesalers, who can then use the information for direct marketing purposes.

Last week, for example, Carlsberg made up 54% of my draught product sales.

Imagine the marketing potential breweries could make of such information if it was provided to them as easily as tracking sales through a 'licence'? And how valuable would it be to them if they could market directly to the purchasers themselves?

Vendors would pay good money for such information - and so they should, because who else would pay for the development and implementation of such a system?

For it to work, every on- and off-trade establishment would have to have some form of device for reading the card, and every consumer would have to buy a licence to procure alcohol.

Then there's the cost of paying people to monitor such a system, and the physical time cost that would have to be calculated serving customers as we stand on our side of the bar waiting for each licensed transaction to be authorised by a governing body...

Mr Cowan was keen to repeatedly liken such a licence to that used for driving, but in order to get a driving licence you have to spend many months taking lessons on how to drive, and then you have to take a test. Which you can fail. Repeatedly.

To get our Personal Licences for selling alcohol, we publicans have to take a test.

But we are being charged with the responsibility of selling the stuff; how on earth would the system be able to cope with every man and woman over the age of eighteen applying for, and being tested on, a licence to purchase alcohol?

Then we have the issue of unlicensed individuals. What would stop a licensed individual nipping to Tesco and buying alcohol to then give to an unlicensed person? The case of Laura Hall springs to mind in all of this...

On top of this, Mr Cowan suggests that to ensure individuals are kept apprised of what alcohol might be doing to them an e-mail would be sent to their GP if they were deemed to be drinking 'too much', and they'd be invited in for a chat.

So what about the good ol' fashioned Round?

Every Friday night, a crowd of tradesmen descend on my premises and enjoy the atmosphere. They often buy in rounds, with one individual purchasing, say, ten drinks in one hit. If he's doing this every Friday, even though he's only had one of the pints purchased in that round, will his GP be informed that he is an excessive drinker?

In principle, I quite like the idea of everybody having a personal licence to purchase alcohol. It is, after all, a legalised drug, and the theory that it could reduce binge drinking, lessen the burden on the NHS, and pass some of the responsibility of buying and selling alcohol on to the individual consumer themselves is a meritorious one.

Unfortunately, though, it wouldn't stop people simply subverting the system by nipping on a train to Calais and spending their money in Tesco at Cite d'Europe instead.

In practice, then, individual alcohol licensing is little more than an expensive April Fool's joke...

Related topics: Licensing law

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