In April, the chair of the House of Lords inquiry into the Licensing Act 2003 described the legislation as "fundamentally flawed" and made a number of recommendations, some seen as pretty radical.
Proposals included merging committees that make licensing decisions with planning committees; introducing minimum unit pricing for alcohol as well as looking at other ways the Government could control excessive alcohol consumption with taxation and pricing.
In its response published today (6 November), the Government said that although it did not “intend to be hasty” in instigating such an overhaul of the Act, it admitted there were a “significant number” of recommendations that it agrees will "help improve" the operation of the Act.
“While the Government rejects some recommendations and conclusions, there are several it regards as a spur to further work, particularly in respect to how the system of licensing can be made to function more effectively and the lessons that can be learned from the planning system,” it said.
The document made clear the Government will keep the current structure of licensing fees, and the current licensing objectives, “recognising the burdens that many venues are under” such as business rates, said Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR) chief executive Kate Nicholls.
The ALMR welcomed the “pragmatic steps” by the Government to retain existing licensing measures, but cautioned against the introduction of “potentially unhelpful” new legislative powers.
“A rejection of the committee’s recommendation to merge licensing and planning is very welcome as is the commitment to improved training in both planning and licensing,” said Nicholls.
“This should help provide better joined up work between licensing and planning while avoiding a merger that would have created inconsistency for businesses.”
British Beer & Pub Association chief executive Brigid Simmonds also welcomed the response by the Government, along with its “sensible, overall focus in making the existing legislation work better”.
“In particular, there are no plans to increase licensing fees, or to take up the proposal that fees should be set locally, which was a concern,” she said.
“There will be further consultation on how the act applies to airports, and the response recognises the very specific issues involved.
However, both Simmonds and Nicholls are “hugely disappointed” that the Government rejected the Committee’s recommendation to scrap LNLs and early-morning restriction orders.
Nicholls said: “The levy has not been widely adopted by councils, with some going so far as to scrap levies they had introduced.
“It is clearly a flawed measure and the Government should have acted to remove it."
Explaining its decision, the Government document said: “The LNL enables local authorities to collect a financial contribution from businesses that profit from selling alcohol late at night to contribute towards the cost of late-night policing and other costs associated with the night-time economy.
“The Government recognises that they do so through taxes and business rates, but if the night-time economy is creating an additional burden on policing in that area, the Government believes these businesses should make an extra contribution.”
Further evidence needed
In relation to minimum-unit pricing, the Government said subject to the outcome of the legal case between the Scottish Government and the Scotch Whisky Association and any subsequent decision of the Scottish Government to introduce a minimum-unit price for alcohol, it will consider the evidence of its impact once it is available.
On the call to look for other ways of taxation and pricing that can be used to help control excessive consumption, the Government said it will consider the issue "carefully" as part of the Autumn Budget process.