Government response to Licensing Act review is 'delayed and defensive'

By Georgina Townshend

- Last updated on GMT

Delayed and defensive: House of Lords Licensing Act 2003 committee members are 'disappointed' with Government's response
Delayed and defensive: House of Lords Licensing Act 2003 committee members are 'disappointed' with Government's response

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During a debate this week, members who served on the House of Lords Licensing Act 2003 committee said they were "disappointed" in the Government's "delayed and defensive" response to their report, which said the legislation needs an "overhaul".

The main concerns highlighted by committee members was that the Government had rejected its proposals to extend the Licensing Act to airports, that the responsibility for licensing should be transferred from local authority licensing committees to planning committees, to scrap late-night levies, and introduce minimum unit pricing.

Lord Blair of Boughton said he was disappointed at the Government's response to the report, which he described as "defensive".

Lord Foster of Bath agreed and said the Government's "much-delayed response" was also "somewhat disappointing and mixed". 

"I hope the result of the debate will be the Government being prepared to at least reconsider its response to some of our recommendations, certainly no one can claim that all is well and that no further action is needed," said Lord Foster.

Significantly higher fees

Lord Smith of Hindhead, who is also the chairman of Best Bar None, raised four key areas where he considered the Government's response "could have been more positive". These are on late-night levies, the 'multiplier' taxation, early morning restriction orders (EMROs) and the current appeals system.

On 'multipliers' Smith said: "This increased annual fee is charged to reflect the fact that consumption of alcohol will take place on the premises. The multiplier effectively doubles or triples the fee being paid depending on the rate band.

"Therefore, for example, the Dog & Duck pub located across the road from a 24-hour supermarket is, in most cases, paying a significantly higher annual fee to the council just to maintain its premises licence, even though it is selling a fraction of the amount of alcohol.

"In our report, we recommend that the fee multiplier should, at the very least, be extended to supermarkets but in my view, doubt has been cast over the legality of the fee multiplier as it is currently enforced."

Fit for purpose

He added: "The Licensing Act 2003, was created before Google, Facebook or indeed online shopping and the act is increasingly looking like a cheque book in an online world with too much emphasis and regulatory liability on the on-trade compared with the off-trade.

"My Lords, whatever the final outcome of our report on the Licensing Act, I hope that our conclusions will at least be a reference point in future years when the subject of licensing is debated. I also hope that it will create a better understanding between those who are tasked with enforcing the act and those who are obligated to operate under it."

Additionally, Baroness Eaton urged the Government to have a licensing system that was "fit for the challenges ahead", and Baroness Henig said it must look at "what else it can do to tackle the growing volume of alcohol being sold cheaply at supermarkets".

In everyone's interest

Responding on the behalf of the Government, Baroness Williams said while it recognised the costs of alcohol-related harm, the production and selling of alcohol is "important for the UK".

"In particular, pubs are woven into the fabric of our nation and they continue to be places where we meet our families and friends.

"The continued success of our alcohol and pub industry is definitely in everyone's interest."

Baroness Williams said that although the Government did no accept all 73 recommendations in the committee's report, it is "committed to address many of the issues the committee highlighted".

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