Out-Law News 2 min. read

'Call for evidence' begins to feed into Licensing Act appraisal

The House of Lords committee set up to scrutinise the operation of the 2003 Licensing Act in England and Wales is seeking the widest possible range of evidence to feed into its inquiry.

Licensed operators, enforcement authorities, members of the public and "anyone with an interest" in the operation of the Act have until 2 September 2016 to send their submissions to the committee, which should be "supported by factual and statistical evidence where appropriate". The committee, which is due to hear from government officials and Public Health England representatives this week, is due to report on its findings by 23 March 2017.

The committee was set up in May this year to conduct post-legislative scrutiny of the 2003 Act, which introduced a single 'premises licence' scheme for those used for the sale or supply of alcohol, or to provide regulated entertainment or late night refreshment. It intends to establish whether the regime provided the greater freedom promised to the hospitality and leisure industries, while giving enforcement authorities appropriate powers to deal with the misuse of those freedoms.

"The committee is not limiting those who can submit evidence to operators and those in the industry, and so I hope that the responses and the evidence gained give a full picture of people's views of the Act and the impact that it has on them," said licensing law expert Christopher Rees-Gay of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com.

"The questions posed cover a broad spectrum, from whether the four licensing objectives which are the cornerstone of the Act are the right ones to be promoted, through to whether the law should be amended to allow licensing authorities more specific control over the off-sale of 'super strength' alcohol. I hope that the findings will confirm that the Act is providing a means to balance the interests of all, and that new measures are not introduced that could penalise professional operators," he said.

Under the 2003 Act, all licence applications must comply with four licensing objectives: prevention of crime and disorder, public safety, prevention of public nuisance and protecting children from harm. Among the questions the committee has asked as part of its call for evidence is whether "the protection of health and wellbeing" should be included as an additional objective, reflecting the "public health" objective incorporated into the licensing regime in Scotland.

The committee is also seeking views about whether the regime, as amended by the 2012 Live Music Act, strikes the right balance between the rights of those who wish to sell alcohol and provide entertainment, and the rights of those who wish to object. It has asked whether the licensing regime interacts effectively with other regulatory regimes, such as planning and health and safety; and whether licensing and planning policies should be more closely integrated in order to better shape local areas.

Respondents have also been asked for their views about how to simplify the existing licensing procedure, improve the appeals process and simplify fees. The committee has specifically asked whether fees need to be set at a national level, or whether the power to set fees should be devolved to city regions and local authorities. It is also seeking views on whether the government should seek to follow the lead of the Scottish Government by proposing a minimum price per unit of alcohol (MUP) in England.

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering, who is chairing the House of Lords committee, said that an examination of the changes introduced by the 2003 Act was "long overdue".

"The [Act] enabled premises to serve alcohol for 24 hours a day, seven days a week," she said.

"While many heralded the Act as the start of a more continental drinking culture, others predicted round the clock consumption, leading to disorder and a deterioration in public health. But what has the reality actually been like? … For good or ill, the [Act] has altered the drinking landscape of England and Wales, but an examination of the changes is long overdue," she said.

We are processing your request. \n Thank you for your patience. An error occurred. This could be due to inactivity on the page - please try again.