Out-Law News 2 min. read

Government report rejects 'hasty' overhaul of Licensing Act

The government has rejected calls by a House of Lords committee for a radical overhaul of licensing laws in England and Wales.

It will instead use the committee's recommendations as a "spur to further work, particularly in respect to how the system can be made to function more effectively and the lessons that can be learned from the planning system", according to its official response (52-page / 2.9MB PDF). This work will focus on improving and clarifying the existing system, as well as reviewing the training provided to council licensing committee members.

In its April report, a House of Lords committee set up to look at the operation of the 2003 Licensing Act called for a "radical comprehensive overhaul" of the system, which it described as "fundamentally flawed". Among its more high profile recommendations were doing away with separate committees with responsibility for making licensing decisions, doing away with late night levies (LNLs) and early morning restriction orders (EMROs) and reforms to the appeals process.

"The government does not intend to be hasty in instigating such an overhaul of the Act," it said in its response, adding that the legislation "cannot … be the means by which all alcohol-related harms are tackled".

"For these types of harms, a more sophisticated, joined up approach from a range of public services is required," it said.

Licensing law expert Christopher Rees-Gay of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said that the government's response to the committee's report was "robust and to the point, with the government in many cases not seeking to change the current systems in place".

"Most noticeably, the committee sought the repealing of EMROs and the abolishing of LNLs. The government has decided that both will remain, as they believe them to be useful tools for licensing authorities. With the uptake of both EMROs and LNLs by licensing authorities being very low, it would seem that these systems will continue to be unused."

"The main area of change that the committee was pushing for in its report was the transferring of the functions of licensing committees to planning committees and for licensing appeals to be heard by the Planning Inspectorate and not the magistrates' courts. Again, the government has decided that these changes are not required, but that instead they are focusing on improved training and exploring ways in which improvements could be made to the current systems," he said.

"I agree with the government's position here. A move to planning was not set out in the original questions posed in the committee's 'call for evidence', and so I am uncertain how this position was reached. I do agree with both the committee and the government that further training of licensing committees is needed, hopefully bringing greater certainty to those involved," he said.

Licensing authorities in England and Wales have had the power to impose LNLs on local businesses since 2011. The policy is designed to enable licensing authorities to collect a contribution towards policing the night time economy from late-opening businesses that sell alcohol.

The government will keep the possible introduction of minimum unit pricing (MUP) in England "under review", subject to the outcome of the ongoing legal case between the Scottish government and the Scotch Whisky Association and the impact of any MUP if introduced, it said. It will also "carefully" consider other ways in which taxation and pricing may be used to help control excessive alcohol consumption as part of the Autumn Budget process, according to its report.

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