On 30 June the House of Lords Select Committee published its call for evidence on the Licensing Act. It is seeking the views of anyone with an interest in the legislation, including operators.
This follows on from a recommendation by the House of Lords Liaison Committee in its 3rd Report of Session, published on 14 March, that an ad hoc Committee should be set up to conduct post-legislative scrutiny of the Act. The Committee was set up on 25 May and has now started to receive evidence. It has already held sessions on 5 and 7 July, at which it heard from senior officials from the Home Office, the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, the Department of Health and Public Health England.
This is the first comprehensive review of the legislation since it was enacted and has been called for against the background of an analysis of the aims of the Government of the day in introducing it. These, say the Committee, were to balance “the broad range of interests engaged by licensing decisions – those of the entertainment and alcohol industries, small and large businesses, local residents and communities, policing, public health, and the protection of children from harm”.
The then Blair Government put it in this way:
“Our approach is to provide greater freedom and flexibility for the hospitality and leisure industry. This will allow it to offer consumers greater freedom of choice. But these broader freedoms are carefully and necessarily balanced by tougher powers for the police, the courts and the licensing authority to deal in an uncompromising way with anyone trying to exploit these greater freedoms against the interest of the public in general.”
The remit of the Committee is now to assess whether the Act has achieved these objectives. It will look at the Act itself, in its original form and with subsequent amendments, associated and subordinate legislation, their implementation, and associated developments.
The Committee has invited general views on the effectiveness of the Act, and will be studying the following specific issues, amongst others:
- The key aims of the Act and the licensing objectives – are they appropriate? Should there be an additional objective of promoting health and wellbeing?;
- Has any greater availability of alcohol had an impact on the health of the population?;
- The lessons to be learned from across the UK and other countries;
- Does the Act still aim to encourage tourism, leisure and culture? Should access to and enjoyment of licensable activities by the public be an additional objective?;
- Government policy on alcohol, health and minimum unit pricing (MUP) – is the Act being used effectively in conjunction with other interventions as part of a coherent national and local strategy? Should MUP be introduced in England?;
- Are all responsible authorities engaging appropriately with the licensing process and, if not, what can be done?;
- Enforcement and crime and disorder – do the police have adequate powers to promote the licensing objectives?;
- Late Night Levies and Early Morning Restriction Orders (EMROs) – have they been effective and, if not, what are the alternatives?;
- Has the licensing process become too complex and, if so, what might be done to simplify it?
- What could be done to improve the appeal procedure and is there a case for a further appeal to the Crown Court?; and
- Should licensing fees be set at national level, or should this be devolved, at least to London and the other major cities to which Government proposes to devolve greater powers
The Committee is composed of a dozen members of the House of Lords drawn from the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat Parties, with two crossbench members. It is chaired by the Conservative Peer, Baroness McIntosh of Pickering.
After hearing verbal evidence, the Committee will move on to consider written evidence. The deadline for interested parties to submit this is 2 September and the Committee will then report by 31 March 2017.
Written evidence should be submitted online using the written submission form available at http://www.parliament.uk/licensing-act-committee-written-submission-form, or by post to:
Clerk to the Select Committee on the Licensing Act 2003,
House of Lords,
Guidance on submitting written evidence may be found here: http://www.parliament.uk/get-involved/committees/how-do-i-submit-evidence/lords-witness-guide/
Submissions should be dated, and clearly state who they are from, whether it be an individual or made on behalf of an organisation. The Committee expects submissions to be concise, with numbered paragraphs, and any submission longer than six pages should include a one-page summary. You should also note that written evidence may be published online, although personal contact details will be redacted. If you do not wish your submission to be published, you must give your reasons for this, and the final decision on publication will rest with the Committee. Those making written submissions may also be called to give oral evidence in public.
As will be seen from the list of topics above, this is an extremely wide-ranging review of the licensing landscape and the implications for the industry could potentially be huge. Whilst some areas, such as simplifying the licensing process and improving the appeals system, with the possibility of recourse to the Crown Court, might be seen as positives, there is a whole range of issues that the Committee will be looking into, such as changes to the Levy and EMROs to make them more “effective”, that will give many in the trade cause for concern. The addition of a licensing objective encouraging access to, and enjoyment of, licensable activities by the public seems unlikely, and the emphasis placed on pubic health by the call for evidence certainly hints that the long-mooted new public health licensing objective is on its way.
It is therefore crucial that as many operators as possible engage with the process and respond in writing to the call for evidence. If you would like us to assist you in framing your written evidence, please contact one of the team.