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Government response to the report from the House of Lords Select Committee on the Licensing Act 2003

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Their report acknowledges that in the eleven years since the Licensing Act came into force there have been positive trends in drinking habits and culture but that many of the challenges associated with excessive alcohol consumption remain. They acknowledge the strong link between alcohol and violent crime and that some alcohol-related health indicators have increased. A growing body of evidence shows excessive alcohol consumption affects different socioeconomic groups differently with half of all annual hospital admissions occurring in the lowest three socioeconomic deciles.

They acknowledge a continuing shift in the way we consume alcohol with people visiting pubs less frequently and more than two-thirds of all alcohol sold through the off trade. Since 2009 there has been a 17% expansion in the number of premises Licensed for off sales only compared with a 9% increase in the number of Licences for on trade sales only.

They also identified that more alcohol is being bought online with one survey suggesting around a fifth of all alcohol purchased is bought online.

The implications of the changes suggest we are drinking more of our alcohol at home, a change that brings a fresh set of challenges with a third of domestic violence incidents being perceived by victims as alcohol related and a study that identifies that an increase of eleven off sales premises per kilometre square was associated with 8% higher incidence of alcohol related hospitalisation and a 19% higher incidence of alcohol related mortality.

It is acknowledged that the Government needs to strike the right balance between promoting trade and investment on the one hand and ensuring an effective regulatory framework that minimises the risk of harm on the other.

Mention is made of the modern crime prevention strategy, local alcohol action areas, a treasury consultation and chief medical officer guidelines all working towards minimising the risk of harm.

Whilst the House of Lords report required a radical comprehensive overhaul of the Licensing Act the Government has stated it does not intend to be hasty in instigating such an overhaul. The Government states it is committed to working with partners including the Local Government Association, Institute of Licensing, the Licensed trade and Licensing Solicitors and Barristers to ensure that the system operates as effectively as possible.

They have advised that minimum unit pricing remains under review and advise the Government is continuing to consider a range of measures available to control excessive alcohol consumption through taxation and pricing. For example, they have recently consulted on the introduction of a new duty band for still cider just below 7.5% ABV to target white ciders and the impacts of introducing a new duty band for still wine and made wine between 5.5% and 8.5% ABV to encourage the production and consumption of lower strength wines.

The Government have clarified they have no plans to revisit the requirement for an applicant to publish a notice in a local newspaper.

They have advised they are giving further consideration to the impact of introducing a community and ancillary sellers notice meaning these will not be bought into force in the near future, if at all.

The House of Lords Committee supported the move to put cumulative impact policies on a statutory footing in order to provide greater clarity, transparency and legal certainty about their use. The changes introduced by the Police and Crime and Act 2017 were put on hold while the Government awaited the recommendations of the Committee. Their report states that these measures will now be commenced at the next available opportunity.

It is also worth noting that the Government intends to make no change to the existing fee structure in the immediate future. A revaluation of business rates came into effect in 2017 which resulted in increased rates for many Licensed premises. Accordingly, the Government considers now is not the time to make changes to Licensing fees but the policy is set to be reconsidered in due course.

The Government states it sees merits in the creation of a central register limited to records of refused, suspended and revoked Personal Licences to facilitate more effective enforcement of the Act and the Government intends to work with the Local Government Association, the Institute of Licensing and the National Anti-fraud network to examine the prospects of adding records of refused, suspended and revoked Personal Licences to the National Register of Taxi and Privately hired vehicle refusals and revocations in order to address the problem of individuals making applications in different Licensing Authority areas following a refusal or revocation elsewhere. The Government do not consider it sensible to create an administrative database of all Personal Licences, there being over 650,000 in existence at the 31 March 2016.

The Government are not recommending that Licensing Committees be given the power to suspend or revoke a Premises Licence for non-payment of business rates given that there are already enforcement remedies available to local Councils.

The House of Lords Committee recommended that Section 173 Licensing Act be revoked to ensure the Licensing Act applies fully airside at airports. The Government has recently published its call for evidence as part of its work to develop a new UK aviation strategy and this will be followed by a series of consultations during 2017 and 2018. The consultation is to seek amongst other things views on how to limit the impact of disruptive passengers on the travelling public.

They have advised that working closer with the planning department is recommended but are not in favour of joining the two regimes or having Licensing appeals go to the Planning Inspectorate. Neither are they in favour of introducing legislation based on part 1 of the Alcohol (Scotland) Act 2010.

There is also contained in the Government’s response a considerable number of matters that are to be reiterated and reinforced by amendments to the statutory guidance. There are also a number of matters which the Government are said to work with various bodies to ensure best practice.

The basic conclusion, however, is that very little is going to change.

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