News More Detail on Government’s Response to HoL Committee

“I promised a bit more comment on some of the main issues in the Government’s Response, following on from my eNews of Monday, 6th November 2017.  Below is a non-exhaustive list, but in essence the Government is not intending to change the Licensing Objectives, remove the Late Night Levy or EMROs, merge Planning and Licensing or commence locally-based licensing fees, certainly in the short term.

Key Note Conclusions

• Minimum Pricing – Minimum Unit Pricing remains under review.  Subject to the outcome of the legal case between the Scottish Government and the Scotch Whisky Association and any subsequent decision of the Scottish Government to introduce a minimum unit price for alcohol, the Government will consider the evidence of its impact once it is available.

• Taxation and Pricing – to control excessive consumption.  The Government continues to consider a range of measures available to control excessive alcohol consumption through taxation and pricing, for example, the recent consultation on the introduction of a new duty band for still cider just below 7.5% ABV (to target white ciders) and the impact 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).

• Planning / Licensing – the Government does not intend to take the approach recommended by the Select Committee, for example, to transfer the functions of Local Authority Licensing Committees and Sub-Committees to the Planning Committees.  However, the Government accepts that the Committee Report raises important points on the effectiveness and consistency of implementation of the licensing processes and decision making, but that these can be improved with better training and providing stronger guidance on how licensing hearings should be conducted.  It is not intended to change the Appeals process so that appeals go to the Planning Inspectorate rather than the Magistrates. 

• Hearings where there is no longer any dispute – in such cases, the Government agrees with the Select Committee that if the Licensing Sub-Committee wants a hearing nonetheless it should provide reasons why.  Guidance in this respect will be included in the s182 Guidance and in the LGA Licensing Handbook when it is produced. 

• Regulations 21 & 23 of the Hearings Regulations – these Regulations state that the Licensing Authority can govern its own procedure and that a hearing should be in the form of a discussion.  The Select Committee said they regulated nothing and should be revoked.  The Government does not intend to do so, citing their importance in for example, ensuring that in most cases the hearing shall take the form of a discussion with cross-examination not being permitted unless the Authority considers it is required for it to consider the case.

• Delays in Summary Review Appeals – the Government has discussed these concerns with HM Courts and Tribunals Service who will bring the Select Committee’s recommendation to the attention of the judiciary, however the Government states it cannot implement any recommendation to list an Appeal as soon as possible because listing is a judicial responsibility and function.

• Newspaper Advertising – the Government has no plans to end the requirement to advertise in newspapers for a major variation or new licence application.

• Additional Licensing Objectives – the Government agrees with the Select Committee that no further licensing objectives, including one relating to the promotion of Health & Wellbeing should be added.

• Super Strength Alcohol / Responsibility Deal – the Government intends to deal with excessive alcohol consumption through taxation and to continue working in partnership with the industry.

• Group Review Intervention Powers (GRIPs) - the Government intends to proceed with a consultation on the introduction of GRIPs, but will explore beforehand whether similar measures can be achieved within the existing system.

 TENs – the Government does not intend to legislate to allow Licensing Authorities to object to TENs, and only proposes that the Guidance be amended to recommend Licensing Authorities consider how to bring TENs to the attention of residents who may be particularly affected.

• Community Ancillary Sales Notices (CANs) – the Government is giving further consideration to these (which allow for a simpler form of licence for ancillary sales of alcohol, for example, at bed and breakfasts) but has not committed to repealing these, as requested by the Select Committee.

• Licensing Training for Police Officers – the Government agrees that comprehensive training should be available to all Officers required to undertake licensing duties and is working with the College of Policing in this respect.

• 9.12 of the Statutory Guidance – this will be amended to remove the emphasis on accepting Police evidence.

• Cumulative Impact Policies (CIPs) – the Government acknowledges that it has been awaiting the Select Committee’s views on CIPs prior to moving forward with the placing of CIPs on a statutory footing as introduced by the Policing & Crime Act 2017, which will now go ahead at the next available opportunity.

• Interim Steps at a Summary Review Final Hearing – the Government will not change the current legislation which allows the Licensing Committee at the final Review to consider the interim steps and amend them if necessary, together with the right of Appeal to the Magistrates in respect of the interim steps to be heard within 28 days.

 EMROs – the Government will not be repealing EMROs, although it acknowledges that none have yet been implemented.

 Late Night Levy / amendments to the Levy – having awaited the Select Committee’s views, the Government now intends to commence the provisions introduced in the Policing and Crime Act which allow Licensing Authorities to target the Levy in geographical areas, charge premises licensed to sell late night refreshment, give PCCs the right to formally request the Licensing Authority propose a Levy triggering a consultation on whether to do so, and require Licensing Authorities to publish information about how the revenue raised from a levy is spent.  The Government will however, consult on the level of charge appropriate for late night refreshment premises as it acknowledges that many of these are small businesses and does not wish to impose unnecessary or disproportionate charges. 

• Levy 70/30 split between Police and Licensing Authority – the Government has no plans to change the split although it acknowledges that there was no bar to local agreements between the Licensing Authority and the PCC to vary this percentage. 

• Late Night Levy and the EU Services Directive – the Government will ensure before taking any further action in relation to the Late Night Levy that it complies with the EU Services Directive.

• A Full “Agent of Change” principle – the Government notes that the consultation on the Housing White Paper includes a proposal to amend the national planning policy framework to emphasise the “Agent of Change” principles in planning policies and decisions.  Consultation on this White Paper closed on 2nd May 2017 and the Department for Communities and Local Government is currently analysing the responses. 

• Locally set licensing fees – the Government doesn’t intend to change the existing fees regime in the immediate future.  It notes that the revaluation of business rates that came into effect in April 2017 resulted in increased rates for many licensed premises, with an additional impact in some cases of those premises moving up a fee band, meaning an increase in business rates and licensing fees as a result.

• Extending the fee multiplier to supermarkets – there are currently no plans to extend the fee multiplier to supermarkets but this will be re-considered when any further changes to licensing fees are considered in the future.

• Ensuring that the GOV.UK platform for licensing applications works with Local Authority computer systems and is fully compatible with the Licensing Act 2003, and in due course is adopted by all Local Authorities (recommendation by the Select Committee).  The Government fully supports digitalisation and whilst it has provided a suite of online licence application forms this is not a comprehensive list of licensing forms.  It notes that private sector solutions are being developed, including looking at a similar online licensing platform to the Planning Portal solution.

• The Government does not agree to establishing a database of all Personal Licences linked to the police national database (and it would be disproportionately complex and expensive), referring to existing arrangements and the ability of Licensing Authorities to revoke or suspend Personal Licences as of 6th April 2017 to be adequate. 

• Abolishing the two day waiting period for new members in members’ clubs.  The Government does not consider this to be a significant burden and has no intention of removing this requirement.

• Making the Licensing Act apply fully airside at airports, ports and hoverports – the Government shares the committee’s view that everyone should be able to enjoy a safe and disruption fee environment when travelling but takes the view that further engagement with affected parties is required to consider the full effects of the Committee’s recommendation.  A call for evidence on 21st July as part of its work to develop a new UK Aviation Strategy will be followed by a series of consultations during 2017 and 2018. 

• Selling alcohol to somebody who is drunk (an offence under S.141) – whilst the Government acknowledges that the number of prosecutions in this field is low it does not recommend any specific legislative or other remedy, rather referring to local initiatives for improving knowledge of the law and approaches such as the “Drink Less, Enjoy More” initiative in Liverpool and Swansea”.