The House of Lords met yesterday to challenge ministers on proposed amendments to the Licensing Act 2003, a piece of legislation described as ‘fundamentally flawed’ by the Lords Licensing Act committee.
While the Lords’ legislative scrutiny report was originally published in April – assessing the effectiveness of the Act 11 years after it came into force – the Government’s response to it was published last month.
However, the Government rejected a number of the Lords’ 73 recommendations, including that licensing should be transferred from local authority licensing committees to planning committees.
In yesterday’s debate, Baroness McIntosh of Pickering, chairman of the committee, said: ‘The committee was told of the deep disconnect between licensing and planning. The two need to be joined up.
‘In evidence we received, hearings before licensing committees were described as “something of a lottery”, lacking “formality”, and “indifferent”, with some, “scandalous misuses of the powers of elected local councillors”.’
Pre-loading and minimum unit pricing
The debate also considered changes to regulate better the pre-loading which causes anti-social behaviour in towns and cities, as 70% of alcohol is now sold through the off-trade.
The Government has pledged to look more closely at Business Improvement Districts as an alternative to late night levies. New duty bands are also being considered for higher ABV products. However, the Government is awaiting the outcome of minimum unit pricing (MUP) in Scotland, before considering any introduction.
The Lords also recommended that a full ‘agent of change’ principle should be adopted in both planning and licensing guidance to help protect both licensed premises and local residents from consequences arising from any newly built development in their vicinity.
Speaking during the debate, Baroness McIntosh of Pickering said: ‘The committee will once again wish to record its disappointment that many of our recommendations have not been snatched up, including the need for urgency on the MUP and the need to look at reducing the number of retail offers, which I believe the evidence will show compellingly have worked in Scotland.’
Minister of State Baroness Williams of Trafford added: ‘The production and sale of alcohol is important for the UK. Pubs are woven into the fabric of our nation and continue to be places where we meet our family and friends. The continued success of our alcohol and pub industry is definitely in everyone’s interest.’