Introducing the motion, she focused on the principal recommendations in the Select Committee’s April 2017 report and the Government’s negative response to most of those recommendations, published in November 2017.
Commenting on one of the main reasons the Select Committee had called for a “radical comprehensive overhaul” of the Licensing Act 2003, she said: “Applicants, businesses, residents or the lawyers representing them were all critical of the decision-making generally and, in some cases, the denial of basic justice. The Government say in their response that, “we do not intend to take the approach recommended by the Committee at this time”. They believe that it is enough to improve training and provide stronger guidance — which we did recommend — on how licensing committees should be conducted. While better training and guidance may help, they cannot mend the basic flaws of the system. If the Government do not intend to follow our recommendations “at this time”, I ask the Minister to tell us at what time she thinks this would be appropriate.”
Little in terms of a specific answer on behalf of the Government to this question was provided by the Minister of State (Home Office), Baroness Williams of Trafford. However, her response included the following comments:
- “Although we may not have accepted all the committee’s recommendations, the Government are committed to address many of the issues that the committee highlighted”.
- “We accept the important points raised by the committee on the effectiveness and consistency of implementation of licensing processes and decision-making across local areas. We agree that improvements in practice could be made. Instead of transferring the functions of licensing committees to planning committees, we are focusing on improving training and providing stronger guidance on how licensing hearings should be conducted. There is good practice in many local areas that we will build on and we will work closely with partners—the Institute of Licensing and the Local Government Association (“LGA”), in particular—to assess the training needs for councillors and the police and, where appropriate, to develop specialist training programmes with partners …….. we have begun initial discussions with a number of partners to develop this work and will continue to drive it forward next year”.
- “The LGA is currently writing its licensing handbook. It will be a valuable guidance document for those working in the licensing regime on a day-to-day basis, and it fulfils a role that the statutory Section 182 guidance cannot”.
- “Changes introduced by this year’s Policing and Crime Act will improve the late-night levy and aim to increase its use by making it more flexible, fairer to business and more transparent …. we support areas that decide to introduce other schemes, such as BIDs, which my noble friend mentioned. Councils can offer a levy discount to premises involved in BIDs”.
- “Recent Budgets have offered business rate relief to pubs following the recent revaluation of business rates. A move to locally set licensing fees or an increase in the centrally set fees at this stage would undermine the assistance that the rate relief has given licensees. The Government therefore considered that now is not the time to make changes to licensing fees, but the policy will be reconsidered in due course”.
- “MUP (minimum unit pricing of alcohol) remains under review pending the impact of its introduction in Scotland and the Government will consider the evidence of its impact once it is available ……. the Scottish Government are required to report on the impact of their legislation after five years. It is possible that evidence will begin to emerge before then. As I said, we intend to keep this issue under close review”.
- “On health aspects, the committee did not recommend introducing health as a licensing objective. We are broadly in agreement with that position. However, public health teams have an important role to play in the licensing system. That is why they have a statutory role as responsible authorities under the 2003 Act”.
The motion was agreed by the House. A Hansard transcript of the debate can be downloaded below.