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Licensing Act 2003 (Mandatory Licensing Conditions) (Amendment) Order 2014

Volume 755: debated on Wednesday 16 July 2014

Motion to Consider

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do consider the Licensing Act 2003 (Mandatory Licensing Conditions) (Amendment) Order 2014.

Relevant document: 3rd Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments

My Lords, I apologise that my noble friend Lord Ahmad could not be here this afternoon. He has been moved on and I am taking up this particular order.

The order was laid in Parliament on 23 June. It makes provision for changes to be made to the mandatory licensing conditions. The purpose of the instrument is to tighten the existing mandatory licensing conditions relating to irresponsible promotions, the provision of free water, the adoption and application of age verification policies, and the provision of small measures at licensed premises.

The Policing and Crime Act 2009 amended the Licensing Act 2003 to confer a power on the Secretary of State to specify further mandatory licensing conditions relating to the sale and supply of alcohol. Sections 19A and 73B of the Licensing Act allow for such conditions where she considers it appropriate for the promotion of the licensing objectives.

The department carried out a consultation on the alcohol strategy from 28 November 2012 to 6 February 2013. This consultation included questions on reviewing the mandatory licensing conditions. A number of suggestions were received but, in order to strike a balance between promotion of the licensing objectives and burdens on business, it was decided to restrict the changes to those which caused the most concern. These are the measures that are before noble Lords today.

The order would apply to all licensed premises in England and Wales. Scotland and Northern Ireland are subject to different legislation. The measure will make the existing conditions more effective and ensure that they are consistently implemented, particularly those regulating irresponsible sales and promotions.

I will now talk about the impact of this order. The changes will affect four areas—irresponsible promotions, provision of tap water, age verification and availability of small measures of alcohol.

First, we have made the condition regarding irresponsible promotions clearer. Some promotions, such as drinking games where the aim is to drink as quickly as possible, and using promotional materials that condone anti-social behaviour or drunkenness, will now be irresponsible in all circumstances. We have removed the exemption for table meals that allowed some premises to offer unlimited drinks, and have instead clarified that such promotions are permitted only if they do not carry a risk of breaching the licensing objectives. We have also simplified this part of the mandatory conditions by incorporating into this strengthened condition on irresponsible promotions the current ban on dispensing alcohol directly into the mouth. We have also removed the specific reference to the ban on the provision of free or discounted alcohol in connection with a sporting event. This type of irresponsible promotion is already covered by the ban on the provision of unlimited or unspecified alcohol for free or for a fixed or discounted fee.

Secondly, on the provision of tap water, we have also stated in the existing mandatory licensing conditions that free tap water must be provided to customers on request. We are strengthening this condition to state free potable water to customers on request, rather than simply water from a tap. This will ensure that the water is of sufficient quality to be consumed.

Thirdly, on age verification, we have made it clear that the designated premises supervisor must now ensure that the supply of alcohol complies with the venue’s age verification policy. This means that the supervisor is personally responsible for compliance with the policy. We have also extended the range of identification that can be accepted by premises by stating that ID can contain either a holographic or ultraviolet feature. This means that, for example, visitors from overseas without a UK driving licence or passport will find it easier to prove their age.

Finally, we have tightened the rules on the availability of smaller measures of alcohol. We are requiring premises to display smaller measures—half pints of beer, 125 millilitre glasses of wine, and 25 or 35 millilitre measures of gin, rum, whisky or vodka—on menus or price lists in the venue. Where a customer does not state their preferred size of these drinks, they must be made aware of the range of sizes available.

These amendments aim to further the promotion of the licensing objectives and make the mandatory licensing conditions more effective in achieving the objectives that were originally set for them—namely, to raise standards across the industry, ensure that alcohol is sold responsibly and ensure that the alcohol industry plays its part in tackling the unacceptable levels of crime and disorder that blight our communities.

I hope noble Lords will agree with the Government that this order is an appropriate use of the powers conferred on the Home Secretary by the Licensing Act 2003. I commend the order to the House.

My Lords, I generally approve of the order. I should mention that I am the vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Beer Group and a member of CAMRA.

Alcohol-related crime and anti-social behaviour are at unacceptable levels and the provisions in the order to tackle that are welcome. I was struck by the impact assessment, which stated that the cost to society of alcohol-related harm is £21 billion a year, £11 billion of which is accounted for by alcohol-related crime—a shocking figure.

The beer, wine and spirits trade is important to the UK and to the economy. We all want to see an industry that is well run, creating jobs and enabling people of all ages to go and enjoy themselves. But alcohol-related crime and other problems due to the misuse of alcohol or irresponsible promotions are not welcome.

I looked at the points that the order is seeking to tackle and have the following comments and questions for the noble Lord, Lord Popat. Simplifying and tightening the law on irresponsible promotions is welcome. I can see the point about interpretation, and the problems that it has caused in the past for regulators and licensees, so this should be a better way. How do the Government intend to keep all this under review? Can the Minister explain to the Grand Committee how businesses will have to adapt to the removal of the exemption for alcohol provided with table meals?

Is the irresponsible promotion provision intended to be a catch-all? The provisions do not seem to deal with off-sales. When I go shopping at the weekend or on a bank holiday and walk past the beer mountain at the entrance to the shop, I always look at the price of it. They are just giving it away. That, too, is irresponsible, and perhaps we should look at that as well.

Requiring premises to list the prices of small measures is again welcome. I think that many well run establishments would do that anyway.

I welcome the requirement for free tap water to be provided. It amazes me that a provision making someone provide free tap water has to be put in legislation. It is ridiculous really.

On the provisions on age verification, the clarification that the responsible person is the premises’ supervisor is again welcome. I was today at a meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Voter Registration, of which I am the chair. We had a very interesting presentation from Mr Graham Shields, the Chief Electoral Officer for Northern Ireland. There, they provide every single citizen with an electoral identity card. He told us that young people love this card and everyone wants it, because, of course, it confirms their age for going into pubs and clubs. I have met the brewing industry and it confirms that the card is widely accepted in Northern Ireland as confirmation of a person’s age. Everyone uses it. It is provided free of charge by area registration offices. Could the Minister look at that? It is a clear example of good practice in Northern Ireland and perhaps it should be looked at over here, because it ensures that people going for a drink are lawfully able to buy a drink. That clearly has worked very well for them.

My final point relates to point 4 on page 6 of the impact assessment. The reference there to getting a free drink if England win a match is just cruel.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, who raised a number of issues. The cost of alcohol-fuelled crime in England and Wales is £11 billion, and this is unacceptable. In reality, that figure is what the noble Lord cited: £21 billion—through loss of work, sickness and the burden on the National Health Service. We want the alcoholic drinks industry to raise its game and to do more to promote responsible drinking.

We have already introduced a radical package of measures to overhaul the Licensing Act, including giving local areas more powers to deal with problem premises. We see such premises in our major cities such as Sheffield and Leeds and they are a major problem, especially late at night. Local licensing authorities are quite capable of addressing the problems that they have in their own area.

Alcohol-related crime also entails a huge cost to the police. They will be reviewing what they charge for licences to make sure that charges cover the cost of policing areas which have a lot of crime.

I am pleased to hear that. As I said, I grew up in Southwark and I remember how, when I was a young man, there were lots of pubs on the Old Kent Road on Friday and Saturday nights. When I became a councillor there, I spoke to the superintendent in charge and he said that the resources he had to deploy on those two nights of the week to police alcohol-related disturbances gave him problems deploying officers for the rest of the week. Thankfully, things have moved on, but this is still a serious problem and I welcome the noble Lord’s comments.

It is a serious problem. In fact, many operators are responsible and there are fewer problems in some areas than in others, so we have empowered local licensing authorities to look at that.

The noble Lord also referred to the off-licence trade and alcohol sold in supermarkets. There are significant differences between businesses where people remain on the premises consuming the alcohol they have just bought and those where alcohol is purchased for later consumption. It would not be appropriate to apply conditions such as requirements to provide free tap water to customers or to make small measures available to off-trade businesses. We recognise that there are issues with irresponsible promotions in-store and we are working with the off-trade to address these through self-regulation. We also talk to the Federation of Small Businesses about both alcohol and cigarette branding.

Supermarkets are at fault in this regard, not small businesses which often do not have the necessary resources. When you walk into a supermarket, often around a bank holiday, you have to walk past the beer mountain, comprising cheap lager, not usually of very good quality. There is an issue there. I hope that the noble Lord will look at it and get back to me on it. The behaviour of people who drink large quantities of alcohol at home also needs to be looked at.

I referred to off-licences, and of course supermarkets have off-licences but a large number of them are independent shops. Supermarkets promote alcohol by offering deals such as two for the price of one. We have now made it mandatory for them not to sell alcohol below cost price. However, we cannot stop them setting a price whereby they make a small profit. As supermarkets buy alcohol in bulk, it is often cheaper in a supermarket than in a pub. However, the good news about people buying alcohol from supermarkets is that they tend to take it home and drink it at home and not commit alcohol-related crime in the streets, which costs money to tackle.

I am sorry, but there are issues with people drinking at home. For example, it can lead to violence against women, so I do not think the noble Lord can just say that, if people take alcohol home, there is no problem. As I say, there are issues with people drinking at home and the problems that arise from that.

We are working with retailers, including the Federation of Small Businesses, to promote responsible retail practices. Last week, the Retail of Alcohol Standards Group committed to new guidance on this issue. But I understand what the noble Lord says about violence and drinking at home.

We are also seeking to clarify the irresponsible promotions condition. Removing this exemption will contribute to that. We do not believe that the impact of removing this exemption will be significant. Businesses can still offer this type of promotion as long as there is no significant risk of a breach of one of the licensing objectives.

The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, mentioned Northern Ireland. I think it is best that I write to him. I have received some notes, but I want more information and it is best that I write to the noble Lord in detail on the subject. I think I have covered every area raised by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy. The only things I have to write to him on are Northern Ireland and ID cards.

I welcome this debate. It came to me at very short notice, but I have really enjoyed doing it. When used responsibly, alcohol can be a welcome part of social situations and community events. However, alcohol-related harm affects many people in England and Wales, with victims in almost half of all violent crimes believing the perpetrator to be under the influence of alcohol. This is completely unacceptable, and that is why the Government are committed to tackling this issue, and why it is crucial that the Government use all the tools at their disposal to tackle the causes of that harm.

Through our alcohol strategy, the Government are promoting proportionate and targeted action to reduce the costs and problems caused to society by irresponsible and excessive drinking without affecting responsible drinkers. We have introduced a ban on the worst cases of cheap alcohol being sold below the level of duty plus VAT. As I said to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, quite often the supermarkets do that as well. We have also challenged the alcohol industry to do more to address the harm caused by alcohol and the Government welcome the package of new pledges by the industry that was announced on 8 July.

We are giving local areas more powers to address the alcohol-related problems that they face on a daily basis. We are also supporting local areas as they seek to reduce alcohol harms through the local alcohol action area scheme, which offers support to local areas in cutting alcohol-related crime and disorder, and reducing the damage caused to people’s health.

Licensed premises have a part to play in reducing alcohol-related crime by ensuring that they are responsible retailers of alcohol. The amendments to the mandatory licensing conditions will not only tighten the conditions to ensure that alcohol is sold responsibly but clarify them so that retailers can take steps to avoid a breach.

Now and in the future we must build upon and maintain this momentum and our commitment to reduce the harm caused by alcohol to consumers and their families, to the thousands of victims of alcohol-related crime, to local communities and to the businesses that are vital for our economy. I commend this order to the Committee.

Motion agreed.

Committee adjourned at 6.02 pm.