Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 393 - 399)



  Q393  Chairman: We are delighted to welcome to the next phase of our inquiry Mr James Lowman, Chief Executive of the Association of Convenience Stores; Mr Rob Hayward, Chief Executive of the British Beer and Pub Association; Mr Alan Brown, Director of Group Loss, Prevention and Security at Tesco; and Mr Rob Chester, Head of Licensing at Asda. We are conducting a detailed inquiry into policing in the 21st century. As all of you gentlemen will know, the impact of alcohol on crime is quite dramatic. The figures we have been given reveal that the annual cost of alcohol-related crime in different areas of policy is £7.3 billion. Because we have four witnesses and many questions coming from colleagues brief questions will be put and if we have replies that are as brief as possible we can get a contribution from all of the witnesses to all relevant questions that concern you. Perhaps I may ask all of the witnesses: what is your assessment of the impact of the Licensing Act in terms of alcohol consumption? Has it resulted in an increase in alcohol consumption in the United Kingdom?

  Mr Chester: I do not believe there has been a direct link between the two things. The Licensing Act 2003 was a robust piece of legislation which was very challenging for us in local areas. I think it has some strengths and weaknesses, but I do not say there is a direct link.

  Q394  Chairman: You do not believe that it has had any effect?

  Mr Chester: I do not believe there is a direct link between the two.

  Q395  Chairman: Do you say that more alcohol has been consumed?

  Mr Chester: I would say that alcohol consumption is on the rise at the moment, but I would not say that that is a direct result of the legislation.

  Mr Lowman: The Licensing Act has proved to be very costly for our members, but it is very flexible and robust in the way it operates. It challenges our members in terms of standards and gives local authorities and stakeholders including the police immediate and effective powers in respect of licensed premises. I do not think there has been a link between the Licensing Act and changes in alcohol consumption.

  Q396  Chairman: But has it resulted in more action being taken by local authorities against some of your clients?

  Mr Lowman: Yes. Under the previous Licensing Act 1964 one either lost one's licence or did not lose it; it was, if you like, the nuclear option. The Licensing Act 2003 has much more flexibility for conditions to apply to premises on specific issues, whether they be related to opening hours, training or something else.

  Q397  Chairman: Do you agree with Mr Chester that the consumption of alcohol is on the increase?

  Mr Lowman: My understanding is that in the past couple of years that has not been the case; the amount of alcohol consumed has declined. In answering the original question, I do not see an increase or decrease being linked to the Licensing Act 2003.

  Q398  Chairman: Mr Hayward, are we drinking more beer?

  Mr Hayward: We are certainly not drinking more beer. Beer consumption in pubs has gone down by 9% since the introduction of the Licensing Act. To echo what Mr Lowman has just said—the figures are available from the Treasury—alcohol consumption went down in 2005 and 2006 and increased slightly in 2007. There is not a link per se with the Licensing Act. According to Home Office and DCMS figures, licensing hours of pubs and bars have extended by only 21 minutes following the introduction of the Licensing Act. There is not a correlation. Beer sales continue to fall quite dramatically in 2008.

  Mr Brown: Our view of the Licensing Act is that it has provided a far more flexible approach to the sale of alcohol which perhaps reflects how communities and people's work patterns are changing. It has provided an opportunity to have a responsible approach to that. As to what it means in terms of our engagement in policing, I think it has been a very welcome development in bringing the licensing trade, police, trading standards and local authorities far closer together and provides a good basis for us to be able to take forward a much better working relationship than there was in the past when perhaps one either had a licence or did not have a licence. It has set some very clear standards that we are very happy to meet and we are disappointed when we fail to do so.

  Q399  Chairman: Do you recognise the figure of £7.3 billion that I put to you? Is no one prepared to challenge that?

  Mr Brown: I do not believe that I am in a position to challenge that at the moment.

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