Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill

Memorandum submitted by National Organisation of Residents Associations (PR 13)

Summary

This organisation is broadly supportive of the following licensing proposals in this Bill.

· Loss of vicinity

· Advertisement of licensing applications by Licensing Authorities

· Health bodies and Licensing Authorities recognised as responsible authorities

· Substituting ‘appropriate’ for ‘necessary’ for promotion of the licensing objectives

· Stiffer penalties for selling alcohol to minors

· Suspension of licence if fee not paid

· Introduction of early morning alcohol restriction orders

· Freedom for changes to Licensing Policies

· Introduction of a Late Night Levy

But NORA is not content with the TEN proposals. Suggestions (in italics) are made that should meet the concerns of residents in this matter. Minor improvements in other sections are also italicised.

Introduction

1.0 NORA has campaigned for changes to the 2003 Licensing Act ever since it came into existence. NORA regarded the Act as biased in favour of applicants and developers, so that there was no ‘Equality of Arms’ for those involved in the licensing process. NORA has tried to emphasis the need to restore the balance, and its concerns were listed in its response to the Consultation Paper on Rebalancing the Licensing Act. It is heartening that after seven years some of our serious concerns may finally be resolved.

1.1 Almost every one of the changes to the licensing regime proposed in the Policing & Social Responsibility Bill is fully supported by NORA’s members.

Vicinity & Advertising

2.0 In particular the change to the definition of ‘interested parties’, which will allow residents and businesses likely to be affected by applicants’ proposals to make representations, is to be welcomed. It restores the situation that existed when Licensing Magistrates were responsible for issuing licenses. Of all the measures in the 2003 Licensing Act that swung the balance of power towards applicants the introduction of the term ‘vicinity’ is the most resented by residents.

2.1 Changing the eligibility for making representations - from just those living or working within an arbitrary distance of the relevant venue that differs according to the post-code – to allow any one, who can show a valid reason that the licensing application will affect their ability to enjoy their property, would be a major step in restoring the ‘Equality of Arms’.

2.2 In this section the introduction of the duty for the Licensing Authority to advertise the licensing applications is welcomed. The current system often fails to inform those likely to be affected by the proposals. NORA has campaigned for a system comparable with that used by Local Planning Authorities – a notice on an item of street furniture and the option to write to nearby properties – and it is to be hoped that these proposals will become law.

Extra responsible authorities

3.0 If the addition of Licensing Authorities, Primary Care Trusts and Local Health Boards to this group results in a clearer understanding of the health problems resulting from the availability of alcohol, then this is a sensible step forward, and may add to the understanding by Licensing Committees of the more serious consequences of their decisions..

Reducing the burden

4.0 The Bill proposes to change the word ‘necessary’ wherever it appears in the Act to ‘appropriate’ in reference to the promotion of the four licensing objectives. There is no legal definition of the word ‘appropriate’, and the Bill does not offer guidance, but presumably once the Bill is passed, new Guidance will elucidate this matter. NORA members have experience of the interpretation by Licensing Committees of the word ‘necessary’, which is usually used to limit the conditions imposed upon premises licences to those that are essential to the promotion of the four licensing objections rather than those conditions which are desirable and relevant. If the term ‘appropriate’ enables Licensing Committees to consider a wider range of conditions to promote the licensing objectives, this could alleviate many of the current problems of the night economy. It might also limit the scope for applicants seeking to avoid conditions on the grounds that they are not essential.

Sale of alcohol to minors

5.0 NORA members are not aware of any prosecutions for ‘persistently selling alcohol to children’ that may result in the imposition of the £10K fine, since closing the premises is another powerful weapon, though this measure is reluctantly used by the police. A major difficulty arises with alcohol being bought by those entitled to purchase alcohol and then passed on to children. Parents are perhaps the most common offenders, but youths over 18 can be bribed or coerced by minors, though prosecutions for this offence are rare.

5.1 Threats appear to be the best measure to deter this crime, but nevertheless it continues. Raising the fine to £20K may prove helpful, but the threat of longer closures is welcomed as likely to prove a more effective penalty.

Suspension of licence or certificate for failing to pay annual fee

6.0 This proposal has been discussed with members and licensing officers, who agree that this is an important measure, but a grace period of 21 days in which to pay the licence fee seems unduly lenient. Licensees have a whole year to set aside funds for the fee, and they know well in advance when it is due for payment. NORA considers seven days a sufficient period of grace.

Early morning alcohol restriction orders

7.0 NORA considers this a most useful remedy for unacceptable behaviour after midnight especially in residential areas. Currently reviews of licence or the introduction of a ‘Cumulative Impact Zone’ are the only measures available for Licensing Authorities to control this problem of the night economy. They are expensive and time-consuming to introduce because of the evidence needed to justify these measures. The exemptions and the ability to vary the orders to match the problem are welcomed.

Licensing policy statements

8.0 Giving some freedom for each Licensing Authority to introduce and modify their Licensing Policy Statements as circumstances arise is a useful and practical proposal supported by NORA members.

Late night levy requirement

9.0 That those who ‘pollute the environment’’ should pay for the cleaning up has been part of NORA’s campaign from the beginning. Ideally the financial bill should fall on those directly responsible for the night economy problems, but this is impractical, so the remedy of ensuring that those benefiting from the night economy and indirectly responsible for the problems should pay appears to be the most appropriate measure. To charge the cost to those selling alcohol after midnight and to the period of sale is appropriate. NORA strongly supports this proposal.

The eight proposals

10.0 These eight proposals are fully supported by NORA members, who earnestly hope and trust that they will be approved by Parliament and implemented early in the New Year. Our fear is that those who lobby for the licensed trade will try to modify these proposals so much that their full impetus will be lost. The balance between the licensed trade and those who live near it must be altered, so that a fairer regime is introduced. The ‘Equality of Arms’ in the licensing regime must be restored, and to do so would be a clear indication that Parliament recognises the relevance of The Big Society’s ideals.

TENs

11.0 However, the proposals to change the TENs regime are less satisfactory in their effect on NORA members. TENs provide a useful method for allowing one-off events to take place where a premises licence is either non-existent or too restrictive. The vast majority of TENs cause little or no problems for residents, but there are a significant number that interfere with the residents’ ability to enjoy their property, and it was hoped that the proposals in this Bill would provide remedies to prevent the few problems that arise.

11.1 The major defects of the current TEN regime are the failure to advertise to the public that an application for a TEN has been made, that any one over 18 can apply for one even when they have no experience or qualification in the handling of alcohol, that they can be continuous for 96 hours, and most importantly that, although relevant planning conditions on the venue must be observed, the licensing conditions on the licensed property can be over-ruled.

11.2 Of all the proposals in this Bill, the only ones that would correct any of these defects are primarily those that allow the ‘relevant persons’ who can object to consider all four licensing objectives and not just the ‘the prevention of crime and disorder’. Secondly the inclusion of the Licensing Authority and the Environmental Health Department among the eligible objectors will allow representations made by others than just the chief of police. These are welcomed.

11.3 If TEN applications were advertised to the public, then the opportunity would be provided for ‘any person’ to inform a relevant body – chief of police, Environmental Health Department and the Licensing Authority – of their concerns. There need be no direct involvement of ‘any person’ in the regime, but it would provide a reasonable opportunity to allow such concerns to be communicated to those making the decision to grant a TEN, so that appropriate conditions can be imposed.

11.4 NORA understands that a major problem for those wishing to hold a week’s entertainment such as a play using the facility of a TEN was the constraint of the 96 hours limit on its timing. Changing this to 168 hours, that is a day and night for a whole week, may meet this problem, but it opens the door to a continuous 168 hour event, a facility not sought by this group. This may be acceptable in a rural venue such as the Glastonbury event, but in an urban or a village setting it could be a source of serious disturbance.

11.5 Rather than changing the TEN period of 96 hours to 168 hours, surely it would be more appropriate to add the 168 hours as a separate TEN category and restricting such events to the hours of 0900 to 2230 hours to an audience of less than 500 people. This would meet the wishes of those holding performances of plays, dances, films, etc., but not enable raves to go on for a whole week around the clock.

January 2011