Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill

Memorandum submitted by the London Borough of Newham (PR 57)

PART 2: LICENSING

Summary

The London Borough of Newham welcomes the keenness of the Government to review the Licensing Act 2003. The Council notes, however, that review so far undertaken and the proposals in the Bill are limited in scope and would wish that many other problematic aspects of the Act be considered in the near future.

That being the case the Council broadly supports the proposals in the Bill but in several instances has reservations that the proposals may not be as effective in practice as could be wished. The Council’s views of the major proposals are outlined below:-

1 Responsible Authorities (Clauses 103, 104)

The Council supports the inclusion of the Licensing Authority and the Primary Care Trust as Responsible Authorities. However, it is recognised that with the Licensing Objectives unchanged these authorities may have difficulty in supporting submissions at a hearing where the "professional" authorities such as the police have not made representations in relation to the prevention of crime and disorder etc.

2 Removing the Vicinity Test (Clauses 105 – 108)

The Council very much supports this amendment since the vicinity test is unhelpful particularly when compared with the Gambling Act 2005 terminology. There are, however, concerns that there could be an increase in possibly frivolous or vexatious representations from persons presenting only the most tenuous of evidence in relation to the specific premises. The proposed greater detail in s182 Guidance will need to be particularly clear.

3 Reducing the Evidential Burden (Clauses 109 – 111)

The Council wholly supports the use of the term "appropriate" rather than "necessary" in relation to steps to be taken in relation to the licensing objectives. The authority should be able to take the action it considers reasonable without having to prove the legal demands of necessity.

4 Temporary Event Notices (TENs) (Clauses 112 – 117)

i) The Council supports the inclusion of the Environmental Health Service in relation to the right to object to a TEN and particularly welcomes the extension of the grounds to all the licensing objectives especially enabling noise and nuisance issues to be considered.

ii) Similarly the Council supports the inclusion of the ability to attach relevant conditions from Premises Licences to TENs in the same premises where an objection notice has been received. The wording of the section must however be clear to ensure that the conditions may be imposed at times when the premises licence does not have effect. Many TENs are for an extension of hours of licensed premises.

iii) The permission of late TEN notification is a very useful in situations where events must be postponed for weather or other reasons most of the formal issues have been considered. The proposals appear to strike a sensible balance between permitting what is appropriate without opening floodgates of late applications limiting the time for police and EHO consideration.

iv) In permitting events lasting up to a week the Council has concerns about the nature of events this may permit and can only recommend this amendment if the authority is able to attach appropriate conditions even where no premises licence exists.

v) The extension of the objection time period for the police is supported.

5 Underage Sales (Clause 118)

The prevention of sales to underage persons is a priority of the Council and it therefore supports the increase in penalty and possible closure notice period.

6 Early Morning Alcohol Restriction Orders (clause 119)

This proposal to give the authority the power to regulate the hours of trading in areas of the authority is welcomed as a means of protecting residential localities. Whilst the Council appreciates the Home Office remit relating only to alcohol the Council would wish to see the same provision extended to all forms of licensable activities under the 2003 Act. A number of Late Night Refreshment premises in an area can also, for example, be a source of nuisance to residents.

7 Suspension for Failure to Pay Annual Fee (Clause 120)

The Council expends a good deal of effort and time as well as cost in trying to receive the annual fees in respect of a small but significant minority of premises. Action to address the current wasteful situation is very welcome.

The Council would, however, strongly recommend that the licence become subject to revocation for non payment. The current proposal would appear to permit a licence to fall into abeyance and to be resurrected at a time to suit the licensee. Further, any offence for operating with a the licence suspended is likely to bee seen as a purely administrative offence and any back fee will almost certainly be paid before the prosecution hearing leaving the Court with little scope for a deterrent penalty. It is difficult to see that the suspension of a licence will have the desired effect of ensuring payment of the annual fee. Section 193 of the Gambling Act 2005 which does relate to revocation has operated very well in this context and a similar provision would seem appropriate for the Licensing Act.

8 Licensing Policy Statements (Clause 121)

The Council is keen to support the amended time cycle in relation to the Statement of Licensing Policy and particularly welcomes the proposal that the clock is "reset" if the Policy is reviewed during the cycle period.

9 Late Night Levy (Clauses 124 – 138)

The Council sees enforcement as an integral and crucial part of the licensing process. Licence holders that breach licence terms and conditions or operate with no licence at all are often the cause of major crime and disorder or nuisance to their neighbourhood as well as being unfair competition to well managed premises. It therefore supports strongly the principle of the ability to charge a levy that would offset some of the enforcement costs and enable a greater programme of routine enforcement to take place. This very much follows the ethos of "let the polluter pay" rather than the community that is being disadvantaged.

However, before offering wholehearted support the Council would wish to see further detail of how the scheme could operate in practice and the likely costs of the administrative process involved.

January 2011