HC Deb 02 May 2001 vol 367 cc682-3W
Mr. Grogan

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he will announce the outcome of consultations on the proposals for reform of the licensing laws set out in the White Paper, "Time for Reform". [160121]

Mr. Mike O'Brien

We are grateful for all the responses to our proposals. We have concluded that they confirm the case for comprehensive modernisation of the alcohol and entertainment licensing laws in England and Wales. They show that the White Paper proposals represent a sound basis for legislation and strike the right overall balance between the needs of business, the enlargement of consumer choice, and the interests of local residents.

Two issues raised by the White Paper attracted most comment: which body should be responsible for the new integrated licensing arrangements and whether licensing hours should be extended.

As to the former, the responses to the White Paper showed a great divergence of opinion. We have considered with care the views of those who argued that the new licensing authorities should be based on magistrates courts. However, there remains a clear need to bring greater democratic accountability to licensing, and we remain persuaded that local authorities are the right bodies for this purpose. It will of course be important for all licensing decisions to be taken, as the White Paper stressed, in accordance with fair and consistent procedures.

The balance of opinion among those who commented specifically on licensing hours in responding to the White Paper clearly supported our proposals for more flexible arrangements. They will make an it important contribution to dealing with the problems of alcohol-related crime and disorder, alongside the provisions in the Criminal Justice and Police Bill.

The responses to the White Paper include a number of reservations or suggestions which are helpful, and which we shall want to pursue as we work up the detail of legislative proposals to bring before Parliament in due course. There is, however, one major point on which we have been persuaded by the consultations that a substantive change to the White Paper proposals is required.

The appeal arrangements described in the White Paper gave rise to considerable anxiety for many interested parties. We now intend to provide in legislation that appeals against licensing decisions should go to local magistrates courts on both law and merits, rather than to the Crown court.

We will continue to consult closely with all the interested parties as work on preparing the necessary legislation proceeds.