Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Freedom to drink

Remember this? What about this? Remember the whole 'yob culture/we're all doomed' scare stories all over the papers? Steve's random and often belligerent Journal -
Steve's Politics update!

Boring sounding UK politics issue of the day:
Recently, the UK has brought in laws to allow pubs and bars to serve alcohol after 11pm. Before that, we were still using the rules brought in because of WW1. At the time, idiots more conservative members of society screamed that 24-hour drinking would lead to drunken chaos, rising crime and drink related deaths for everybody!!

The facts:
As reported in the Independent today, Serious Violent Crime has fallen 21% (some towns 42%) and there are 14% fewer injuries. Pub owners report that people aren't buying 20 pints at 10.58pm, and huge crowds don't hit the streets at 11.30 anymore. So in fact, the predicted apocalypse that the "liberalisation" of these laws would bring, didn't happen. And the benefits everyone else expected, did.

Well, duh.
Independent article.

To fellow bloggers: Isn't it annoying when you get home all full of the great post you're going to write, only to find some other bastard has done it already, but better? Still, worth quoting methinks.


Anonymous said...

Well yes it might have happened but that is because there is not 24 hour drinking. You could apply for such a licence if you wanted, the majority however have not, what has happed is a staggering of closing times instead of a staggering at closing times. I would agree that this is a great benefit, but feel that this could have been achieved quite easily and simply under the old licensing system, just by simply allowing Magistrates the power to allow different times, we did not this expensive local council controlled system which is now in place.

When we were debating the 2003 licensing act, the 24 hour drinking was what mostly caught the media attention, not the changing of the whole system and a massive increase in the costs of operating. We were told that this new act would bring licensing closer to a local level, this is not the case I do not have to inform my parish council at all if I wish to change my times, or apply for a licence, so the locals really have no input, considering that my licensing centre is twenty miles away if the locals happen to catch an advert in the paper they of course can object but that is only an advisory process, the objection can be ignored. In fact the act makes it clear that the licensing authority cannot consider the affects of granting a licence to a local community if those affects are beyond the control of the licensee.

Of course the child protection agency have also got in on the “act” and although I would agree that the previous rules concerning underage drinking were archaic and needed to be simplified, I feel that the result is far to tight if the intention was to create a European style cafĂ© society. No one is allowed to drink alcohol under that age of 16 not even a sip of wine with dinner. From 16 to 18 they are allowed to drink Beer Cider or Wine with a full table meal (not larger this is outside the scope).

The 2003 licensing act also made two separate incursion on civil liberties generally, this is the government slipping these draconian laws which undermine our constitution or at the very lease our relationship with the state.

1 We are all subject to the same laws is one of bedrocks of English Common law: not anymore the licensing act allows test purchasing this is where the police send an under age person in an attempt to purchase alcohol. But the Act says it is illegal to either sell or to purchase alcohol to or by anyone who is under 18.
2 The police need a search warrant to search your premises: not anymore any office can enter and search any premises if they belive a licensable activity is being or is about to be committed.

Anonymous said...

You might have been a bit premature with your post, apparently the statistics are very questionable they compared just two separate months October and December and coincided with a big police crack down on street crime.
This from the Telegraph;
It was impossible to tell from the figures whether alcohol-related violence had fallen or whether more police on the streets had pushed down offences.
The one-off exercise compared violent offences recorded by the police in December last year with those in October, the month before the reforms. Normally, figures are compared with the preceding quarter or with the same time-frame of the previous year.
The Home Office said that violent crime had fallen by 11 per cent, from 103,061 in October to 90,847 in December, a period which coincided with a big increase in policing of trouble spots after the licensing reforms took effect on Nov 24.
But the exercise again called into question the use of statistics by the Home Office. They did not conform to any recognised methodology and were also leaked to certain media outlets for maximum political impact.
It was impossible to tell from the figures whether alcohol-related violence had fallen or whether more police on the streets had pushed down offences.
Richard Alldritt, the chief executive of the Statistics Commission, said: "We are concerned about the way in which the figures are coming out and would like to see a proper statistical statement."
David Davis, the shadow home secretary, said: "What this shows is that if you put more bobbies on the street you will cut crime.
"However, these figures are a result of a six-week crackdown on violence which cost £2.5 million - what happens when this money runs out?"

MatGB said...

On the first comment, wasn't aware of some of the changes you highlight; professional interest of yours?

Have to look into that.

Re the local control thing; parish councils are an anomaly in much of the country, don't have them locally, and even where they are about, they're rarely given anything major to do, but given the history of Torbay magistrates blocking anything even remotely liberal, I'm glad to see it under the control of elected officials; it still grates on me I had to go to the next city along to wathc Pulp Fiction when the banned it, let alone allowing our tourist sector to actually serve its out of season business by letting the seafront clubs open later or stagger closing times (both denied by magistrates, but allowed by council).

Again, not fully aware of changes to child drinking regs, was aware the old ones were a complete mess, but, well, I'll read up.

As to the second comment, again, was aware of crackdown, but am pretty convinced that the overblown fuss before the changes, especially Davis' misguided statements on the issue (linked to in the post) were completely wrong footed.

What happens when the money runs out? We'll see. It'll likely show an increase of sorts compared to now, but I suspect (strongly) that overall there'll be an improvement. Anyway, was going to log off an hour ago, work tomorrow. Will read up more when I can, but it's not a major issue for me really, I like the law as is now better than as was, so up to opponents to argue for reform (for a change).

But some of the issues you raise at the top do concern me, to be looked into at a later date methinks.

Anonymous said...

“professional interest of yours?”

Yes I run a restaurant, I had to do the new course because I was too late getting my application in to the police.

I have no argument with those people who are in charge of my local licensing authority, in fact I have nothing but praise for all the hard work and they had to do, as there are only three of them they had a mighty big job to do, especially as the act has already been amended four times since its introduction, and as the forms were extremely complicated, added to which the police seemed to be singing from a different hymn sheet, the CIB told the government that they could not possible investigate so many applicants at the same and outright refused to take part in the exercise, yet that act stated we all had to produce a clean report, so then they told us a declaration would suffice, later that changed to requiring a statement from the Scottish disclosure Office. They must have spent most of their time on the phone explaining it all to distraught publicans.

I am afraid I did cause a little upset on the course the tutor did not seem to understand the implications of what he was telling us, and kept insisting that the police could only enter and search already licensed premises, the act says any premises, I think I convinced him the end. I will find the relevant clauses in the act and let you know.

About the local business, under the old system we had to advertise, inform the police, local authority and the parish council so it was brought down to the lowest local political unit. Of course we also had to inform the fire brigade and the health authority. Under the new system the parish council has been dropped and the child protection agency added.

I am happy that the act clears up the child drinking law, which was a compleate mess, but think they could have been a little more understanding on the lower age limit for table wine.

I would not take issue with you over the reasons for a drop in criminal activity, but it is interesting that they used two different months to compare and also that in the latter month there was a crack down on criminal activity by the police, one might have supposed that in the latter month there would have been more crime because there were more police about to see it, on the other hand perhaps the police presence kept a lid on some situations, I suppose you pays your money and takes your choice.

Anonymous said...

Just a quick note. The brewers and pub companies were pee'ing their pants when this legislation was first proposed because the local authorities would be involved (I know because I was in close contact with many such companies at the time). You see, under the old rules, liquor licensing was dealt with by the magistrates but Public Entertainment Licensing was dealt with by the local authority committee (with a right of appeal to the magistrates). They hated PEL hearings because the councillors would have the pesky habit of taking the views of local residents into account, which the magistrate had no statutory right or ability to do.

MatGB said...

@ Kem; weird they dropped the Parish Council out, maybe NuLab urbanites have forgotten what it's like to live in places that still have them?

Thanks for the other feedback, and a pointer at the relevent clauses would be much appreciated.

@ Katherine; my father's a retired EHO, PEL licenses were part of his brief on noise problems, so yes, you're right, licensees do dislike them, and rightly so. He was actually responsible for my favourite pub losing it's PEL, the bands were warned and one of them deliberately played louder.

Life's about give and take, residents were right to complain about late night excessive noise, and councillors are responsible across the board; a good thing, late licenses were almost impossible locally thanks to the unresponsive magistrates, but a tourist town depending on weekend break visitors needs a nightlife.

I think, overall, a net gain, but I'm worried about some of the things Ken's highlighted.

Anonymous said...

1) A licensing authority must carry out its functions under this Act ("licensing functions") with a view to promoting the licensing objectives.
(2) The licensing objectives are-

(a) the prevention of crime and disorder;

(b) public safety;

(c) the prevention of public nuisance; and

(d) the protection of children from harm.

However Government Guidance states that neither licensing law not licensing policy should attempt to control anti-social behaviour away from the premises and therefore beyond the control of the licence holder.

There is also a suggestion that licensing policy should not attempt to bring about staggered hours. Nor can licensing policy impose quotas on the number of licences in a particular area.

To me this seems to be a bit like the government having its cake and eating it in the first place they make the local authority responsible for the licensing objective but then tell them that they cannot consider those objectives when deciding the grant of a licence.

179 Rights of entry to investigate licensable activities
(1) Where a constable or an authorised person has reason to believe that any premises are being, or are about to be, used for a licensable activity, he may enter the premises with a view to seeing whether the activity is being, or is to be, carried on under and in accordance with an authorisation.
(2) An authorised person exercising the power conferred by this section must, if so requested, produce evidence of his authority to exercise the power.
(3) A person exercising the power conferred by this section may, if necessary, use reasonable force.
(4) A person commits an offence if he intentionally obstructs an authorised person exercising a power conferred by this section.
(5) A person guilty of an offence under subsection (4) is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale.

"authorised person" means an authorised person within the meaning of Part 3 or 4 or an authorised officer within the meaning of section 108(5).

180 Right of entry to investigate offences
(1) A constable may enter and search any premises in respect of which he has reason to believe that an offence under this Act has been, is being or is about to be committed.
(2) A constable exercising a power conferred by this section may, if necessary, use reasonable force.
Licensable activities are:

The descriptions of entertainment are-

(a) a performance of a play,

(b) an exhibition of a film,

(c) an indoor sporting event,

(d) a boxing or wrestling entertainment,

(e) a performance of live music,

(f) any playing of recorded music,

(g) a performance of dance,

(h) entertainment of a similar description to that falling within paragraph (e), (f) or (g),

Where the entertainment takes place in the presence of an audience and is provided for the purpose, or for purposes which include the purpose, of entertaining that audience.

Also in my course handbook (but I cannot locate it in the Act)

a. Such offences may be evidenced by the use of “test purchasing” This means that the police and weights and measures officers are empowered to send persons aged under 18 into licensed premises to attempt to buy alcohol.
b. Neither the actions of such officers nor the young people involved constitute offences under that act.

There are a couple of points here that concern me; first it is clear that the police may enter and search any property without a search warrant, this is made clear in the course booklet which says “NO SEARCH WARRANT IS REQUIRED”

This power is given to a police constable, with no requirement to obtain permission either from a magistrate or even his own superiors within the police force.

Some police powers are also granted to local authority offices who may also use force to enter a licensed premises with no requirement for either a warrant to do so or police backup. This concept is extended in other acts the animal welfare act for instance.

“Test purchasing” might well be a way of checking on sales of alcohol to under 18 year olds, but it also undermines the concept that we are all equal under the law it gives local authority offices and the police the right to break the law.

An Englishman’s home may be his castle but ther are serious breaches being made in the walls.

By pure coincidence I received an enquiry from my MP this morning asking for my response to the new licensing regime. I think like you it is an overall gain but am concerned with the added state powers, and feel this could have been achieved with changes under the old system.