England and Wales should introduce minimum pricing, say Lords

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England and Wales should follow suit if minimum unit pricing is introduced in Scotland and proves ‘effective in cutting down excessive drinking’, says a report from the House of Lords Select Committee on the Licensing Act 2003.

The legality of minimum pricing is still being considered by the UK Supreme Court, however (DDN, December 2016, page 4). A legal challenge to the Scottish Government’s minimum pricing plans from the Scotch Whisky Association and others was rejected by the Scottish Court of Session last year (DDN, November 2016, page 4), which in turn prompted the current appeal – the latest part of a protracted legal battle.

‘The argument that a policy should not be introduced because there was no conclusive evidence that it would be effective was once deployed to oppose compulsory seat belts and restrictions on smoking,’ says the report. ‘It does not make sense for a decision for England and Wales to be postponed indefinitely. UK ministers must be guided by the Scottish experience.’

The committee also states that the Licensing Act 2003 is fundamentally flawed and in need of a ‘radical overhaul’. It was ‘shocked by some of the evidence it received on hearings before licensing committees’, said committee chair Baroness McIntosh of Pickering. ‘Their decisions have been described as “something of a lottery”, “lacking formality”, and “indifferent”, with some “scandalous misuses of the powers of elected local councillors”,’ she stated.

The report concludes that the government made a ‘substantial error’ in creating new committees for local authorities to deal with licensing, with planning committees ‘more effective and reliable’. The report wants to see immediate coordination between the licensing and planning systems, with licensing appeals going to the planning inspectorate instead of magistrates’ courts. It also calls for licensing fees to be set locally rather than nationally, and for the ‘late night levy’ – which was intended to pay for the cost of policing – to be repealed.

Meanwhile, Public Health England and the Department of Health have published their latest estimates of alcohol dependence in England. The estimated prevalence of people with alcohol dependence and ‘potentially in need of specialist assessment and treatment’ in 2014-15 was 595,131, representing just under 1.4 per cent of the population aged over 18, says the report. Of these, 313,753 displayed mild dependence, 173,399 moderate dependence and 107,979 severe dependence.

Select committee on the Licensing Act 2003: post-legislative scrutiny at www.publications.parliament.uk

Estimates of alcohol dependence in England based on APMS 2014, including estimates of children living in a household with an adult with alcohol dependence

The Licensing Act 2003 is fundamentally flawed and in need of a ‘radical overhaul’, states the Select Committee