Clause 39 - Personal licences: no requirement to renew

Deregulation Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:15 pm on 13th March 2014.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons 3:30 pm, 13th March 2014

Clause 39 and schedule 15, which makes consequential amendments, will remove the requirement for holders of personal alcohol licences to renew them every 10 years. The Government believe that that requirement is disproportionate and unnecessary. The clause is intended to remove a burden on businesses and people employed in the licensed trade. The cost of renewing a personal licence is estimated to be £75, including the licence fee and administrative costs, so the measure will be of great benefit to business.

The system of personal licences, which runs alongside premises licences, was introduced under the Licensing Act 2003. The then Government took the view that the  sale and supply of alcohol, because of its impact on the wider community and on crime and antisocial behaviour, carried a greater responsibility than other licensable activities under the Act such as providing late-night refreshment and/or entertainments. That is why the Act requires that sales of alcohol may not be made under a premises licence unless a designated premises supervisor, who must hold a personal licence, is present. Additionally, every sale must be made or authorised by a personal licence holder. There is an exception only for community premises that have successfully applied to remove the designated premises supervisor requirement.

In practice, the personal licence holder is usually a bar, club or restaurant manager or a person who runs or owns a shop licensed to sell alcohol. To qualify for a personal licence, which is granted locally by a licensing authority, a person must have completed an accredited training course and undergone a criminal records check. A further criminal records check, but no further training, is also required when the licence is renewed at the 10-year point.

I assure the Committee that the key safeguards that the system was designed to introduce will remain. Crucially, the courts will retain powers to forfeit the licence of a personal licence holder if they are convicted of a relevant criminal offence. Any personal licence holder convicted of a relevant criminal offence is also required to tell the court that they are a personal licence holder and to inform the licensing authority of their conviction.

Although the clause effectively creates an open-ended licence, personal licence holders will still be required to report changes in their circumstances to the licensing authority. The simplification of the personal licences system is consistent with the Government’s approach to safeguarding businesses while maintaining appropriate safeguards to prevent crime and disorder. I commend the clause to the Committee.

Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

This is one of the clauses with genuine deregulatory credentials, although it is not without problems. On balance, it is probably a positive step, but it is important to recognise that there are potential downfalls. The question is whether the saving for businesses and local authorities, which we all know are under tremendous strain because of the size of the cuts imposed by the Government, is worth the potential costs.

All alcohol sales have to be authorised by a personal licence holder, which ensures that anyone running or managing a business that sells alcohol does so professionally. Personal licences may be denied to or forfeited from those with criminal convictions for certain offences, as set out in the 2003 Act.

As the Minister said, the purpose of the 10-year renewal was to ensure that there was a moment in time at which the local authority had a positive opportunity to see whether someone had a conviction that they had not declared, rather than relying on an obligation that that person may or may not have known about. The renewal was designed to catch people who might otherwise have carried on working in that environment without the local authority having an opportunity to consider their licence.

By the same token, the impact assessment estimates that the saving to licence holders will be between £30 million and £34.5 million, which is a significant saving. We  recognise that that will also have a big impact on local authorities, which will not have to process routine renewals—there will be more than 200,000 routine renewals in 2015—so there is a balance to be struck. There were not many objections in the consultation. We recognise that there will be cases in which people retain a licence when they should not, which might have been discovered without the change, but ultimately we have come to the view that the number of such cases compared with the cost saving makes it a valuable change.

It is only fair to say as well that, with the Government’s continued failure to bring forward pub company regulations, as discussed in the January Opposition day debate, there is a huge amount of turnover in the industry. The number of people in the industry for more than 10 years is shrinking all the time. The huge number of people who go into it for a few months and then come out again is a significant problem. We need to do much more to change the longevity of and support for publicans from some of the pub companies, as would happen under the regulation that we propose. I understand that the Liberal Democrats, just two months after voting against that regulation, made it their policy at their spring conference this weekend. That shows that consistency is not the preserve of any party. The cost saving that will be incurred from the clause, however, is potentially worthwhile.

I want the Minister to take us through the consultation. On the safeguards that are in place, he said that the law would remain the same. People will still have an obligation to make the authorities aware of any convictions that they have, and the authority will have the right to hold a hearing if the licence holder has a conviction. In these times of straitened local authority budgets, with tremendous pressure on the police as well, what safeguards can the Minister offer us so that if the 10-year safety net is not there, something will be done to ensure that when there are causes for concern because of the conduct going on in a licensed premises or a change in personal circumstances, the authorities will be able to work together to ensure that people remain safe in the premises?

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

I welcome the Opposition’s support. In this case, they have put their support on record; it not simply that they have nothing to say about the measure, or that they will not table an amendment and do not want to express a view—they are supporting it. That is obviously a welcome acknowledgement that this is a deregulatory measure that will make a significant saving. I suspect that when we get on to the next clause, their view might be different about the impact and the savings that we can achieve, but at least on this clause we are in agreement.

The hon. Member for Chesterfield asked about the consultation that was carried out. We listened to evidence provided by partners last summer about whether to simplify or remove the requirement to renew personal licences. Some respondents were against removing the requirement, but a significant proportion believed that requiring personal licence holders to reapply automatically and undergo criminal records checks every 10 years was disproportionate. As the hon. Gentleman probably acknowledges, if someone were to commit an offence in their first year, for example, the criminal record check  would take place nine years later. The requirement is disproportionate, and the Government believe that our reforms retain sufficient safeguards to justify removing the burden.

Checks will remain in place to ensure that someone who is not a suitable and appropriate person does not hold such a licence. The courts will still play a vital role in revoking a personal licence where a holder has been found to have committed a relevant offence, and the police may object to new applications. Under the current system, at the point of renewal, applicants have to declare any relevant convictions, if received during the lifetime of the licence. It will continue to be an offence not to declare a relevant conviction to a licensing authority to which a person has made an application for a personal licence. If a personal licence holder does not declare a personal licence to the court when they have been convicted of a relevant offence, they may be fined and the court is under a duty to notify the relevant licensing authority of the conviction.

The police can also seek a review of a premises licence at any stage after the appointment of the designated premises supervisor, who must be a personal licence holder, on grounds relating to the licensing objectives if problems arise relating to the performance of a DPS. They may seek to remove the named DPS from the premises licence if it appropriate to do so based on the licensing objectives. The Government have made it easier for the police to do that. I hope that with that clarification, principally about the powers that remain in place to ensure that people who sell alcohol are suitable to do so, I commend the clause to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 39 ordered to stand part of the Bill.