Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation Thirtieth Report


Letter from the Consumers' Association

Proposed Change to the Liquor Licensing Legislation to Allow Off-licensees to Obtain Occasional Licences

  Consumers' Association (CA), publisher of Which? and other consumer magazines and books, is an independent consumer organisation funded mainly by subscriptions from its 750,000 members.

  We welcome the opportunity to comment on the Home Office's consultation paper and support the proposal to allow off-licensees to obtain occasional licences as a small step towards greater freedom of choice for consumers. However, we are disappointed that once again, the consultation only examines one part of licensing law. We recently responded to the consultation on extending licensing hours in pubs and clubs and have noted that both consultations are presented as merely "modest" changes. As we have previously stated this rather piecemeal approach is not particularly helpful and a complete review of the licensing system is long overdue. We have also previously questioned whether a positive licensing system is actually necessary and have set out how consumer protection interests could be adequately met by a "negative licensing" system and planning law and enforcement (Consumers' Association response to the 1993 Home Office consultation on possible reforms to the liquor licensing system in England and Wales). This strikes us as a prime example of legislation that could be considered under the Government's deregulation initiative. Our comments on specific questions raised in the consultation paper should be read within this context.

Occasional Licences for Off-Licensees

  This consultation addresses only one of the inconsistencies in this area of licensing law; namely that on-licensees may apply for occasional licences to sell alcohol at a specific event held away from the licensee's premises but off-licensees cannot. We welcome the proposed change set out in paragraphs 1 to 3 to allow off-licensees to apply for occasional licences for events such as agricultural shows, festivals and summer fairs, as it will increase the choice available to consumers and remove the inconsistency.

  In paragraph 8 the document states that normal off licence conditions would apply to these occasional licences; i.e. only off-sales would be permitted and licensees could not run a bar or sell alcohol by the glass. The rationale for this is set out in paragraph 7 as being that off-licence holders are not familiar with the legislation for such sales and do not have the knowledge and experience to run a bar safely. CA is unable to comment on this assertion but would want to see it examined more closely in a wider review of licensing law as advocated above.

  There is an assumption that only UK wine producers would be interested in applying for these licences. It is made clear that other off-licence holders would be eligible to apply for the licences but "it is not expected that many would wish to make use of the facility" (para. 5 of the Foreword). No explanation is given for this assumption and therefore the Consumers' Association would question whether it is a reasonable one. We are concerned that if such an assumption remains it could lead to discrimination between wine producers and other off-licence holders at the application stage.

Application procedure

  The document suggests that off-licensees would apply for an occasional licence in the same way as on-licensees. This would mean that they apply to licensing justices who have absolute discretion about whether or not to grant the licence. There are no guidelines for magistrates and the consultation document simply states that "justices would wish to satisfy themselves that the sale of alcohol was appropriate at the event in question" (para. 14).

  The Magistrates' Association is in the process of preparing guidelines for licensing applications, but even when these are ready it will still be up to local discretion as to whether to apply them. This is unsatisfactory; magistrates should have clear guidelines and in the interests of transparency, when an application is turned down the licensee should be given written reasons for the refusal.

  I hope our comments are helpful. Please do not hesitate to contact my office if you would like to discuss any of the points made in more detail. The information in our response is not confidential, and we may release our comments to the press.

Philip Cullum
Policy Manager
Consumers' Association
16th October 1996

Letter from Nottingham & Nottinghamshire Licensed Victuallers Limited

Proposed Change to the Liquor Licensing Legislation to Allow Off-Licensees to Obtain Occasional Licences August 1996

  The Members of the above having carried out an in-depth study of these proposals would like to submit as full on-off licence holders, the following observations.

  It is felt that this will open the door for any-one to purchase Alcoholic Drink from any off-Licence holder at any function—walk round the corner—Open the same and consume it free from control.


  Will mean the lack of Control on all Alcoholic Drinks once purchased from an Off-Licence be it occasional or otherwise. We feel this will add further strain to what is already known as quoted by the Authorities etc—that—more problems arise from Off-Sales purchases being consumed immediately after purchase.

R Evans
Nottingham & Nottinghamshire Licensed Victuallers Limited
23rd September 1996

Letter from the Police Federation of England and Wales Joint Central Committee

Proposed Change to the Liquor Licensing Legislation to Allow Off Licensees to obtain Occasional Licences

  The Police Federation have examined this Home Office consultation document and do not support the proposed changes to allow Off Licensees to obtain occasional licences.

K.H.F. Crossman
Secretary, Legislation Sub-Committee
Police Federation of England and Wales
19th December 1996

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