In line with its terms of reference, the commission on liquor licensing presented an interim report on off-licensing to me in April last. The interim report contains a set of recommendations relating to dormant licences, under age drinking, access to off-licences and certain related matters. I subsequently obtained Government approval to publish it.
By way of response to the commission's recommendations relating to improved access to off-licences, the Government noted my intention to bring forward proposals for amending legislation at the earliest opportunity. The preparatory work on this new legislation is at an early stage in my Department. Framing this new legislation is not a simple task, however, given the complexity of existing legislation in this area which the commission itself has acknowledged. For this reason, I am unable to say when the proposals for legislation will be ready for publication.
As regards the recommendations not relating to access to off-licences – the majority of which fall within the areas of responsibility of other Departments and agencies – the Government agreed that a co-ordinated response be developed by a high level, interdepartmental working group of the Departments and agencies concerned. This working group presented its report at the end of June. I am happy to say the Departments and agencies concerned responded in a broadly positive and constructive way to the Commission's recommendations and indicated that they would be taking appropriate action to address them in due course. I understand that such action is under way at present. For example, within my own Department, I have established a review group to examine the current age card scheme and to make appropriate recommendations. I expect that it will report to me by the end of the year.
To underline the importance it attaches to the work of the liquor licensing commission, the Government has requested the working group to present a progress report on all actions taken by Departments and agencies in response to the interim report's recommendations by 31 January 2002.
The Government has also requested the commission on liquor licensing to submit additional interim reports on issues which can be progressed in advance of the commission's final report at the end of 2002. I am pleased to say that the commission has responded positively to this request and I understand that a number of sub-committees have been established to look at specific areas within the liquor licensing code.