ALE November 1999 No. 296

Government Watch

Since ALEs 294 and 295 there's been little action from the Government.

New Year's Eve 2000

They finally decided to issue a deregulation order for just the one occasion of all-night drinking, rather than the permanent New Year's Eve deregulation previously proposed (that was blocked in the House of Lords).

Licensing reform

After extended consulation, there may be a White Paper in January-April, which will probably outline a range of options. There is likely to be a trade-off between deregulation (freedom to open any hours) and avoiding any public nuisance. Midnight opening on Fridays and Saturdays may become the norm. There may be a let-up as regards allowing children into pubs, which would end the widespread flouting of the law at the moment.

One key issue is whether licensing is transferred from the straightforward, open, fact-based procedures of magistrates' courts, where the applicant can speak and challenge evidence, to the vagaries of politicians' licensing committees, with the inevitable extra costs (many £hundreds rather than around £10), delays, secret evidence, one-sidedness, evening meetings and behind-the-scenes political factors.

Magistrates have the problem that cost-cutting orders from the Lord Chancellor's Department have caused so many local courts to be closed in recent years, making access more difficult.

The industry has suggested a dual licensing system: the person and the place (at the moment the combination of person+place is licensed). In this scheme, councils could license the building, as they do for entertainment purposes.

However the option favoured by the influential Parliamentary Beer Club is to set up new 9-member Licensing Authorities, on the Scots and Danish models, involving magistrates, local councillors and the likes of local residents associations. This is the front runner presumably because so many of the Government are Scots or former local councillors. Licensees and pubs would be licensed separately and indefinitely - no renewal as now. Pubs could apply for any hours and then licences would be awarded with any necessary conditions.

Another strand of reform may be to replace the current major deciding factor, need, by public disorder.
[-> ALE 297 follow-up - what's proposed]

Passive smoking

The Health & Safety Executive released a code of practice on workplace smoking in July. For pubs this means that landlords have to have regard for their staff in this respect.

More generally, the Government is backing the industry's voluntary code of conduct. The push came from the need to protect bar staff rather than customers.

After a trial in 40 pubs, there is now an agreed set of signage for display near entrances as to the smoking policy. Greene King are backing the scheme so we should see the signs soon hereabouts.

Disability discrimination

Further regulations came into force on 1st October requiring "reasonable adjustments" for access. It remains to be seen how much pubs will be affected in practice. The attitude of staff is as important as access considerations and pubs are urged to view this as a business opportunity, not a burden. This is part of the process of progressively implementing the Disability Discrimination Act, culminating in 2004 with requirements for physical changes.
(The Disability Web site has the Code of Practice.)

Labelling of genetically-modified foods

On 19th September this became compulsory for all food outlets, subject to a £5,000 fine. However as suppliers such as Brake Bros. or Bookers don't have the same obligation, it's difficult for traders to know what has GM components. Furthermore surveys show that the Government & food industry awareness campaign has missed somewhere between 25% and 50% of businesses.

In practice most businesses are simply avoiding the issue by eliminating GM ingredients as far as they can and hoping for the best.

Each business must keep a copy of its policy on GM labelling on the premises for inspection.

Full pints

This was one of the manifesto committments. Yet another consulation is in progress, following on from the July Consumer White Paper. This includes sorting out what a draught pint is legally.

Remember that the big managed pub chains make a key part of their profits by deliberately serving short-measure, serving 76 or more "pints" from a 72-pint firkin.

The trade has been claiming that it'll put 17p on a pint if they're forced to serve a full pint of liquid every time - which indicates how much they've been ripping us off.

[-> ALE 300 follow-up - what's proposed]

Drink-driving

The Government has again delayed making a decision on how to take road safety forward: whether to reduce the alcohol limit from 80mg to 50mg or to pursue the tiny minority of repeat offenders. Drink-driving now only accounts for 3 out of 1000 accidents. Campaigners point out that it's the people well over the 80mg limit who are the remaining problem, not those with between 50 and 80mg. Lowering the limit will severely damage the already-precarious rural pub trade, since even one pint of session-strength beer then becomes risky.

Tax harmonisation

In spite of intense campaigning from the industry and support from the Parliamentary Beer Club, the Treasury is unenthusiastic about the two tax issues: [-> ALE 300 follow-up - BLRA campaign]

Business Rates

There's a rumour going round the industry that the periodic review of rateable values due in 2000 may increase values by perhaps 20%. The Government's level of Uniform Business Rate may go down to compensate but there's talk of a levy on small businesses to smooth out the increase for big businesses. Futhermore local authorities may be authorised soon to add to the UBR locally.

Guest beer

The Office of Fair Trading is thinking of investigating the lack of market access by small breweries. Hopefully this will conclude that the Beer Orders should be extended to any company owning a significant number of pubs, not just breweries. Punch and Nomura's landlords (a fifth of pubs) will then have a free choice of one cask beer and one bottled beer.
[-> ALE 297 follow-up - review of the Beer Orders]


Sources

Publican 26-Jul-1999, 6-Sep, 20-Sep, 11-Oct, 18-Oct, 1-Nov; Ceefax 14-Sep; BBC News 17-Sep


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