ALE Spring 2003 No. 309

Licensing Bill

[See Licensing Bill in ALE 308]

Whilst CAMRA welcomes the Bill in principle, in that reform is needed, more generally there is widespread concern that it has serious problems as drafted.

Far from deregulating, as has been trumpeted, it is in fact a huge, complex set of new regulations for licensing the sale of alcohol, including in places previously unregulated, plus the licensing of entertainment.

All that was needed was to abolish Permitted Hours, as has worked so well in Scotland.

Other considerations such as anti-social behaviour are already covered by the flurry of Criminal Justice Acts etc. in recent years and by Environmental Health regulations.

The Bill has had a rough passage through the House of Lords, as the experts in various fields there tried to remove the worst excesses of the Bill and produce something workable.

For example, in the original Bill it was far from clear that small entertainment venues and casual events such as carol singing would be excluded from its coverage. The Musicians Union has been fighting vigorously for sanity, the debate even making the Cambridge events weekly, Real City.

Rather than the hoped-for deregulation in the area of children-in-pubs, with each landlord/operator being free to choose between being adult-only or family-oriented (children accompanied by adults), it's likely there will be a new set of regulations.

There's still the fundamental concern over the switch of licensing via magistrates in open court hearings to committees of politicians, with costs greatly increased.

A separate argument is over a proposal for pubs to pay a special tax for policing to control anti-social behaviour. The Home Office is apparently keen on the idea, to make up for a lack of funds from the Treasury, but the Prime Minister's Office is against the idea.

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Cambridge & District CAMRA