ALE Summer 2003 No. 311

Licensing Bill - Time Called

After much argument between the Commons and the Lords, the Licensing Bill has been passed, and the Licensing Act 2003 will be implemented over the next year or so, with local councils taking over licensing and with costs, complexity and bureaucracy much increased.

The new licences apply to a wider range of situations than the previous regime (e.g. to boats and trains) and a far wider range of entertainment in pubs will now require licencing.

As regular readers will know, behind the headline-grabbing predictions of an end to permitted hours and the arrival of 24-hour drinking, many aspects of this bill have been nothing if not contentious. Many industry bodies are distinctly unhappy with the new legislation, the British Beer and Pub Association going so far as to call it "bad legislation and excessively bureaucratic". One of the key bones of contention has been over licensing small-scale entertainments. The Government had insisted that all entertainment be licensed but as a compromise agreed to exempt casual entertainment for small audiences provided it causes no disturbance. The Government has also promised to modify the regulations if there are unintended and disproportionate effects upon live music. Even so, Wetherspoons have been speeding up their applications for Public Entertainments Licenses, fearing uncertainty and confusion when the bill becomes law.

As for the much-heralded 24-hour drinking, well from a brief perusal it's hard to find any mention of it. Paragraph 17 (4) (b) suggests that applicants for licences are to include the proposed times for the activities (including serving alcohol) for which they wish a licence, with no obvious statutory limit, but of course whether they'll be successful is another matter. If fact it seems possible the licensing authorities could actually restrict the hours of any given licence to fewer than those enjoyed under the old system.

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Cambridge & District CAMRA