Reform opposition could 'derail process', says BLRA
Trade leaders have warned campaigners to drop their opposition to licensing reform proposals given predictions of another Labour landslide in this week's General Election.
A group led by Stuart Neame, vice-chairman of Kent brewer Shepherd Neame, and Tim Martin, chairman of pub operator JD Wetherspoon, remains strongly opposed to the plans.
They have launched their own alternative licensing bill, available in full on www.thepublican.com, and claim plans to move licensing control to local authorities make the Government's system unworkable.
The Tories had publicly supported this argument, but with a Labour victory this week seemingly inevitable, it is almost certain that the reform proposals will be taken forward as they stand.
The Brewers and Licensed Retailers Association (BLRA) is now urging trade campaigners to reconsider their opposition and instead work with the Government to make sure the system works in practice.
Spokesman Mark Hastings said: "We have to accept we are not going to get absolutely everything we want but we are working with the Government closely to ensure that the trade's views are represented. There is always a danger if there is continued opposition that it could derail the whole process and there are plenty of other groups out there, including bodies like Alcohol Concern, who would be more than happy to see this happen."
Mr Hastings added that he believed this viewpoint was shared by the majority of the trade.
Mr Neame and Mr Martin now have 20 small brewers and pub operators signed up to their alternative bill, but this represents an estimated 4,000 pubs - only just under seven per cent of the total pub market.
The BLRA, which has the support of large pub operators including Enterprise Inns and Pubmaster, is preparing to release its own proposals for guidelines for the new licensing regime.
But Mr Neame claims the guidelines would not be set with primary legislation and could, therefore, be altered at any time by ministers. He has said he would prefer to see the system remain as it is than to see the Government's proposals brought in. (See Neame says no to Government licensing reform plans (21 may, 2001) for more details).
Mr Neame said: "The 20 members we have represent the majority of the UK's commercial scale breweries. I haven't yet approached pub companies with regard to support but I am sure a large number would be supportive of the objectives of our alternative bill."