Licensing reform hope rests with Blair

Related tags Local authority control House of lords License Westminster system Tony blair

Licensees and trade campaigners are pinning their hopes on Prime Minister Tony Blair who they claim could still make vital changes to licensing...

Licensees and trade campaigners are pinning their hopes on Prime Minister Tony Blair who they claim could still make vital changes to licensing reform proposals.

The industry has remained split over the reform plans - in particular the proposal to move licensing control to local authorities, which many licensees fear will lead to added costs, politically-biased decisions and more red tape.

Stuart Neame, of Kent brewer Shepherd Neame, and Tim Martin, of pub operator JD Wetherspoon, have vowed to continue opposing the proposals by taking their fight direct to the top.

But with meetings already taking place within Westminster to iron out the details of local authority control, time is running short for the campaign.

The British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA), the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers and the British Institute of Innkeeping (BII) have all been involved in regular meetings with the Department of Culture, Media and Sport on licensing reform where it has been stated that there's no question of licensing control being left in the hands of magistrates.

These trade leaders have had to accept the fact that under the proposals, control will move to local authorities and they are being tasked with thrashing out the details of a new system.

Mark Hastings, spokesman for the BBPA, said he hoped the reform plans would bring benefits for licensees. He said: "The idea is to provide a cheaper system with reduced red tape. There is a lot of tough negotiation and hard talking ahead in order to get a draft legislation that we are happy with."

His colleague Martin Rawlings added: "If you are running a good business you have nothing to fear and more to gain."

He stressed that existing licensees would be unlikely to see any major changes under local authority control.

But Mr Neame said last week that he would urge any licensee who was opposed to local authority control to make his feelings known to Mr Blair, who has final approval before the bill goes before Parliament.

Failing this, he is also hoping to influence the process when the bill is debated in the House of Lords, which does not have a Labour majority.

Mr Neame said: "It is important that when the Prime Minister looks at this in October, he knows that two-thirds of licensees are against it. Licensees have got a huge role to play in this by writing to the Prime Minister objecting to local authority control - and every letter counts."

Recent research has shown that many licensees are against the proposals. The Publican's Market Report 2002 found nearly two-thirds of licensees want the government to scrap its plans and a survey by Punch Pub Company found 72 per cent of the 450 licensees asked did not support local authority control.

But with around two months to go until the Queen's Speech it seems almost inevitable the existing proposals will go through.

The BII has written to its members to try and reassure them over the reform process. Georgina Wald, spokeswoman for the BII, said: "Licensees should start getting to know their local authorities.

"Publicans think they are on the side of the residents, but if you talk to some of the residents' associations they think the local authority is totally on the side of the pub. Dialogue is really the only way forward here."

The government's licensing reform meetings

The government is currently conducting two meetings a week in Westminster to discuss the principles of licensing reform.

  • topics discussed already include premises licences, police powers and the procedures for the granting of licences by local authorities
  • the issue of children in pubs is likely to be one that will lead to a lot of debate
  • representatives at meetings include the FLVA, NALHM, BBPA and ALMR
  • it is expected that licensing will feature in the Queen's Speech in November and will then be passed to Parliament two or three weeks later, starting in either the House of Lords or the House of Commons
  • draft national guidance is expected to be published with the draft bill when it is presented to Parliament.

Related topics Licensing law

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