No applause for late conversion of BBPA

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Related tags: Dr kim howells, Kim howells

So farewell, then, Dr Kim Howells! Your swan-song was to preside over no less than 115 amendments to the Licensing Bill at Third Reading, which may...

So farewell, then, Dr Kim Howells! Your swan-song was to preside over no less than 115 amendments to the Licensing Bill at Third Reading, which may be something of a record. You will be remembered for your robust defence of the indefensible ­ an attribute which politicians share only with lawyers! But what has truly made my week is reading the front page of the Morning Advertiser and finding out that the British Beer and Pub Association is leading a "ferocious backlash" against the Bill. Gosh! It puts me in mind of Denis Healey's famous comment on Sir Geoffrey Howe's parliamentary style ­ "like being savaged by a dead sheep". Is this the very same BBPA which was telling us just a year ago how well they were doing in the corridors of power to deliver a simple and effective new licensing regime? The same organisation which attacked doubters as if we were fifth-columnists bent on destroying the licensed trade and undermining loyal licensees by depriving them of a glorious opportunity? Now, it appears, their hours spent sitting on posh leather chairs have all been in vain ­ the Licensing Bill is not what they had in mind. It is "bad legislation and excessively bureaucratic." All their views have been disregarded and the Government has just pressed ahead with its own agenda. So where was the benefit in playing "Yes, Sir" from the start? What strategic success has been achieved by delivering the licensed trade's unambiguous approval from the outset? Absolutely none. It would have been far better for the trade representatives to have had a clear idea of the kind of system which would be workable and then to challenge the Government to provide it. The appeasement route, as indeed I suggested some considerable time ago, just was not going to work. You have to fight your corner, not stay on your stool. Perhaps there was too much concentration on the argument as to whether responsibility should be transferred from the justices to local authorities. There was absolutely no debate that I can recall on how best to administer the new system, mainly because the White Paper appeared to suggest that red-tape would be cut to a minimum. When the Bill was published last November, its shortcoming were obvious. It was, and is, a very bad piece of drafting as well. Parts of it are impenetrable. But the trade's leaders and advisers had seen great chunks of it for some time. They must have recognised the amount of bureaucracy and paperwork it contained. Why didn't they kick up an almighty fuss publicly then, rather than waiting until last knockings? One of the reasons may have been a latter-day Iago whispering in their ear that if they rocked the boat they would lose the whole package. So they embarked on a positive spin strategy, "selling" the advantages to licensees and totally refusing to entertain any idea that the measure was flawed. Any drafting problems were minimised. "We shall overcome" was their battle-hymn. Well, they didn't. So you will forgive me if I do not applaud this last-minute conversion to the critical wing. Having my own well-publicised arguments re-heated and dished up by someone else leaves a rather sour taste­ Or should I say a bland taste?

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