News Analysis: What's on the agenda for this Parliament?

By James Wilmore

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Licensed multiple retailers House of lords

MPs return to the House of Commons on October 11 for the start of official business, in what promises to be a busy session. And peers resumed last...

MPs return to the House of Commons on October 11 for the start of official business, in what promises to be a busy session. And peers resumed last week after a lengthy summer break.

But what's in store for the pub trade? After the coalition's honeymoon period, will it prove to be a friend of the trade, or will the war on alcohol continue?

And with a host of new MPs looking to make a name for themselves, which ones will emerge as having the industry's interests at heart?

There are plenty of issues and proposed legislation for them to get their teeth into - and so here we take a look at what's on the horizon…

Drink-driving laws - a cut to come?

The background

A review of the drink-drive (and drug-drive) laws is currently taking place. Sir Peter North QC, the legal expert charged with reviewing the laws, has recommended the drink-drive limit be cut to 50mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood. This could mean a pint of beer would put some people over the limit.

Understandably, the trade is generally against these plans. In particular, the BII has said any cut in the limit would lead to more pub closures, particularly rural ones, and would cause confusion among drivers. It also said a change would have "no impact on those who habitually drink and drive".

MPs on the Transport committee have launched their own inquiry into the recommendations - and the British Beer & Pub Association and Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers are expected to give evidence to the committee this month.

The likely outcome

The pub trade could be cut some slack on this one, for once. According to reports, Transport Secretary Philip Hammond has indicated he is not keen on cutting the limit, as he is unconvinced the change would save many lives. He is also concerned it would criminalise drivers in rural areas, who have to drive to their local for a drink. The law to remain the same, fingers crossed.

Licensing overhaul

The background

Long before the Conservatives and Lib Dems tied the knot, the Tories were already vowing to "tear up" the Licensing Act. The language has since been toned down mostly and it's now being branded as a "rebalancing" of the regime. Either way, it has the potential to have a major impact on the trade.

To recap, the plans are part of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill, unveiled in May. Among the proposals are:

• Give more power to licensing authorities over decisions - effectively making them judge and jury

• Allow councils to charge a levy to venues open after midnight

• Give councils the right to increase licence fees

• Allow anyone to object to a licence, regardless of where they live

• Give health bodies a say over licensing decisions

• Make health a licensing objective

• Increase the fine for underage sales to £20,000

• Ban below-cost sales.

As you would expect, the trade has mounted a strong and vociferous campaign against these plans. Lawyers, councils, magistrates and the health lobby have also raised concerns.

The British Beer & Pub Association met Home Office officials last month to lay out its worries and the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers is also mounting a widespread campaign over the plans.

It will have to be short, sharp action though, as the measures are expected to start their journey through Parliament at the end of this month, or the start of November.

The government is aiming to get the laws in by November 2011 at the latest, but with a fair wind they could be in place by next summer.

The likely outcome

The coalition appears determined to stick to its guns as much as it can on the key proposals, given they were Tory election pledges. A depressing truth is that ministers will also be aware any watering down will be frowned upon by the Daily Mail, which has already declared victory in its fight against the fiction that is "24-hour pubs".

But reports suggest ministers are keen to avoid too much confrontation and help businesses wherever possible. Now is the time for trade groups to earn their corn by lobbying hard for the industry - with the potential to get results.

Aside from this is the headache ministers face in implementing the ban on below-cost selling. Don't bet against this aspect being delayed if it proves too tricky to finalise.

Live music - rules to be relaxed?

The background

The previous government launched a consultation on giving pubs with a capacity of up to 100 an exemption from needing a licence for live music. However, this was too close to the general election and the plans failed to get signed off, despite pressure from campaigners and The Publican's Listen Up! initiative.

But the proposals have remained on the table - and the coalition is looking again at the situation. Tourism minister John Penrose has even promised something "more radical" than the original proposals.

Pressure is also coming from Lib Dem peer Lord Clement-Jones who has re-launched his Live Music Bill, calling for an exemption for venues with a capacity of up to 200.

The likely outcome

In stalling for time, Penrose has backed himself into a tight corner. Rumours suggest the Department for Culture, Media and Sport may even completely de-regulate all entertainment.

But this is unlikely to go down well with councils. Penrose has said it will go for the option that comes out "best in the business case". Difficult to call and it may still be some time off.

Other issues

There are two topics that won't go away, yes, the smoking ban and the beer tie. And MPs are keeping their political gaze on both.

Tory David Nuttall is due to table a private member's bill in Parliament this week, calling for the smoking ban to be relaxed. He's convinced pubs should go back to having the choice of whether they want to allow smoking. It's a private member's bill, so unlikely to become law, but it shows there are still strong feelings about this issue.

Meanwhile, MPs on the Business, Innovation and Skills committee are understood to be keeping close tabs on the pubcos' progress in getting their house in order, following last year's damning report. The deadline is June, but don't rule out another evidence session in Parliament before then.

Related topics Legislation

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