Licensing experts have expressed alarm at the sweeping, disproportionate powers for local authorities contained in the forthcoming Policing and Crime Bill.
The Bill, which is expected to have its third reading in Parliament after Easter before implementation in October, seeks to "tidy up" a range of legislation.
However, speaking at a Poppleston Allen licensing seminar in London last week, company director Jeremy Allen warned that the Bill would have huge implications for licensed operators. "This bill looks far more serious and worrying than the Violent Crime Reduction Act before it and its Alcohol Disorder Zones," he said.
The proposed legislation would allow Home Secretary Jacqui Smith to impose up to nine mandatory conditions on licences on a national basis. It is thought banning all-you-can drink promotions and "happy hours" and a requirement to stock 125ml size wine glasses are certainties.
The new law would also allow councils to put unlimited conditions on as many or as few sites in their area as they like, which could see pubs that have committed no offence given onerous operating requirements simply due to their proximity to sites where incidents have occurred. "You could be running a premises and your local authority could turn around and demand you put 20% more seats in," said Allen.
Another clause for concern will see the current "three-strikes and you're out" rule in regards to underage sales become just "two strikes". The appeals process is also likely to be onerous, involving a Judicial Review, and Allen called for a simplification, which would allow appeals to be made direct to councils.
"Yet again the Government is taking excessive action against the licensed trade," he added. "I think there's a real risk that we'll be creating an environment where officials such as the police and councils will be travelling around to premises looking for problems rather than enforcing the law."
By Chris Druce
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