Give the new licensing regime a chance

24 November 2005
Give the new licensing regime a chance

The media frenzy over the new licensing regime has been misplaced, argues Mark Hastings, director of communications at the British Beer and Pub Association.

The hype over the issue doesn't match the reality of what will be a modest and sensible change in the industry, bringing out-of-date licensing laws into the modern era.

The truth is that the '24-hour pub' is simply a fairy tale, with very few pubs having applied to open for 24 hours. If your local pub is typical of most in England and Wales, the chances are that it has asked for a very modest extension, with a couple of extra opening hours on a Friday or Saturday evening.

The new licensing system is not just about opening hours. There are also safeguards to protect residents from problem pubs. For the first time, control of the issuing of licences will pass from local magistrates to your local council, making it democratically accountable to local residents.

If pubs do cause problems, residents will be able to take the issue up with their council and elected representatives, with local authorities having the powers to revoke licences. There simply won't be a free for all, as some have suggested.

Whenever we change our licensing laws, there is an outcry. When daytime drinking hours were extended in the 1980s, many said that there would be terrible problems - but the amount we drank in pubs declined. In recent years, we have experimented with longer hours on New Year's Eve, and this has worked well.

Nobody would deny that binge drinking and town centre disorder is a problem in our society - but retaining outdated laws that seek to control the behaviour of the majority, who simply want to enjoy a quiet drink after 11 o'clock, is definitely not the answer.

We need to reflect soberly on the fact that these problems existed under the old system of strict controls and fixed hours and recognise that this very system has contributed to these problems. Doing nothing was not an option.

Many pubs are already helping to tackle the problem of binge drinking. Thousands of pubs have signed up to put a stop to irresponsible 'happy hour' promotions, which encourage people to drink too quickly. Only last week, we agreed new standards, where both the on and off trades have committed themselves to a comprehensive set of standards to improve good practice in the sale of alcoholic drinks.

Working with the Government, we are addressing the responsible advertising, marketing and retailing of drinks right through the supply chain in both the 'on-trade and 'off-trade' sectors. Sixteen national bodies have signed up to the new code.

We will continue to work with the police and the Government on further standards, and we fully support the police in using the extensive powers they have to crack down on troublemakers so that enjoyment for the rest of us is not spoiled.

Let's give the new system a chance.

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