Letter to The Times
|April 17 2000
Pitfalls in licensing law changes
|From the Chairman of The
City of Durham Trust
Sir, In its White Paper on proposed changes in the laws on alcohol (report, April 11), the Government's proposal to transfer licensing powers from magistrates to local authorities raises a problem of conflicts of interest in joint ventures already identified in the planning context by Simon Jenkins (Comment, January 26).
In Durham, the city council recently sent two of its officers to a hearing of the licensing magistrates in support of an application by the developer Amec for a new 600-capacity public house as part of a joint venture project between Amec and itself. The application was opposed by this society and others, particularly on the grounds of the public order problems and vandalism that happen in the city after closing time. After a day-long hearing, the magistrates decided to grant a temporary licence, with a raft of conditions to mitigate the problems we identified.
Had the city council itself been the licensing authority, there would have been an inevitable conflict of interest raising fears that commercial considerations would have overridden local concerns. (This application had already satisfied the authority's own published licensing strategy.)
When legislation is brought before Parliament, it must include a robust method of ensuring that the licensing authority is independent of vested interests, including those of the local council.
From Mr Harry Purchase, JP
Sir, The brewing industry lobby has made a powerful thrust for rationalisation of licensing law and interpretation. It may yet regret this. If regulation of licensing is passed from magistrates to local authorities it will bring the inevitable threat of bureaucratic interference, political bias and the opportunity for corruption. Also it would lead to more staff and increased costs.
Licensing committees are made up of magistrates who give their time voluntarily, and as a group have no political bias. These same magistrates sit in the adult court and see the consequences of alcohol-related crime, and there is plenty.
We can identify the premises from the evidence we hear in adult court, and we can advise the police. They have the authority now to bring the matter to court and a licence can be revoked - not just for 24 hours (as proposed) but much longer.
The intention of the new rules is to stop binge drinking at closing time and the threats then created by a number of people spilling out of the pub. My prediction is that when a licensee asks his customers to leave at midnight (or whenever he decides it is time for bed) the hard core will move on to the nearest pub still open. Then the trouble will really begin.
From Mr Tim Woolford
Sir, In view of the decision to allow payment by credit card in pubs (report, April 11), we're going to need all-night opening in order to get served.