I'm grateful to have been given the opportunity to set out what the new Licensing Bill will mean for readers of Caterer & Hotelkeeper. The hospitality and leisure industries are a major part of the tourism sector in this country, a sector that has experienced profoundly difficult times recently owing to the horrific effects of foot and mouth disease and 11 September. The much-needed good news is that the Licensing Bill will make things better for people who work in tourism.
A crucial benefit that the bill will bring to the hospitality industry is financial. It should save industry an estimated £1.97b in the first 10 years - most of this is currently being spent on fees for legal hearings and representation.
By bringing six separate licensing regimes (alcohol, public entertainment, cinemas, theatres, late night refreshment house and night café) into one, the Government is sweeping away time-consuming and costly red tape. Any venue applying for a licence to sell alcohol, or provide late night refreshment will be able simultaneously, at no extra cost, to apply to put on live entertainment as well. Only one licence will be needed where in the past it has been two.
The bill represents a radical modernisation of an archaic licensing system which makes our cities and towns less attractive to visitors and which hinders efforts to compete internationally.
It's currently difficult for English and Welsh cities to demonstrate the exciting qualities of places such as Rome, Berlin and Tokyo because of the early closure of its bars, pubs and clubs. Flexible opening hours, with the potential for up to 24 hours opening seven days a week, will bring England and Wales closer to café culture than ever before.
We're not expecting Oxford Street to transform into the Champs Elysées overnight: 24-hour opening is subject to consideration of the impact on local residents, the police and other interested parties in the context of prevention of crime and disorder, public safety, the prevention of public nuisance and the protection of children from harm. It can also take a while for social habits and attitudes to change. But the relaxation of the licensing laws means that in time, alfresco dining and drinking into the early hours could become the norm in our cities in the warmer months.
Flexible opening hours will also help minimise the public disorder and binge drinking caused by fixed closing times, encouraging a more civilised culture in pubs, bars and restaurants and finally treating men and women like grown-ups. Most people don't drink to excess and deserve the opportunity of improved quality of life that this bill will bring them.
It is also good news for children: they will be allowed greater access to licensed premises at the discretion of the licence holder, making life easier for parents. However, the licensing authority will be able to restrict or prohibit the presence of children, following representations, when appropriate, ensuring that they are protected where necessary.
The new regime will also provide much greater flexibility to the hospitality and leisure industries in terms of staff. The transfer of managers from one licensed premises to another is unnecessarily inhibited by the current law, which ties the licence holder and the venue together. The new bill will enable those with personal licences far greater flexibility in their working lives.
I believe that the reforms of the Licensing Bill will give a welcome fillip to tourism in England and Wales, saving the industry a considerable amount of time and inconvenience and enabling our cities to become increasingly cosmopolitan. The Government is keen to hear all points of view on the bill as we take it through the Houses of Parliament and I look forward to receiving your feedback on this article in due course.
1. Brings six licensing regimes together - alcohol, public entertainment, cinemas, theatres, late night refreshment house and night café - into one.
2. Flexible opening hours, with the potential for up to 24 hours opening seven days a week.
3. People have more choice to drink when they want to.
4. The licence holder and the venue will no longer be tied together, so those with personal licences will have more flexibility.
Do you have a question or comment to put to Kim Howells about the bill? If so, send your letters or e-mails, marked "Licensing Bill" to Caterer & Hotelkeeper, Reed Business Information, Quadrant House, The Quadrant, Sutton, Surrey SM2 5AS or e-mail mailto:email@example.com