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Licensing

July 10, 2003

Licensing

Exhortation by us politicians to promote more freedom and choice has to be tempered by the disappointing failure of so many who eschew responsibility for their actions which harm both the community and natural environments.
Nowhere has this been truer than in my involvement with the Licensing Bill…

Licensing

Exhortation by us politicians to promote more freedom and choice has to be tempered by the disappointing failure of so many who eschew responsibility for their actions which harm both the community and natural environments.

Nowhere has this been truer than in my involvement with the Licensing Bill, which has taken up so much of my time over the past three months.

The main trouble with the current proposals, which are being hard-fought in committee and in the House of Lords, is the attempt by the Government in promoting the Licensing Bill to impose a single template across all parts of the UK. The proposals have been designed as if the tensions that a lively alcohol and entertainment industry bring about are identical whether in the West End or in a sleepy seaside town.

It is quite absurd to equate residential districts such as Belgravia where small quiet pubs and restaurants proliferate with places dedicated to clubs and nightlife in the suburbs or seaside beach venues.

The removal of licensing powers from magistrates which the Licensing Bill wants to achieve will make the system, in spite of the rhetoric, far less flexible and undermine the otherwise desirable goal of deregulation.

I would argue that discretion is the key and that the real risk of the proposed changes is that they stand to benefit only the large operators in the alcohol and entertainment industries. This will be at the expense of some of the smaller, family owned restaurants, bars and clubs, many of which still exist in Belgravia and other parts of the City of Westminster.

Many of those establishments have a long term, traditional stake in their community and I fear that the villages such as the one I think of as Belgravia, and in which I live, will be diminished if such family owned establishments are taken over by larger operators content to pander to the lowest common denominator.

As part of my efforts in relation to my sitting on the standing committee, which reviewed the drafting of the Licensing Bill, I carried out a survey amongst local residents.

More than 60% of respondents found the whole idea of the extension to licensing laws worrying. Nearly 30% were in favour of the prospect of 24 hour drinking but with concerns about the effect on the quality of life for local residents. 10% made it very clear that they were undecided and one person suggested that a 12-month trial should be given to any new legislation in this area.

No one believed that the new licensing arrangements would be handled properly unless there was proper, responsive local involvement. Many were similarly concerned that Westminster’s residential and business community would deteriorate as the result of this law.

But what was edifying was that virtually everybody stressed that consensus must be considered locally and on a case-by-case basis and that control should not be handed away by a one-size-fits-all piece of legislation. It is clear that Belgravia residents believe that any liberalisation and deregulation of our licensing laws must be handled with great care alongside a framework to protect our hard-won and much admired residential amenity.