Saturday, 17 April 2010

A failure of Licensing, not of licence

The plethora of 'live action' TV cop programmes showcasing Britain's young drunks as they fight, stumble and vomit their way through our town and city centres all tend to merge into one vast twenty-first century Gin Lane Live, with a voiceover by Baldrick, lit by Sodium street lights with a heavy bass soundtrack and hi-viz plods as a sort of Gilbertian chorus. Nottingham, Cardiff, Brighton or Soho have become almost indistinguishable.

I'm astonished that anyone should be the least surprised by this development. I'm even more astonished when the media or politicians wrongly ascribe it to too much licence given to young people or to longer opening hours available to licensed victuallers. No. The proximate cause of this tsunami of public drunkenness and disorder is Labour's ruthlessly centralist approach to Licensing.

Local government is little more than an agency of the State these days, and was therefore ideally placed to execute Labour's new Licensing regime, under which exactly the same rules were to be applied everywhere from Newcastle to Newquay, with a presumption in favour of granting each and every licence application. Labour's vision was for "A vibrant night-time economy to revitalise our town and city centres". Truly.

Before this disastrous attempt at engineering a social homogeneity across Britain, licences were granted by a local bench of magistrates advised by the police. They based their decisions on their opinion on the degree of drunkenness, noise, disturbance and disorder that would result, and largely applied their own, local, standards. Licensees had to be whiter than white. Each extension had to be applied for separately; not usually a worry for a country hotel hosting a dinner and dance, but a lottery for a town centre pub holding a wet T shirt contest. And rightly so.

I'm fairly certain that had Licensing decisions remained in the hands of an independent magistracy, the centres of Nottingham, Cardiff, Brighton and Norwich would not now be no-go areas after dark. It's really that simple.


Curmudgeon said...

While I agree it was a mistake to transfer licensing to local authority control, the scale of drink-related disorder was fairly similar before the 2003 Licensing Act came into force. And at least it's easier to get a taxi at 11.30 pm now.

Many local authorities had explicit policies of "encouraging a vibrant night-time economy".

Brian, follower of Deornoth said...

"a vibrant night-time economy" is probably preferable to the alternative of silent windswept litter-strewn streets between rows of boarded-up shops (occasional charity shop still in business), where no-one would go not because it was dangerous, but because it was pointless.

English Pensioner said...

The problem occurs because the police are unwilling to run anyone in for being Drunk and Disorderly, as they would have done when I was young.
This was then a relatively cheap and easy solution to the problem. Keep them in a cell overnight, bring them up before the magistrate in the morning, a fine of possibly 10 bob and that was the end of the matter. Most didn't want a repeat performance.
But now, the paperwork, medical checks, CPS and "human rights" seems to rule out such simple approaches.

William Gruff said...

The failure lies with 'The Police', who are now far more of a nuisance to licensees than they are to anti-social drinkers, and magistrates.

William Gruff said...

PS: Neither the magistracy nor 'The Police' are without self-interest and prejudice, and the system as it was had its flaws. Its advantage over the present system was that applicants had the right of appeal.

Just out of interest, though I doubt you'll answer: Why should a 'country hotel hosting a dinner and dance' find it easier to apply for an exemption than a 'town centre pub holding a wet T shirt contest'? Why should a large group of drunken Hooray Henrys be more readily given opportunity to cause a nuisance, and possibly a death or two, than a group of less expensively educated shaven headed urban louts?

The Great Simpleton said...

One of the major changes has been a move away from landlord owned/tenancied run relatively small pubs to one of major pub companies installing managers in to very large pubs, breaking the link of local knowledge.

back in those days pub landlords were also allowed to sign passport applications which showed that they were deemed to be a vital part of the local community and good for maintaining local order.

That said there has never been a golden time when we behaved well after drinking sessions. As an 11-year-old in the 1960's my entertainment on a Friday and Saturday night was watching the fights outside my fathers pub and closing time from my bedroom window, that is until he got to grips with the new pub and started barring people people for "as long as my name is above the door". Furthermore, it was well know that certain areas of Huddersfield were out of bounds on a Saturday night unless you were looking for a fight. There was some pretty hard pubs and the local dance hall had a real reputation for problems. These fights coincided with the days of the mods and rockers and most of the fights included knuckle duster and "glassing".

But as previous commenters have said, justice was fairly swift.

Mrs Rigby said...

It's interesting to see how they changed the licensing rules to let places stay open for 24 hours a day, then criticise the ill-educated for taking advantage of the long opening hours. They they use drunkenness as an excuse to close pubs etc down. A conspiracist would say it was a good, but underhand, trick.

Curmudgeon said...

In practice, virtually zero pubs do stay open 24 hours a day, and in the centres of big cities many already had late licences before the Act that allowed them to stay open until 1 or 2. It wasn't the dramatic sea change that is often claimed. The major effect in practice is to allow local pubs to open for an extra hour on Fridays and Saturdays, which isn't exactly going to cause rioting in the streets.

Mac the Knife said...

"The proximate cause of this tsunami of public drunkenness and disorder is Labour's ruthlessly centralist approach to Licensing"

And as other comments have noted, a culture in which no action attracts consequences, a glaring flaw replicated repeatedly across the whole of modern Britain...