Licensing Laws Radically Revised
The 24th of November 2005 AD
The licensing laws in Britain are a tiny reflection on our society, but more significantly of our attitudes to alcohol. They were first brought in to control the country’s descent into gin-sodden oblivion in the 18th century, though only by obliging pubs to have a supposedly responsible individual in charge. In 1914 a more dramatic change came about to stop munitions workers drinking their wages away at all hours of the day, and more vitally blowing themselves up when they went to work intoxicated: serving hours were limited to 12pm – 2.40pm, and 6.30pm to 9.30pm, though a more civilised 11pm (10.30pm on Sundays) later became the norm. On November 24 2005 the greatest changes in those laws came about since that 1914 Defence of the Realm Act – at least for England and Wales.
The tabloids constantly and with characteristic inaccuracy referred to 24 hour drinking as they campaigned against the new law, though very few premises would be granted that freedom. What the changes meant was increased flexibility in the hands of the local authorities granting licenses; and, for pubs which applied for the possibility, the right to serve for extended hours, but often closing earlier depending on trade.
Sad though it was to lose the frisson of harmless illegality in near silent lock-ins, less so the dreaded double-round at 10.55, the changes should surely be seen as the drinking community coming of age - being trusted to act responsibly. It works on the continent, why not here? In most cases it has indeed worked well, though predictably some idiots have abused the extended hours, and city centre police may have a different view to suburban pub-goers .
A strange and unexpected side-effect of the new laws, however, has been problems with over-officious licensing authorities targeting traditional seasonal entertainments at pubs – Morris dancing , mummers , and the like – where those pubs have not applied for entertainment licenses. Inflexible British bureaucrats, who would have imagined it?
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