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Last Updated: Monday, 29 August 2005, 11:59 GMT 12:59 UK
Pub music licence fears 'ignored'
Coldplay front man Chris Martin
Coldplay are among bands who started out playing in local pubs
Ministers have ignored concerns that new licensing laws make it more costly and complicated for pubs and clubs to host live music, the Conservatives say.

They claim the government ignored the warnings from its own advisory group, continually referring to the process as a "box-ticking exercise".

The government says it always admitted the process "may seem daunting".

Meanwhile, Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell has said the impact of 24-hour drinking will be closely monitored.

'Warnings ignored'

At a meeting in May, the Live Music Forum - which was set up by the government to urge venues to apply for new licences - raised concerns about the low rate of applications for new licences.

It noted that smaller pubs and clubs were finding the application process complicated and expensive.

Conservative culture secretary Theresa May says the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) recognised the difficulties but failed to act.

Licensing Minister James Purnell had "tried to pull the wool over everyone's eyes" by not acknowledging the forum's concerns, she said.

The DCMS said in a statement that Mr Purnell had "always acknowledged that the new licensing application process may seem daunting to some".

"We estimate that overall the industry will save around 2 billion over the next ten years as a result of the reforms, largely in legal costs, renewals and additional applications," the statement said.

Fees had now been set to remove "widespread and unjustifiable" inconsistencies of up to 600% between local authorities for public entertainment licences, it added.

'Close review'

Meanwhile, Ms Jowell said that the impact of 24-hour drinking will be monitored when it comes into effect in November, and "unintended consequences" will be addressed.

The policy is not wrong and... time will prove it right
Tessa Jowell

The culture secretary told BBC Radio 4's The Westminster Hour: "We will keep its effect, once it's actually in place, very closely under review."

Critics say the new law will increase drunken disorder but the government has said it would combat binge-drinking.

"The policy is not wrong and... time will prove it right," said Ms Jowell.

She said: "Like all major legislation, we will keep its effects very closely under review.

"I've always said that we would monitor its impact and if any of the unintended consequences materialise we would take steps to address those."

'Instant sanction'

Ms May said it was "stupid to press ahead with licensing laws that will lead to more binge drinking and disorder".

Levels of consumption are heavily increased by price and availability
Professor Ian Gilmore
Royal College of Physicians

Earlier Ms Jowell told the Independent on Sunday: "What the new law does is allow people to drink alcohol in public at a different range of times, with the threat of instant sanction if they misbehave."

In the Times on Monday, chairman of the Royal College of Physicians' alcohol committee, Professor Ian Gilmore, warned: "Worldwide research shows that levels of consumption are heavily increased by price and availability.

"An increase in the hours of sale is likely to be associated with a rise, rather than a fall, in alcohol consumption."

The Licensing Act 2003 comes into force in November.

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