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Last Updated: Friday, 17 March 2006, 06:36 GMT
Government rapped over drink laws
Beer taps in pub
Pub landlords had only six months to apply for the new licences
The government is being accused of causing unnecessary stress to councils, landlords and residents by mishandling the introduction of 24-hour drinking.

A cross-party committee of MPs says guidance on implementing the rules was issued too late, leaving landlords just months to apply for the new licences.

The Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) also issued inconsistent and unclear advice, the report adds.

Ministers deny the guidance was issued late but say lessons could be learned.

The report, by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister Committee, says it took the DCMS almost two years after the Licensing Act 2003 was passed to issue any guidance on how the new rules were to be implemented.

Landlords were then given just six months to apply for the licences.

'Avalanche of paperwork'

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott is also criticised in the report for failing to fulfil his duty adequately to support local authorities as they struggled to implement the new regime to a tight deadline.

The report said councils were faced with an avalanche of applications in the run-up to the deadline amid fears that pubs may have to close their doors if the paperwork was not completed on time.

The "unrealistic" timescale meant that some licences were deemed to be granted without being examined, it added.

It is important to remember that the Licensing Act was the biggest overhaul of licensing laws in a generation. It is now delivering a better deal for the public, industry and enforcement authorities
DCMS

But committee chair Phyllis Starkey said that the "dilatory" approach of the DCMS was "completely unacceptable".

And she warns there must be no repeat of its failings when changes to gambling licences - including the creation of Britain's first "supercasino" - are introduced.

However, the DCMS says "nearly all" applications were submitted in time for the introduction of the new laws.

A spokesman said: "Of course, as with any major transition process, there are lessons to be learned and we will consider the committee's report carefully.

"It is important to remember that the Licensing Act was the biggest overhaul of licensing laws in a generation. It is now delivering a better deal for the public, industry and enforcement authorities.

"Licensees don't face a recurring cycle of multiple applications, the police and local authorities have tougher powers to deal with drunken troublemakers and rogue traders, and responsible adults are finally being treated like grown-ups."

Shadow culture secretary Hugo Swire said the government's handling of the changes had been "a shambles".

He said: "Ultimately, council taxpayers will be left paying for the government's mistakes.

"Most worrying is the admission that some licence applications were granted without being examined, even though the government promised that residents would have a greater say in opposing rowdy pubs."


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