The amended Licensing and Registration of Clubs Bill will ensure that pubs, hotels, clubs and off-licences convicted of underage sales will receive five or six penalty points for each offence. Once 10 have been accumulated they will be closed down for periods ranging from a week to three months.
The new Bill also introduces new proof-of-age rules for licensed premises and on-the-spot closures for up to 24 hours for disorder in outlets. It also aims to introduce new restrictions on irresponsible drinks promotions.
"I have no issue with the sensible consumption of alcohol,” commented Social Development Minister Alex Attwood, "My issue is with the misuse of alcohol and its effect on health and crime. Selling drink to people below 18 is wrong and reckless; I welcome the Assembly supporting me in premises being automatically closed for a significant period if they do this more than once. It is also fitting that where there is disorder in premises then that disorder should cease straight away with on-the-spot closures to protect the public."
As part of the new Bill, the number of late bars until 1am available by application to the PSNI to registered clubs is to be increased to 85 from 52 and younger members of sporting clubs (only) will now be allowed remain in the bar area until 10pm, an extra hour.
The Bill is expected to be in place by September.
The announcement was welcomed by Pubs of Ulster Chief Executive Colin Neill who said that his organisation had been working hard since the introduction of the Licensing and Registration of Clubs (Amendment) Bill in the summer of 2010 to ensure that the aspects of the proposed Bill which had the potential to negatively impact upon the trade were considered and debated in full. One such measure which would have created unfair competition was the proposed increase in the number of occasions registered clubs could open late, he said.
“Our lobbying has been successful and has led to the final number of late licences being reduced to 85 from the proposed 120 per year,” he stated, “However, whilst we are encouraged by these developments and welcome them as a step in the right direction, we recognise that more needs to be done to create an equal and fair system for all those who operate in the licensed trade. With the details of the regulations to restrict or prohibit irresponsible drinks promotions still to be consulted on, Pubs of Ulster will continue to lobby on the issue.
“In addition, the below-cost sale of alcohol by supermarkets is still a major burden on the industry and we will be awaiting the launch of the joint consultation on minimum pricing by the Department for Social Development and the Department of Health, continuing our call for them to lead the way and introduce effective legislation that will address the issue before the rest of the UK.
“With Assembly elections in May, we will continue to work closely with the new administration to make them aware of the issues facing the licensed trade, making sure that any legislation introduced by the current system is fairly implemented by the new Assembly. ”