A new Crime Bill is to be speeded through Parliament in the coming session in response to the Prime Minister's determination to tackle 'yob culture' and 'drink related disorder'. It could receive Royal Assent before March.

There are fears however that the legislation could jeopardise comprehensive licensing reform, as the Crime Bill is likely to include some of the tougher measures contained in the Government's own licensing reform White Paper, such as:

• Police powers to close premises causing or at the centre of disturbance

• A tariff of fixed penalties for offences against the licensing laws

• Imposing a 'positive duty' on bar staff to ensure that purchasers are not under age.

• The sanctioning of 'test purchasing'

The drinks retail industry had been told that it could not 'cherry-pick' from the licensing reform White Paper. However, the Government now intends to do just that. And by introducing the bits the Government always wanted the concern mist be that the momentum for further change will be diminished, leaving the licensed trade with all the downside and none of the advantages of reform.

The Home Office is seeking industry support for the new Bill and it might be difficult, if not politically damaging, to be seen to be opposing such a law and order initiative.

The hope for the industry must be that tacking these new measures onto the old 1964 Licensing Act will become an administrative nightmare. Problems over such issues as identifying licensees, the various age levels for alcohol consumption, and loopholes over pub gardens and other non-licensed areas would best be solved by complete reform as set out in the White Paper.

Despite the warm words of Home Office ministers, the licensed trade is again being cast as part of the drink-and-disorder problem rather than a responsible section of the business community able to help find a solution.

If the industry wants to be tough this time, it should tell the Government it is yet again in danger of making a difficult situation worse through knee-jerk legislation, and if it wants industry co-operation it had better start by setting out a clear time-table for full-scale licensing reform.

• This article was first published as the INSIDE TRACK column in the July/August issue of the M&C Report newsletter