I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
This Bill has plenty of potential for controversy because it encroaches on how we live our lives. It is concerned with the central issue for all of us: the quality of our lives;
the peace and contentment of our communities;
and how we as individuals and as a nation use our leisure time—the choices available to us. The four broad objectives of the new licensing policy are to reduce crime and disorder, to encourage tourism, to reduce alcohol misuse and to encourage self-sufficient rural communities.
To put that in context, nine in 10 of the adult population consume alcohol; there are more than 150,000 licensed premises in England and Wales; and the alcohol industry is worth a massive £30 billion a year. Pubs and clubs are at the heart of our nation's social life. It is probably no accident that Britain's two most popular soaps are both centred on a pub.
The Bill proposes a modern framework for regulating that industry, but getting the regulation right is just one of the many social issues thrown up by the use and abuse of alcohol. Alcohol-related disease is a growing problem, which puts huge strains on our health services. The cost of alcohol-related accident and emergency attendances has been estimated at more than £300 million annually. Alcohol-related violence can blight neighbourhoods and spoil a good night out.
My right hon. Friend will understand the concerns expressed by many people who live near public houses: while they enjoy their local amenities, they are also afraid that extended licensing hours would mean greater disturbance in their locality. What assurance can my right hon. Friend give those residents that the measure will take into consideration the need both to extend hours and also to maintain local order?
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I know that he has campaigned to ensure that the voices of his constituents are heard on such matters. The big difference under the Bill is that local residents—the constituents of right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House—will for the first time be able to have their voices heard when licensing decisions are made.
Pub and club closing times are closely linked to increases in assaults and other offences. Home Office statistics show a strong correlation between violent offences and closing times; for example, more than 40 per cent. of assaults happen just after closing time. We intend to use the Bill to address that grave problem.
Over and above what the Bill does to tackle late night, drink-related disorder, there are real concerns about the marketing of alcohol to young people and the rise in binge drinking, especially among young girls, all of which the Government need to address. The Bill can play an important part in doing that—but only a part. It is just one piece in a larger mosaic, which includes initiatives such as the White Paper on antisocial behaviour published recently by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and the national alcohol harm reduction strategy. We need to acknowledge the interdependence of various elements of Government policy; the Licensing Bill alone cannot solve all our more general concerns about alcohol. Nor must we use its passage through the House to overload the regulatory or statutory framework that it sets out to deliver.
What the Bill must do, however, is to walk the tightrope between liberalisation and laissez-faire. The legislation must be able to address these key questions. How can we increase choice without harming the peace of residents and communities? How can we keep red tape to a minimum? How can we keep important industries competitive? How can we avoid well-meaning interference in people's private choices? But—and this is the crux—how can we do all that while protecting the vulnerable, the young and the wider public interest?
I agree with my right hon. Friend that there is a fine line to be drawn to find that balance. Will she consider whether it would be appropriate to include in the Bill the explicit provision that licensing committees should safeguard the cultural life of their community, so that it is clear that they must achieve that fine balance when they interpret the legislation?
My hon. Friend has raised that matter with me before, and it may arise again in the course of the Bill's progress through Committee and subsequently. I caution him against seeking to overload local authorities in respect of their licensing responsibilities.
My right hon. Friend says that it would be sensible not to overload local authorities. She may be aware that a body that I chair, the Churches Conservation Trust, and one that is chaired by Mr. Beith, the Historic Chapels Trust, are concerned that the new licensing system may make it more difficult for people to use our churches for entertainment, or even just to visit them. Will she give her blessing to the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed and I coming to talk more with her officials about whether we can get an exemption included in the Bill?
My right hon. Friend will know that as a result of debate in another place we exempted churches from the need to secure an entertainment licence. Certainly, if there are other instances—for example, churches that are closed for much of the time—I would be delighted for my right hon. Friend and the right hon. Gentleman to come to discuss the matter with me further.
I would dispute my hon. Friend's assertion that the new regime will cost them considerably more money, because that denies the complexity, fragmentation and cost of the existing regime. I am absolutely determined to ensure that when the Bill receives Royal Assent it will be welcomed by sports clubs, large and small, and by other private clubs.
I am in the habit of having a party once a year for the local church with local parishioners, who pay £5 or £10 to come and buy a drink, and we sing songs. Sometimes we have professional musicians; sometimes we do not. It would be welcome to those in the informal entertainment sector to know whether I would have to apply for a temporary entertainments licence. The Secretary of State may not have the answer now, but when the Bill reaches Committee will she or her colleagues ensure that such people do not have to apply, because it would be unnecessary bureaucracy?
I assure the hon. Gentleman that the event that he described would be exempt under the new regime. We announced in another place that garden fetes would be exempt. This series of interventions has raised the matter that is of most concern to hon. Members and their constituents—namely, the impact that a broadly deregulatory new framework for licensing will have on the myriad events that make up our community life. My hon. Friend the Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting, who will take the Bill through Committee—he has very broad shoulders—and I will be happy to examine such instances to ensure that the Bill, as progressive legislation, does not have perverse and unintended effects.
If right hon. and hon. Members will forgive me, I shall make a little progress before taking further interventions.
Squaring the circle of the inherent dilemmas of the licensing regime is never easy. My Department has grappled with that already and our approach is similar to the approach that we took to broadcasting regulation and that we will take in our forthcoming reform of gambling law. Being able to take such an approach goes to the heart of the question—which is, what is the role of Government in shaping the wider choices? Achieving the right, publicly acceptable balance between the nanny state and an enabling state is absolutely essential.
Will the Secretary of State comment on venues that do not offer alcohol, such as internet cafes, which do not believe that they have to apply for a licence if they have entertainment on the premises? On the same subject, Scottish country dancing clubs in my constituency—which, again, do not have alcohol on the premises—are worried that they will have to pay a lot of money for licensing their premises.
Clause 1 of the Bill defines licensable activity. I would have to discuss the issue with my hon. Friend a little longer in order to establish the precise nature of the entertainment that the internet cafe was offering. As for my hon. Friend's constituents who are devotees of Scottish country dancing and who do that as a means of personal enjoyment—
I am pretty confident that that would not be a licensable activity if my hon. Friend's constituents were not selling tickets or serving alcohol as part of the evening of fun—or purgatory, as one of my hon. Friends suggested.
I was not fast enough on my feet to ask this question a moment ago. Will the Secretary of State say something about wassailing, which is the art of storytelling and a big business in the west country? [Hon. Members: "It is pronounced 'wosseling'!"] I pronounce it "wa-sailing"; there are different pronunciations. Some of the storytellers have a repertoire of 400 tales and they go to public houses to tell wonderful stories, which has a wonderful effect on tourism in the west country. However, they are afraid that their storytelling will now be subject to licensing. Will the Secretary of State confirm that they can go on telling stories without a licence?
For practical reasons that I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will understand, the answer will depend on the size of the event. The Bill is not seeking—I hope that no one will suggest that it is—to affect the kind of occasion where wassailers turn up at the local pub and tell their stories so that everyone has an extremely good time.
Or not, as the case may be. People will be free to listen to the stories and the event will not carry any new licensing obligation.
I welcome the scrutiny that this Bill has received in the other place and will now receive in this House. The interventions so far have shown that this is not a Bill that divides people on conventional party lines. It will raise many moral and ethical issues, as well as having community and commercial impact. It would have been highly desirable for this Bill to have pre-legislative scrutiny to expose such issues to greater examination at an earlier stage in the parliamentary process. However, we are where we are, and the amendments from the other place do, in some cases, improve the Bill. We do not intend to seek to overturn all of them.
The House of Lords has introduced an amendment to the objectives in the Bill and has also sought to introduce an amenity provision in clause 5. Will she say more about that? I acknowledge what my right hon. Friend has said about balancing crime and disorder concerns with other concerns, and I welcome the draft guidance that she has published.
I thank my hon. and learned Friend for that intervention. No, we do not intend to accept that amendment, which I accept was well intentioned and not mischievous, for a very simple reason. I have taken very careful advice about its impact, and it would constrain the ability to address precisely the problem of public nuisance in a way that the existing objective does not. That amendment uses the term "amenity", which has a different connotation in planning terms, focusing much more on the aesthetic and visual appearance of a place, rather than on the activities that go on there. I have already made it clear that we are keen to ensure that public nuisance, which can arise from licensed premises, is kept under control.
I wrote to the Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting raising a concern on behalf of some of my constituents who hold a small number of concerts every year in their own homes and raise a considerable amount of money for the Children's Society. He wrote back to me to confirm that their circumstances would be covered by the Bill's licensing provisions because the activity was intended to make a profit. May I put it to the right hon. Lady that raising money for charitable purposes is not most people's ordinary understanding of profitable activities? Will she consider the possibility of exempting even a limited number of concerts or activities from the Bill if their purpose is charitable?
I would be very happy to consider the specific case that the hon. Gentleman raises, and he may seek to do so again in Committee. An amendment was carried in another place that sought to exempt entertainment in public places that involved fewer than 250 people. Again, those who supported that amendment intended it to be a further deregulatory measure, but for reasons that I will set out in a moment, it would have a perverse effect, possibly exposing children to greater risk and denying the expectation of proper protection that people in public places should be able to take for granted. However, I would be very happy to give the hon. Gentleman a considered reply to the specific question that he asks.
On whether to reverse amendments passed in another place, does the right hon. Lady agree that, if local authorities are to have a new role as licensing authorities, it is vital that they are given the powers to do the job? Can she therefore assure the House that the Government will not attempt to overturn the amendment passed in another place that will enable local authorities to refuse a licence in the absence of objections where the local authority itself believes that granting that licence would not be in the best interests of the local community?
No, we do not agree with that. That amendment cuts right at the heart of the intention of the Bill. Remember that the statutory consultees who will be consulted on licence applications include a number of local authority departments or agencies, so the local authority will not be out of the consultation loop, but decisions on licensing should be made on the strength of representations, rather than being taken by the local authority without receipt of representations.
Of course my right hon. Friend will be aware that many arts organisations are charities. That includes, for example, a number of brass bands. Will she acknowledge the important contribution that brass bands make to our national life? Does she recognise that many of them are in a precarious financial position, particularly those that do not enjoy the benefit of industrial sponsorship? Will she assure me and the brass band movement that the Government will not legislate in the Bill, or at any other time, to add to its difficulties? Indeed, will she undertake also to advise the arts funders that she expects them to make available to brass bands a proper share of the funds that they have to distribute?
I remind my right hon. Friend that this Government stand up for many things, and brass bands are one of the great institutions among them. I know that he will welcome announcements to be made tomorrow by the Arts Council of England on funding for the arts, which, as a result of this Government's commitment to funding the arts up and down the country at the level that people want, is at its highest rate ever.
No. I will make some progress.
There is a broad consensus from the responses to consultation on this Bill that the licensing regime is in need of overhaul. It is an inconsistent mish-mash going back to the time of Henry III. For example, it currently allows a five-year-old to drink spirits in a beer garden. It does not require a licence to be held to sell alcohol on a boat but it does insist on one to offer home-made wine on a tombola at a village fete. Current law allows licensing applications to be granted without the voice of local residents being heard, which was the point raised by my hon. Friend Mr. Reed. Fixed closing times mean that, in parts of our towns and cities, hundreds of drinkers spill on to the streets at precisely the same time, all of them competing for transport and takeaways. The regime goes from the sublime to the ridiculous: for example, when it requires a policeman to cover his uniform to go into an off-licence.
The process that led to this Bill being presented began with a two-year licensing review, which worked with a full range of interested parties. That review delivered the April 2000 White Paper "Time for Reform". More than 1,200 organisations and individuals responded to it, showing strong support for its proposals. We have continued to work closely with local authorities, the police, people who run licensed premises, performers, children's groups and many others to develop and improve those proposals. The Bill currently before the House enshrines the main principles that emerged from that consultation: the prevention of crime and disorder; public safety; the prevention of public nuisance; and not least the protection of children from harm. Those four aims will provide the yardstick against which licensing judgments will be made.
The deregulatory objective is to strip away unnecessary red tape by amalgamating six existing licensing regimes into a single unified system. For example, it will cut the number of forms that licensed premises in England and Wales currently have to fill in from more than 120 to just a handful.
The Bill is in nine parts. Its key proposals include, first, the transfer of alcohol licensing from magistrates to local authorities, bringing it into line with the other five licensing schemes covered by the Bill, which are already run by local authorities. That will allow the licensing authority to weigh the interests of the local community and of industry. For the first time, and not before time, the Bill gives a powerful voice to local residents and businesses: they will have the right to complain to the licensing authority about new licence applications. They will be able to call for reviews that could lead to existing licences being revised or revoked. All applications for premises and personal licences will have to be advertised to local residents and businesses.
Just as residents get a new voice on local licences, the police will get increased powers to tackle troublemakers. The Bill allows senior police officers to close any licensed premises on the spot for 24 hours when it is, or likely to become the focus of disorder or noise nuisance. They can ask magistrates to extend the closure, which would result in a review of the licence and possibly revocation. That existing, narrower power has only been used four times since its introduction in December 2001, but that low level of use is a testament to its powerful value as a deterrent. Under our new provisions, police could follow that up with on-the-spot action with an extension of the closure of up to 24 hours. To prevent disorder, the Bill provides powers to close down all licensed premises in a particular area where disorder is occurring or expected to occur—around football matches, for example. It also gives the police stronger powers to confiscate alcohol. Abolishing arbitrarily fixed closing times means that the incentive to drink as much as possible before closing time at 11 pm will go. Disorder and nuisance will be reduced as the concentration of people on the street at closing time will fall.
As the Secretary of State is making good progress, can I ask her a question about farmers' markets? In my constituency, I have vineyards and cider makers. In Europe, people can sell wine and cider without any licences—they just go to market and sell. Can the Secretary of State assure me that that will be allowed under the Bill?
I cannot give the hon. Gentleman, who should be praised for taking the main chance, that assurance. One of the Bill's fundamental provisions requires people selling alcohol to have a licence. However, we want to support the continuing flourishing development of farmers' markets, and the Bill aims to ensure that the responsibility for applying for a licence will not be unduly onerous on the hon. Gentleman's cider or wine makers
To address the disorder that results from fixed closing times, we have looked at the experience of other countries, and have concluded that they have taken the right direction, as there is far less disturbance at their respective closing times. The abolition of fixed closing times and its effect on binge drinking ties the Bill very closely to the national alcohol harm reduction strategy. The Bill also introduces a new degree of personal accountability, as the holder of a premises licence will be personally responsible for complying with its conditions. The new personal licence to supply alcohol will mean that bad landlords will carry their records with them and good landlords will be able to move more easily, delivering greater management flexibility.
My hon. Friend has made an important point, which was also made in an amendment tabled in another place. We need to make a clear distinction between a national licensing authority and a national licensing database. It is certainly our intention to establish a national licensing database for precisely the reasons suggested by my hon. Friend.
We agree that local authorities should take into account the effect that a concentration of licensed premises in a particular area may have on levels of crime, disorder and public nuisance. They need to be able to do so to minimise disruption to local communities. In that respect, I thank and pay tribute to my right hon. Friend Mr. Dobson, who is not in the Chamber at the moment because he has another commitment, for his tenacious pursuit of this issue.
In the light of our examination of that issue, we have added local authority planning committees to the named bodies that will scrutinise applications. We have also made it clear in guidance that licensing authorities will be able to take into account cumulative effect, as it is known, in setting the framework of their local policy. They will be able to make it clear in their statements of licensing policy that, for certain areas, there is a presumption against granting any more licences for premises of a particular type. That will help us to achieve the first three of our social objectives.
I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way. Until now, it has been very difficult for towns such as mine to have a say in what happens in and around our town centres. We have ended up being saturated by big warehouses moving in and threatening all the traditional outlets. How robust will the power be in enabling local authorities to stand up and say, "Enough is enough"?
As I am sure my hon. Friend will recognise in terms of his constituency experience, what people want in town and city centres is a mix of facilities rather than a single kind of licensed premises. I hope that the more flexible approach that I have outlined—which will have statutory force as it will be set out in the guidance which local authorities will reinforce through their statement of licensing policy—will give effect to that greater flexibility and allow our towns and cities to attract a greater diversity of licensed premises.
The protection of children is the fourth of the key principles against which licensing decisions will be judged. Many people mistakenly believe that we are actively introducing new provisions to make it possible for any child to enter any licensed premises unsupervised. What few people realise—I think that this is due to the impenetrable inconsistency of existing licensing provisions on children—is that children already have unsupervised access to pubs and clubs at the licensee's discretion. It is now legal for any child over 14 to enter any part of licensed premises without adult supervision as long as they do not go into the bar area.
I shall answer my hon. Friend's question by developing the point that I had just begun to make. I think that that will give her the answer that she is seeking.
A child as young as five can already enter a pub or club unsupervised as long as they stay away from the bar area. It would be perfectly legal under the current system for a seven-year-old to go into a night club unsupervised at 2 am. The reason why they do not is a very important principle that will also be an important factor under the new regime—they can do so only at the discretion of the licensee. We are not changing that. Children will continue to be admitted only at the licensee's discretion, as is currently the case.
The Bill contains many tough protections for children. In order to ensure that we get them right, we are working closely with the police, child protection groups and children's charities to ensure that they are tough and rigorous enough. We are working with the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, the Children's Society, Turning Point, the Methodist Church, the Salvation Army, the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Association of Directors of Social Services. All those organisations have provided advice to us about the right approach to protecting children. With their help, we have developed a package of measures including clear guidance about supervision levels. We propose that, in addition to the existing statutory consultees in relation to licensing decisions, the local area child protection committee should be added to the list of responsible authorities that must be consulted on every application. If a place is unsuitable for children, the committee will be able to object. Representations will lead to a hearing that will allow conditions to be placed on a licence that will regulate access by children or exclude them from premises altogether, if necessary. Local people—obviously including parents and teachers— will also be able to make representations.
I have agreed with those whom I have consulted four clear supervision levels that will be set out in my statutory guidance to local authorities. The first level covers premises to which children should not be allowed access at all because they might be exposed to drugs, gambling or adult entertainment. The second covers premises in respect of which the presumption is that those aged under 18 will not normally be allowed access except in specific circumstances, such as when a night club hosts an under-18s disco. The third covers premises that children aged under 14 should access only when supervised by an adult—some pubs might fall into that category. The last—I hope that this addresses the point made by my hon. Friend Claire Ward—covers premises to which unsupervised children aged under 14 will be permitted access, such as most cinemas, theatres, restaurants and cafés. Amendments made in another place would have meant that children aged under 14 would need to be accompanied in any licensed premises, and the charities made it clear that that would be too restrictive given the protections that the Bill already provides.
Our combination of a flexible Bill and clear guidance will ensure that children will always be afforded the necessary protection for their circumstances. We do not want to require children to be accompanied to cinemas or theatres, but it would be highly undesirable to give them unfettered access to all licensed premises.
For most people, the issue is not unaccompanied children's access to cinemas or theatres. Most people to whom I have talked about the issue are concerned about unaccompanied children's access to licensed establishments that are mainly for adults and have the main purpose of serving alcohol. Why did my right hon. Friend not take the opportunity to use the Bill to introduce a consistent approach on the access of children to such premises, rather than allowing a decision simply to be up to a licensee's discretion?
Because we are trying to achieve flexibility and to reflect the wide range of premises that will be subject to licensing. The four levels that we have defined for children's access show that we have addressed my hon. Friend's point and will ensure that there will be a presumption that children will not be admitted to premises that are unsuitable for them whether or not they have adult supervision. That will be set out in my statutory guidance and it will be incumbent on local authorities to apply the framework of the guidance when it takes licensing decisions.
Will the right hon. Lady clarify how many of the nine amendments made in the other place will be brought into play? I share the concerns of Mr. Foster on the proposals for the licensing objectives and I am sorry that she has not seen fit to ensure that those amendments, at least, will be reflected in the final Bill.
We propose to uphold several of the amendments, and especially the amendment on the exemption of schools. We also intend to accept the amendment on incidental live music. In relation to the other amendments, we shall seek either to overturn or to amend them. In particular, I have said that, for no other reason than to meet the intentions of the Bill, we seek to overturn the amendment that proposed public amenity as an alternative to public nuisance.
I want to make some progress, because I know that many people wish to speak on the Bill.
The Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting and I are very grateful to the groups that have helped us to reach what I think is a good conclusion on the proposed policy on accompanied and unaccompanied children in licensed premises. Today, Liz Atkins, the head of the policy and public affairs unit at the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, said:
"The NSPCC welcomes the aims and intentions of the proposed new Licensing Bill. Clarification on the sale of alcohol and access of children to licensed premises has been long overdue. The NSPCC supports the principle of access for children while keeping in place the necessary safeguards to protect them from harm. This is a perfect opportunity to make public spaces more child-friendly while protecting children from the less salubrious side of drinking."
I hope that that will provide reassurance to hon. Members who are rightly concerned to ensure that the right balance is struck in relation to this issue.
I turn now to another area of contention, which is music. At this point, I would like to pay tribute to the Musicians Union, which has certainly won the Oscar for the best spin on this matter. I say that with unbounded admiration, rather than acrimony. The union has misrepresented the position with great success, and, in doing so, greatly raised the profile of live music. In reality, amalgamating the licence systems will make it much easier and cheaper to get an entertainment licence in future. In addition, we propose a range of measures to promote live music, a number of which arose from the deliberations on the Bill in another place. Those measures include exempting places of public religious worship; amending the Bill to make it clear that entertainers who do no more than simply perform at what turns out to be an unlicensed venue will not themselves be committing an offence; and exempting church halls, village halls and other community buildings from fees. I can announce today that we will similarly exempt schools and sixth form colleges when they use their premises. That decision also follows the debate in another place.
I apologise to the right hon. Lady for missing the start of her speech, but she has now reached the part of the Bill about which I care a great deal. Is she aware that the morris dancers at Bampton in my constituency have been dancing in the pubs there for 600 years—without a break, as they tell me? The Secretary of State says that it will be easier to get an entertainment licence. Is she aware that, because the dancers have only two musicians accompanying them, they have never had to have a licence before, but that in future they will have to have one? That is going to cost the pubs a lot of money and time. Is it really necessary?
I hope that I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that the morris dancers of Bampton will be able to continue to dance and to entertain the people of Bampton for another 600 years.
The Bilton silver band brings a great deal of joy to people in and around the midlands, and twice a year—including at Christmas—it has a street collection to pay for some of its instruments. Voluntary contributions meet just a fraction of its costs. Will it be required to pay for a licence, or will it be able to continue to do what it has done for many years, which is to bring joy to many?
From what my hon. Friend has just said, I think it unlikely that the band would need a licence. In exactly the same way, I would not expect the licensing requirement in relation to the Bampton morris dancers to be altered by the provisions of the Bill.
I want to conclude my remarks, because I know that many hon. Members wish to speak.
I give the House the assurance that we will use the accompanying guidance to ensure that only necessary and proportionate conditions are attached to licences. I can also announce that we will preserve the spirit of amendments made in another place that would exempt incidental live music. In addition to giving hon. Members reassurance on the future of morris dancing, let me assure them that, contrary to certain well-circulated myths, people will not be arrested for singing "Happy Birthday" in a restaurant, and that postmen will not need a licence to whistle on their rounds, although Mr. Forth—who is not in his place at the moment—will, I am afraid, continue to need a licence for his ties. The Bill will encourage live music and entertainment.
The thorough and invaluable examination of the Bill in another place has identified areas of concern where, frankly, we have had to think again. I am grateful for the degree of scrutiny that the Bill has already undergone. I know that hon. Members will give the Bill their full attention. The Bill is a balanced package. It will provide licensing authorities with effective tools that they currently lack, enabling them to come down hard on problems that cause disturbance, when they arise. For the first time, it gives communities a democratic voice in licensing, and expands police powers to close down premises that are the source of disorder, or are excessively noisy. It will also provide more choice for consumers, in terms of the time, place and range of entertainment on offer. The law should always keep pace with changing society and preserve the best of our national traditions. It should always protect the vulnerable and allow adults their harmless pleasures. This Bill will fulfil all those aspirations and I commend it to the House.
Given the limited time available and the number of hon. Members who I know wish to speak, I will try to keep my remarks relatively brief. Let me make it clear that we welcome the Government's intention to reform our licensing laws. No one would disagree that the existing laws are arcane and badly in need of updating. In many cases, they now preserve restrictions, the need for which has long since gone, and which can act as a disincentive for the development of tourism and an unnecessary obstacle to people's enjoyment.
In the original White Paper setting out the Government's proposals, the need to provide greater freedom and flexibility was stressed. We certainly support that objective. It has, however, become steadily clearer that, in many cases, the Government's proposals—certainly as originally phrased—would have resulted not in less regulation but in more. They would not have reduced the burden of bureaucracy on those wishing to provide alcohol or entertainment; instead, they would have increased it, and they would have led not to more opportunities to enjoy live music but to fewer.
In some cases, that was due to a failure by the Government to consult properly with those who were going to be affected by the Bill or to them not properly understanding the full consequences of what they were proposing. That failure has led to the Government being defeated nine times in the House of Lords during the consideration of the Bill, and being forced to make a further seven major concessions. As a result of the work done in the other place, the Bill is now much improved. However, I have to say that I agree with the Secretary of State, who admitted that putting the Bill out for pre-legislative scrutiny, as the Government did with the Communications Bill, would have saved them an enormous amount of trouble.
Let me turn to the detailed provisions and, in particular, the changes to the licensing of alcohol sales. We agree with the greater flexibility in opening hours, which the Bill will allow. There is no doubt that the uniform pub closing hour can act as a barrier to tourism and may also contribute to public order problems as a result of large numbers of people being ejected on to the street at the same time, but the Government's claim that longer and more flexible opening hours may reduce binge drinking, crime, disorder and public nuisance is disputed by many. In particular, some international evidence does not support it, and it is not the view of a number of police officers or, indeed, local authorities.
I have experience not internationally, but in the city of Newcastle, as we held an experiment with 24-hour licensing on millennium eve and during Euro 96. Fewer people were arrested on those evenings than on the average Friday and Saturday night, and Northumbria constabulary recognises that a more flexible approach to licensing reduced the violence on the streets.
I can see that there may be a case that more flexible opening hours will make it easier to preserve order on the streets in that that may remove the "bulge" caused by every drinking establishment having to close at the same time, but a number of local authorities and police officers have expressed a contrary view. The Government have not yet provided robust evidence to support their claims, and they have a job to do to persuade many residents and local communities that that will indeed be the effect.
In particular, there is great concern in areas where a number of late-night drinking establishments already exist. Recently, I spent a Friday night out in the west end with Westminster city council licensing officers and councillors. We visited several large clubs, each of which was packed with upwards of 1,000 people, all of whom appeared to be there with the sole purpose of drinking as much as possible in the time available.
Such a huge concentration obviously has a damaging effect on the quality of life of local residents. Indeed, I witnessed an example of that when I emerged from visiting one Soho resident to find that somebody had vomited on his doorstep. I was told by that resident that that is a pretty regular occurrence on Saturday nights. So, it is important that proper account is taken of the interests and concerns of local residents.
In areas such as Westminster and other inner-city areas, account also needs to be taken of the cumulative impact of a large number of licensed establishments in terms of noise, nuisance and disturbance, not just in the area of the specific premises, but in the area as a whole. That was flagged up only last week by the Select Committee that scrutinises the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. We welcome the limited recognition in the guidance being issued to local authorities of the fact that saturation is an issue, but we may wish to examine it further in Committee to see whether stronger safeguards are required.
Another major plank of the Bill, which is generating considerable opposition, as the Secretary of State knows, is the proposed transfer of responsibility for alcohol licensing from magistrates to local authorities. The existing system of licensing magistrates has worked reasonably well, with magistrates providing a good balance between, on the one hand, knowledge of and involvement with their local communities and, on the other, being seen as impartial and free from political interests. Given that, many see no case for change and have considerable anxieties about what may result.
The Secretary of State may be aware of a poll showing that 94 per cent. of licensees oppose giving local authorities responsibility for licensing. That is borne out by my experience and conversations with local licensees through the Maldon licensed victuallers.
The hon. Gentleman says that he agrees with the Bill on cumulative impact and trying to prevent saturation, but he is talking about leaving the licensing authority with the magistrates. Will he address the situation in my constituency? The magistrates have not refused a licence on the question of need. In fact, they will not entertain objections on the basis that my area has too many licensed outlets of a particular type. That, in turn, has led to a proliferation of those establishments. For them to tap into a limited market—
There are separate matters here: the general issue of the various factors that are examined during consideration of a licence application and the question of who should be responsible for taking that decision. I am not saying that we believe that the Government are absolutely wrong to make that transfer, but we are saying that we have not properly seen evidence to support the transfer being made or to meet the concerns, which are widely felt among licensees, that the transfer of responsibility from magistrates to local authorities will lead to increased costs, greater delay, more bureaucracy and less objectivity.
A variety of claims are being made about the cost of one system against the other. The Government have said that there is likely to be a saving of nearly £2 billion over 10 years, but major operators such as JD Wetherspoon and Shepherd Neame estimate that costs will increase by more than £1 billion over 10 years. There is a genuine argument about the existing and future costs, yet the Minister has refused to address the industry's representations and says that he sees little point in arguing about them. The Government have a great deal more to do to make the case for the transfer and to justify the figures that they are quoting.
The new system whereby the premises licence is separated from the personal licence has much to recommend it, but it is in large part undermined by the requirement to name a designated premises supervisor on the licence. That was not specified in the original White Paper and it is causing considerable concern throughout the industry. The effect is that a new licence application will have to be made each time a manager changes, which, one would have thought, rather destroys the point of separating the person from the premises in the first place.
The personal licence holder may change frequently, resulting in all the additional cost and bureaucracy involved in issuing a new licence. If the Government are serious about reducing red tape, it would be far simpler to require notification of the relevant authority when a change is made.
I hope that the Government also accept the amendment passed in the House of Lords to establish a central licensing register for the administration of personal licences. I hear what the Secretary of State said to Paddy Tipping and we will want to look closely to see precisely how the Government intend to meet the force of the argument made in the House of Lords. It seems absurd that they propose that responsibility for issuing a personal licence to an individual should stay with the local authority to which he first applied, no matter where that individual may have since moved.
If the Government want the personal licence system to have any meaning, it cannot be left to 400 different local authorities to carry out checks on applicants who might have moved to the other end of the country decades ago. I welcome the fact that there appears to be some Government movement in that area, but we shall want to look closely to see precisely what they now propose.
Whether or not responsibility for administering personal licences rests with local authorities, the proposals will place a considerable extra burden on them and it is essential that they be properly resourced to deal with it. As well as the cost of administration, there may be knock-on effects as a result of the development of a late-night economy, which could vary considerably between areas, yet the Bill takes no account of that. Many also regard the proposed 12-month transition period as wholly unrealistic, and the limiting of the number of councillors on a licensing authority to 15 could prove grossly inadequate in some cases.
The changes to the system of licensing arrangements for the sale of alcohol give rise to many concerns, which we shall want to mention in Committee; but it is in the area of entertainments licensing that the Government's original proposals have caused the most anxiety. In many instances, it appears that the Government have almost been taken unawares by the deep unpopularity of their proposals. We are glad that sense has now prevailed in some cases. I am thinking particularly of their belated acceptance that requiring churches outside London, for the first time, to have licences for secular entertainment would be hugely damaging, hitting events from festivals in our cathedrals to performances in parish churches. That recognition constitutes a dramatic step, as does the Government's acceptance of the argument that garden fetes and private charity fundraising events should be exempted and that there should be no fee for applications from village halls and schools.
We hope that the Minister will also accept the force of such arguments in relation to small premises in general, as suggested by the House of Lords—although I understand from the Secretary of State's remarks that the Government currently seek to overturn the Lords amendment. I also hope that the Minister and the Secretary of State will recognise that, despite assurances to the contrary, fears remain that the Bill may well cover many events such as wedding receptions, private parties, the demonstration of musical instruments, the provision of rehearsal rooms, even carol singing—and, as was pointed out by my hon. Friend Mr. Steen, wassailing.
The Minister has sought to dismiss such claims as scaremongering and a "pernicious lying campaign" by the Musicians Union. I am glad to note that he recognises his own words. But while he may give assurances that the Bill does not cover such events, a large body of legal opinion has advised the Musicians Union and others that it will have exactly those effects. We are pleased that the Government have now said that they are prepared to sit down with the Musicians Union and others whom the Bill will affect and look at it again. I hope that that will lead to further Government amendments to prevent any possible doubt that the Minister's assurances are supported by the Bill, but if they are not forthcoming, we will not hesitate to table our own amendments.
Our main point of disagreement with the Government, however, remains the abolition of the so-called two-in-a-bar rule. It has long been an objective of musicians and performers to get rid of the law that allows one or two performers to perform without a licence, but insists that three or more obtain one. I seem to recall Members from all parts of the House supporting that campaign by wearing gags to illustrate the absurdity of the present law. No one, I suspect, imagined that the Government's response would be to deal with the existing anomaly by extending the licensing requirement to cover every live performance, however many performers were involved. The result is an extension of the requirement for a licence to thousands of pubs and other venues that currently host performances without one. It is hardly surprising that musicians throughout the land fear that many venues for live performances will consequently be lost.
The Minister has claimed that music in pubs will not be harmed by the Bill, but under the Government's proposals more than 100,000 licensed premises that do not currently have public entertainment licences and regularly offer music performed by one or two people will lose that right, and will have to obtain licences from their local authorities to permit even one unamplified musician to perform.
The two-in-a-bar rule was nonsense because it referred to the number of performers. The public safety and noise issues involve the number of people attending a performance. There should be a safeguard related to that, rather than to the number of performers, and the Government are trying to provide one. We may discuss in Committee whether there should be an exemption for a gathering of 250, 50 or 10, but the issue must be the number attending.
I agree that the existing rule is nonsense, and that it is difficult to produce any justification for it. I also agree that much of the current concern relates to noise and to public safety, which is endangered by overcrowding. Ample legislation already exists to deal with those factors, however: there are strict rules governing health and safety issues and noise and disturbance. We see no reason why such matters need be dealt with through a licence requirement for all public performances. In some parts of the United Kingdom there is no such requirement, and existing legislation is used.
Is there not a danger that smaller pubs, especially in rural areas such as mine in the west country, will be unwilling or unable to apply for licences? That would mean the death of live music in many remote areas, although it is an integral part of the community and of our way of life in the west country.
My hon. Friend is right. The Minister says that no additional cost will be involved in seeking a public entertainments licence on top of the existing licence, but the fear—a fear with some justification—is that considerable extra burdens will be placed on a pub or other applicant for a public entertainments licence in the form of numerous provisions relating to health and safety, the fitting of double glazing and fire exits and so forth. There have been plenty of examples of that, and many licensees will be deterred from applying for public entertainments licences.
When I asked a selection of about 30 publicans in my constituency how many would tick the box for a public entertainments licence, not one said that they would. The result is bound to be fewer opportunities for live music to be heard in both rural and urban pubs.
Is the hon. Gentleman not misunderstanding the Bill? If a publican applies for a licence to sell alcohol, part of that licence will allow him to provide entertainment. He will no longer need to apply for a separate public entertainments licence. The idea that this will drive pubs not to provide music is nonsense.
The Bill requires applicants for a premises licence to specify whether they want an additional public entertainments licence. They must tick the appropriate box. It is feared that before granting such a licence local authorities will impose all sorts of extra requirements, and that people will therefore be deterred from ticking the box. I do not believe Ministers' assurances that that will not happen, and publicans throughout the country certainly do not believe it. That is why thousands have already made it clear that they will not apply for public entertainments licences, which means that the thousands of performances that currently take place with no requirement for a licence can no longer happen.
Does not the hon. Gentleman recognise that, with the transition of the granting of licences from magistrates courts to local authorities, those authorities that want to sustain cultural and tourist activities by allowing singers in pubs to continue to perform can do so by not imposing the conditions that he describes?
I do not think that licensees will be willing simply to take that on trust. Thousands of them have already made it clear that they will not apply for public entertainments licences. The effect will be that the huge numbers of performances that take place without a licence as a result of the two-in-a-bar rule will not be able to continue.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. He has dealt with the anomaly that in Scotland there is no need for a public entertainment licence, whereas in puritan England there is. Will he deal too with the anomaly that if 20 or 30 people want to listen to a single acoustic performer in a pub, the pub will have to be licensed for entertainment, but if 300 people want to watch a televised football match on a large screen, the pub will not need such a licence?
The hon. Gentleman pre-empts me; he is entirely right. The Bill is riddled with anomalies. There appears to be a perfectly acceptable and successful system in Scotland, where all concerns are met through other legislative means, without any requirement for a licence of this kind. As the hon. Gentleman says, the broadcasting of recorded music will not require a licence under the terms of the Bill, even though it could be far louder and far more intrusive, and attract a much bigger audience, than a couple of people strumming guitars in a corner.
There is not only the question of musical entertainment; the Bill originally stated that darts matches in pubs which are watched by wives and friends would require a licence, as would the provision of a piano for public use in a bar or restaurant. My hon. Friend Mr. Swire has already drawn attention to the deep concern of folk musicians who go from pub to pub to hold singarounds that those may become licensable if there is any danger that anybody in the pub is listening to and enjoying the performance.
On the point that the Government seem to consider that live performance poses such dangers that it requires a licence, whereas the televised screening of a soccer match or a concert poses no dangers, the Minister said on Radio 1 a couple of months ago that in 14 years as an MP he had never received a complaint about a folk group or anybody else playing acoustic music, but that he had had lots of complaints about loud televisions and loud piped music. It therefore seems extraordinary that he proposes to regulate the former but to exempt the latter.
Happily, the House of Lords has removed many of the absurdities from the Bill. Amendments passed to exempt unamplified music and to restrict the licensing requirement to events attracting more than 250 people or those continuing after 11.30 at night go a long way to making the Bill genuinely deregulatory, as the Government originally claimed they wanted it to be.
Of course there will be concerns about health and safety and noise, but those can be addressed using existing legislation. In addition, the argument that a small premises exemption will make it impossible to prevent children from seeing adult movies hardly seems to us to be justification for requiring a licence for every venue offering a live music performance. I therefore hope that the Government will listen to the House of Lords and to the 80,000 people who have now signed our early-day motion, which was posted on the internet. If not, and if they seek to reverse the Lords amendment, we will resist them both here and in the other place.
There are also concerns about many other aspects of the new licensing regime, which the Government have failed to address. The Central Council of Physical Recreation estimates that increased licence fees may cost voluntary sports clubs up to £4 million a year. Activities organised for their members by private clubs such as the Caravan Club, which holds rallies in different places every week of the year, will not be able to use the club premises certificate, nor will they necessarily fit the criteria for a temporary event notice.
The hon. Gentleman and I had an enjoyable occasion about two weeks ago at a meeting organised by the Caravan Club, and the club told me that it would be covered by the Bill and that it was extremely concerned. Its adviser has sent me a detailed note setting out exactly what are the club's concerns. Maybe that adviser was rather better informed than the hon. Gentleman.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes made clear, many wine growers and cider makers are extremely worried that the farmers markets through which they market their produce will need to be licensed, which may result in them being unable to sell their products there. There are also concerns among those involved in distant selling, who think that warehouses and delivery premises may require a licence, even though the owners have no involvement in selling whatsoever.
At the time of its introduction the Bill was badly thought through and badly drafted. In many areas it would have massively increased the burden of regulation rather than reducing it. As it originally stood, it managed to unite churches, charities, publicans, musicians and morris dancers in opposition to its key provisions. Happily, since then it has been much improved in the House of Lords, so that it is now at least closer to being deregulatory. We do not therefore intend to oppose it tonight, but we will be pressing the Government to accept the changes that have been made and to take further steps to address many of the remaining concerns. Whether or not we support the Bill in its final form will depend very much on the outcome of the next few weeks.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak early in the debate, which has been very interesting so far.
I welcome the Bill as an opportunity to revise and update some of our most outdated legislation, which goes back many centuries. This is a chance for us to put into a modern perspective the licensing of alcohol and entertainment and to ensure that there is flexibility to reflect the changing lifestyles that many of us now lead.
For many Members and their constituents, the opportunity to travel abroad and enjoy the entertainment and licensing hours in many other countries has made them realise how outdated we in this country are. That has had a significant effect on tourism in this country, and the Bill offers us an opportunity to ensure that tourists who visit this country can enjoy our entertainment, our late-night cafes and all our licensed premises in the same way as they enjoy such facilities in their own countries.
Does the hon. Lady accept that the concern of many Conservative Members is that the way in which alcohol is consumed in our society is fundamentally different from that on much of the continent? That factor underlines many of the problems that residents have highlighted, such as the prospect of 24-hour or much-extended licensing.
I accept that there is a very different culture in this country, and I believe that the Bill will help to change that by removing the opportunities for binge drinking. When the pubs of Watford close at 11, 12 or 12.30 at night, many young people move, all at once, to the nightclubs, which will then turn them out at 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning. It would be far more sensible to have a staged throwing-out time, making it easier for residents and communities to cope with problems such as antisocial behaviour and helping the police to deal more effectively with such problems. So I welcome the Bill for that reason, but there are a few issues on which I seek some clarification.
In general, I welcome the proposal to change the decision-making process by allowing local authorities to make licensing decisions, but I do have some concerns. Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State confirm that additional funding will be provided to local authorities to enable them to deal with their new responsibilities when the Bill becomes law? As she is undoubtedly aware, local authorities are already concerned about funding, and I would not want Watford, which already has a significant number of entertainment and licensed establishments, to have to bear the burden of additional costs taken over from the magistrates courts committee.
The hon. Lady says that most people welcome the idea that licensing arrangements should be changed. However, I wonder whether, like me, she has received forms from licensees stating categorically that 94 per cent. of licensees want licensing to be controlled by magistrates. In doing so, they cited the reasons given by my hon. Friend Mr. Whittingdale in his opening remarks.
I should point out that I have discussed this issue with Tim Martin of J.D. Wetherspoon, which is based in my constituency, and I fundamentally disagree with him. Residents in my area would greatly appreciate the opportunity for their views to be heard. Residents in the upper part of Watford town centre, near the nightclubs and the highly populated music establishments and drinking areas, constantly have to put up with antisocial behaviour and problems associated with young people leaving the town centre and going to the train station. Those residents feel that magistrates courts committees do not listen to their views; however, they will be able to hold accountable their locally elected councillors when they make such decisions.
In addition to funding, I am concerned about the timing of the decision-making process. We know that under planning legislation local authorities are required to determine an application within eight weeks. However, very few of them manage to achieve that, and in some cases it takes months for local planning committees to make a decision. I hope that my right hon. Friend will ensure, under the guidelines that she will issue to local authorities, that, in taking on these powers, committees must determine a licence application within a reasonable time; that she will establish what that time is; and that there will be a proper appeals process. Residents should have the opportunity to appeal to their locally elected council representatives, and, should the decision not go in their favour, they should also have the right to appeal to a magistrates courts committee.
I am also concerned about the requirement for churches and village halls to have a licence, although I accept that the Government have decided, through the other place, that a fee should not be payable. I hope that my right hon. Friend will clarify whether a person who privately hires a village hall that may not provide a permanent bar service will have to have a licence. At the moment, many village and community halls are hired out to members of the community who wish to hold a birthday party or some other function. They bring in an off-licence in order to provide bar services, which are paid for by the people attending that function. Will such an individual be required to have a licence, and will the terms and conditions be changed? Will the number of times that such a hall can be used for those purposes be restricted if it is not paying a fee? Will she also clarify whether it will it make a difference if such a hall is hired by a charitable group or a not-for-profit organisation, so that we can ensure that there are no problems for community groups that organise events for local charities or good causes?
My right hon. Friend has already dealt with the question of children entering such premises. Young children regarding licensed establishments as appropriate places to hang out and have a drink, even a non-alcoholic one, is a matter of concern. It is not just a question of such places being adult environments in which people are drinking, in which they are therefore likely to be less aware that children are around, and in which behaviour occurs that is perhaps not suitable for children; I am also concerned that in licensed establishments, particularly pubs and clubs, it is more likely that the environment will be smokey. My great worry is that this legislation will encourage licensees to allow children into smoking environments, and I wonder whether my right hon. Friend has considered placing a condition on a licence whereby a no-smoking area must be provided within a pub or a club if the licensee determines that a child will be allowed into the premises.
People these days are genuinely concerned that children might enter a pub or club in which adults are smoking around them, and that that might encourage more young people to smoke. [Interruption.] I hope that my right hon. Friend has given some consideration to that issue. [Interruption.] My poor hon. Friend Mr. Pound is choking purely at the prospect that he might be banned from smoking in such environments, but I suspect that the Government have not quite reached that stage yet.
In general, I welcome the provisions of the Bill, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to clarify some of the issues that I have raised. I hope, too, that she can give some comfort to those who have raised the abolition of the two-in-a-bar rule by pointing out that new opportunities for entertainment will be opened up, and that she will enable more entertainment in pubs, clubs and licensed venues, not less.
I welcome the Government's decision to introduce the Licensing Bill. There is no doubt that a comprehensive overhaul of the legislation in this area is long overdue, and that the current regime is archaic and complex. It is often said—correctly or apocryphally—that the current laws were designed to keep munitions factory workers sober in wartime, and that they have remained in place ever since. Certainly, examining what schedule 7 will repeal shows the age of some of the existing laws. Such legislation includes the Universities (Wine Licences) Act 1743, the Sunday Observance Act 1780, the Inebriates Act 1898, and—for a reason that is not entirely clear—the Hypnotism Act 1952.
As Claire Ward has said, our laws have been badly out of kilter not only with the rest of Europe, but with the rest of the world. When foreign visitors come to the UK and run up against our licensing laws, some of them scratch their heads in complete bemusement and wonder, and cannot for the life of them make out what they are about. It is certainly time that we reviewed them.
In case the hon. Gentleman is going to develop the argument about hypnotism, I should tell him that I am reliably informed that we are not doing away with the Hypnotism Act 1952.
I apologise to the Minister—it is section 1(2) of the 1952 Act that is being done away with, rather than the Act in its entirety.
There are clear reasons for reform. We need a new regime for social reasons, to control antisocial and binge drinking. We need to give the police the opportunity to tackle the issue of chucking-out times more satisfactorily. I accept the point that Mr. Whittingdale made that research from different countries is contradictory on that issue, but it is certainly the case that the balance of all lobbying by the police that I have experienced, in the 11 years that I have been a Member of Parliament, has been in favour of abolishing a common chucking-out time and enabling them to tackle problems in town centres more flexibly.
We also need a new regime for reasons of better government. It cannot be right for the Government to sustain arbitrarily imposed limits on when people can enter, and must leave, premises established to serve alcohol. In this day and age, it is not right to take a one-size-fits-all approach that allows exceptions only in the most unusual circumstances. It is right, therefore, that local communities should have a say in the licensing regime in their area.
Having said that I welcome legislation on licensing, I see significant problems in this Bill. I welcomed the honest assessment from the Secretary of State that, with the benefit of hindsight, she wished that the Bill had been subjected to pre-legislative scrutiny. If it had, some of the problems would have been smoked out earlier and Ministers and officials would have had a chance to address them. I invite the Secretary of State to go further and acknowledge that it was also a mistake to introduce legislation that will have many of its key characteristics defined in guidelines without publishing the draft of the guidelines at the same time. It was that mistake that gave rise to much of the campaigning outside Parliament that she mentioned. Many of the groups involved started their campaigns because when they read the Bill without the benefit of any draft guidelines they were left to make worst-case assumptions. When the rough draft of the guidelines was eventually published, it allayed some of the fears that had been raised. In conjunction with some useful amendments made in the House of Lords, that took some of the momentum out of the campaigns. It is all very well to accuse people of scaremongering, but if they did not know what the guidelines would say—and how the seemingly limitless powers in the Bill would be curtailed through the application of common sense—it was understandable that they would jump to conclusions.
It makes sense to combine liquor and entertainment licensing, if we feel that entertainment licensing is necessary. Factors that affect both have much in common, and it makes sense to address them at the same time. However, as the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford said, the existing system—for all its frailties—is well understood and reasonably well accepted. Magistrates have done their important and potentially controversial job well, and I subscribe to the adage, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." However, as the Government have decided to put on the agenda the issue of moving the task from magistrates to local authorities, one is compelled to reach a judgment in principle about whether that is the right thing to do. If the question is whether the function of licensing is an executive or judicial task, the Government are right to say that it is an executive task. If changing the present system is the Government's wish, that is fair enough. Magistrates will hear appeals against local authorities' decisions, which will provide a sensible balance between the two.
Local authorities license hackney cabs, so the Government are bringing the licensing systems into line. It may be quasi-judicial but it is not primarily a judicial task carried out by the courts. The Government are beginning to introduce consistency to the licensing functions. The transfer should strengthen the hand of local communities and give them more power over decisions that affect them. It should also democratise the process. Claire Ward may have a slightly rose-tinted view of how local democracy works, but the change will certainly provide greater accountability.
That is not what I said. My point is whether licensing of premises will escalate into an election issue, in the American fashion of all sorts of extraordinary issues becoming caught up in elections. I hope that we will never go as far as they do in their more extreme examples. We must take a reasonable view of local authorities acting, in the words of Mr. Turner, in a quasi-judicial role and of ward members going about their normal democratic business. The two are not the same.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman supports local authorities performing their quasi-judicial role in respect of planning, which also has an appeal process. All that is being proposed is a similar process that will provide the safeguards that the licensed industry has requested.
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman said that, because I see a fundamental difference. We should be replicating the planning function, but when my hon. Friend Mr. Foster asked the Secretary of State about that issue—the same point was made by Mr. Field—her reply established a fundamental difference between the licensing function and the planning function. We will ask local authorities to establish licensing policies for their area, just as we ask them to establish planning policies. However, a planning authority is entitled to refuse a planning application on the simple ground that it contradicts its planning policy. Under the system in the Bill, the licensing body will be allowed to refuse applications only if a specific objection is made, even if the application would directly contradict its licensing policy. That provokes the spectre of licensing bodies sending out busybodies to drum up objections to provide the opportunity to turn down applications.
The situation has not been improved by an amendment by the peers—bless them—to the effect that Members of Parliament should be included among those who can make objections. Thanks a bunch for that responsibility! I do not know what attitude the Government have taken to that amendment, but I am sorely tempted to table one that would delete the words "Member of Parliament" and insert "any peer of the realm living in the district in question."
Did the hon. Gentleman not listen to the answer that the Secretary of State gave to the intervention from Mr. Foster? She clarified that the policy would be informed by, for example, the environmental health department of a local authority. The environmental health department could object, but not the licensing committee itself. That preserves its neutrality and allows it to perform its quasi-judicial function.
I welcomed the Secretary of State's reply, insofar as she said exactly what the hon. Gentleman has just described, but, unless the objection falls within one of the neat definitions, the authority might still be forced to grant a licence that it did not want to grant and that conflicted with its licensing policy. For the system to work, it is essential for the council officers who support the licensing committee to be able to make a recommendation on the same basis as they do for planning applications. As the Bill stands, they would not be able to do so.
The application need not have caused controversy or even awareness. If the authority can see, even though nobody else has spotted it, that the application will conflict with its licensing policy, it makes a mockery of the authority having been given the power to establish such a policy if it cannot turn down the application on those grounds, given that it will be possible, as we know, for the applicants to take an appeal to the magistrates, which is a reasonable safeguard to put in place.
Of the 28,000 magistrates, some 3,000 or 4,000 specialise in licensing. How will we keep that specialist knowledge going? Will there be a continuation of the specialist Bench? How will it be paid for? There is no mention of that in the Courts Bill. If many of the staff who currently support the specialist magistrates go off to work for local authorities under the new regime, the capacity of magistrates to perform the appeal function will require some attention, if they are to do what I think will be a tricky job.
Magistrates currently deal with alcohol licensing on the basis of a set fee, whereas local authorities are much freer to set their own fees for entertainment licensing. In some cases, there has been considerable abuse of that freedom. The Government are right to propose a tariff, although it would be useful to know a little more about how that will be set, and whether there will be scales, grades and bands within the tariff system.
In my conversations with publicans and landlords, they have expressed considerable worries about what the system will cost. On the basis of what the Government have said so far about the cost of licences, although that will probably be somewhat more expensive than at present, it will not necessarily be hugely so. However, it is the hidden costs that lie beyond that worry landlords a great deal. The hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford pointed out that that would be particularly true where landlords tick the entertainments box. That is an issue to which we will have to return. If ticking the entertainment box brings down on the head of the landlord a great deal more vigorous regulation than would otherwise be the case, whether that relates to health and safety, fire, electricity or anything else, the impact that was described—a reduction in the number of pubs that provide live entertainment or live music—will become a problem.
There was some comment from Ministers to the effect that that was an unnecessary fear. If they are confident of that, will they ensure in the guidance and the regulations that it is not possible to add such extra burdens if the entertainment box is ticked? That is the only way in which they will allay landlords' fears and assumptions. It has been my experience of talking to landlords that, exactly as was described, most of them would be fearful of daring to tick that box.
My hon. Friend is on to an important point, which causes concern both to landlords and to musicians. Does he agree that it is also important to limit the cost of a variation subsequent to the initial licence being granted—for example, if there is a new landlord or a change of policy and the landlord wants to put on live musical entertainment he may incur all the costs that have been described?
Indeed. If a fee must be paid every time the business operating plan is amended, that will become extremely costly, and if landlords have to pay a fee every time they want to change their list of designated premises supervisors the costs will mount up further. We would welcome some assurance from the Government, so that we can allay those fears.
The creative industries in this country are worth a great deal. The music industry is worth many millions of pounds a year to the UK and makes a cultural contribution. If music and entertainment at grassroots level is curbed or inhibited, there will be problems right the way up through those industries. Although everyone is pleased to see an end to the nonsensical two-in-a-bar rule, it is being replaced with a none-in-the-bar rule. If that does not limit the number of premises providing entertainment as some of us fear, let us hear from the Government why not, and let them nail some of the fears out there. Ministers described this as a deregulatory Bill, and I dearly hope that they are right, but it has at least the potential to increase regulation.
I welcome the fact that the Government conceded on some of the changes made in the House of Lords. During her speech, the Secretary of State referred to the amendment that had been passed in the Lords regarding small premises. She said that the intention of the Lords in making that change had been good, but she went on to comment on the amendment and why she did not find it acceptable. Some of the points that she made were sensible and well argued. She said that the Government would repudiate some of the amendments, and try to change others. If she thinks that their lordships had a noble intent when they addressed themselves to small premises, will she consider ways in which that could be fine-tuned to have an effect that she would consider acceptable, rather than throwing it out altogether?
It is right that local communities should have the greater say that the Bill will give them. That is welcome. I am concerned, however, that the people who are allowed to register an objection are specified in the Bill. That is not necessary. There are fears that some categories of people who might have a perfectly good reason for objecting may be excluded. I wonder why it is necessary to have a list of people who are allowed to make objections. Why should not anybody be allowed to object? The licensing authority could then take as much or as little notice of that objection as it saw fit, depending on whether the objector had managed to establish proper grounds for the objection. Many residents would sleep easier in their beds if that were the case.
One of the aspects of the current regime that we might regret allowing to go by the wayside are the undertakings that magistrates have extracted from landlords over a period of time clarifying how particular matters operate in particular cases. If they all go as part of the transition, the entire system might be considerably weaker for it.
There a number of other issues that we will have to examine in Committee—for example, farmers' markets and mail orders. I do not see why sports clubs should not be given the same sort of exemption, at least from the fee, as village halls and community halls are to be given.
Vessels, small or large, are a problem of which the Minister is already aware, and which he flagged in his earlier comment. We will get to these issues in Committee and do what we can to tie them down. We hope that in the end the Bill will have the deregulatory impact that the Government claim for it, but for this evening we will be happy to support it.
I broadly welcome the Government's proposals, and I warm to some of them. From other contributions tonight, it seems that I do not belong to the same school of thought as some hon. Members. Anything that reduces the amount of crime, disorder and antisocial behaviour in my constituency that I can fairly ascribe to the abuse of alcohol is to be encouraged. Anything that can encourage tourism in my constituency, with the beautiful lower Wharfedale area, is to be welcomed.
Anything that we might do to reduce alcohol abuse is to be encouraged. The self-sufficiency of which the proposals speak is also to be encouraged. Anybody who disagreed with that would not be found in the Chamber tonight.
I have, however, found it interesting that some present seem to hold a view that in some way deprecates local government. The idea, for example, that local government is incapable of making intelligent and sensitive decisions about the appropriateness or otherwise of the granting of a licence to sell alcohol is less than objective and kindly towards that honourable democratic tradition, which is of great value.
The suggestion that Members of Parliament might have a role to play has considerable merit. I do not have difficulty saying that, as I have received what I suppose now runs to hundreds of letters from constituents about the problems associated with alcohol abuse. They expect me to be able to do something. Like most Members, I have written a large number of letters to various Ministers, to the chief constable, to the chair of the police authority, to magistrates and to magistrates clerks, but to no avail.
Licences granted in one area of my constituency have led to considerable antisocial behaviour—I refer to Headingley. Some may know that part of north-west Leeds because of its cricket ground, its rugby league grounds or because they went to one of the two universities there. Of the population in Headingley, 50 per cent. are students, passing through, and there is no continuity of concern among that body that would express itself as one might expect in a permanent resident community, but we have a permanent resident community none the less.
Another thing that has changed in certainly less than 10 years has been the number of pubs in the area, which has doubled. Anybody who knew Headingley from a cricket or rugby match or went to university there would be surprised to see twice as many pubs in the area and a huge increase in the number of off-licences, which are responsible for one avenue of alcohol supply and alcohol abuse that we should have addressed more powerfully. Then there are the number of licensed premises in the area.
All that leads to antisocial behaviour in what is known as the evening economy, which has its attractions to those who seek to make vast sums of money from the alcohol industry—and they certainly do. Any investment in Headingley has been made merely to increase the efficiency of the rate of extraction of money from the community rather than to add to the value of the local buildings. By and large, I find the Government's policies as outlined so far, and the amendments carried in the House of Lords, appropriate to the need to ensure that we deal with antisocial behaviour and promote the responsible use of alcohol as an important part of anyone's cultural make-up and, for some, learning process.
People in Headingley, perhaps early on a weekday morning—let us say taking their children to school at 8 o'clock—can be met with scenes of vomit all over the place and, worse still, in shop doorways, and scenes of litter and discarded fast food, which is all associated with speedy satisfaction of short-term needs and an abandonment of community consciousness. The proposed licensing regime and the body to be entrusted with it are more likely to reflect the needs of the local people.
The idea of the evening economy should be considered carefully. I have seen people become distressed, not to say distraught, when they have not been able to sleep at night. An evening economy is fine, unless one works during the day. I am alarmed by an evening economy that stops those who have to work and take care of children's needs during the day fulfilling those commitments because they are not allowed to sleep at night-time.
I am interested in what my hon. Friend is saying. Can he square his comments with the Government's noble and well-intentioned objective of creating an urban renaissance, as a result of which more people live in towns, as they do on the continent of Europe? How can the disorder in his constituency be squared with that urban renaissance?
There is another reason why that objective might not fit too well: the dramatic reduction in the number of families in the area as a result of an increase in houses of multiple occupation. Following promises made six or seven years ago, I hope that the Government will address that crucial issue speedily.
The idea that licensed premises are somehow neutral and do not contribute to disorder in the streets is given the lie when we see standing in doorways people who are now referred to as doorkeepers. Bouncers was their traditional title. Their presence acknowledges the fact that such places can be visited by people who do not know how to maintain order on the premises. If such people are kept out, the off-licence shop becomes the alternative source of supply. Off-licences are thick on the ground in certain areas.
I would be the last person to say that the alcohol trade does not have its benefits; I think that it is wonderful. My favourite beer, if anyone wants to know, is Taylor's Landlord. It is the finest beer ever brewed anywhere in the world, but I drink it carefully and in the company of friends. Even as a young person, I noted that there were certain less than beneficial things to be gained from alcohol. Local licensing might help to encourage such maturity. I would like the industry and those granted a licence to be given further guidance in order to ensure that the abuse of alcohol is understood. We have warning messages on cigarette packets, for example, and we ought to express to young people how damaging alcohol can be. It is a dangerous substance that must be attended to.
Anyone who thinks that I am alarmist should have been in my constituency on three recent occasions. In 2000, in excess of 1,000 people spilled on to the main highway that runs through my constituency. The A660 was blocked for nearly two hours. Having enjoyed a football match, young people who were much the worse for alcohol poured out of pubs. When certain applications for licences for similar premises on the same road were made to magistrates, I and local community groups objected. We showed the video of the events in 2000, but magistrates granted the licences.
Hon. Members will not be surprised to learn that the historic event of 2000 was repeated in 2002 as well, when the road was blocked twice. On that third occasion, the police finally decided, under pressure from me, to use their new powers to close the offending pubs—and it worked. Suddenly, landlords got the message that what matters is not whether they keep orderly premises, but whether they ensure that people leaving them do so in an orderly fashion. I think that the Government are proposing such caring legislation. Yes, I would like some things to be changed. I would like some additions to be made, too, and I shall be pressing for some of them in Committee. In general terms, however, I thank the Minister for the proposals, and I look forward to peace and tranquillity returning to my constituency.
As many Members have said, there is much to be commended in the Bill, not least that it simplifies codifying legislation that goes back for centuries and is clearly out of date and anomalous for the way that we live nowadays. Although I have some sympathy with the concerns expressed by Mr. Best, people no longer live a nine-to-five life in the way that most of us were brought up. We have to recognise that people want to live differently. People work shifts, and even though drinking in the middle of the night would make me feel ill, we have to accept that other people might want to do it. The Government rightly recognise that change is appropriate in that regard.
I realise that many Members still want to speak so I shall concentrate my comments as tightly as possible on the aspects of the measure on which I share the reservations expressed by our Front-Bench spokesman, my hon. Friend Mr. Whittingdale, and by other hon. Members, including Claire Ward. She rightly pointed out that it is not entirely clear why the Government want to allow young people to enter pubs without being escorted by an adult. I realise that there is a proviso that it should be at the landlord's discretion, but one can imagine circumstances in which a landlord would not really mind young people coming into the pub. As we all know, now that drink-driving is rightly abhorred, the mark-up on soft drinks is as great as that on alcoholic drinks, so there is an incentive for landlords to encourage unaccompanied minors on to their premises—it could boost their profits. That concerns me because pubs are not the right place for young people. We should not be encouraging them to drink; we would much rather that they were doing other things.
I share the concerns raised in the letter circulated by the Children's Society. The society asks why the Government want to criminalise children who try to obtain alcoholic drinks. The onus should be, as it is at present, on those serving alcoholic drinks to a young person. They should be the ones who commit the offence, not the young person trying to obtain the drink. It would be inappropriate for young people to end up with a criminal record for something that the measure may encourage by making it easier for them to go into pubs.
The Government have not entirely made their case for the changeover in licensing controls from magistrates courts to the local authority. That could cause significant problems, not least because even though local authorities might have greater powers to consult the local community and listen to people's views, they might not actually use those powers, especially if the matter involved closing down business premises. I am not sure that handing over such powers to local authorities will make much difference, although it could change the operation of the law.
I have concerns on both sides of the coin. I am sure that, like me, all Members have been approached by landlords in their constituency who are deeply worried about how bureaucratic and expensive the new process might be. To inject a slightly party political note, it has to be said that the Government are not remarkable for their willingness to cut bureaucracy, red tape and expense, so landlords have every reason to be worried about the amount of regulation and expense. As other Members have pointed out, we have not received clarification from the Government on that matter.
I am equally worried on behalf of my district council. On another party political note, local authorities have been given a huge range of responsibilities that they did not have formerly. My local authority struggles to perform those new activities, especially as they do not always come with funding from central Government. That means terribly unpopular increases in local rates. I am worried from the point of view both of landlords and pub operators and of district councils that we shall end up with a much worse system and that the democratic accountability arguments for the transfer of power will not add up to much.
When the Secretary of State was speaking, many hon. Members raised specific points about wassailing, garden parties, farmers' markets and other individual circumstances. Which of those activities will require a licence and which will not? We shall be creating a wonderful scenario for solicitors and lawyers to argue about that, instead of the transparency and clarity that we need. The provisions are inconsistent and that is worrying for the future.
Why do the Government want to require farmers who take wine or cider to farmers' markets to obtain a licence to sell their produce? Farmers' markets are hugely successful throughout the country. It seems ridiculous suddenly to require them to be licensed; it would be a retrograde step. The markets provide additional outlets for farmers who are already struggling so there is no point in giving them extra requirements.
Finally, I turn to the points raised so well by my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford. He made a strong case about the inconsistency of the provisions for live music and recorded music or recorded noise of any description. As Mr. Heath said, a football match is likely to be noisier and to attract more people to a pub than live music. If it is a World cup match it is also likely to be held at an extraordinary time. When World cup matches are being broadcast from Japan, there could be a lot of noise from the pub next door at breakfast-time.
I cannot understand the Government's argument that recorded music or recorded noise—in fact, television noise—should not be a licensable activity, whereas the strumming of a guitar or a little light singing should be. The arguments seem inconsistent. In case my remarks should be misinterpreted, I am not suggesting that televisions in pubs should be licensed—that is certainly not my argument. I very much favour the point made by the Musicians Union: why are the Government licensing live music in the first place? Surely, it could be restricted to certain times of the day and regulated under existing provisions on health and safety and noise pollution, as my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford said. There is no need to license it because if it causes a nuisance it can be dealt with by other pieces of legislation.
I hope that we can get the Government to see sense in Committee and that they will see the measure as an opportunity to deregulate those markets—the tourism, pub and entertainment industries that are such a thriving part of our economy. We should not overburden that sector and cause confusion, and put many of our country's musicians and others out of a job.
I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in this important debate. It is interesting to follow Miss Kirkbride who is one of the first to speak about the difficulties suffered by local authorities in fulfilling their existing functions. I shall return to that point.
Before I was elected to this place, I represented the Abbey ward of Reading borough council, which is in the town centre and has by far the largest number of pubs and clubs of any ward. I was a member of both the licensing and planning committees of the council, which is where my interest in the measure comes from and is why I am speaking in the debate.
At present, planning permission for new licensed premises is the responsibility of the local authority, while decisions about the standard liquor licence are made by magistrates. Permission for anything more than the standard licence is granted by the local authority. There are more than 40 different licences. The whole system is regulated by the Licensing Act 1964, although the first licence was introduced in 1495 as a measure aimed at ensuring good behaviour in ale houses and controlling their numbers, which was administered by the local justices. There has been wide agreement that the 11 o'clock and 2 o'clock finishing hours have encouraged a binge-drinking culture. I accept that other reasons and other social factors have been responsible for the increase in the "drinking to get drunk" culture, but it is true that the appearance of so many people on the streets at the same time has encouraged disorder. It became clear to me several years ago, through my own personal experience as a councillor, that there had to be change.
When I was elected to this House in 1997, my local Transport and General Workers Union official, representing the Berkshire Brewery, asked me to join what was then the parliamentary beer club. Hon. Members may not know this, but if they drink a pint of lager in the UK they have a one in eight chance of drinking a pint that has been brewed by constituents of mine. I was happy to be asked to join the then beer club as a consequence of my interest in and experience of the matter, and I am proud now to be vice-chair of the all-party beer group, the first woman to have done so. In 1998, that group set up a panel to investigate and take evidence on the need for reform of the licensing system and, if there were to be reform, what shape it should take. My hon. Friend Mr. Grogan, who is in his place, was a leader of that panel. A visit to Brussels took place during which there was conversation with Members of the European Parliament from six countries about their systems and their experiences of operating them. Hearings were held in Westminster, attended by 35 people representing a range of interests, including the trade, unions, the police, magistrates and town centre managers. The panel visited Scotland, where it took evidence from 10 more people, and Denmark, where evidence was taken from another five. The panel's report was published on
I was pleased during the licensing reform panel's work to be able to give them the benefit of the experience of Danny Friafeld and Greg Muden from the Purple Turtle bar in Reading. The Purple Turtle opened until 2 am for almost all of the past decade, and it still does. Nowadays, more bars in Reading are run along those lines, but when it first opened it was the only one of its kind. Danny and Greg have practical experience of running a business selling alcohol until 2 am, and their experience shows that people who are regulars are less likely to indulge in binge drinking. As the pressure to finish drinking at 11 pm has diminished, people have become less likely to seek to drink as much as they can in the knowledge that they have another three hours if they so choose. I am not saying that there is no binge drinking whatever, but experience shows that where the pressure is removed there are fewer of the problems associated with binge drinking of which we see too much in our town and city centres.
I must confess that Reading was my home town, although well before the time of the Purple Turtle.
Does the hon. Lady think that the core concern as regards binge drinking and premises staying open until 2 am and beyond is the lack of infrastructure, whether it be policing or transport, to get away from a central city area, which exacerbates the problems?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I was not aware that Reading was his home town. I would welcome him if he returned to visit, when he would be able to see our wonderful fleet of night buses, which get people home quickly no matter what time of night it is.
I hope that, when the Bill has completed its passage, licensees who have the opportunity to opt for flexible opening hours will take it. There will be little benefit from the Bill if licensees decide that they will continue to close at 11 pm. Nothing in the Bill places an obligation on them—they can stay as they are or opt for other hours. As a councillor, I had the experience of serving on a licensing committee. That brought it home to me that if someone wanted to serve alcoholic beverages after 11 pm but did not want to serve food at the same time, they had to make a noise. If one wants a late drink, one has to be in a noisy place. That is nonsensical. If I want to go out late in the evening, I prefer to go to a quiet place.
Before coming to this place, as well as being a councillor, I worked at BBC Monitoring in Reading, which, like many workplaces, works 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Many people work shifts, and I used to wonder why someone whose shift finishes at 10.30 pm or 11 pm should not be able to go to have a quiet drink with friends and colleagues after work. Yet that is impossible.
I mentioned the work in which I have been involved to try to secure changes to our licensing system. On the whole, I am pleased with the proposals in the Bill and support them, and I regret the misinformation that has been spread, wittingly or unwittingly, about its consequences, some of which has been truly amazing. One of my constituents, who is well known in Reading as a frequent contributor to the letters pages of local newspapers, and whose blushes I will spare by not naming her, asserted that the Bill will prevent her from singing in her car; it will not. She also asserted that it will make carol singing illegal; it will not. I am pleased that morris dancing has been mentioned, because I have constituents who engage in it. It may interest hon. Members to know that the first public performance by John Lennon and Paul McCartney took place in my constituency at the Fox and Hounds pub in Caversham, which is sadly now closed. That shows the influence that music in pubs has on the development of what go on to be highly illustrious careers.
Concerns have been expressed about the impact of the Bill on the centre of Reading and the council's ability to manage the centre for the safety and amenity of all, as Miss Kirkbride suggested in relation to her area. Reading is known throughout the world for its music festival on the August bank holiday weekend. In the 30-plus years for which that festival has been held, the council has worked with the promoters, the police and others to ensure that people visiting the festival have the safest possible time. The festival does not detain the licensing committee too much, but it requires a lot of time from the officers of the council. There are meetings of the safety team and liaisons between the various agencies to ensure that safety measures are in place. We have seen elsewhere the consequences that follow when something goes wrong at pop festivals. The costs in terms of death and injury are too important for the matter to be treated lightly or for a local authority not to do a full job because the level of the fee does not allow them to cover the costs involved in doing a proper job. Music festivals are a multi-million pound business. It is important that they happen safely and that the promoters pay for the costs involved in doing the job properly. I hope that the Minister will give an undertaking that when national rates are agreed, local authorities which have large music festivals in their area are consulted before those fees are set, to ensure that proper measures are in place and people attending large-scale music festivals can do so in safety.
During the debate that has taken place over the past few years about reforming the licensing system, the issue of fee level has been one that has concerned the licensed trade. There have been scares to the effect that if local authorities were able to take over the licensing role, fees would rise. As a result, the Government have undertaken to introduce national fees. The advantage of that is that it gives the trade certainty about costs and removes the differences in application costs as between licensing authorities. To some extent, that is what enables the Government to say how much will be saved by the trade as a result of the reduction in red tape that the Bill will introduce. However, Reading borough council is seriously concerned about the consequences for providing an effective licensing function—and especially about its ability to carry out any enforcement.
At present, the level of fees in Reading for public entertainment licences and the other licences that the council issues covers the cost to the council of providing the service. The fees cover the cost of the application, of giving advice to applicants, and so on. They also cover the cost of the meeting of the licensing committee and the cost of any enforcement. Enforcement action can help to ensure that businesses meet the conditions of their licence and do not put their continued trading at risk. Enforcement action is very important in ensuring that people can enjoy places such as Reading town centre in safety. However, Reading borough council has worked out—using information that has been made public on the likely level of fees—that, from the money available, it would be able to fund such work up until a decision on the licence application was made, but that it would then run out of money for enforcement action. I find that worrying. I am aware of the lethal cost when things go wrong in licensed premises. It is important that the council is able to ensure that places are safe and that people are carrying out their duties properly. I hope that there will be full and proper consultation before the proposed fee levels are decided.
Tomorrow night, at its regular meeting, Reading borough council will receive a report on the outcome of consultations on its interim licensing policy. It will also approve the final draft of the interim policy, "A safe night out". The Local Government Association has advised, and this Bill requires, local councils to develop formal licensing policies in consultation with residents and stakeholders. As the report to the council says, such a policy will assist the council in discharging its licensing responsibility—not to mention demonstrating community leadership. Reading borough council is far ahead of the game in having done as much as it has done. The council has already thought long and hard about the consequences of the measures that are contained in this legislation. Tonight, I have highlighted some of the concerns that have emerged from the council's work. The council has said to me that it is willing to offer itself as a case study—for the Government to work in partnership with a council with a lot of experience in licensing; for them to work together through the consequences of the proposals in the Bill; and for them to see what the impact will be so that the proposals—
My interest in this Bill emanates primarily from the job that I do in this House in representing Skegness, the economy of which is based fundamentally on tourism. Skegness has an accurate reputation as a family resort that caters for all ages. Its reputation is that of a town that provides fun and perpetual sunshine. I will leave hon. Members to make up their own minds as to which part of that statement was wholly and which part partially accurate.
I approve of any legislation that attempts to modernise, deregulate and consolidate myriad previous Acts of Parliament. The Liberal Democrat spokesman pointed out that such legislation dates back to the 18th century. There followed 19th century Acts and then one of the last Acts of the last Liberal Government—an Act of 1915 that was for the purpose of creating more efficient munitions construction. Then there was the Licensing Act 1964. I approve of the fact that this Bill facilitates the reduction of six licensing schemes down to one.
However, I am sceptical about whether this is a deregulatory Bill. The Government performed a U-turn in the other place when places of public worship were excluded from the Bill. Such a measure should never have been in the draft Bill in the first place. However, there are still thousands more venues than before that will have to be licensed for live music if this Bill becomes an Act. I am sure that the Minister will understand the scepticism of the public and of hon. Members on the Conservative Benches. Almost everything that the Government do is bureaucratic and increases rather than reduces the regulatory burden on businesses and individuals.
The House should not forget the genesis of this Bill. It was put together more than 30 years ago by Lord Errol of Hale. Much of our discussion today emanates from his far-reaching report and it is a great shame that it has taken 30 years for this Bill to come to the House. I concur with the proposals to allow local residents the power to request that the licensing authority review a licence if problems arise—leading potentially to licence revocation. It is right for licensing authorities to act on behalf of, and in favour of, residents—if those residents exercise that power—in reducing hours and removing music. What about fines? Has the Minister considered fining licensees who fail to comply? Has the Minister considered giving powers to local authorities so that they, if they are to take on this responsibility, can insist on the soundproofing of premises and on certain decibel levels being adhered to? As I understand it, such conditions are in place in some parts of the United States of America. I approve of powers that will protect the young and the vulnerable and that will clamp down on antisocial behaviour; and I completely approve of powers to close licensed premises—or, indeed, whole areas—for 24 hours. Such powers could have been used to great effect in Skegness only a few years ago when travellers descended on the town and caused absolute chaos.
I support the liberalisation of licensing hours and the extension of consumer choice. In Skegness, the experience has been that the extension of licensing hours has allowed people, if they so wished, to remain in licensed premises all afternoon. That has completely removed the loutish and yob culture that used to exist, with people jumping into boating lakes and disturbing innocent families who were enjoying their summer holidays. Such problems have now been pushed into the evening hours, to closing time. Different, or staggered, closing times will not eradicate the problems of drunkenness or tangential violence, but they will go some way towards mitigating the problem.
I do not wish to see one local authority having a more libertarian view than an adjacent one, so that, for example, at 2 am, a caravan of taxis transports revellers from one town to another to carry on their drinking and cause problems in a town with extended hours. I am sure the House will understand the concerns of residents of Skegness and other UK tourism towns and destinations where that problem may be exacerbated. Who would pay for the extra policing costs in those towns? Would it be the licensees or the council tax payers?
The main issue that I have with the Bill as it currently stands amended by the other place is that I remain to be convinced of the necessity of switching the responsibility for licensing premises from magistrates to local authorities—despite the retention of the magistrates in the appeals procedure. The Government have not made the case for the switch. The Secretary of State, in her remarks earlier this afternoon, failed to address the severity of the proposed changes. There is no evidence that the magistrates courts have not worked, and there is no evidence that the local authorities would offer a cheaper, quicker and more efficient system. The advantages of using the magistrates courts is that they are apolitical, do not have an electorate to pander to, and are normally local. In addition—and this very pertinent point was raised by my hon. Friend Mr. Whittingdale—94 per cent. of licensees are against the move.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is difficult for local people, when they wish to object to a licence, to make representations to licensing magistrates? There are two reasons for that: they are not informed in the first place, and many are intimidated by licensing magistrates and the applicants' solicitors.
I accept part of what the hon. Gentleman says. There is a procedure in place whereby residents or other interested parties can object to licences being given. It is not easy for them to do so, but I do not think that the existing process could not be altered to make it easier for objections to be considered. That could be considered.
I am concerned that the local authority could be slower and more costly, and that there would be more appeals. Will the Minister tell us whether the speed of considering applications will be the same—that is, 30 days—as in the Licensing Act 1964? Local authorities will be subject to electoral pressure that cannot be put on the independent judiciary. In a large rural area such that covered by East Lindsey district council, which includes Skegness, the members of the licensing committee could come from miles away from Skegness. They would have no particular expertise or understanding of the particular needs of specific locations, economies or, indeed, residents. That problem would be exacerbated by the limit on the number of councillors that would be allowed to sit on the committee. I have great doubts about the transition period. Is it long enough? There seems to be a great deal of confusion about who will be responsible for what and about exactly which premises will require licensing.
Many other hon. Members wish to speak, so I shall ask the Minister a few specific questions. How does the Bill fit with the future gaming Bill that will probably be included in the next Queen's Speech? If that Bill includes licensing for casinos and bingo halls, will the measures in this Bill be temporary? If so, why are casinos and bingo halls not exempt from the Bill? Will the premises' licence charge be fixed nationally, or will it vary between local authorities? If so, will there be a national cap? Presumably, local authorities will not be allowed to use the Bill as an opportunity to generate revenue that can be used elsewhere.
Clause 177, which refers to Government guidance to local authorities, very much appears to centralise power rather than devolving responsibility. Surely, the Minister needs to confirm that the local licensing statement must have primacy. It needs to be a light-touch regulation, setting the general framework and architecture to allow local authorities to make the final decisions.
Is it true that new pubs will be allowed to apply for licences only when they have been built? Surely, it would be more sensible to get those licences before construction, by wrapping them up with the planning permission process; otherwise we could end up with the ludicrous situation of a developer building a pub, but not being able to get a licence to enable it to trade.
Are the rumours true that the Government propose to introduce policing levies to make pub, restaurant and club owners pay for the extra policing and additional resources required to resolve some of the problems that may occur throughout the night, rather than at a certain time?
In general, I support the Bill, as I hope I have implied, but much needs to be resolved in the detail. I was slightly dismayed by the Secretary of State, who seemed to imply that seven of the nine amendments that succeeded in the other place would be overturned. I hope that that will not be the case, but we shall see in the Bill's final detail.
My concerns about the Bill basically relate to the possibility of 24-hour, seven-day-a-week licensing. The constituency that I represent is in the London borough of Havering, and Romford neighbours my constituency. Romford has a nightclub capacity of about 12,000 to 14,000—the biggest in the south-east outside the west end of London. The idea that we should move from the present licensing system of permitted hours, which has two peaks during the night at about half-past 11 and 2 or 3 in the morning to 24-hour licensing, does not bear thinking about, given the associated law and order implications, especially where the police have to cope with the consequences of such a massive nightclub capacity.
I have been on patrol around Romford with the police crime and disorder unit, and I have seen the way that the police struggle to cope with the two peaks during the night—but there could now be a constant 24-hour peak, and things would get even worse during the hours of darkness, which will have an obvious impact on the police.
I went out with my local police between 1 am and 3 am on a Saturday morning 10 days ago, to witness the peak at 2 am as people were chucked out of nightclubs and someone had chucked up on the pavement. I witnessed the disorder that results from that peak, but the police I was with welcomed the possibility of staggered closing times, so that they could keep on top of the situation without trying to have a peak in their own resources between 2 am and 3 am, when some officers may be taking prisoners to custody suites and so on, leaving the town centre vulnerable.
The police I was with said just the opposite, so there we are.
It is worth looking at a report carried out by the Cranfield school of management, called "Licensing Law Liberalisation: The Scottish Experience", which draws on similar experiences from a few years ago in Scotland, where deregulation led, in effect, to 24-hour licensing. The report said:
"The consequence of the liberalisation in Edinburgh was, for example, that the policing of the city became more, not less, difficult, as the lack of a uniform closing time resulted in numbers of people wandering homewards through the city centre streets throughout the night. The random incidents that occurred in consequence meant that police resources became over stretched, regularly having to be diverted from the dedicated 'high visibility' patrolling . . . intended to maintain public order."
My worry is that those consequences will follow for England, particularly the borough that I represent. What happens in Havering is that police resources, particularly during the two peaks on Friday and Saturday nights, are drawn from the rest of the borough, including my constituency—Hornchurch, Elm Park and Rainham—to be poured into Romford to deal with the law and order consequences there. That would get worse if we were to move to deregulation.
When the Bill was published originally, the Department issued a press release saying that it would lead to a more civilised and responsible culture and that it would be a key plank in the Government's drive to cut crime. Those who have drafted the Bill, for entirely understandable reasons, would like certain elements of the cultures in, for example, France, Italy or other European countries to be imported into Britain. The problem is that we are not starting from a point over there; we are starting from where we are. This country's culture is very much set around timed drinking, and getting away from that will be immensely difficult.
I do not know whether my hon. Friend is aware that alcohol consumption in those Mediterranean countries, which we romanticise, is still considerably higher than in Britain.
Yes, there is some truth in that.
It is true that the premises licence will incorporate operating conditions limited to considerations such as crime and order, public safety and nuisance factors and would be set locally on the basis of a balance of the operator's requirements and the views of residents, police and fire authorities. However, there is real concern that the powers in the Bill could be insufficient when dealing with a legal onslaught from the big breweries, which will go hell for leather to get the licences that they want.
Many councillors will be told by council officers—I can see it happening— "Well, you could reject this licence application, but it will go to a higher court, which may well overturn the decision and you could face personal surcharging by the court." Although I have never been a councillor, I have dealt with local authorities for many years and I have seen that happen. When it does, councillors run scared and accept licence applications, rather than face real financial difficulties.
I entirely endorse what the hon. Gentleman says about the pressures that can be put on local councils, particularly by large alcohol and entertainment industry combines. However, what does he think about the earlier point about fees? Does he not feel that one of the safeguards would be to lift the cap on fees, not with the fear that local authorities will make money, but to ensure that they have the very best advice against the high-profile legal advice on which many large firms in the alcohol and entertainment industry will be able to rely?
The answer would be to give local authorities proper, concrete powers to stand up to the big breweries because we have seen such things in the past.
"The Licensing Bill fails to make any improvement to residents' right to object. Indeed, their opportunities for input are actually reduced under the draft Guidance in two respects. Only residents living 'in the vicinity' will be able to object, and residents will not be allowed to make a repeat objection at the review of the licence."
The point about the ability to make a repeat objection is in some doubt given the recent draft guidance, but nevertheless the first objection stands. The quote goes on:
"We recommend that licensing authorities are given powers to accept residents' sworn evidence of nuisance, and we further recommend that, (as in certain European cities) licensing authorities are given powers to set an overall terminal hour".
That sensible recommendation would give local authorities a bit more power and punch to set the agendas for their own communities. After all, we hope that those in local government know their communities pretty well.
The report also includes a recommendation on upper capacity limits, which also makes a lot of sense:
"all local authorities are required within their licensing strategies to define upper capacity limits in terms of the number of people with which particular areas, identified by their economic role within the district can reasonably cope at given times of day. Overall capacity could be identified in relation to the fire regulation standards for individual premises".
Again, that seems pretty sensible because it would provide a lever for local accountability to resist the descent into night-time anarchy that has affected places such as Romford and other towns in Essex.
I want to make two other points that are not directly in the Bill but have been discussed. The Government have examined the possibility of introducing special payments for nightclubs to cope with the extra policing demanded by the increase in such premises. My noble Friend Lord Harris of Haringey made such a suggestion in the other place. Again, it seems eminently sensible that nightclubs should have to pay a special premium to fund extra officers in their area. That has happened in Manchester where, as I understand from reports that I have read, such an experiment has been very successful. Extra officers in Manchester have covered the particular areas where there has been an explosion in the number of licensed premises and nightclubs in particular. It has also been suggested that a power should exist to take away licences from troublesome nightclubs, which could be included in the Bill. The first recommendation that I mentioned is very much a Home Office measure. Taking away licences temporarily from nightclubs where there has been a particular cause of disorder or even crime, however, seems sensible, and it could be contained in the guidance attached to the Bill. That could be done in Committee.
In my constituency, there is a pub called The Good Intent, which has been there for a long time. During the war, when RAF Hornchurch existed—it closed in the 1960s—it was an RAF pub, and it has a rich history. An application has been made, however, for an extended hours licence. There are fears among local residents, as the pub is in a residential area—that was not the case many years ago, but there has been a great deal of house building in the borough—that the extended hours licence is intended to turn it into a night club. That is meeting with objections. I have written objecting to it, as have many residents, and something of a local campaign is going on. My fear is that were the Bill implemented in its present form, an application such as the one being made by the owners of The Good Intent could be successful more easily, and people living in what is clearly a residential area could suddenly find that there is a night club virtually on their door step.
There are some things in the Bill that are laudable: for example, the attempt to clear up the plethora of regulations and complexities that go back many hundreds of years. There should be an attempt to make the position much clearer, but I am worried that if the Bill is implemented in its present form, all it will do is hand greater powers to the big breweries, which will lead to greater problems, especially for law and order.
"if you want a drink on Sunday, You will have to wait till Monday".
At least, that is how it used to be. It is no longer the case in hotels, restaurants and pubs in my constituency and throughout Wales, which are able to offer hospitality to visitors and tourists all week.
With all the certainty and with the gleam in the eye of a new Member, may I say that we often do not pay enough attention to the historical context of what we are doing? It would be remiss of me not to note that with this Bill we see the passing of the Welsh Sunday opening polls, which led to the closing of pubs in various areas in Wales on Sunday. My area of Dwyfor was one of the last where the pubs all closed on Sunday and many people went over the Cob to Porthmadog for a drink in the green pastures of Meirionnydd. I notice that none of the Liberal Democrat Members have mentioned that the Welsh polls were one of the triumphs of the last Liberal Government and of Welsh liberalism in the last century, along with the disestablishment of the Church in Wales. Now that the polls are disappearing perhaps their progenitors will do so too, in the forthcoming election.
I have no doubt, however, that the measures in the Bill will be very popular. However, I must sound a caution to the Minister. I stood in the Welsh Assembly election in 1999 and one of my opponents represented the Socialist Alliance. Clearly, as he was a member of the Socialist Alliance, he was not a member of the Labour party. One of the Socialist Alliance's leaflets in Welsh called for more tai cyhoeddus, which is public sector housing. It translated public sector housing wrongly, however, as public houses, so it called for more public houses. Despite that and the probable popularity of the Bill, I must warn the Minister that the candidate from the Socialist Alliance came last in the election. That is a warning to us all.
On some more serious points, I welcome the fact that the Government have signalled their intention to exempt the provision of entertainment in places of religious worship from the requirements to obtain a licence. Musical performances have a central place in Welsh social life and are a normal part of the life of our communities, whether in concerts or in various types of local eisteddfodau. Those are essentially non-commercial events: certainly, if there are any profits, they are not the main object, and they usually go to charity. In many rural communities in Wales, the only suitable venues for such performances would be the chapel or the church. People in Wales are therefore very glad that the requirement for such places to obtain a licence has been withdrawn. The other type of venue often used in Wales is the village hall. I note that the Government have already said that licences for those premises will be free of charge. That still leaves the perceived burden of application for the organisers: the application might be straightforward but organisers may not see it that way.
The provision of alcoholic drinks is not usually a feature of such events in community halls—not in Wales at least—so the provision of one licence on the back of the other does not apply in most cases. Indeed, we do not have a bar on the field of the national eisteddfod, which is the biggest cultural event of its kind in Europe with between 160,000 and 200,000 people coming for the week—not yet at least, although I presume that there will be licensing conditions. If the eisteddfod were to decide to have a bar, the point made by Jane Griffiths would be pertinent, in that the eisteddfod is a peripatetic festival, and will therefore have to submit applications to various licensing authorities as the Bill comes into force.
Music performed in Wales is often amateur in the proper sense: it is performed to a high standard by music lovers who are not normally employed as professional musicians. Those people do not have access to the management resources or even the hard cash that orchestras, pop groups and opera companies have. That is particularly so in respect of vocal music performed in Welsh. That is why the fear of the burden of applying for a licence is particularly strong. We have much amateur choral and classical vocal music in Wales performed in Welsh. Indeed, one of my constituents, Bryn Terfel, who now sings in the great opera houses of the world, started out as a schoolboy singing in local concerts and local eisteddfods. There is a fear that those festivals would be affected by the proposals in the Bill.
We also have a very active folk music scene in Wales, and many young pop and rock groups. Much of that music is not performed in pubs but in village and community halls and other less formal venues. Some of those groups have gone on to be very successful and even world famous, but they started out playing in local gigs, and it is feared that those will be curtailed. Well-resourced and famous groups that apply have management and money: it is no problem for, say, the Super Furry Animals, who started out singing in Welsh in small local venues. That is not the case, however, for the popular vocal combo known as the Cacen Wy Experience, and Monswn, who are essentially amateurs trying to get on. As I said, the Super Furries started singing in Welsh in small venues for not a lot of money, although that is not the case now. However, small local rock groups in Wales are concerned that the burden of application will be heavier for the organisers of amateur and community events in Wales than for commercial profit-making performances, which will have an effect on informal performances as well as younger and Welsh-language performers.
Turning briefly to public order issues arising from extending opening hours, we have problems in Wales as elsewhere arising from unruly and sometimes violent behaviour, often fuelled by drink. Regardless of the value to the tourist industry of more relaxed opening hours, staggered closing hours will help to reduce the number of intoxicated people spilling onto the streets from licensed premises and the public order difficulties that then arise. However, there is a more profound effect that we should seek—a changed public attitude to drink and to drunkenness—and the Bill may be very useful in that respect. We should follow the example of European countries where moderation in the rate of consumption is the norm, not the exception. Many hon. Members will agree that alcohol abuse far outweighs other forms of substance abuse both in importance and in the severity of its consequences. We need to harness education and the mass media to encourage young people in particular to change their attitudes. As I have said, the Bill will be useful in achieving that.
There is also a particular responsibility on broadcasters. Television executives are all too happy to put on fly-on-the-wall programmes in which they take young people away to exotic destinations with money in their pockets, then film the inevitable results. At the same time, they are happy to film disturbances in towns and cities throughout Wales and the UK, and to condemn the very behaviour that their colleagues encourage. Broadcasters have a responsibility to put things in proportion and to show the social and medical consequences of alcohol abuse, as well as the misery of crime and violence that so often come in its wake. Their productions must be realistic and should not single out particular groups or communities either because they are conveniently located, which has certainly happened in television coverage of problems arising from alcohol abuse in Wales, or because they provide a ready source of fluent participants.
In so far as the Bill takes some of the harsh mystique out of alcohol consumption and makes it a more normalised activity, thereby reducing consumption and encouraging more reasonable social norms around consumption, it is very much to be welcomed. Indeed, many hon. Members have said that they look forward to detailed discussion in Committee, and so do I.
I am grateful for the opportunity to say a few words in general support of the Bill—a measure that, in my view, is long overdue.
I should begin by registering my interest, as I am the unpaid political secretary of the National Union of Labour and Socialist Clubs, an organisation that represents members' clubs across the country. I represent that body on CORCA—the committee of registered clubs associations. I can tell the House that there is a general welcome for this liberalising Bill from people who run and manage clubs. They welcome the reduction in unnecessary administration for club committee members who are almost all poorly paid volunteers. They will be relieved at the removal of so much red tape, but they are still extremely concerned about the increase in violent crime in recent times and look forward to legislation that will protect their employees against violence in their clubs.
Times are hard in the licensing trade these days, with so much competition elsewhere. The public can, and do, drink in their own homes much more, and there are countless outlets where they can buy drink, socialise and be entertained. Anything that simplifies the archaic labyrinth of the law will inevitably be supported, and can only be in the public interest. We must, however, ensure that the Bill provides an opportunity to free up the law—it should not complicate it in the hands of local government, especially when it comes to fees.
I have heard worries about the eventual cost of the issuing of licences by local authorities. CORCA, for example, tells me that estimates of fees from the regulatory impact assessment are as follows: an application for a club premises certificate will cost between £100 and £500, and annual fees for such a certificate will cost from £50 to £150. Current fees under the Licensing Act 1964 amount to £16 for initial registration and £16 for renewal. CORCA's other major concern is about temporary events attended by non-members, such as weddings, anniversary parties, birthdays and so on. The five events per year rule will leave many clubs worse off. Members' clubs are often the centre of the community, and may well be the only place to accommodate such events. They would therefore like to continue to enjoy at least the current normal limitation of 12 events a year.
I am convinced that a single integrated scheme for licensing premises that sell alcohol and provide public entertainment is the way to go.
Does my hon. Friend agree that many working men's clubs are concerned that, as it is phrased, the Bill will restrict their off-licence sales, from which they have benefited for the past 60 years? Does he agree that the Government need to look at that?
I understand that an assurance was given in another place that that would be looked at seriously. I think that members' clubs very much appreciate the fact that the Government are giving serious consideration to continuing the right to take a bottle of Guinness home for the partner, as one might say.
Bringing together six existing licensing regimes and sweeping away red tape can only be good, and make the system more efficient for everyone concerned. We must ensure, however, that costs are kept to a minimum and insist that local authorities do not over-formalise the process. I am sure that we all very much welcome the exemptions that have been built into the Bill for charitable fundraising events, for example, but I still have concerns about the question of a small events exemption, as proposed in another place. It is vital that the Government find a way to ensure that the Bill will be a means of encouraging live entertainment. Small, one-off folk and jazz performances, for example, must be encouraged, as they are often the first step on the live music ladder for young performers. Such performers are often virtually unpaid, and we should seek ways in which to support them.
I am enthusiastic about making pubs family friendly places. The members-only social clubs, which I support, often fulfil that role superbly. I must confess, however, that I have doubts about unaccompanied children being allowed into licensed premises. I accept that children over 14 can already enter the bar area of public houses, but that does not make it okay. I do not want to ban children from certain places, but we must make sure that we protect young people from the temptations that alcohol and public houses present. Quite honestly, I do not believe that it is in the interest of unsupervised children to be in the company of intoxicated drinkers.
No doubt I have those reservations because I was brought up, as we all were, in a British culture that, as a result of the traditional licensing process, has made many of our pubs unsuitable for children. Of course, much of the rest of the world is different. There is more integration of food, snacks and soft drinks in the typical continental bar than in the typical English pub, but it will take time for things to change and our children must be protected in the meantime.
I note that one of the stated objectives of the Bill is the protection of children from harm. I very much welcome the provisions that strengthen the law on the consumption of alcohol by children on licensed premises, but the Minister can be assured that many of us will closely scrutinise the Bill's effects on children, as I am sure he will.
Flexible opening hours and the potential for 24-hour drinking are long overdue. The end of the madhouse that surrounds closing time will generally be welcomed by the police and the law-abiding public alike. It is about time that we treated the adult population of this country with some respect and allowed them to make up their own minds about when they should drink alcohol. We simply do not live in a 9 to 5, six-days-a-week society any more.
I accept that the problems created by alcohol in our country are serious, but I do not believe that flexible hours will make alcoholics drink more. Heavy and compulsive drinkers who want a drink can already find one 24 hours a day, seven days a week, if they need it. Our present laws do nothing to prevent the abuse of alcohol. It is only social, moderate drinkers who are inconvenienced by the current law, and we should legislate in the interests of the reasonable majority. We expect services to be on tap 24 hours a day, so we should allow those who have to work unsociable hours the right to enjoy their leisure at different times of day.
The Bill is a sensible measure overall that proposes radical change. I welcome it with enthusiasm.
Order. Before I call the next speaker, I should say that a considerable number of hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye, and that unless they take considerably less than their allotted 12 minutes a number of them will be disappointed.
May I draw to the attention of the House my entry in the Register of Members' Interests and, in particular, the fact that I am a former president of the Society of Licensed Victuallers and have been involved with a number of the organisations that have been briefing on the Bill? I have also taken a considerable interest for many years in various debates in another place on licensing law of one kind or another. May I say how delighted I am that we finally have such a Bill before us?
I should like to give the Bill a broad welcome. I believe that it is a very timely measure, but I want to speak about two specific concerns. As I know from having held a licence in two counties in England, the current legislation is confusing and has built up over many years. It is also complex and is certainly not administered equally throughout the country. I therefore welcome the Bill's general objectives, although, as always, the road from the White Paper to the Bill seems to have added to its complexity. Notwithstanding those issues, after so many years, the Bill is welcome.
I particularly welcome the central thrust of the Bill—separation of the licensing of premises from that of people. That is a fundamental part of the Bill's purpose. Indeed, I was a part of the industry consultation that took place some three or four years ago, and that issue was the critical point that the industry took on board. I have heard hon. Members say that 94 per cent. of publicans—they have also referred to various other figures—disagree with the concept of moving responsibility for licensing from magistrates to local authorities. The five organisations that were involved in getting together a uniform voice from the industry in making representations to the Government—they included the British Institute of Innkeeping, the British Hospitality Association and the British Institute of Sport and Leisure, but I cannot remember the other two—clearly understood from the outset that that was part of the deal and supported it, so I believe that there is a considerable welcome for the measure in other parts of the industry.
One of the critical aspects of divorcing licensing of premises from that of people is the fact that a quality and qualification-based system is needed for people. I very much welcome such an arrangement, which reflects what we are seeking to do in the tourism industry in employing people with better qualifications who can not only better deliver for their customers, but better attend to health and safety and all the other things that we want them to do. Obviously, for a qualification to work, it must be uniform and accepted throughout the country, so it is critical that the person-based licence is uniform in that way.
By contrast, the point of such a divorce in terms of the licensing of premises is to enable local concerns to be taken into account in each area, according to the desires of the local people and authorities. It is therefore wholly appropriate for responsibility for the licensing of premises to be moved from magistrates to local authorities, where the democratic process involved in that aspect of licensing can now be dealt with. I remind hon. Members who have expressed concern about that matter that local authorities in Scotland have looked after licensing for many years and that that arrangement has worked perfectly happily. I see no reason in principle why local authorities cannot perfectly happily undertake that task and I think that a principle of democratic accountability is well served in that regard.
Having given the Bill a strong welcome, I should like now to come to my two points of concern. The first is the question of who may hold a premises licence, which is slightly unclear, so perhaps the Minister can provide some clarification. Clause 17(1) sets out the person or persons undertaking the trade who can apply for a premises licence, but nowhere does it say that a company can apply for and have such a licence. I may have got that wrong and I would be delighted to know if that is the case. Having divorced the accountability of the people involved from the premises in which they will operate, it seems wholly appropriate to allow a company to hold a licence for premises. In particular, it seems wholly reasonable that large companies running hotels or restaurants that own a considerable number of premises should be allowed to own a licence, one of whose conditions will be that a properly registered person must operate it. Perhaps the Minister can deal with that point.
I should certainly like to confirm that it is entirely possible for a pub chain, for example, to own more than one premises licence and, indeed, to own the licences for all its premises.
I am grateful to the Minister for clarifying that point, which was not completely obvious from the drafting.
May I also draw the Minister's attention to the provision allowing for the removal of a licence? Clause 27 provides that when a company goes into administration, the licence can be removed. That seems unnecessarily harsh on those doing the work, as a company can go into administration but be perfectly viable. Will he be kind enough to consider that issue at a later stage?
My second concern relates to the licensing of the people themselves. The drafting of the Bill seems unnecessarily to complicate the process. So many things have to be done to get and hold a licence. For example, clause 125 covers notification of a change of address. That involves fees and the possibility of committing a criminal offence if one does not provide the new address. It is a bit harsh if a person who holds a centrally registered licence and leaves the industry for two or three years to do an MBA at Cranfield before returning to run a pub finds that he has committed a criminal offence and has the licence removed simply for failing to register a change of address while inactive. I wonder whether that is the proper way to proceed.
Furthermore, the first application for a premises licence requires a person to be conjoined to it. Indeed, four clauses allow for circumstances in which someone builds a new property but has not yet found a manager. Clauses 29, 30, 31 and 32 allow for provisional circumstances. If the person and the premises did not have to be conjoined, those four clauses could be omitted. I hope that those who serve on the Committee that considers the Bill will examine that because some refinement could be introduced.
I believe that the industry will warmly welcome the Bill. It will allow those of us who like to enjoy moderate social drinking at slightly different hours to do so. It will allow us to offer a better product to visitors from abroad and people in this country. It deserves our support.
I, too, welcome the Bill. It is brave of the Government to introduce it because, as was said earlier, it reforms many old measures and is the first major change to the system for 40 years. However, it has caused controversy and I believe that it should have been subject to pre-legislative scrutiny. We might not then have received large mailbags from our constituents, reflecting anxieties that were often unfounded or based on misleading information.
It is good that the Bill tries to bring the licensing of the sale of alcohol under the control of a single system. It also deals with other forms of licensing—for music, dancing, theatre and cinema. Indeed, it covers all the fun bits of life. The measure licenses what we all enjoy as part of our social life.
I have one or two anxieties. Magistrates in the Forest of Dean have been especially worried that their expertise in licensing will be lost. The local authority is concerned about receiving yet another statutory burden, possibly without extra moneys to cope with it. However, many people in the area welcome the accountability that the change will introduce into the licensing system.
Many myths have surrounded the Bill. Like other hon. Members, I have heard people suggest that the measure makes carol singing, bell ringing, singing "Happy Birthday" in a pub illegal, and provides that music tuition and rehearsals must be licensed. I am glad to say that that is all unfounded nonsense.
The Government have made it clear that they will agree to some Lords amendments but that they cannot accept others. I understand their reasons for not agreeing with Lords amendments that would provide for not licensing an event of 250 or fewer people. That is a matter of public safety and misuse of alcohol. It is right to examine all places where alcohol is sold and not simply base decisions on numbers. We would all be severely worried by a dangerous or disorderly incident involving 200 people in a village hall going on the rampage, especially if the event were unlicensed.
I would be interested in other amendments that the Government tabled to allay many fears of constituents. I am glad that the exemption on churches and village halls has been lifted but I wonder about educational establishments. I have received many letters that express concern about that.
I would welcome some clarification. The Bill provides for protecting children. For the first time, legislation will provide that under-18s may not drink alcohol in a pub. The Minister said on a previous occasion that an old measure meant that children as young as five or six could drink alcohol in a beer garden or at a specific distance from a bar. The Bill strengthens the restriction but is also flexible. It provides that 16 and 17-year-olds may drink alcohol of less than spirit strength with a meal if accompanied by an adult. I am a little worried about what constitutes a meal. Let us consider circumstances in which an 18-year-old young man is in a pub with five 16-year-old friends. He buys one round of sandwiches, shares them among his friends, does not buy more food but can continue purchasing drinks for the 16-year-olds.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way because I appreciate that she does not have much time. According to the Licensing Act 1964, the definition is
"a meal eaten by a person seated at a table, or at a counter or other structure which serves the purpose of a table and is not used for the service of refreshments for consumption by persons not seated at a table or structure serving the purpose of a table".
In 1965, case law provided that a substantial sandwich accompanied by pickles and beetroot was a table meal.
Let us hope that a substantial sandwich does not have to be shared between too many under-age drinkers.
The Forest of Dean is a rural area, which has many village halls. They can currently have 12 temporary notices, with the licensee being a committee member or the head of an organisation that holds an event. Although it is good news that village halls will be exempt from the fee, the five events a year for which the Bill provides are not enough for many halls. They use the income from events that might involve alcohol, such as weddings, birthday parties, the annual general meeting of the marrow growers association and Weight Watchers. Five events are not enough and village halls have asked for the number of events to be restored to 12 or even increased, if the Minister could be so generous to the halls, which are an important part of rural communities.
The third issue has been mentioned by Mr. Steen, among others. It was also raised by Alison Childs, the co-ordinator of the Forest of Dean farmers' market project. As a result of foot and mouth disease in the Forest of Dean, Countryside Agency money was made available to help us to establish farmers' markets, of which there are now three. In fact, they have just had their first birthday. When I went to visit the market in Lydney last Friday, the matter was raised with me again. It relates to the problem of alcohol licensing for stalls, which provide a new market for small providers, and can be viewed as a developmental and promotional stage for small producers and businesses hoping to supply to local retailers.
In my area, we have a small local brewery, a small cider maker and various wine producers. In the wake of foot and mouth, the farmers' markets have meant the difference between survival and bankruptcy for those producers. The problem that they have raised with me is that the Bill could make it very difficult and expensive for farmers' markets to arrange a licence if they were going to meet 50 times a year or more, or if a producer was going to go to more than one farmers' market or to local shows. This would be an expense and a bureaucratic problem, and it would make it difficult for us to build up a wide variety of stalls in our farmers' markets and to make them successful. I hope that it will be possible to examine this issue in Committee and to bring assistance to this much-needed activity in our areas.
I welcome the Bill, but it must implement a single integrated scheme to make licensing accountable for local residents. It is important that, for the first time, the Government are taking really tough measures to tackle alcohol-related disorders and crime. It is also important that we have recognised that alcohol abuse is a problem in society and that we should protect our children in that regard. I therefore welcome the Bill.
Deliberating on the liberalisation of the licensing laws while our troops are in combat in a foreign war could seem frivolous to some people looking in from the outside. I certainly paused for thought before considering trying to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. But however serious the events unfolding in the Gulf may be, the work of Parliament must clearly continue and this Bill has profound implications for the everyday lives of thousands of my constituents.
I would like to start by taking the opportunity to recognise the hard work of many peers in the other place to amend the Bill to remove many of its over-zealous regulatory—and occasionally plain silly—provisions. I recognise, however, the Government's willingness to show a degree of flexibility in accepting reasonable amendments, and I welcome many elements of the Bill.
The alarm that the Bill originally caused in the many villages and small communities in my constituency was very real and extremely vocal. For them, it represented a clear and direct threat to our local churches and village halls. The anger engendered by the original proposals to license and effectively restrict or curtail performances in parish churches—the like of which have taken place uninterrupted for centuries—gave voice to many people who would normally never think of writing to their MP or lobbying the Government. I wholeheartedly shared their sense of outrage that such an extraordinary intrusion into the lives of ordinary people should ever find its way into draft legislation. I am particularly grateful to the rectors of Peasmarsh in my constituency and St. Augustine's in Bexhill for drawing to my attention the calamitous effect on our churches and church halls that the earlier provisions in the Bill would have had.
In total, the Government have suffered nine defeats and been forced to make seven further significant concessions. This is a result not only of Conservative pressure but of pressure from many people and groups of all political persuasions throughout the country. As a result, among the many welcome changes, churches have now been exempted from licensing, and village halls will at least not have to pay fees. I also want to highlight another welcome change—the removal altogether of the requirement for a licence from smaller premises offering entertainment before 11.30 pm. This is a truly deregulatory measure that deserves support from both sides of the House.
As originally drafted, the Licensing Bill would have resulted in a huge extra burden of costs and bureaucracy. Much of this has been removed by the amendments made in the House of Lords. Like others in the Conservative party, I believe that if the Government are genuine in their claim that they wish to reduce the burden of regulation, they must accept these constructive changes and not seek to overturn them in this House. I was, therefore, encouraged by the Secretary of State's earlier comments that she was minded to accept many of the amendments, but clearly we shall want to see what that means in practice. The Government must listen to the thousands of musicians, churchgoers and others up and down the country who support the amendments that have been made. Throwing out just some of those amendments would make the Bill a poorer piece of legislation.
Despite promising a Bill to amend the licensing laws before the last general election, the Government did not include such a Bill in the 2001–02 parliamentary Session. Most 18-year-olds will remember receiving a text message on general election day in 2001 promising 24-hour drinking if they voted Labour. I suspect that they would have expected the Government to deliver that novel election pledge rather sooner.
During the last Session, the Government introduced a number of minor changes to the licensing laws by increasing police powers to deal with disturbances, making it an offence for anyone knowingly to serve alcohol to a minor or to buy alcohol on their behalf, allowing the extension of opening hours on Sundays and on new year's eve 2001, and allowing premises to charge entry for dance events on Sundays.
In April 2002, the Government published a consultation document, which proposed continuous opening hours on new year's eve through to new year's day. The Bill was finally published in November, and it followed all the proposals anticipated from the White Paper and related media reports. However, a closer look at its substance showed that it did not quite live up to the Government's claims. Indeed, it contained a number of significant defects.
First, I suspect that the proposed system would lead to higher costs and more regulation rather than the reverse. A founding principle of the Bill is the split licence—one personal and one for the premises—but that sound structure is threatened by the requirement to name the licensee on the premises licence. The effect of that will be to require a new licence application to be made every time that a manager changes, imposing unnecessary burdens on licensing authorities and business. A licensee simply registering with the authorities, as envisaged in the White Paper, would achieve the same result while significantly reducing the required paperwork by sweeping away four clauses and 14 subsections.
Secondly, I agree with the widespread concern, expressed most notably by the Magistrates Association as well as by other Members who have spoken, that the case has not been sufficiently made to transfer responsibility for issuing licences from magistrates courts to local authorities. Indeed, according to the association, the evidence on public entertainment licences, which were transferred to local authorities in 1983, appears to be to the contrary.
Although the Local Government Association broadly supports that transfer of responsibility, I have my doubts, and those are shared, to some extent, by the leaders of Rother and Wealden district councils, which, between them, are responsible for my constituency of Bexhill and Battle. Although deferring local powers to local people is indeed to be welcomed, my conversations with district councils have highlighted very real concerns.
Following recent central Government local authority funding cuts, the leader of Rother district council noted the strains that the Bill will place on the already overstretched resources of local authorities. The bureaucratic and training requirements involved in setting up new licensing systems will stretch their budgets. Likewise, the leader of Wealden district council has predicted funding difficulties for local authorities as there are no provisions for the costs of setting up the new system. Perhaps the Minister will elucidate on that in his winding-up speech.
Thirdly, on entering the Lords, the Bill was also deficient in terms of the powers to be conferred on local authorities to manage an extended night-time economy. I am concerned about whether there will be sufficient safeguards for local residents—my constituents have referred to that in correspondence—particularly in areas where there will be a high concentration of late-night drinking establishments. However, that could also lead to the unnecessary politicisation of every single licence application, which could lead to numerous unwelcome anomalies in how the new regime is implemented.
I greatly welcome the staggered licensing hours proposals, and I do not share some of the concerns of my hon. Friend Mr. Whittingdale. My support for staggered closing is a direct result of my experience of patrolling local town centres with Sussex police to observe emptying-out time and all the associated antisocial behaviour at first hand.
My hon. Friend makes a good case for staggered closing, but how would he ensure that it followed from the Bill? Surely publicans will continue to remain open until the market determines that they close.
No. The ideal system would be for local magistrates to ensure that the licences in a particular area were staggered: one pub would close at 11.15, the pub across the road would close at 11.45 and the other pub would close at 12.30 so that everyone did not rush out into the shopping centre or the pedestrian area at the same time.
They may do that, but when I was out with the police the single biggest problem that I saw was customers leaving two pubs at the same time, facing up to each other across a street and not just engaging in antisocial behaviour, but starting fights as a direct result.
The Bill may result in people going on to nightclubs rather than being chucked out of pubs at 11 pm or 12 midnight. They may then stop drinking alcohol, chill out, start to relax and stagger home contented at about 5 am rather than going home pumped up with alcohol and testosterone at about midnight.
I am concerned about an unrelated matter—the possible impact on farmers' markets. Numerous people go to Battle farmers' market to sell fantastic organic cider and similar vineyard products. I am worried that the imposition of additional licences will prevent that.
Licensing reform will always attract criticism, and that rightly applies to many parts of the Bill, but there is much common ground. I hope that, given the wide-ranging effects the Bill will have on our popular culture, the Government will continue to listen to voices throughout the country and not just accept the well-argued and responsible amendments from the other place but, in so doing, set a clear course to establish the greatest possible consensus in framing a relevant and dynamic licensing system for a new century.
A number of constituents have written to me about the Bill, fearing that it will reduce the availability of music for charitable events. However, it is clear to me from correspondence with Ministers that that is not the intention. I hope the Minister will assure us today that in Committee he will continue discussions with Members and relevant organisations. I was pleased to hear from the Secretary of State that she is keen to continue the debate with the Musicians Union, which is a key element. I certainly want our constituents to go on enjoying good music and charitable events throughout the year.
My constituents are eager to have more input in licensing issues, especially in areas that already contain many clubs and other drinking establishments. In the old town in central Swindon there is already a significant amount of antisocial behaviour associated with the clubs, which poses a real challenge to the local police.
Having said that, I want to concentrate on an issue that is not covered by the Bill and ought to be. A sport that is not currently licensed, and should be, is motocross. For some years the village of Wanborough has suffered from severe antisocial behaviour, which could be controlled if motocross events were licensable. There have been too many instances of thousands of people descending on a village that has no infrastructure to deal with that.
In 1998 we hosted the world championships. About 28,000 people converged on a single village, arriving on country roads that were not equipped to cope with such a large volume of traffic. There were jams, illegal parking and so on. The villagers also had to cope with drunkenness, fighting and noise. Residents returning after the event had started found that their back gardens were being used as car parks, their front gardens were being used for barbecues, and bus shelters were being used as urinals. They found windows smashed, verges cut up and fences broken. Throughout the village we saw the destruction of hedges to provide firewood. The borough council had to deal with tons of mud that had been dumped on to the public roads. That was not only a major headache; it made a substantial dent in the council's budget.
Proper regulation could have avoided a number of those problems. It could have been decided that the event was not suitable for the village, or that it could go ahead only with the appropriate infrastructure. I know that the Government do not want to regulate further, and I am in favour of deregulation when it is appropriate, but good regulation is not anti-business.
Order. I am anxious not to cut the hon. Lady off, but she prefaced her remarks by saying that she wanted to deal with matters that were not in the Bill. We are discussing the Second Reading of the Bill before us, and I think the hon. Lady has made her point and should draw these remarks to a close.
I appreciate your advice, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Bill covers similar activities, and with a slight amendment it could include motocross, just as boxing is included, logically solving the problems experienced by my constituents. This is the obvious Bill for that purpose, so if I may I will finish these comments, as you suggest.
The lack of regulation caused a more responsible business to leave the site because of the many complaints, and because the complaints had a questionable legal basis, no certainty could be given about future events. That business suffered a financial penalty, yet the lack of regulation leaves the community in the hands of irresponsible businesses, which take advantage of the situation to ride roughshod over the wishes and rights of villagers.
There seem to be inconsistencies in the Bill. In schedule 1 entertainment is defined as, among other things, "an indoor sporting event" and "boxing or wrestling entertainment", whether inside or outside. Why is boxing singled out? A simple amendment adding motocross would enable south Swindon to avoid the huge problems that it has experienced. A more logical, wider amendment would include in the definition outside public leisure events attended by more than 500 people, perhaps with the additional specification concerning whether people have to pay to see those events. That would comfort people experiencing problems similar to those in my constituency.
I accept that such an amendment would introduce extra regulation, but regulation can be good for business, for communities and for entertainment.
No, I am afraid I do not have much time.
I can balance the additional regulation requested by my constituents by offering two possibilities for deregulation. First, the Bill may mean that someone who applies for a licence or for a change in their licence conditions has to place two adverts in local newspapers. At around £400 per application, that would be a heavy burden for small businesses, and it may not be the most effective way of letting local people know of the application. Notices outside the premises, which cost very little, could be more effective, and I hope that the Government will consider that.
My second suggestion relates to delegation of licensing functions to local authority officers. Clause 11 suggests that decisions cannot be delegated to officers in many circumstances, in particular where representations have been made. Elsewhere in the Bill the term "relevant representations" is used, and that would seem to make more sense. Without the word "relevant", the clause does not allow decisions to be delegated, even if all the representations concerning a particular licence or licence change are totally in support of the application, and that seems unnecessarily bureaucratic. Given that the Government want to ensure that the time of councillors and officers is well spent, I hope that the matter can be considered.
Finally, schedule 1, paragraph 2 says that references to an audience include a reference to spectators. There is a potential problem in that a spectator could be someone who is just wandering past, rather than someone attending a specific event. Clarification of those definitions would be useful.
I hope that the Bill will help local people to have a bigger say in the events in their neighbourhood. I urge the Government to consider taking the opportunity to help villagers in my constituency and others in a similar position who have suffered from antisocial behaviour associated with the lack of regulation of major outdoor sporting events such as motocross. They suffer serious and unnecessary disruption, and it should be stopped.
My constituency contains the largest number of licensed premises in the UK. Despite all the Government's rhetoric of empowerment, the Bill is fundamentally centralising. I have a great fear that we are sleepwalking into acceptance of the measures, which will have damaging effects wherever there is a large late-night entertainment and alcohol industry.
Given the way that things turn out, I suspect that I may yet end up serving on the Standing Committee, at which point I will have a chance to conduct a little more scrutiny. I appreciate that time is tight and that many other Members want to speak. I hope that we will be voting against the programme motion, although we will not vote against the Bill's Second Reading, partly because we hope that the amendments made in the other place will remain in the Bill. Many of those amendments were sensible and reflected the active interest of a number of residents' associations in central London.
My constituency contains most of the west end of London, including Soho and a chunk of Covent Garden. I will not claim all of the latter for myself, as I see that Mr. Dobson is in his place. He has worked very hard for many years with the Covent Garden residents' association, which I, too, now represent in part. Some deep and meaningful concerns exist in central London. For example, there are 850 licensed premises in Soho and Leicester Square are alone, and we need in part to rein back some of the powers that this very centralising Bill could put in place.
I want to stress to Members who have spent time in Soho—I hope that they were doing the right things, rather than the wrong things—and who perhaps take the view that it is a totally commercial area that nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, Soho has some 5,000 residents. It is often pointed out that people who buy in Soho—indeed, Barbara Follett and her husband had a house in a Soho street—know what they are letting themselves in for, and to an extent that is true. As a local councillor, I represented constituents who had homes near a football ground or a pub, but the reality is that in places such as Soho—the same applies in Covent Garden—some 70 per cent. of residents are either social tenants or council tenants. They have no say about where they live, so it is incumbent on all individuals, whether in Parliament or in the local authorities, to do their bit to ensure that the interests of some of the most vulnerable in our society are looked after.
Life in the central London metropolis has a traditional village feel to it and there is no doubt that community values still exist; indeed, Covent Garden and Soho have some 300 to 350 years of history. We should aspire to building up civic society within our cities—this point applies not just to London—and that requires a healthy and growing residential population. We also need to focus on fundamental civilities, rather than on the utter selfishness demonstrated by so many of those who are on our streets in the early hours of the morning. I want us to look back in 50 years' time on thriving places such as Soho, Covent Garden or even the City of London, and reflect on the fact that they are not totally commercial areas, but remain vibrant places in which to live. Many of my constituents have lived in these parts of London for generations, and they understandably feel threatened at the idea of an industry that goes on not only all day, but all night. Indeed, for the first time in 200 years, the residential population of the City of London—the other part of my constituency—has begun to rise again. At the time of the first census, in 1801, the residential population was about 170,000, and it diminished with every subsequent census, until the most recent one. It is important to encourage such thriving inner-city populations.
There has been a rising tide of antisocial behaviour, particularly in the early hours of Saturday and Sunday mornings, throughout much of central London. As several Members have pointed out, the key issue is saturation and the effect of ambient noise in a particular district, which can be cumulative. Members will perhaps be surprised to learn that Westminster city council provides some 583 late-night licences, 144 of which apply beyond 3 am; of those, 86 apply beyond 4 am. So the idea of binge drinking resulting from a single closing time, and of the so-called benefits of staggered times, do not really hold sway in central London.
It is clear from my discussions with the local police that a great increase in the number of licensed premises, or an extension to opening hours, would lead to a commensurate rise in disorder. The notion that abolishing fixed closing times will somehow transform the drinking culture in this country and end alcohol-fuelled violence is in my view optimistic, to put it mildly. However, we should note the inadequacy of public transport and of policing, especially in London. For example, all the tube trains wind up at barely midnight every night. The bus service has improved beyond recognition in recent years, but it does not provide adequate transport from the centre for the many people who need it in the early hours of Saturday and Sunday. It must in part be the responsibility of the huge entertainment industry, because without improvements in that infrastructure there should be no extension to licensing hours.
Several hon. Members have mentioned the confusion in the Government's thinking and objectives. How will allowing all-night drinking achieve many of their other, laudable objectives, such as a reduction in alcohol abuse or in general disorder? We will have to discuss that in great detail in Committee to ensure that we get the legislation right, although I was a little depressed to hear the Secretary of State say that some seven of the nine amendments made by the Lords would be overturned here. I hope that serious consideration will be given to the great work done in the other place, and the contributions made by many local residents associations to the amendments made.
The removal of licensing powers from residents will make the system far less flexible and will undermine the deregulation goal. Discretion is the key and I hope that local authorities will retain their eligibility in their own right to object to applications, and will not have to do so only through their environmental health departments. Otherwise, the risk is that the proposed changes will benefit only large operators in the alcohol and entertainment industries, at the expense of some of the smaller, family-owned restaurants, bars and clubs, many of which still exist, even in my constituency. Many of those establishments have a long-term, traditional stake in their community, and I fear that if they are all taken over by larger operators we will see a pandering to the lowest common denominator.
I welcome the Bill, which will update our archaic licensing laws and address some of the serious antisocial behaviour problems that we all experience in our constituencies. During the passage of the Bill in the other place, I was disappointed that such progressive legislation was dogged by silly stories, such as claims that the spontaneous singing of "Happy Birthday" would be banned, as would church singing. We have seen that continued tonight by the Conservative party, a once great party now desperate for votes from folk singers, morris dancers and wassailers. Such stories have raised serious concern among constituents. Like other hon. Members, I have received many letters prompted by the scare stories. I urge the Minister, when he replies, to try to nail some of the misleading claims and downright lies that have been put around about the Bill's effects.
In framing legislation to cover such a wide variety of activities, the Government faced problems. However, the key consideration was public safety. The Bill is not the result of the bureaucratic whims of civil servants but an attempt to ensure public safety. As a former chair of the public health committee in Newcastle, responsible for public entertainment licences and involved in the city's millennium celebrations, I know the hard work that is done to ensure safety at public events. The tragedies in the United States recently, in which fire ripped through two night clubs, showed the results when we do not get the safeguards right. In framing legislation, our job is to ensure that the public can enjoy themselves, and to ensure that those responsible for organising events have the powers to do so safely. If we get it wrong, the same voices that have accused the Government of excessive bureaucracy will ask why tragedies have been allowed to happen.
I welcome the transfer of licensing authority to local councils. That will bring an element of democratic accountability to the system, and the transparency that has been sadly lacking. With no disrespect to hard-working local magistrates, I can say that it will give people an understanding at local level of how and why licences are granted. From my experience, the present system excludes local people. If they object to a licence, their ability to influence magistrates is limited. Many people are intimidated by the magistrates courts and, as I have seen at first hand, by the threat of the applicant's lawyers to recover the legal costs from local residents. A licensing procedure that is simpler and more responsive to local people and which allows them more easily to make representations to local licensing authorities will be widely welcomed.
I know that there are those who argue strongly against the transfer of responsibility to local authorities. The main argument, as I understand it, is that local councillors will come under undue influence from local people. I do not accept that. Local councils already deal with a range of licensing functions and quasi-judicial matters from public entertainment licences and taxi licences through to the granting of planning permission. Again, in my experience, councillors carry out those functions in a professional way, in accordance with the guidance issued by Ministers. Framing the guidance for the new system will be extremely important. Will my hon. Friend the Minister consider ensuring that there is a mandatory duty on local councillors to undergo formal training for their new responsibility?
With reference to the draft guidance that has been issued, the sufficiency argument has been mentioned—the idea that we should cap the number of licences granted in a certain area. I do not agree that that is a simple way of restricting licensing in an area. The overall policy must take into account types of licence and the amount of enforcement that the local authority will carry out. Simply capping the number of licences in a particular area will not work. A few years ago in Newcastle licensing magistrates and the police imposed a ban on all new on licences in the city centre on the ground of sufficiency. All that that did was artificially to increase the value of premises in the city centre. It did not encourage diversity, but led to vertical drinking establishments, as I called them in a debate earlier this year, whose sole aim was to dispense as much alcohol as possible. It did nothing to encourage café bars, restaurants and other establishments.
As part of the guidance, local councils should be encouraged to include an element of diversity in their licensing policy. It is important that local licensing authorities deal with individual applications on their merit. They should consider not just the number of similar licences in a particular area, but the detailed proposals in each case.
I know that other hon. Members want to get into the debate, so I shall conclude with two other matters that should be covered by guidance. Local councils should be given powers to regulate "happy hours" when alcohol is sold at give-away prices, leading to serious antisocial behaviour problems. Finally, for premises holding a certain number of people, a requirement for registered door supervisors should be a condition of the licence. The door supervisor system piloted in Newcastle works well. It is administered by the local council and is welcomed by the publican trade. It would provide a degree of safety, which we all want.
I want to make a few remarks on the subject of the public entertainments licence. I have no idea how I got into that issue, but into it over recent years I certainly got. I tabled a few questions to which the Minister was incautious enough to reply with a sentiment that was not entirely complimentary to Somerset folk singers, managing to incur the wrath of the entire folk singing community, not only in the west country but across England. Indeed, I believe that he was the first person to prompt a fatwa from The Wurzels. Things escalated to the point where I found myself on television singing along with Billy Bragg while other hon. Members had gags over their mouths. I thought that that would give me some kudos in the eyes of my teenage children, but that proved to be a sadly unfulfilled hope. They were more embarrassed and mortified than they had ever been.
I was incensed by the previous two-in-a-bar rule because it was stupid law. It was ridiculous law that was crying out for amendment, so I hugely welcomed the Government's commitment to introduce a reforming Bill. I hoped that there would be some genuine deregulation. When I first read the Bill—before it was amended in another place—I was sadly disappointed. Despite the Minister's intentions—I still believe that his intentions in this respect are good—the Bill was drafted and constructed by civil servants in his Department in such a way that it introduced a regime of regulation of entertainment and music making that caught a much wider spread of people and premises.
I am saddened by that for several reasons. First, I like people to have the opportunity to play and to listen to live music in as many venues as possible. Secondly, such entertainment can make a major contribution to our tourist industry, especially in rural areas, where we do not do nearly enough to promote the traditional inn that provides not only good food and drink but entertainment that fits the cultural identity of the west country and elsewhere. Thirdly, it is important that young musicians have the opportunity to rehearse and to play in front of an audience at a formative stage in their careers. If we cut that off, we cut off a large part of the future professional and amateur music scene.
I share the view expressed by Miss Kirkbride. I am not convinced that we need a public entertainments licence as such. Three areas desperately need regulation. One is health and safety at a venue. As Mr. Jones said, it would be on all our consciences if we failed to make appropriate health and safety legislation. Secondly and perfectly properly, we need to prevent nuisance to neighbours and people who are affected by performances. The third is to protect children from entertainment forms that are inappropriate for them.
None of those needs an entertainment licence that restricts not health and safety aspects, not the access of children and not nuisance to neighbours, but the act of performing. That is the fundamental flaw in the Government's approach. Given that they are to stick to that course—there is a long enough precedent for it in England and Wales, but not of course in Scotland, where people do not feel the need for such legislation—it is incumbent on them to make it as easy as possible for licences to be issued, to encourage the spread of musical and cultural activity in as wide an array of venues as possible and to enable people to take up such opportunities. Again, I have some difficulty with the Government's approach. However often Ministers may assert that such and such is not their intention, the Bill does not say it. I beg the Minister to go just a little further.
The Lords have already pointed the way in some of their amendments. We have already dealt with churches, village halls and community halls and I hope that we shall deal with educational establishments. The Government are supposed to be reconsidering the fee structure. All acoustic performances should be exempt from the provisions, as they are not capable of causing the nuisance that the Bill attempts to remedy. Whether we limit numbers or types of performance is a matter of opinion, but there should be a threshold below which the full licensing provisions do not apply.
We need to examine the transitional arrangements, as well as the licence variations, which are a significant barrier. If a licensee does not initially apply for an entertainment licence but wants one at a later stage, it could prove too costly for them to countenance and we could thus eventually see a contraction in the number of live venues.
I genuinely believe that the Government are listening to some of the points that have been made. Some of us have been accused of scaremongering, but any scares that I have mongered were manufactured in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. The more that the Minister can allay fear by changing the precise terms of the Bill and by what he includes in the regulations and guidance, the more he will receive my support. The measure would then be genuinely deregulatory. I commend the Minister on listening, but I am worried that there will be backsliding from the position established in another place.
My closing points will confirm the Department's caricatured view of me as a yokel in a smock. I shall not deal at length with wassailing and the intervention of Mr. Steen on the subject, except to point out that a Somerset wassail is different from a Totnes wassail. In Somerset, we perform the act of wassailing on old twelfth night; it involves shooting guns into ancient apple trees—which probably have tree preservation orders—in order to scare away the punkies. An inordinate amount of cider drinking takes place while an ashen faggot burns and the wassail song is sung. The number of licences that we should need to perform all those activities is mind-boggling. They are best done in the privacy of Somerset villages and should not be brought to the attention of the wider community.
I am worried about the issue of cider at farmers' markets. The licensing proposals will not encourage the people who run the markets to apply for licences. Alcoholic beverages—cider or the wine that is produced in my constituency—are only a small part of what is sold at farmers markets. Often the management of those markets changes regularly, so there will be no incentive to obtain a licence. That will be a serious impediment to local cider and wine makers. Will the Minister consider that point in Committee?
Incidentally, will the Minister also look into the position for roadside sales of farmhouse cider where they fall below the Excise threshold? As he knows, such sales are traditional in my part of the country. They are part of the tourism industry, as well as a jolly good idea for everyone who lives in our part of the world. What impact will the measure have on them?
Despite my reservations, I am still confident that the measure will do what it says on the tin: it will be deregulatory. To achieve that, however, the Minister will have to listen to people involved in the music industry, in music promotion and the licensed trade. They know about the problems and have recognised the pitfalls in the Bill as it is presently worded and the dangers in the guidance—or lack of it—that might be issued to local authorities for the exercise of their duties under the measure. At all costs, we do not want a Bill that purports to deregulate but actually reduces the number of venues for live music in this country. Live music matters.
I am pleased to support the Bill on its Second Reading; it has been long overdue and long in its gestation. My own research suggests that the licensing laws go back to the 15th century and evolved through the Sunday observance laws. Nick Harvey mentioned the first world war, and it is true that the licensing regimes were changed as a result of what we would now call exuberant and antisocial behaviour by Carlisle munitions workers.
The Bill deals with matters that are not only archaic, but complex. I brought up two children who came to the pub with me, and I must confess that I never understood—I do not think that anybody really understands—the arcane and complex laws affecting children in pubs, which need to be reformed.
A good deal of discussion has gone on in the industry, and the White Paper, "Time for Reform", brought consensus to the industry. It is sad that we did not have an opportunity for pre-legislative scrutiny, because one of the issues that emerged tonight and in the other place is that of live music and entertainment, on which there has been no real prior discussion. I agree with the Minister that there are a lot of myths around. In the course of the debate, we talked about Scottish dancing, wassailing, morris dancers and, perhaps most importantly, a private function held for the Children's Society in a private house where people are to be charged and there is the possibility of licensing. My hon. Friend Claire Ward asked whether licences are needed for village halls. If we are not clear about what will and will not be caught, it is bad legislation.
The major part of my contribution concerns alcohol regulation. The White Paper made it clear that what was sought was a liberal, deregulatory, simple and flexible licensing regime. The White Paper fell within those parameters, but the Bill does not entirely do so. A good deal of the discussion has focused on urban centres. Mr. Field and my right hon. Friend Mr. Dobson rightly drew attention to the genuine problems that exist in major urban centres, but most of our pubs are community pubs—local pubs—and the focus on problems in urban areas has led us to neglect what might happen to them. I do not think that the Bill will have the effect that other people argue for. I suspect that in locals and community pubs there will be, just at weekends, a slight extension—perhaps until midnight—of the licensing laws. We should welcome and celebrate that and recognise that in a changing environment people's social lives and attitudes change.
The Bill is backed by what is called a "rough early draft" of the guidelines. The White Paper was about simplicity, but the rough early draft runs to 100-plus pages. Those of us who argued for liberal, simpler legislation will be concerned about the sheer volume of the rough early draft.
What will be the status of the guidelines? Earlier this afternoon, the Secretary of State called them statutory guidelines. I welcome the idea that local authorities should be allowed flexibility. Local needs should be decided by local people. However, we have to be certain about the nature of the guidelines. Are they prescriptive? Are they a set of policies for Government? Or are they simply indicative and informal—allowing local authorities to make the appropriate judgment? Getting the balance of the guidelines right will be extremely important. That will be an issue for discussion in Committee.
Fees should also be considered. Indicative figures for fees have been given and they are not as immense as many had said they would be. I do not share the concerns that pubs in the west of England will close because of the new onerous regime under which they will be placed. The procedure and the operating schedule that will have to be drawn up will be a straightforward way of making progress. We have to be more precise about costs and about whether the fees from these activities will meet the costs and needs of local authorities. We are asking our local authorities to take on new functions. They ought to be properly resourced to do that; and they ought to be resourced by the applicant rather than by the council tax payer. It will be important to get that right and to get the timetable right. I hope that this new legislation will be in place by autumn 2004.
I want to make two specific points. Earlier, I asked the Secretary of State directly about the national register of personal licences. It must be right to collect data nationally—the industry and the other place support that view. We will have to work on the detail, but the principle is right. I was delighted with what the Secretary of State said today. During our discussions, we will have to return to the issue of designated premises supervisors. What is currently envisaged by the Bill is not simple. It is not deregulatory and it is certainly not liberal. I ask the Minister to keep his mind open on that point.
I have long taken an interest in licensing regulation and legislation. I am delighted that time is finally being called on old, anarchistic, anarchic and complex legislation. [Hon. Members: "Anarchistic?"] It can be anarchistic. Those of us who have been there will know—as my hon. Friend Dr. Gibson knows—how we would storm out into the night, as soon as the pub closed, to bring forward social and revolutionary change. We have all been there, but we are all modernisers now. [Hon. Members: "Speak for yourself!"] There are some old lags left in this place. However, we do need to modernise our licensing legislation and we are on course to do so. We have made a good start. Concessions have been made. The Government have been listening—but I suspect that, during our consideration of this Bill, further changes will be necessary.
There are many good things in this Bill—they are too numerous to mention—but I want to speak about the Bill as it relates to the licensing of entertainment and, in particular, live music. I am a strong supporter of live music—not only in large concert halls but in small venues. As other hon. Members have noted, such venues help young musicians to develop. They have to perform live in front of a real audience to get any better.
Live music is also essential to allow minority interests not only to survive but to thrive and one day, we hope, become less of a minority interest. Music that is broadcast is increasingly limited to mainstream music. The very nature of the broadcasting industry means that it squeezes out minority interests or, at best, pushes them further to the fringes. When I go into record shops, I increasingly find only mainstream top-40 music. Unless one goes to a specialist store in a large city, it is hard to find anything of a minority interest. I worry, therefore, that the public will be denied access to music beyond that mass, mainstream taste, unless we do everything we can to allow and encourage live music outlets to thrive and to recognise that the outlets for minority tastes will be small by their very nature.
My passion is jazz. It is hard to find jazz on radio and television. A lot of people like jazz when they hear it; but, all too often, they do not hear it at all, or they think it is just Kenny Ball and Acker Bilk and they might like or dislike them. When I take people to places where jazz is played, they really do like it. Small, live venues are a serious issue if we are to avoid that monoculture of mass entertainment, and I have looked at the Bill to find out what it will mean for those small premises that lay on live music.
I want nothing to make life more difficult for jazz or other so-called minority tastes, so I should like the Minister to consider some concerns. I am very pleased with the idea behind the Lords amendment that grants exemption to live music at small events and premises up to 11.30 pm, as it is an attempt to deal with the issue. If I understand why my hon. Friend cannot support that measure, I hope that he will find an alternative way forward that satisfies the concerns of those small premises. I hope not only that he will meet the Musicians Union, but that he will be willing to receive a delegation from the all-party jazz appreciation group in the House to work through some of those issues.
I accept that, in theory, the process to obtain a new entertainment licence will be simpler, but it will mean that, as we have heard, more than 100,000 premises that currently operate, mostly without problem, will become caught in the net of local authority regulation, and that worries some of the people who run them. They are worried about being caught in the local authority net because they have seen what that means in other spheres. They are worried that that will lead to more red tape, not less.
People are worried not about ticking the box on the application form, but about what could happen afterwards. They look at some local authority licensing panels and see very elderly people with views that are probably conducive to allowing not more entertainment, but less. As a local authority leader, I tried to promote tourism in my area, but the licensing panel, which did not want to allow very much to happen at all, regularly thwarted me. Okay, applicants can appeal, but the cost of the appeals process is rather daunting for small operators.
The White Paper said that local authorities must recoup all the administrative costs through fees, yet I am told that the Department for Culture Media and Sport regulatory impact assessment mentions fees of about £150 to £500, followed by £50 to £150 a year. Local authorities tell me that those fees would be insufficient and that they will have insufficient income to do their jobs properly; or those with small venues worry that the fees will have to be higher or that local authorities will find a way to increase them. So the fees could be more of a burden than they appear at the moment, but those with small premises are worried about bureaucratic local authority processes.
The proposal on fire safety in the draft regulatory reform order is also an issue. At the moment, some people have their premises inspected by the local authority, and they believe that they will now need to have their own fire risk assessment carried out, with the cost of employing independent consultants. Although the licence might be cheaper, the cost of obtaining it may be a problem, given those independent consultants' fees.
The transitional arrangements are another concern. Again, the Bill proposes that local authorities will have to deal with applications to vary the premises licence within two months during the transitional period. It is anticipated that, in many areas, a flood of people might want to vary their licences or apply for new ones. Will local authorities be able to deal with all those people within two months? People will be deemed to be rejected unless they are approved, and the concern is that people could wait six or nine months, or more, to get an approval, so I hope that my hon. Friend will consider that.
Finally, one more reason why we need to consider what we can do to ensure that the situation is better rather than worse for small premises is that, as we know, the Bill exempts wide-screen television music and juke box music, which can attract hundreds of people making a lot of noise. Those premises that put on one jazz pianist at the back of the bar feel that there is something not quite right if 100 people can watch football, listen to MTV, dance on the bar, jump around and make a lot of noise; they feel that live music is being discriminated against. It is not intended to be that way, but we do need to examine the issue again. "Keep Music Live" was a slogan a few years ago. I believed in that, and I still do. We must make sure that we encourage live music at its roots, promote minority interests and increase cultural diversity. If the Bill can do that, it will be a very good one.
It is very appropriate that we have a Welsh Minister summing up today's debate, which has ranged widely from wassailing to motocross to a good night out in Skegness and Bexhill and Battle and a bad night out in Hornsey. It was a Welsh Minister, of course—Lloyd George—who, in the first world war, got us into this mess by introducing the liquor licensing legislation. He famously said:
"We are fighting three enemies: the Huns, the Austrians and the drink, and the greatest of these is the drink."
That has distorted British and particularly English and Welsh attitudes to alcohol for the best part of the following century.
We have heard about the rush late at night to get taxis home. We have not, however, heard much about the pressure to drink quickly in the last half hour before closing time. Australia had something very similar many years ago—the 6 o'clock swill. The changes that the Government are making are good for health.
Gregory Barker mentioned the text message that the Government put out at the last election:
"If you don't give a four X for the licensing laws vote Labour on Thursday."
That was a big mistake. It gave the impression that changes in the licensing laws were mainly for the benefit of the young and not for the whole community. The changes in relation to councils help residents to make representations and complaints. The idea that liquor licensing could be kept by magistrates in a deregulating Bill, however, does not stand up to scrutiny. Under the old system there was a dual lock. To get a public entertainment licence to stay open late one had to go to the council for an extension, and for liquor licensing one had to go to the magistrates. It was always a fallacy that councils could be completely wiped out of the process in favour of magistrates.
I want to support some of the comments of my hon. Friend Paddy Tipping. We can go further with deregulation. The idea of having a database for personal licences—not a national register—is crucial. The Local Government Association, the industry and the police have signed up to that. A couple of weeks ago, under the auspices of the all-party beer group, I chaired a rather good dinner at which all those organisations agreed about that. Moreover, when one changes a designated premises supervisor, it is not necessary to make that a change in the premises licence. That is over-bureaucratic. The police want the power to object to a change in licensee if they have information that is not known to the licensing committee, but they do not necessarily want that bureaucratic procedure. Changes can therefore be made.
Given the time constraint, I shall leave the House with one quote that sums up this debate about liquor licensing. It is from Thomas Burke, who wrote a book called "English Night Life: from Norman Curfew to Present Black Out". Some of the language is a little arcane because it comes from the 1940s. Nevertheless, it is worth bringing it to the House's attention briefly:
"Nightlife, nightbird, nightclub. There is something about the word 'night' as about the word 'Paris' that sends through some Englishmen a shiver of misgiving, and through another type a current of undue delight. The latter never get over the excitement of sitting up late, the others see any happening after midnight, even a game of Snakes and Ladders, as something verging on the unholy, as though Satan were never abroad in sunlight. A club they can tolerate, call it a nightclub and they see it as the ante room to Hell. This attitude to entertainment after dark is held by most officials. Whenever they hear of some new development of nightlife they get a prickling of the thumbs and give the impression that they would be happier if the Universe had so contrived its system as to give the whole globe perpetual day."
It is time to call last orders on the liquor licensing laws.
The Bill before us is a much improved piece of legislation, owing to the considerable efforts of their lordships in the other place. The Opposition have now defeated the Government on nine separate occasions on issues such as music and entertainment, community input, children's welfare, and the proper consideration of religious and charitable establishment among others, and there is still some way to go before we can consider the Bill complete. As my hon. Friend Mr. Whittingdale set out in his excellent speech, our decision not to oppose the Bill on Second Reading is not to be regarded as a blank cheque or as a signal of our acquiescence in all its remaining stages. We will oppose moves to reject the Lords amendments, and we hope to make further improvements to the Bill in Committee.
Our archaic licensing laws have long been in need of review. The cultural attitudes that have developed as a result of our laws have been detrimental to many aspects of society, and the consequences are evident far too frequently. As the hon. Members for Watford (Claire Ward) and for Leeds, North-West (Mr. Best) pointed out in their speeches, we are all too aware of the strains on our services and communities produced by the so-called binge-drinking culture. In readdressing the licensing laws, we are seeking to re-educate our society and encourage a new way of thinking about the consequences of social drinking.
A common theme running through the debate was concern over public order issues associated with binge drinking and a universal closing time. Conclusions on the Bill's efficacy in addressing and resolving those problems were varied. The problems of nuisance and antisocial behaviour associated with city centres and locations with late-night clubs were powerfully expressed by the hon. Members for Hornchurch (John Cryer) and for Leeds, North-West, as well as by my hon. Friend Mr. Field. In their opinion, the Bill does not go far enough or give sufficient powers or resources to the relevant authorities to balance the interests of local communities and residents against those of people who wish to make use of licensed premises.
A number of hon. Members alluded to the differences between the Bill and the White Paper published in 2000, which categorically stated that the licensing laws and the process of obtaining a licence should be more straightforward. While we agree that combining licences is potentially a means to reduce bureaucracy and red tape, the Government's proposed method of implementation could have the opposite effect. In fact, there could be higher costs and more regulation as a result of needless administration—points that were well made by Nick Harvey and my hon. Friend Mr. Simmonds. One such example is the notion of a designated premises supervisor, which was not included in the original White Paper and has caused a great deal of debate and concern within the industry and, throughout the Bill's various stages, in the other place. The proposal to name the designated premises supervisor on a licence is quite unnecessary in practice—the relevant authorities could simply be notified when a change has occurred, eradicating the need for an entirely new application, thereby minimising bureaucracy and unnecessary costs to the licensee and the taxpayer.
Another issue of concern to the Opposition is resources. The Government could be placing a huge burden on the shoulders of local authorities and other local services with the changes that they propose under the Bill. Additionally, we are not satisfied that the Government have thought through the impact of implementing the Bill. The proposed 12-month transition period would place additional pressure on authorities trying to adapt to the massive changes imposed on them. We believe that such a short period is wholly unrealistic, so we intend to encourage the Government to reassess the merits of that proposal.
We also feel that the Government need to consider whether the local licensing authorities will be responsible for the late-night extended economy that will stem from a change to the current laws. If not, where does the responsibility for those costs lie? That point was made by the hon. Members for Watford and for Reading, East (Jane Griffiths) and by my hon. Friends the Members for Boston and Skegness and for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker).
A number of hon. Members spoke in support of the existing role of magistrates, whose hard work and dedication is being undermined by the Government's continuing efforts to curtail their powers. The issuing of licences has been a central part of their role for many years and the expertise that they have developed in that time ensures that a fair hearing is given to all potential applicants and that a balanced and considered ruling results.
Placing that power in the hands of local authorities will take us into completely uncharted territory, and we cannot know how effective or successful that move will be, although the Opposition have every confidence that local authorities will commit themselves wholeheartedly to the requirements of their role. Other hon. Members spoke in support of the proposed shift to local authorities. In particular, John Thurso pointed out that such an arrangement had always been in place in Scotland and said that, in his opinion, it had worked perfectly well.
The wide-ranging implications of the Bill affect a vast range of businesses and groups that are concerned about the consequences for their vested interests. Among the most publicised reservations are those voiced by the Musicians' Union. Those issues were raised my hon. Friends the Members for Maldon and East Chelmsford and for Bromsgrove (Miss Kirkbride), who are rightly concerned about the possible effects of the Bill on the performance of live music and the abolition of the two-in-a-bar rule. We are delighted that the small premise licence amendment ensuring that a licence is not needed for events that fewer 250 people attend and in which performances finish by 11.30 pm was voted through in the other place. That amendment may not fulfil all the needs of the live music industry, but it at least seeks to recognise the importance of the music and entertainment industry—a notion that we will endorse and support throughout these proceedings.
There is serious concern that opportunities for live music and musicians will be severely curtailed. The issue is not the ease of applying for an entertainments licence, but the substantial costs that would need to be incurred to satisfy the licensing authority's requirements on issues such as health and safety. Those in the licensing trade have serious fears because of their previous experience with local authorities and applications for public entertainments licences.
In conclusion, as I said, we will not oppose the Bill on Second Reading, since it would be churlish not to recognise that significant improvements have been made in the other place. However, if the Government proceed in Committee to reverse many of those improvements, as they have signalled in this debate that they will do, we will oppose it all the way. 9.43 pm
May I welcome very much the statement of Mr. Moss that his party will not oppose the Bill tonight?
This has been a valuable debate in which I counted 21 contributions, many of which were of very high quality. For example, it was instructive to have the benefit of the long experience in the matters under discussion of hon. Members such as my hon. Friends the Members for North Durham (Mr. Jones) and for Selby (Mr. Grogan).
I believe that the Bill will bring real change. It represents the first fundamental reform of licensing law for 40 years and it will introduce modern laws to reflect the many changes that have occurred in society. Above all, the Bill represents balance. As well as cutting unnecessary regulation and improving flexibility and choice, it offers strong protections for consumers, local people and children.
It would be great if I could spend a good deal of the short time left discussing various speakers' contributions, and I apologise if I fail to deal in full with all the points raised. I want to speak briefly about the problem that has generated most interest. Various hon. Members have used different terms to describe it, but it is cumulative effect.
Having harassed my hon. Friend and his predecessor for the past three years, I feel that his day would be incomplete if I did not make an additional point. Will he consider further amending the Bill to ensure that undertakings that existing licence holders have given in the past to protect residents' interests continue to apply? I understand that they will disappear under the Bill. If that happens, a great deal of existing protection for residents will be swept away. I am sure that that was never the Government's intention.
We can examine that in the guidance but undertakings are different from conditions and they do not have legal force unless they become conditions in existing licences. However, licensing authorities may consider them when licences are being renewed. If the undertakings have been broken, that could lead to refusal to renew licences. I hope that the industry will consider that carefully.
I understand the need for local authorities to take into account the possible effect of the concentration of licensed premises in a specific area on crime, disorder and public nuisance. Mr. Whittingdale, my hon. Friend Claire Ward and Nick Harvey and many others raised that issue. The Government share their objective of making our town centres and high streets safe and enjoyable places while clamping down on the disorder and antisocial behaviour that can become a blight for ordinary residents.
As the debate has made clear, some provisions, notably the abolition of permitted hours, should lead to a reduction in the disorder that current law perversely drives. To that end, we have reconsidered our policy on cumulative effect. We have tackled the matter through proposed legislative changes and the statutory guidance that will be issued under the Bill. We have made it clear in the draft guidance that licensing authorities can take saturation or cumulative effect into account. For example, they can make clear in their statements of licensing policy, which will be subject to consultation, that a specific area could cope with normal premises of a particular type and that there would be a general presumption against granting any more licences for such premises. Of course, each case must be decided on its merits.
Many hon. Members made important points. For example, my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham said that the problem is often not the existence of too many licensed premises but that of one sort of licensed premises. When I went on the night shift with police in Manchester, they described such premises as vertical drinking establishments. There is a genuine problem with them. Young people between 18 and 30 often constitute the easiest targets—30 appears very young to someone of my age. When they drink throughout the evening, they present an intimidating prospect to anybody who might visit the area to go to a restaurant or hear some music. The police told me in no uncertain terms that a concentration of vertical drinking establishments rather than a mix of places causes problems. We must bear that in mind.
We have added the local planning authority to the list of responsible authorities that can make representations about an application for a premises licence or club premises certificate. This will give an additional voice on the kind of issues that arise as a result of saturation. We should not lose sight of the fact that one result of the amendment is that, in the vast majority of cases, at least two wings of the local authority will be empowered to make representations to the licensing committee: the environmental health authority, which is already a responsible authority under the Bill, and the local planning authority. Both those bodies will usually be drawn from the same local authority as the licensing authority.
If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I will not give way. There have been so many contributions already.
The Bill also contains a number of measures designed to protect local residents. Residents will have a stronger voice than ever before in licensing decisions, and the Bill will establish clear licensing objectives on crime, disorder and public nuisance, although, as a result of amendments to the Bill, that objective has been much limited in scope and is now framed in terms of "public amenity", which is something different. That is something that we can discuss in Committee, however.
No, if my hon. Friend will permit me, I must make progress.
Residents, police, environmental health officers and others will be enabled to call for a review of licences. Police powers will be introduced to close, on the spot, premises that are a source of disorder or noise nuisance, and to confiscate alcohol in sealed containers. The introduction of flexible hours is also intended to widen local consumer choice and reduce the density of drinkers in existing centres. However, seeking to influence the levels of crime and antisocial behaviour by limiting the numbers of licensed premises in a particular area is just not practical, for a number of reasons that have been recognised by many hon. Members tonight.
Providing powers to refuse new licences on the grounds of saturation would provide an undesirable skew in favour of older, established premises, some of which might themselves be the focus of disorder. It would also run the risk of perpetuating the status quo. Some areas would end up keeping hold of the same old stock—the same old dreary drinking dens—with the same old opening hours and the same old problems. That would do no good whatever in the towns and town centres that want to renew themselves. That is an important consideration. There is no body of evidence to suggest that reducing the number of licensed premises in an area would have the desired effect.
We must not forget the contribution that a vibrant late-night environment makes to the economy of an area, and to the country at large. The hospitality, leisure and entertainment industries employ between 2 million and 3 million people, of whom about 1 million are employed in alcohol-licensed premises. That point was made by the hon. Gentleman with the longest constituency name in the country, which I have forgotten. Caithness, Sutherland—
We cannot extol the virtues of tourism while seeking to limit what is possible. We often find absurd situations in that regard. For example, if someone goes to the theatre or the cinema, they often have to be able to sprint faster than Linford Christie to get a bottle of wine with their meal at the end of the evening. That is completely absurd, but the Bill will change that.
If the hon. Gentleman will permit me, I will not.
As many as one in five new jobs created in recent years has been in the hospitality sector, and the tourism sector employs 10 per cent. of the country's work force. Indeed, that appears to be one of the reasons that some of the proponents of saturation encouraged the development of licensed premises in their areas in the first place. Allowing the kind of filleting of licensed premises that we seem to be talking about would take those jobs away from the local and wider economy without bringing the benefits that we seek. Experience from abroad, in cities such as Barcelona, Madrid and Rome, suggests that a high density—but with a good mix—of licensed premises might actually have a positive effect on a city, so long as the customer base is sufficiently diverse and the licensing regime does not encourage unpleasant behaviour.
The problems of crime, disorder and antisocial behaviour were raised by a large number of hon. Members. The Bill contains a number of specific provisions to help to combat those problems, such as expanding the existing court powers, on application by the police, to close all licensed premises in a specified geographical area for up to 24 hours where disorder is occurring or is anticipated. My hon. Friend Mr. Best—I am not sure whether he is back in the Chamber—told us about a terrible incident in Leeds that could have been tackled by those powers.
At present, the powers apply to premises selling alcohol, but they are being expanded to include, for example, all entertainment venues, theatres, cinemas, night cafes and takeaway outlets operating late at night. We are also expanding the police powers that we introduced in December 2001 to close down disorderly and excessively noisy pubs, nightclubs, restaurants and hotels instantly for up to 24 hours. Also, there is the possibility of extending the closure for a further 24 hours, which will be a powerful weapon in the police arsenal.
Those powers will apply to all entertainment premises under the Bill, and abolishing the fixed and artificially early closing time, which provokes binge drinking and results in large numbers of young men hitting the streets simultaneously, thereby causing the police enormous difficulties, will also be tackled. The peaks of disorder immediately after the fixed closing times of 11 pm, 2 am and, as Mr. Field told us, 3 am in the west end of London should be substantially reduced by a more gradual and orderly dispersal of customers.
I am glad that my hon. Friends raised the issue of special promotions and happy hours. I heard about an example in Manchester from the police: if Manchester United win, certain pubs allow people to pay £10 at the door and they drink as much as they want all night.
It does. There is also evidence that happy hours and special promotions are being co-ordinated so that excess capacity in drinking establishments can be filled. The police are convinced that those are some of the most potent sources of antisocial behaviour. We must consider that very carefully, although we have not done so in the debate, as it happens. I hope that we examine such matters in Committee.
The police will have the opportunity to have a say in the issuing of all provisional statements, new licences and variations of existing ones, with a route of appeal to the magistrates court where they consider that their views have not been taken into account by the licensing authority. That will provide a new mechanism for reviewing licences when any problems arise, backed by an extended range of options, rather than the current practice of having to await renewals before any action can be taken. Included in that range of options is a temporary or permanent reduction in trading hours and the suspension of licences, which will allow the licensing authority to hit the profits of businesses that are causing problems in the community rather than merely dealing with individuals.
Strengthening the laws on selling alcohol to, and its consumption by, under-age children is taken very seriously in the Bill. Also, we are looking, for the first time, at extending the offence of permitting disorderly conduct on licensed premises from such premises to all premises licensed under the Bill, all entertainment venues, all qualifying pubs, clubs, working men's clubs, ex-services clubs, sports clubs, theatres, cinemas, concert halls, indoor sports arenas, all-night cafes and late-night takeaways. That is an important development. We shall require the management and staff of such premises, or club officers, to assist the police in expelling drunk and disorderly persons from those premises.
I hope that the House gives this excellent Bill a Second Reading.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time.
LICENSING BILL [LORDS] (PROGRAMME)
Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Orders [
That the following provisions shall apply to the Licensing Bill [Lords]:
1. The Bill shall be committed to a Standing Committee.
Proceedings in Standing Committee
2. Proceedings in the Standing Committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion on Tuesday 20th May 2003.
3. The Standing Committee shall have leave to sit twice on the first day on which it meets.
Consideration and Third Reading
4. Proceedings on consideration shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour before the moment of interruption on the day on which those proceedings are commenced.
5. Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the moment of interruption on the day on which proceedings on consideration are commenced.
6. Sessional Order B (programming committees) made on 28th June 2001 shall not apply to proceedings on consideration and Third Reading.
7. Any other proceedings on the Bill (including any proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments or on any further messages from the Lords) may be programmed.—[Mr. Jim Murphy.]
The House divided: Ayes 304, Noes 84.
Question accordingly agreed to.
LICENSING BILL [LORDS] [MONEY]
Queen's recommendation having been signified—
Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to
That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Licensing Bill [Lords], it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of—
(a) any expenditure incurred by the Secretary of State in consequence of any provision of the Act; and
(b) any increase attributable to the Act in the sums payable out of money so provided under any other enactment.—[Mr. Jim Murphy.]
Question agreed to.