New Clause 7 — Allowing Children Into Licensed Premises

Licensing Bill [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 11:52 pm on 16th June 2003.

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'(1) In pursuit of the licensing objective in section 4(2)(d) children under the age of 18 are only permitted to enter licensed premises when accompanied by an adult over the age of 18.

(2) For the purposes of subsection (1) these licensed premises are—

(a) public houses, and

(b) any similar establishments whose primary purpose is the consumption of alcohol.

(3) Subsection (1) does not apply where the premises license operating schedule sets out clear, unambiguous steps to promote the licensing objective in section 4(2)(d) and which are agreed and accepted by the relevant licensing authority'.—[Mr. Moss.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Malcolm Moss Malcolm Moss Conservative, North East Cambridgeshire

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The new clause would replace a clause that was voted through in the other place, but taken out by the Government in Committee in this place. It concerns allowing children into licensed premises. As the Bill stands, clauses 143 to 150 deal with children and alcohol, but nowhere in any of those clauses do the Government see fit to restrict access by children of any age. In fact, the presumption is that children will be allowed on to licensed premises unless the licensee sets out in his operating schedule reasons why he cannot accommodate that and makes the position clear to the licensing authority.

New clause 7 reverses the presumption. We tabled it after some discussion with the police—the same chief constable and members of the Association of Chief Police Officers to whom the Minister referred earlier. They want a presumption that no child under 18 will be allowed into licensed premises unless accompanied by an adult over 18. However, subsection (1) of the new clause would not apply

"where the premises licence operating schedule sets out clear, unambiguous steps to promote the licensing objective in section 4(2)(d)"— to protect children from harm—

"and which are agreed and accepted by the relevant licensing authority".

The presumption is that children should not be allowed into licensed premises unless accompanied, except when the licensee sets out specific steps on how he or she will deal with young children on the premises.

The Government's approach conveys conflicting signals. On the one hand, they perceive a problem with alcohol and young people and they want to reduce consumption. On the other, the Bill provides that children of all ages can attain access to licensed premises. That sends the wrong signal. For example, the Bill provides that it is illegal to sell alcohol to children and for a level 5 fine, which is £20,000. It also provides that someone who is under 18 and consumes alcohol on relevant premises could be fined at level 3—again, a significant sum. The Government appear to encourage children to enter licensed premises, but seek to criminalise them for succumbing to the temptation of consuming alcohol there.

New clause 7 would replace a similar provision, which their Lordships strongly supported, but which was removed in Committee. When the Bill reverts to another place on Thursday, I am sure that the matter will be considered again.

Photo of Professor Ross Cranston Professor Ross Cranston Labour, Dudley North

Productive meetings have taken place with children's charities and organisations such as Alcohol Concern. They have been reassured by discussions with my hon. Friend the Minister.

Although protection for children does not appear on the face of the Bill, it will be included in guidance. I am sure that hon. Members would be reassured if my hon. Friend could comment on the guidance.

Photo of Kim Howells Kim Howells Minister of State, Department for Transport

I may have misheard my hon. and learned Friend, but I emphasise that protecting children is one of the Bill's four licensing objectives.

It being five and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the programme motion, Mr. Deputy Speaker proceeded to put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that hour, pursuant to Order [this day].

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 106, Noes 258.

Division number 237 Licensing Bill [Lords] — New Clause 7 — Allowing Children Into Licensed Premises

Aye: 106 MPs

No: 258 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Question accordingly negatived.

Order for Third Reading read.—[Queen's and Prince of Wales's Consent signified.]

Photo of Tessa Jowell Tessa Jowell The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport 12:24 am, 16th June 2003

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I am sure that Members on both sides of the House recognise the contribution of my hon. Friend Dr. Howells to our proceedings. His elevation to the post of Minister of State, Department of Transport in the recent reshuffle means that this was his last appearance as Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting. That gives rise to an important question: does a swan song constitute a licensable activity?

Photo of Tessa Jowell Tessa Jowell The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

I am glad my hon. Friend liked it.

As is widely recognised in the House, the licensing reforms are overdue. It was the legislators of the Great War who formulated our permitted hours to ensure that people turned up at the munitions factories sober. The Licensing Act 1964 did no more than consolidate existing legislation, and the last significant changes were made in 1961, when new arrangements were introduced for registered members' clubs.The current system of licensing is out of date, complicated and costly. It is unresponsive to local concerns. Even more important is the fact that in some ways it actually contributes to the crime, disorder and antisocial behaviour that can blight our town and city centres. Not surprisingly, people expect better.

This is a far-reaching Bill that will have a material impact on the central issue of quality of life, and how we as a nation use our leisure time. It will sweep away swathes of red tape and bureaucracy, delivering to the industry savings of nearly £2 billion over 10 years. Throughout the drafting and the debate, we have sought to maintain the critical balance between regulation and protection of the public, particularly children and vulnerable people.

Where the Bill is deregulatory, it is also responsible. There is no denying that alcohol-fuelled crime and disorder, nuisance and antisocial behaviour are a real problem. No doubt Members on both sides of the House have experienced that problem in their constituencies. The Bill therefore contains a range of measures to tackle alcohol-related crime and disorder and antisocial behaviour. Specifically, it provides statutory rights for local residents to make representations on applications for new licences, and to call for the review of existing licences. It provides for the establishment of clear priorities for licensing regulation in relation to crime and disorder, public safety, public nuisance and the protection of children from harm. It will allow the police to close any licensed premises on the spot. There will be scope for licensing authorities, when necessary, to address "cumulative effect", density and saturation. There will be a flexible range of remedies to replace the single all-or-nothing loss of licence that currently applies: remedies such as the restriction of opening hours or removal of a licensable activity from a licence and, when necessary, the suspension or full revocation of the licence. There is a wide range of measures to allow licensing authorities and the police to manage the night-time economy.

I am grateful for the House's valuable work in building on the improvements made to the Bill in another place.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all Members, including Conservative Members, for their constructive approach, by and large, in Committee. I know that my hon. Friend Mr. Howells would like to echo that sentiment. The Bill has been strengthened in several important respects since it was introduced last year.

We have already debated the issue of children's access to licensed premises. There is a clear need for reform of the current legislation on children's access to such premises. The current provisions are little understood. For example, it is not fully understood that under current law any child older than 14 may enter any part of licensed premises without adult supervision. In law, a child as young as five can go into a pub or club unsupervised as long as they stay away from the bar area. Furthermore, it is perfectly legal under the present system for a seven-year-old to go unsupervised into a night club at 2 in the morning. We do not see unaccompanied children in clubs and pubs because they can enter only at the licence holder's discretion. Under the Bill, landlords and licensees will retain such discretion; furthermore, one of the Bill's chief aims is the protection of children from harm. Applicants for licences will have to set out clearly the steps by which they intend to secure that objective. It would be open to all the statutory consultees, as well as local residents—including parents and teachers—to make representations on any application, or to call for a review of a licence.

Following concerns expressed in the House and in the other place, we have built on the protections in the Bill to make them even stronger. I have held discussions with a range of the principal children's charities, including the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, the police, the Association of Directors of Social Services, the Children's Society and others. As a result of those discussions, it was strongly agreed that clear statements should be made in statutory guidance, setting out the levels of protection that should apply in different sorts of licensed premises, ranging from cinemas, restaurants and supermarkets to pubs and bars. We have also added the local area child protection committee to the list of responsible authorities that are notified of every licensing application. They can make representations and call for reviews, giving further voice at every stage of the licensing process to child protection issues. But we remain alive to concerns in that critical area of the Bill and will fully consider all further representations made during the final stages of its passage.

As to music, many concerns have been expressed, but they do not have a basis in fact in respect either of the Bill's intention or of how its provisions will be applied. We have heard that new expensive conditions will be attached to licences and that performers will be burdened by the requirement to get a licence. We believe that quite the reverse is the case. Far from threatening traditional music, the Bill will enhance the opportunities for traditional folk music to thrive.

In various ways we have gone a considerable way to address the concerns.

Photo of Mr Andrew Bennett Mr Andrew Bennett Labour, Denton and Reddish

The Minister talks about traditional folk music, but what about traditional folk performance?

Photo of Tessa Jowell Tessa Jowell The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

Precisely the same objective applies. Just as opportunities for folk music will be enlarged, so too will opportunities for the performance of folk music.

We have accepted the spirit of an amendment made in the other place that will exempt incidental live music. We have also made it clear that entertainers who simply perform at unlicensed venues, and do no more in respect of entertainment, will not be committing an offence. We have exempted places of public religious worship and we have made it clear that church halls, village halls and other community buildings will be exempt from fees for regulated entertainment. Similarly, we have exempted schools and sixth form colleges when they use their premises for such purposes.

We will also use the accompanying guidance to emphasise the requirements of the Bill that only necessary and proportionate conditions be attached to the licences. That point particularly will reassure those who fear the unreasonable and disproportionate requirements of local authorities. In addition, we have looked again at limits on temporary event notices and have increased the length and number of events permissible in any year. We have done that in response to concerns raised by a wide range of organisations and groups, while at the same time balancing that liberalisation by ensuring adequate protection for the rights of local residents.

Photo of Malcolm Moss Malcolm Moss Conservative, North East Cambridgeshire

The Secretary of State mentioned groups who have approached her Department about the temporary event notices. Many of those groups, especially Action with Communities in Rural England—ACRE—are still unhappy about the Government's amendment of the figure to 12. They want 18 to 24, so they are still very dissatisfied. Does the Secretary of State agree with that?

Photo of Tessa Jowell Tessa Jowell The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

We will clearly listen to the remaining arguments as the Bill concludes its passage through the House.

Another issue has been of some concern to hon. Members, and I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend Mr. Dobson, who is not in his place at present, who has pursued vigorously on behalf of his constituents concerns about cumulative effect, which is also known as saturation or density. Local authorities are rightly concerned that they should have adequate powers to take action to ensure that residents are properly protected from a preponderance of licensed premises of a particular type—chiefly, what are described as vertical drinking establishments. We have taken several steps to address those concerns. For instance, we have added the local authority planning committee to the list of expert bodies that will be able to scrutinise applications.

We have made it clear in the accompanying statutory guidance that licensing authorities will be able to take the cumulative effect of a large number of licensed premises in a concentrated area into account where that is causing problems in relation to meeting the four licensing objectives. Licensing authorities will also be able to make it clear in their statements of licensing policies that for certain areas there would be a presumption against granting any more licences for premises of a particular type; but it is of course important that each case is considered individually.

Detailed consultation on the statutory guidance that will accompany the Bill is continuing and we will of course have appropriate scrutiny of secondary legislation made under the Bill.

We have had an enormous amount of debate about the Bill, in this House and in the other place, with the participation of the widest possible range of organisations with an interest in its provisions, both from the industry and from those representing the interests of local communities. Our objective has been to establish a modern framework for licensing that will support the country's flourishing leisure and hospitality industry while at the same time protecting the interests of citizens, consumers and communities. The Bill will deliver on both counts, and I commend it to the House.

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport 12:39 am, 16th June 2003

The Bill was conceived with the best of intentions. It has been promoted throughout its passage as a deregulatory measure. Indeed, the Home Office sold it to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport on that basis, and one can almost imagine the glee with which the Home Office lobbed this hot potato at the DCMS saying, "Don't worry, it will be very popular." Indeed, all of us will remember the famous text message sent out by the Labour party to thousands of young voters just before the general election:

"cldn't give a XXXX 4 last ordrs? vote Labour 4 xtra time".

No doubt some of those young people took Labour at its word and did so vote. They, like many others, must now feel somewhat let down, because the Government have completely failed to deliver on their promise.

Ever since that day it has become steadily more apparent that the Bill is anything but deregulatory. Indeed, every week has resulted in yet another area being exposed as falling victim to the regulatory and bureaucratic requirements that the Bill will impose. The Minister of State, Department of Transport—as Dr. Howells has become—was candid enough at the outset to admit that it would have been much better if the Bill had been subjected to pre-legislative scrutiny, as the Communications Bill was. The Secretary of State agreed with that point.

It has become steadily more apparent as the Bill has been subjected to examination by my hon. Friend Mr. Moss and my colleagues in the Standing Committee that it is a complete mess from start to finish. One can only imagine the sigh of relief that the Minister must have given on learning that he would be moved from the DCMS to his new post, an appointment on which we warmly congratulate him. His pleasure can only have been tempered by the slight disappointment of discovering that he would still have to defend the Licensing Bill on Report. It is certain that trying to sort out the mess of our public transport system will seem a pushover after having dealt with the Bill.

As we made clear on Second Reading, we accept the need for reform of our licensing laws. We support some elements of the Bill. We agree, for instance, with the need for greater flexibility in opening hours, and we accept the argument for doing away with the universal chucking-out time. We are less persuaded that the transfer of licensing responsibility from magistrates to local authorities is either necessary or sensible, and it is interesting that even the Local Government Association is beginning to see problems. In its latest briefing, it argues that

"the Bill still presents a very poor deal for local authorities" and that "significant new burdens" will be imposed on authorities. It states:

"without realistic fee levels there will obviously have to be a significant subsidy from the Council Tax".

Even though we feel that the Government have failed to make the case for the transfer, we accept that they are determined to press ahead. We regret, therefore, that they have been unwilling to accept the stronger safeguards to protect the interests of local residents that we have advocated in our amendments, particularly in the measures advocated by my hon. Friend Mr. Field.

The principle that there should be a separation of the licence governing the premises from which alcohol is sold from the personal licence issued to the individual to permit him to serve or sell alcohol is also one that we support in general. That principle has, however, been completely undermined by the Government's insistence that an individual should be named on the premises licence as a designated premises supervisor. That provision destroys almost all the gains in simplicity and reduced bureaucracy that the Government claim to be trying to achieve.

Indeed, I understand that even the police have conceded that they regard the measure as an unnecessary extra piece of bureaucracy.

We also regret that the Government are unwilling to accept the establishment of a central licensing authority to administer the new system of personal licences. As a result, the Government continue to expect individual local authorities to remain responsible for the issue of licences to individuals who, many years ago, may have moved far away from the area. When we debated that proposition earlier, the Government argued that local authorities were already well used to issuing licences and that a new authority would not be sensible or cost-effective. In response, I draw the Secretary of State's attention to the view of the LGA that tracking the movement of individuals and of new criminal convictions would be more effectively administered through a national agency. The LGA says that the Lords amendment, to create a central authority, should remain. Indeed, I hope that their lordships will share that view when they reconsider the measure.

We are disappointed that the common sense shown by their lordships in amending the Bill to prevent unaccompanied children aged under 14 from entering a pub or night club has not been accepted by the Government. I listened carefully to the comments of the Secretary of State in her Third Reading speech and I welcome her undertaking to consider that point further. Many people will find it extraordinary, however, that a Government who trumpet their interest in the welfare of children by creating a Minister for Children can overturn an amendment that would protect young children by requiring that they should be accompanied by an adult if they visit a pub.

Photo of Tessa Jowell Tessa Jowell The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that the amendment was criticised by a wide range of children's charities? They felt that it was too rigid that it did not make sufficient distinctions on the presence of children in different kinds of establishment and that it would thus not provide the appropriate degree of protection for children that is the Government's objective.

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

The principle of the amendment was widely supported by children's charities, but I agree that improvements can undoubtedly be made. I hope that discussions between the Government and their lordships will continue and that they will find an amendment that meets our objectives.

The Government have got many aspects of the Bill wrong, but the provisions that caused the most problems and which most closely resemble a dog's breakfast are those on entertainments licensing. At every stage of the Bill, when objections were raised they were dismissed out of hand by Ministers as nothing but scaremongering, yet time and again Ministers were forced to accept that they were wrong and had to propose new amendments to overcome specific weaknesses; for example, on the requirement that churches should be licensed for the performance of secular entertainment. The Government surrendered early on that issue. The removal of licence fees for schools and sixth-form colleges quickly followed. Since then, Ministers have repeatedly had to return with further amendments, even as late as this afternoon.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Conservative, Worthing West

I wrote to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to ask about an event that my wife and I hold regularly, when 80 people pay about £10 for a glass wine and contribute to entertainment in our family room to raise money for a good cause, either the Church or the Tory party. I asked whether I should need a temporary entertainment licence, but I have received no response. I assume that, as the number is about 80 rather than 250, the answer will be yes, because the Government resisted the amendment. If that kind of public-spirited entertainment requires a licence, the Bill, in that detail, must be wrong.

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

My hon. Friend's example is typical of hundreds that are being presented by organisations throughout the country. They all believe that they will have to meet an additional tier of regulation and bureaucracy as a result of the Bill. The Minister has assured the House that the provisions will not cover some events, but the organisations that presented evidence to us had obtained professional legal advice in each case.

Their advice shows very clearly that the Bill, as amended, will cover events of that kind. That is part of the problem. Examples, such as that cited by my hon. Friend, have been given repeatedly, and we have got into the most obscure debate, for instance, about whether or not a marquee with a wooden floor would be exempt from licensing, whereas a dance that took place inside a house with a wooden floor would require licensing. That is complete madness.

Photo of Kim Howells Kim Howells Minister of State, Department for Transport

Would the hon. Gentleman like to cite that debate?

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

We discussed such things in a debate on an amendment this evening, and the Historic Houses Association has given that exact example. [Interruption.] Well, earlier this evening, we debated an amendment, suggested by the Historic Houses Association, that was designed precisely to put right that kind of objection, but the problem has arisen because of the Government's decision to insist on a licensing requirement for all public performances of live music.

All of us agree that the law, was arcane and unjust, but no one believed that the Government's response to the campaign to remove the two-in-a-bar rule would be not to abolish the licensing requirement, but to extend it to all public performances. No convincing explanation has been given about why live music poses risks and problems that broadcast entertainment, however loudly amplified, does not. No explanation has been given about why the system in Scotland, which has no requirement for entertainment licences, would not be appropriate in England, too. It is hardly any wonder that musicians across the land, from morris dancers to metal bands, are united in opposing the Bill.

This morning, my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Cambridgeshire and I joined members of the Musicians Union in delivering an electronic petition, containing 110,000 signatures, to No. 10 in protest against the Bill. Those signatures were attached to the early-day motion that I tabled a few months ago. Indeed, I suspect that it is a record for an early-day motion to have 110,000 signatures associated with it.

I draw the Minister's attention, once more, to the finding of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, published on Friday, in which it said that there is a significant risk that the Bill is now incompatible with the European convention on human rights. Associated with the Bill is an assurance from the Secretary of State that, in her view, the provisions are compatible with the convention rights, but the Joint Committee now tells us that the Bill, as amended, will leave a patchwork of different licensing requirements, without a coherent rationale, calling in question the existence of a pressing social need for the restriction on freedom of expression through a licensing regime, so undermining the Government's claim that such a licensing regime is a justifiable interference with the right to freedom of expression under the European convention on human rights.

The solution is very simple. If the Government were to accept the amendment passed in the House of Lords exempting performances attended by fewer than 250 people from needing a licence, almost all that opposition would melt away. I realise that the Government have so far been unwilling to do so, but I predict that the House will have to consider this matter again very soon, and I hope that, if the House of Lords insists on reinserting that amendment, the Government will listen and think again.

The work done by the House of Lords on all the issues that I have mentioned led to a greatly improved Bill. For that reason, the Conservative party did not vote against the Bill on Second Reading. Sadly, nearly all the good work done in the House of Lords has been undone by the Government in Committee. The result is a Bill that is riddled with anomalies, that imposes more regulation rather than less and that will lead to the loss of thousands of venues at which it is currently possible to enjoy live music.

The Bar Entertainment and Dance Association said:

"Like almost every organisation involved with the development of the Licensing Bill, BEDA remains extremely concerned at the omissions, over elaborations and ill thought through proposals that remain within the legislation at this late stage."

The Musicians Union, the English Folk Dance and Song Society and the Association of British Jazz Musicians wrote a joint letter, saying that the Bill

"will be a disaster for the performing arts".

The Government presented a bad Bill. It was improved by the House of Lords, but it has been made worse again by the Government. For that reason, I shall ask my hon. Friends to vote against the Bill on Third Reading.

Photo of Alan Simpson Alan Simpson Labour, Nottingham South 12:55 am, 16th June 2003

There is a great deal to be commended and welcomed in the Bill. Its Achilles heel is not an excess of regulation but the absence of regulations that would make it specifically compatible with the Crime and Disorder Act 1998.

I listened carefully to what the Secretary of State had to say about those who could make representations in respect of licence applications and the ability of local authority planning departments to make observations, but the Achilles heel was her concluding comment that every application will have to be judged on its merits. I attempted to table amendments that would have given local authorities a specific power to allow the police and licensing authority to reject applications when they reached saturation point, or when an application overwhelmed the police in terms of their ability to deliver on section 17 of the Crime and Disorder Act. It is not that we did not reach those amendments to vote on them but that Ministers were unwilling to incorporate them into specific Government proposals that would have written them into the Bill.

Photo of Kim Howells Kim Howells Minister of State, Department for Transport

I do not know whether my hon. Friend has been present for these debates, but this subject has been debated more than any other of which I am aware. We have debated the whole business of cumulative effect, which he calls saturation. He has had ample opportunity to take part in those debates, but I am not aware that he did. We have given local residents, police and responsible bodies more opportunity in this Bill to object to licences than they have ever had before, and certainly more than they have currently. I should have thought that he would welcome that rather than resorting to this whinge—which is what it is—which undermines the effectiveness of our negotiations to ensure that what is in this Bill is communicated effectively to those who will form the licensing authorities.

Photo of Alan Simpson Alan Simpson Labour, Nottingham South

The Minister may dismiss my contribution as a whinge, but it is a whinge made and shared by the police, my local authority and many others. They do not believe that those powers are conferred on them within the framework of the Bill. A briefing produced for me by the police states that

"the generally unrestricted nature of planning and the potential to have streets entirely full of licensed premises is just not workable."

That was the basis of their fears about the extent to which we will deliver something unpoliceable that will not be about cultural diversity or creative excitement.

Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Labour, North Durham

I say respectfully to my hon. Friend that he clearly has not read the Bill, and neither has his local authority. It gives local authorities the power, in licensing policy, to reflect diversity and, for the first time ever, take into account strong objections from local people to the exact problems affecting them. For the first time, they will have a say, which will address the issue of cumulative effect.

Photo of Alan Simpson Alan Simpson Labour, Nottingham South

The grounds for objection in the Bill are on the basis of an individual assessment of applications, the capacity of the premises, the reputation of the applicant, the building standards and door supervision. The police say that that does not give them the ability to say no to the straw that breaks the camel's back—something that changes the whole cultural character of what is going on. I am excited about what I currently enjoy in Nottingham, but the city centre management strategy is based on the fact that we have a city centre in which between 5,000 and 10,000 people live. Every Friday night, however, between 105,000 people, which is the estimate of the police, and 120,000 people, which is the estimate of the fire and ambulance services, come in and are part of the culture and dynamism of that city centre.

The police tell me that their ability to police the area is largely dependent on the diversity of clubs, bars, restaurants, wine bars and pubs, most of which are small or medium-sized. They cannot cope with the prospect that applications for huge watering holes serving 3,000 people cannot be turned down. The big breweries are turning up the pressure on local authorities, and authorities are being told by district auditors that if they appeal, and thus risk wasting council tax payers' money, they might be individually surcharged for breaching their fiduciary duty. If a local licensing authority will have the power to refuse an application on the basis of capacity or because the scale of applications would be incompatible with its city centre management strategy, why have the Government resisted the incorporation of such a provision in the Bill?

My fear is that there will not be freedom but a free-for-all, that there will not be a culture of celebration but a culture of violence, and that we will not promote vibrant growth and cultural diversity but crime and disorder. I do not want us to squander the opportunities and advantages offered by other parts of the Bill by failing to allow local areas to say no when they think that they have reached their carrying capacity. Provisions on strategic plans in the Crime and Disorder Act are not specifically spelt out in the Bill. Given that the police say that they fear that the Bill will not give them necessary powers, the House should think carefully before supporting it.

Photo of Nick Harvey Nick Harvey Liberal Democrat, North Devon 1:02 am, 16th June 2003

When the Bill was brought before Parliament, there was a general view across the political spectrum that legislation on such matters was long overdue. Indeed, there was general good will toward the prospect of legislation. The Government headlined the Bill by saying that it would allow more relaxed drinking hours and perhaps 24-hour drinking in some areas. That measure appeared to be popular and they must have believed that they were on to a winner.

Although the Bill's aim was to be simple and deregulatory, it has ended up being surprisingly complex. Each time a problem has arisen, the solution found has added to the Bill's complexity and produced further problems. Solutions to those problems have created a Bill that has become increasingly cumbersome. I agree that it would have benefited in no small way from pre-legislative scrutiny.

The former Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting handled the Bill's passage with panache and deftness—we congratulate him on his promotion but he will be sorely missed as he moves to his new job—but publicans, musicians, performers and residents remain significantly unhappy. I acknowledge that some of the campaigning outside the House has inflated concerns to an extent that is not entirely proportionate and that the perception of several aspects of the Bill is worse than the reality.

Publicans fear possible costs. They fear not the licence fee but the cost of meeting conditions that they believe that they will have to fulfil to be granted licences. Not unreasonably, their perception is that the new system will be more bureaucratic than the one that it replaces. They think that they will have to engage advisers and consultants to help them to put together complex operating plans and that there is more far more red tape inherent in the new system than in previous systems.

If publicans want to change their operating schedule or the names of their designated premises supervisors, the system is more cumbersome and complicated than it used to be. In addition to the concerns of individual publicans, we know that chains of pubs are unhappy that they cannot register their interest in designated premises. We may also come to regret that shortcoming.

The biggest controversy surrounds live performances and entertainment licensing. Despite everything that the Government and the Minister have said, live performers still believe that fewer venues will be available for live music and performance after the Bill is enacted, and their fears may be well founded. Mr. Blizzard said that we can all accept the shortcomings of the two-in-a-bar rule in the previous set-up, but that there is a desperate need for a de minimis provision. The Government's biggest mistake is not finding an alternative de minimis provision to replace the two-in-a-bar rule.

Although the figure of 250 that was suggested in the other place as constituting a small event is on the high side, I sincerely believe that something along those lines is necessary to avoid small entertainments becoming encumbered by a new licensing regime. It is hard to resist the conclusion that that will reduce the number of live performances. Aside from those considerations, it appears that performers such as morris dancers who move around and perform at a variety of venues in quick succession will be caught up in many more licensing provisions than they were in the past.

The third interest group is the residents who will understandably be aggrieved that residential amenity has not been included in the Bill alongside the other licensing objectives as something that licensing authorities have to take into account when they make their decisions. As we heard, they will also be aggrieved that undertakings from the old regime are not to be carried forward. The ability of a ward councillor to make representations was something that we—myself included—were wrong to exclude when we sensibly wrote out the provision for MPs and MEPs to be able to do so.

On other concerns, we heard that the Joint Committee on Human Rights thinks that there are possible breaches of human rights. I am equally uncomfortable about the statutory guidance. Although it will need parliamentary approval at the outset, it will not need it when the Government want to change it.

I have concluded that, regrettably, the Government have taken a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Much of the Minister's response to specific points came down to existing law already covering various aspects but not, in truth, being implemented. We might have done better to set about implementing existing laws before seeking new legislation. People will look at the Bill and wonder why the Government concluded, for example, that Punch and Judy shows need to be licensed for public entertainment. They will want to know what motivated them to include that in legislation in 2003. Is it because Punch and Judy is sexist, cruel to crocodiles or shows a lack of respect for law and order? Whatever it is, it is an example of the Government putting too much in the Bill and attempting to do too much. With a heavy heart, I conclude that it should not be given a Third Reading.

Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Labour, North Durham 1:09 am, 16th June 2003

I welcome the Bill, which brings our licensing laws up to date and puts them in a modern setting, clearing away centuries of anachronistic and outdated licensing laws. It fulfils a pledge in our 2001 manifesto to update our licensing laws, and gets the balance right between clamping down on antisocial behaviour and disorder and allowing freedoms for law-abiding citizens to enjoy the leisure activity of drinking alcohol.

I warmly welcome the opportunity for local people to have a say for the first time ever in the way in which the licensing system operates. I disagree with the points made by my hon. Friend Alan Simpson, who clearly does not understand the Bill and has not followed its passage through the House. It will for the first time give local licensing authorities a chance to set licensing policy. It will promote a more civilised approach to alcohol and introduce laws that will promote good behaviour among most law-abiding citizens.

I enjoyed serving on the Standing Committee, and shall miss sparring with Mr. Turner. However, many of my hon. Friends and I have made up our mind not to volunteer to serve on another Standing Committee if he is serving on it.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Conservative, Worthing West 1:10 am, 16th June 2003

It is clear that the Government should amend the programme motion to allow an extra hour for Third Reading, as many Members, from all parties, would like to contribute to our debate.

May I repeat—[Interruption.] If the Minister could keep quiet and listen, the House would probably welcome that. A point that I made about the Bill in a letter to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has still not been answered. I would be happy to give way to the Secretary of State or the Minister, who dealt with the Bill in Committee, so that they could answer the question that I asked in an earlier intervention. Would someone in my situation need a temporary entertainment licence to do something that disturbs nobody and raises money for a good cause? If so, what is the fee?

Photo of Kim Howells Kim Howells Minister of State, Department for Transport

If the hon. Gentleman charges people an admission fee to attend a fund-raising event for the Conservative party in his house and pay for the drink, he will need a licence.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Conservative, Worthing West

The Minister has come clean. If a church sells the tickets and asks if it can use my room, does it need an entertainment licence, or do I? Where is the fee in the regulations?

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Conservative, Worthing West

The Minister says openly that he does not want to get up. I rest my case. The Government have not defended the temporary entertainment licence as they should have done, and they are a disgrace.

Photo of Professor Ross Cranston Professor Ross Cranston Labour, Dudley North 1:12 am, 16th June 2003

The Bill will modernise and rationalise an arcane body of law, and is therefore to be welcomed. It has a number of ambitious aims to change the culture of drinking and address problems of crime and disorder. The Minister mentioned Hogarth's Gin lane. There is a culture of binge drinking in this country. One survey of young people found that 56 per cent. of 15 to 16-year-olds—

It being six and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the programme motion, Mr. Deputy Speaker proceeded to put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that hour, pursuant to Order [this day].

Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time:—

The House divided: Ayes 227, Noes 121.

Division number 238 Licensing Bill [Lords] — New Clause 7 — Allowing Children Into Licensed Premises

Aye: 227 MPs

No: 121 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Question accordingly agreed to.