Licensing Act 2003

– in the House of Commons at 12:39 pm on 25 January 2005.

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Photo of David Davis David Davis Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office) 12:41, 25 January 2005

I beg to move,

That this House
calls for a delay in the implementation of the Licensing Act 2003 in the light of concerns expressed by doctors, senior police officers and members of the judiciary that the Act will lead to increased health and policing problems;
is concerned about the increase in violent crimes since 1998, half of which are attributed to alcohol misuse;
recognises that drunken revellers are turning town and city centres into no-go areas, thus putting an increasing burden on health and police resources, and predicts that the implementation of the Act will exacerbate these problems;
is further concerned about increased alcohol consumption and believes that extended opening hours will have an adverse serious effect on health of the nation;
and regrets that the Government has fundamentally failed to deal with the problem of binge drinking before proceeding with the implementation of the Licensing Act 2003.

I am conscious of a slight irony as I open this debate. After all, in recent times the Government have shown a distinct interest in telling us what to eat, what to do in our spare time and how to raise our children. In terms of sheer nannying, the Government have few equals. However, although there is genuine concern about this matter among experts, professionals and the general public, the Government are taking the exact opposite approach. I shall argue today that, by pressing ahead with 24-hour drinking, the Government are neglecting their responsibilities. Once again, they are displaying a perverse sense of priorities and an arrogant disregard for all contrary opinion.

Britain is now one of the worst countries in Europe for binge drinking. It begins with the young. Young people under 16 drink twice as much as they did a decade ago. A third of all British 15-year-olds say that they have been drunk at some time in their lives. That compares to just one in 10 in France and Italy. The British Medical Journal reports that more than 2,000 drunken children are admitted to hospital every year.

However, it is not just a young person's problem. Overall, Britons are drinking 12 per cent. more today than in 1997. One adult man in three now exceeds the recommended guidelines on alcohol consumption, and the figure for women is one in five. UK consumers spend more of their disposable income on alcohol than they do on personal goods and services, fuel and power, or tobacco.

Some might say that that is their choice, but the annual cost of crime and antisocial behaviour linked to alcohol misuse is estimated to be more than £7 billion. The cost of productivity lost as a result of alcohol misuse is estimated to be more than £6 billion. Every year, 17 million working days are lost because of alcohol-related absence.

The problem is about more than just money. First, there is the cost to our health. Liver disease is now an increasingly frequent cause of death. The incidence of liver cirrhosis is rising among 20 and 30-year-olds, and 70 per cent of all weekend night-time admissions to accident and emergency departments are linked to alcohol. That is a problem that our already overworked doctors and nurses could do without.

Secondly, there is the crime and disorder cost. Since 1998, violent crime has increased by 83 per cent. There are now over a million violent crimes each year, and the police say that alcohol is largely to blame for this increase. Every week in England and Wales, there are 23,000 incidents of alcohol-related violence and 360 drink-related sexual assaults. Around a third of all domestic violence is related to alcohol misuse.

Third, there is the cost to us all of binge drinking. The rise in binge drinking is having a disastrous effect on our towns and cities. The delicately termed night-time economy can mean a lifetime of misery for those unfortunate enough to live in the vicinity of late-opening pubs and clubs. Their sleep is disturbed. Their gardens get filled with litter, and worse. They fear to go out on to their own streets at night, and they cannot escape because the value of their houses is cut by 20 per cent. or more. Ask any family in a town or city centre up and down the country what is the biggest threat to their quality of life and it will not take them long to mention drunken louts hanging around the streets.

Photo of David Davis David Davis Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

I will give way to the right hon. Gentleman in a minute, because he has a long and honourable record on the issue.

In those same towns and cities every weekend—and indeed on some week nights too—revellers pile out of pubs and bars so intoxicated that they are beyond coherent speech or reason. Young women are so inebriated that they are oblivious to how they are going to get home. Young men stagger around looking for fights. One serving policeman wrote to me last week and said:

"I don't want to work even more late and night shifts to cater for drunken idiots. Why should we put ourselves at risk to clear up the mess on the streets?"

Another police officer described 90 per cent. of his job on a Friday and Saturday night as falling under the "mopping up category".

The culture of excess and violence being allowed to develop was evocatively described by Judge Charles Harris when, sentencing some hooligans, he said:

"People, or people like you, are making the towns of England revolting and dangerous places at night . . . It is being assisted by legislation to make alcohol available at all times of day and night, which is OK for reasonable human beings, but you are of the attitude of trying to drink as much as you can for as long as you can. You became ugly urban savages by your behaviour, which resulted in serious violence".

Indeed, under this Government, things have got worse. And it should not be that way.

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport said in a memo to the Prime Minister, leaked to the Sunday Times recently:

"It is already an offence to sell alcohol to people who are drunk or to permit drunkenness or disorderly behaviour on licensed premises. We need to ask why the existing closure powers are so rarely used by the police".

Indeed we do. The previous Home Secretary, Mr. Blunkett, made it clear that drunkenness and disorderly behaviour was spiralling out of control. On that basis, convictions for drunk and disorderly behaviour should have grown rapidly. However, since this Government came to power, the number of people found guilty or cautioned for drunk and disorderly behaviour has fallen by 10,000—about 20 per cent. In that time, the number of minors convicted or cautioned for buying alcohol has fallen by 80 per cent. Under-age drinking has been virtually decriminalised under this Government, and only five pubs have had their licence revoked in recent years.

The Prime Minister recently said that the police would be given new powers to shut down problem pubs, but the powers that already exist have simply not been used.

Photo of Frank Dobson Frank Dobson Labour, Holborn and St Pancras

I agree with virtually every word that the right hon. Gentleman has said. What I cannot understand is why his predecessor as shadow Home Secretary, Mr. Letwin, never said any of this when the Bill was introduced in 2003. Some of us who were concerned about those issues might have welcomed a little support from Tory Front Benchers.

Photo of David Davis David Davis Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

I am coming to exactly that point now. Just before the 2001 general election, the Labour party texted voters saying:

"Cldnt give a XXXX 4 last ordrs? Vote Labour 4 xtra time".

That is the motive behind what we hear today. When the Licensing Bill was first introduced, the Conservative spokesman raised concerns about the potential for a decline

"in civilised behaviour on our streets as a result of flexible drinking hours".

She described it presciently as a "leap in the dark", a phrase that was used later by the previous Home Secretary when he expressed his fears about it. But it is undoubtedly true—as Mr. Dobson pointed out—that people on both sides of the House largely accepted the Government's arguments that relaxation of the licensing laws would improve the situation, not make it worse. Hon. Members accepted those arguments on the basis of information provided by the Government.

There have been a number of allegations in the press about Government cover-ups and misleading information, and it is an extremely serious charge to allege that the Government have misled the House. If proven, it would normally require a Minister to resign. I do not know whether the Government's extremely partial stance was deliberate, the result of incoherence between Departments, or a matter of simple incompetence. My review of the Government's pronouncements during and since the proceedings on the Licensing Act 2003 have led me to believe that they have been literally economical with the truth. I listened very carefully to the explanation from the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight PPS (Ms Rosie Winterton, Minister of State), Department of Health

The right hon. Gentleman is making insinuations, but is it not the practice in Standing Committee debates—I was a member of the Standing Committee that considered the Act—to table probing amendments? I recall amendments on, for example, whether we should start a clause with a conjunction. We had long debates about that, but I do not recall a single amendment from the Conservative party on flexible drinking hours.

Photo of David Davis David Davis Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

If the hon. Gentleman listens to what I say next, he will understand why. We now discover that, before, during and for a short while after the Act went through its proceedings in Parliament, the Government led us to believe that the police were content with these proposals. We now discover that more than half of all police forces are deeply concerned by this Act. Steve Green, the chief constable of Nottinghamshire police and, incidentally, the spokesman from the Association of Chief Police Officers on alcohol-fuelled violence, warned that

"24 hour drinking under the current drinking culture . . . would make for a far greater violent crime problem".

Or as he put it on another occasion, it would make for "a 24 hour . . . hell".

In its assessment of the impact of the Licensing Act—it was not shown to the public or the Opposition—the Metropolitan police said that the Act would "fuel" Britain's drinking culture and

"increase the potential for victims of crime".

There was also no indication during the passage of the Act that the medical fraternity had concerns.

Photo of Charles Hendry Charles Hendry Shadow Minister (Children, Young People and Families), Deputy Chair, Conservative Party

Does my right hon. Friend understand the police's concern at the effect that the measure will have on recruitment? If they see more and more of the job as policing the unruly people who have come out of the pubs late and the antisocial behaviour that is fuelled by alcohol, it will become more and more difficult to recruit people into the police in the first place.

Photo of David Davis David Davis Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

My hon. Friend is entirely right. The measure will affect many aspects of policing. It will draw the police away from the other crimes that they should be dealing with. As he said, they will become demoralised as they have to deal with rather unpleasant tasks.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan PPS (Rt Hon Alan Milburn, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster), Cabinet Office

I take it from the right hon. Gentleman's remarks that he is telling the House that today's debate is the result of the Conservative party's abject failure as an effective Opposition.

Photo of David Davis David Davis Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

The hon. Gentleman should read a little more. If he reads John Maynard Keynes, he will find that Keynes said, "When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do?" That is clearly what the hon. Gentleman does not do. He simply has a prejudice that he starts and ends with.

Photo of Mr Jonathan Sayeed Mr Jonathan Sayeed Conservative, Mid Bedfordshire

Is not the question that Ministers should answer whether, overall, society would benefit from 24-hour boozing? We now know that much more information was given to the Government at the time and that it was not released to the rest of us. There is now even further information and each of the bits of information, apart from that from the drinks industry, suggests that 24-hour drinking would be very bad for Britain.

Photo of David Davis David Davis Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

My hon. Friend makes an apposite point. As I was about to say, there was no indication during the passage of the Act that the medical fraternity had concerns. When the Government published their alcohol harm reduction strategy paper, the report highlighted the adverse impacts of binge drinking on the nation's health, and on levels of antisocial behaviour. However, evidence has now come to light that the Government withheld several criticisms of their policy on licensing. The Sunday Times has reported that the paper was redrafted to remove evidence of a link between drink and 19,000 sex assaults a year and the "adverse" effect 24-hour opening might have on local residents.

Many experts consulted by the Government concluded that the increased alcohol consumption resulting from liberalisation of licensing laws would have a severe negative impact. These concerns were included in a draft of the report that was circulated to the Cabinet in August 2003. However, they had been removed from the report by the time an interim report was published in September. One of the report's expert contributors, Professor Griffith Edwards, said at the time:

"I have seldom seen a consensus of informed scientific advice so trashed and ignored".

According to Professor Colin Drummond, professor of addictive psychiatry at St. George's hospital medical school:

"One of the striking things was that when the final report was published there were a great number of things that really just didn't appear there at all. I think it's extremely important and certainly the academics and the Royal Colleges that commented on the Strategy are very concerned that these things had been left out."

Professor Drummond also said:

"I think it's an example of sexing down a dossier on alcohol problems really . . . evidence that was clearly available to the review team that was compiling the interim analysis was not included in the final report, and there must be reasons behind that."

Photo of Adrian Bailey Adrian Bailey Labour/Co-operative, West Bromwich West

Given that the logic of the right hon. Gentleman's argument and the evidence that he has put forward seem to imply that there will be more binge drinking and antisocial behaviour if the licensing hours are relaxed, will he argue that, to curb binge drinking, there should be a less flexible licensing regime and shorter drinking hours?

Photo of David Davis David Davis Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

If the hon. Gentleman waits a few minutes, he will hear exactly what I am going to argue. It is not quite as foolish and short-term as that.

Let us consider what else was not said. We finally discover that the Home Office itself had very serious concerns about the Act. The former Home Secretary, as I said earlier, described the proposal as

"a leap in the dark".

Ellie Roy, the Home Office's crime reduction director, told a meeting of officials from Downing street, the Treasury and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport that there was

"widespread concern that the licensing act will make matters worse".

She was supported by Leigh Lewis, a permanent secretary at the Home Office and the Government's most senior crime-fighting mandarin. At a meeting in February to discuss "Home Office concerns with the Licensing Act", Lewis outlined official unpublished research showing links between binge drinking and violence. He said:

"Violent crime was up 14 per cent., a significant proportion was taking place in proximity to licensed premises . . . Stranger crime was increasing significantly; and 47 per cent. of the victims of violent crime believed that their assailant was under the influence of alcohol".

None of these facts or expert opinions, available to the Government at the time, was put into the public domain during the passage of the Act—not one of them—and many of them were actively withheld.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick Labour, Walsall North

This debate and the debate in Westminster Hall this morning have, at least, enabled us to focus on alcohol misuse. The right hon. Gentleman said that when the Act went through Committee, the Government did not provide this or that information. However, was it not the job of the Opposition to try to find out from the medical profession and the police their views and criticisms of what was proposed? Is it not the case that the Opposition have decided that this is a popular issue to exploit and, late in the day, are jumping on the bandwagon?

Photo of David Davis David Davis Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

The hon. Gentleman has an interesting view of government and opposition. He assumes that we have to assume that the Government will tell lies. That is what his remarks amount to.

Let us be clear. No one objects to anyone having a good time; no one wants to stop people having fun or enjoying themselves. Of course, it is true that the vast majority of people can be trusted to behave responsibly and not to cause trouble for others, but that is not what we are talking about today. We are talking about the Government's clear decision to allow pubs to open for 24 hours a day—a decision that international evidence suggests could lead to greater irresponsible drinking.

In Western Australia, an extension of bar closing times to l am led to a rise in alcohol consumption, violence and drunkenness. In Scotland, one newspaper reported a

"huge increase in violent crime in some of Edinburgh's most lively areas", with one senior police officer directly linking this to the increase in the number of licensed premises. In Ireland, the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2000 ushered in an era of more violence, more damage, and more disorder. The Irish Times reported that

"the consequences of excessive drinking are visible late at night on the streets of our cities, towns and villages. They are reflected in crowded accident and emergency wards in hospitals and, all too frequently, victims of alcohol-related violence end up on mortuary slabs".

The paper was clear what was responsible: It said:

"The rise in alcohol consumption was facilitated by longer pub opening hours."

The mess caused by Ireland's Intoxicating Liquor Act 2000 had to be followed by tough measures in the Intoxicating Liquor Acts 2003 and 2004. We can avoid the need for such a legislative onslaught here simply by delaying the implementation of the Licensing Act 2003.

Photo of David Taylor David Taylor Labour/Co-operative, North West Leicestershire

The right hon. Gentleman complains that the Government failed to bring relevant statistics into the public domain when the Licensing Bill was considered, but surely the Opposition receive Short money so that they can reveal obvious points. For example, an Office for National Statistics survey in 1998 showed that 22 per cent. of men and 8 per cent. of women were binge drinkers, but six years later, each of those figures had increased by 1 per cent. I am not trying to minimise the issue, but the facts are there and it is up to the Opposition to oppose.

Photo of David Davis David Davis Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

The approach is wonderful: the Government lie and we are at fault.

Let me address the solution for which Mr. Bailey asked. In the Government's scramble last week, they probably realised that their original underpinning principle of 24-hour opening was wrong. Rather than stretching hours to decrease disorder, the new laws will actually increase violent and antisocial drunken behaviour. The Government still claim that 24-hour opening will lead to more responsible drinking, but I doubt that very much, as do most experts.

One only has to look at what happens when the youngsters who stagger out on to our streets at closing time go to places such as Faliraki or Ibiza. They drink for 24 hours, become drunk and disorderly and create trouble for the locals. In Britain, the front-line services will pick up the pieces. The impact on our already overstretched police and medical services will be huge. Chief Constable Steve Green said that in Nottingham, officers are diverted away from where they should be to cover the policing of the city centre. The Metropolitan Police Federation said that

"most police areas will be bereft of police officers from"

2 am

"because time is spent dealing with the consequences of binge drinking".

Ireland had to learn the hard way, with three years of misery followed by two major revisions of the law. We should not make the same mistake. Mr. Field has called for pilot schemes in a small number of towns. His call has been supported by Mr. Hinchliffe, the Chairman of the Select Committee on Health, and also The Guardian, which reminds us that the Government were elected on a pledge to pursue "evidence-based policies". I agree with them. As the Chief Constable of Nottingham said when he gave evidence to the Home Affairs Committee, there are a huge number of unknowns.

As part of the plans cobbled together last week, the Government announced alcohol disorder zones. How will those zones work? If they are drawn up geographically, they could end up penalising establishments that have never had any problems. If they are drawn up by establishment, they could force rowdy drunks to go to normally quiet pubs, thus ruining other customers' pleasure and destroying the reputation of decent landlords. Could a police force legally establish and sustain a zone, and could a zone be challenged? We do not know how robust the proposed regulatory regime will be.

Photo of Frank Field Frank Field Labour, Birkenhead

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of David Davis David Davis Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

No.

The proposal to exclude individuals from local pubs is equally naive. First, it requires the individual to be caught misbehaving in our under-policed cities in the early hours of the morning, and secondly the exclusion must be policed, presumably by bar staff, who are often young or temporary, in large drinking establishments. If it does work, what will it do but force people to different, more distant, pubs? It would encourage them to undertake a more extended pub crawl and perhaps to compound the felony with a drink-driving offence, thus putting the innocent public at even more risk. I hope that I am wrong, but remember that it took the Government nearly six years to get antisocial behaviour orders into a workable form.

The intelligent and reasonable approach is obvious: defer 24-hour drinking until these and other methods of dealing with binge drinking have been tested and made workable, and then pilot the liberalisation in a few local authority areas. We should only then let the Act come into full effect. That approach would cost nothing, and could indeed save a great deal. All it requires is a Government who will face the facts and put the interests of the many before the excesses of the few.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Home Secretary 1:04, 25 January 2005

I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:

"considers that failure to implement the Licensing Act 2003 without delay would deny the local community increased powers of intervention and improved democratic accountability with regard to licensing, deny the police the expanded powers that are vital to their efforts to tackle alcohol-related crime and would prevent licensing authorities from receiving income from licensing fees needed to recover on-going expenditure in preparing for the new regime;
believes that any delay in the implementation of the Act would undermine the prevention of crime and disorder and public nuisance, damage public safety and hinder the protection of children from harm;
further believes that the Act will complement the delivery of the Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy for England which aims to reduce excessive drinking and the harms that causes;
and, furthermore, commends the proposals for Alcohol Disorder Zones and the extension of fixed penalty notices and other measures set out in 'Drinking Responsibly', the consultation paper published jointly by the Home Office, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister on 21st January 2005."

I am absolutely delighted that we are having the debate because I hope that it will bring clarity to a matter that has become confused in a wide variety of ways.

Let me start with common ground. I agreed with every word of the first four or five minutes of the speech made by David Davis. His description of the state of affairs that we must address was genuinely shocking and he was right to highlight the situation. The figures that I shall cite simply reinforce the points that he made. Half of all violent crime is alcohol related, and one in five violent crimes occurs in or around pubs and clubs. Alcohol misuse costs up to £20 billion a year, and up to 70 per cent. of entrants to accident and emergency departments in hospitals overnight are fuelled by alcohol. The problem exists, but it is important to acknowledge that the situation that the right hon. Gentleman eloquently described—and that my statistics reinforce—exists today without any change to licensing hours whatsoever.

Photo of Mr Jonathan Sayeed Mr Jonathan Sayeed Conservative, Mid Bedfordshire

Will the Home Secretary tell us the number of road accidents resulting in injury or fatality that are caused by alcohol or drug abuse?

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Home Secretary

I do not have the figures to hand, but the hon. Gentleman is correct to say that alcohol is a major aspect of fatalities among people who drive. Such abuse is serious, but that is the case whether we have the current licensing arrangements or the new flexible arrangements that have been established.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Home Secretary

I shall give way a couple more times and then make progress.

Photo of Eric Illsley Eric Illsley Labour, Barnsley Central

Will my right hon. Friend bear it in mind that the genesis of licensing law reform came in 1995 when the then Conservative Government produced a measure, as part of their deregulation initiative, to extend the opening hours of pubs until midnight? That was passed in the House without question and failed only when it was voted down in the House of Lords. The idea of extending licensing hours came from the last Conservative Government.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Home Secretary

My hon. Friend is exactly right. To be fair to the Conservative Government, they were trying to examine the matter on its merits, rather than being driven by a populist response to specific issues as they came up.

Photo of Patrick McLoughlin Patrick McLoughlin Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Commons)

The right hon. Gentleman has been talking about drink-related accidents on our roads. There is a problem in this country because there is insufficient knowledge about the length of time for which alcohol stays in the bloodstream, and thus the time for which one can be over the limit after having a drink. Does he not think that that problem could get worse under 24-hour licensing?

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Home Secretary

No, I do not, but I shall address that point in a second.

There is common ground among hon. Members about the problems caused by alcohol consumption in our society, but the argument has confused two separate questions, as the motion deliberately tries to do: first, what will be the effect of flexible licensing hours; and secondly, what can we do to address alcohol-fuelled crime, especially violent crime? I want to try to disentangle those important questions.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Home Secretary

I am going to make a little progress.

On the first question, evidence shows that liberalising licensing hours does not necessary lead to the increased use of alcohol. The right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden says that he is looking for evidence, so let me simply cite the effect of changes in this country.

Several well documented conclusions were drawn from the change to all-day opening in Scotland in 1976, which I shall cite to inform the House, as the right hon. Gentleman would want me to. In 1974, average spending on alcohol in Scotland was greater than in England and Wales, but following the change to the licensing laws, the gap narrowed and in 1983—seven years after the changes—the average Scottish household was spending 7 per cent. less than the UK average.

To address the point made by Mr. McLoughlin, drunk-driving convictions in Scotland increased by 1.2 per cent., compared with an increase of 36 per cent. in England and Wales over the same period. Violence against the person increased in Scotland by 16.7 per cent., compared with 43.8 per cent. in England and Wales.

Convictions for under-age drinking fell by 18.6 per cent. in Scotland in the four years after reform, compared with a rise of more than 23 per cent. in England and Wales. Convictions for drunkenness in Scotland fell by 13.6 per cent. in the five years following the change, compared with a rise of 13.1 per cent. in England and Wales. In the 19 to 26 age group, the decline in Scotland was 14.1 per cent., compared with a rise of 19.2 per cent. in England and Wales. Those were the effects of the changes—

Photo of Frank Field Frank Field Labour, Birkenhead

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Home Secretary

I shall give two more examples, then give way.

The second change was to all-day opening in England and Wales, for which the Conservative Government legislated in 1988. The introduction of all-day opening that year was followed by a decline in per capita alcohol consumption in each of the next five years. The consequence is clear. My final example before giving way is that of extended new year's eve opening in England and Wales after 1999. Most police forces and local authorities reported significant improvements as a result of the change. That is the evidence of the state of affairs resulting from changes made in this country, and it must be taken into account.

Photo of Frank Field Frank Field Labour, Birkenhead

Could not the first set of statistics that my right hon. Friend presented be read differently, to show that although consumption in Scotland has increased, it has increased faster in this country? The question that the Government have to answer is whether further liberalisation of licensing laws will lessen consumption or increase it.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Home Secretary

My right hon. Friend is entirely right—that is the question that must be addressed. People of good will can come to different views of the potential change; I simply place in evidence the fact that where change has taken place, it has not led to the increase in consumption that was feared—in fact, the reverse has happened. I accept that many hon. Members, including my right hon. Friend Mr. Dobson and others, have, for reasons of perfect propriety, taken the view that the proposed step is risky and undesirable—but the principal force of my argument is that we should not entangle the debate on licensing hours with the debate on how to fight the impact of over-consumption of alcohol, alcohol-related crime and so on. Both are important issues that must be given proper consideration, but they are separate: the link between the two is not made and should not be thought to have been made.

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Minister

The Home Secretary reads our local newspaper, the Eastern Daily Press, so he is aware of the problems in King's Lynn affecting the residents of Pilot street in particular, and of the fact that most of the local police apparently oppose liberalisation. I do not know whether he has spoken to the chief constable of Norfolk about the proposals, but what have the Norfolk police told him about the Government's proposals?

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Home Secretary

I shall mention the chief constable of Norfolk if the hon. Gentleman wants, but the fact is that the problems in King's Lynn have arisen without any of the proposed changes being made.

Photo of Angela Watkinson Angela Watkinson Shadow Minister (Education)

Will the Home Secretary come to the London borough of Havering and speak to local residents, police, councillors and accident and emergency department staff? The fallout from the largest concentration of late-night entertainment centres outside the west end, in Romford, monopolises the services of the police and the local hospital. I guarantee that he will not find anyone who wants licensing hours extended.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Home Secretary

I shall not accept the hon. Lady's kind invitation to Havering and Romford. However, I visit many places and discuss with people precisely those questions.

Photo of David Davis David Davis Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

The Home Secretary properly attempts to distinguish 24-hour licensing and binge drinking, but the former has two effects. The first is to allow perfectly normal, reasonable, law-abiding people more time for their leisure and pleasure, and we all agree with that—there is no argument between us. The other effect, shown by the operational evidence from Nottinghamshire, where Stephen Green is chief constable—the sort of evidence that has persuaded the right hon. Gentleman's own advisers—is that it creates the opportunity for further binge drinking. If he has answers to or effective methods of dealing with the problem of binge drinking, the opportunity opens up for a safer extension to 24-hour opening.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Home Secretary

I agree with part of that statement. The right hon. Gentleman is right to say that in places like Nottingham city centre we need a package of measures to deal with the ill. I know about Nottingham—many people have spoken to me about the situation there and I have discussed it with the chief constable. I understand that we need a set of measures to target that particular problem in a focused way. That is why, last Friday, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and my hon. Friend the Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing and Community Safety announced a set of measures to do just that, including the establishment of alcohol disorder zones. I cannot predict what will happen, but I would be surprised if Nottingham did not fall within the relevant category. Also announced were powers to enable the immediate closure of establishments—for making under-age sales, for example—and to tackle irresponsible promotions. We shall also review the penalties for alcohol-related disorder. Why? Because with each of those measures, we acknowledge the truth of the right hon. Gentleman's words: it is necessary to move away from any idea of accommodating the problem of alcohol-fuelled disorder and towards its eradication through the type of measure that I have suggested. The key point is that those measures stand in their own terms. They are designed to deal with the situation in Romford, Nottingham and other areas, irrespective of the issues relating to licensing flexibility.

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Shadow Minister, Shadow Minister (London)

Does the Home Secretary not understand that having to announce all those new initiatives to deal with the problems in all our town centres under the current regime makes nonsense of liberalising the drinking laws? What is the point of the initiatives, if not to deal with the present situation?

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Home Secretary

The aim of the police, including the chief constables of Nottingham and of Norfolk and the other chief constables with whom I have discussed the problems, is to make an impact on binge drinking through the type of measure that I have announced. That is why the president of the Association of Chief Police Officers accompanied my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport on the platform of last Friday's press conference to commit ACPO as a whole to implementing the measures and making them work. I can tell the House confidentially—[Laughter.] I know that the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden is concerned about confidentiality. The principal reason for the concern that is rightly adduced by some senior police officers was simple: there were resources issues and those who were causing alcohol-related crime—establishments in the areas in which binge drinking was common—were not, in the view of the police, making a sufficient contribution. We have addressed that problem; the measures announced by my right hon. Friend last Friday have to be carried through, but they explicitly answer those concerns.

Such measures reinforce the implementation of the recommendations in our alcohol harm reduction strategy. Those include close working with industry to draft a code of practice covering on and off trade and producers. As an aside, I observe that some of the problems to which the right hon. Gentleman referred are as much the result of off-licence purchases as of on-licence purchases. That problem needs to be dealt with, and alcohol disorder zones give us the powers to tackle it. The code will be supported by an accreditation scheme that incentivises good practice and highlights poor operators. We are working on making the sensible drinking message easier and clearer, so that people can make informed choices, and on establishing a range of fixed penalty notices. The police will have powers to close immediately an area or premises where disorder is occurring or anticipated, or where there is excessive noise.

I emphasise that, thanks to the legislation, we have a unique opportunity in the fact that all licences are up for renewal in the coming six months. Today, I ask that all applicants be properly assessed by the local authority on the basis of advice from the police regarding their appropriateness to hold a licence to sell alcohol. We therefore have a new mechanism for review.

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Shadow Minister, Shadow Minister (London)

Central London has particular problems. One of the grave concerns about the new initiatives felt by those who represent the area—including Mr. Dobson, with whom I have Covent Garden in common—is that many of them will simply give the green light to the larger-scale outlets of the alcohol and entertainment industry and that some of the small, independent, family-run businesses that lie at the heart of our communities will either be driven out of business, or forced to sell up to a larger organisation. In other words, we will be playing to the lowest common denominator.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Home Secretary

I do not accept that. I think that as a result of the proposed measures, the well run family pub will be in a far stronger position vis-à-vis the competition.

Photo of Frank Field Frank Field Labour, Birkenhead

There is widespread support on the Opposition Benches for the approach that those who cause some of the disorder in our towns and cities should pay more to cover policing costs. In Wirral, the police have taken eight cases before the magistrates to try to deny a licence to those who produce many drunks at the end of the day, and they have lost all of those cases. Under the new system, will my right hon. Friend support local authorities, when they are pushed by highly paid QCs on the other side, to maintain the line against licensing continuing?

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Home Secretary

I can answer that question unequivocally: yes. I cite an example not from the Wirral but from my own constituency, where precisely these events happened. A licence was granted on appeal. There were precisely the legal issues that my right hon. Friend has described. It was granted despite the opposition of both the local authority and the police. I strongly hold the view that these measures, for the first time, will give a greatly increased power, compared with the previous situation, to tackle precisely the abuse that my right hon. Friend describes.

Photo of Eric Pickles Eric Pickles Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

The right hon. Gentleman speaks about the review of licences by local authorities that will take place. The figures for the fees were produced on Friday, and they are based on rateable value. This coincides with a general revaluation, which means that there will be a perverse incentive for local licensees to make an application during the transitional period. To ameliorate that, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport has announced a review. Will that review take into consideration the actual cost during the period of transition? Will it include the fee level? Will consideration be given to the structure of the licensing committees in terms of numbers?

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Home Secretary

My right hon. Friend has made it perfectly clear—she will speak for herself when she replies—that the monitoring process will include all aspects of these matters with a view to assessing the best way to go forward.

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight PPS (Ms Rosie Winterton, Minister of State), Department of Health

My right hon. Friend has mentioned some of the powers and initiatives that the Government want to have and to take to tackle binge drinking. I am a strong supporter of the Licensing Act 2003, but I shall be interested to know whether anything more can be done to support those in the alcohol industry who, voluntarily, are trying to do something about happy hours and incentives for people to binge drink. Can the Government take any more serious action to work with the industry in that direction?

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Home Secretary

My hon. Friend is correct. One of the measures that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport announced on Friday was designed specifically to encourage that approach. We intend to offer support to the alcohol industry in banning irresponsible promotions. We want to see all promotions that encourage speed drinking ended. These are promotions such as, "All you can drink for £X.99", or, "All girls drink free between 11 and 12." We want to see a set of measures that will strengthen the voluntary regulation of the industry. We are supporting the British Beer and Pub Association and others in developing guidance to owners and operators that will ban irresponsible drink promotions. I hope that I have given my hon. Friend the assurance that he is seeking.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan PPS (Rt Hon Alan Milburn, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster), Cabinet Office

Like my hon. Friend Jim Knight, I support the measures set out in the Licensing Act 2003. I was concerned enough about the guidelines issued by my local authority to write asking it to strengthen them. It was able to do so in some areas. It replied, tending to say that the Government's guidelines did not allow it to go as far as I wanted so as to have local control over these issues, as promised in the Act. Is my right hon. Friend happy that the Government's guidelines are robust enough to enable us to achieve our goals?

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Home Secretary

I am happy with that. More importantly, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport is happy with that.

My hon. Friend is on to a correct point in saying that it is critical to ensure that Members and others press their local authorities to take the action that is necessary to deal with the situation. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is of the view that in the process of implementing these changes, and if it emerges that there are genuine constraints in the guidelines that need to be addressed, the situation will be addressed. At present, we are categoric that the guidelines are right to deal with these matters. As I said a short while ago, I ask all applicants to ensure that all applications in this process of renewal are properly assessed and that the opportunity is taken to do that in detail.

The weakest position will arise where a local authority and a local crime reduction partnership have not properly assessed what strategically must be done to attack the problem in a particular community. It is part of the strength of our democracy that different issues arise in different areas. I hope that right hon. and hon. Members will put pressure on their crime reduction partnerships and local authorities to address the issue in the proper way.

The measures to which I have referred are substantial in range. A flexible range of measures will be available after review that hit profits in areas where there is abuse that needs to be dealt with through, for example, a temporary or permanent reduction in trading hours. The maximum fine for selling to under-18s is increased from £1,000 to £5,000. The new licensing fee package has been announced and we believe that it will make things more effective. I have referred to the banning of irresponsible promotions and other issues that need to be tackled in that area.

I shall focus for a moment on alcohol disorder zones, which will create a direct link between the level of disorder in a locality and the financial contribution that is required from the industry. I believe that the zones will act as a powerful incentive for the industry to get its own house in order in any given locality. That is why I so strongly support the zones. Before an alcohol disorder zone is imposed, operators will be given a warning. They will be given a chance to work with the police and the council to agree an action plan for improvement. This approach is not draconian or arbitrary. It is designed to ensure that everybody takes the issue seriously and addresses it properly. This is the right approach and the right way to go forward.

We are establishing a 24-hour closure power against premises that repeatedly sell to under-18s. I do not believe that the family pub will be threatened by that because they do not repeatedly sell to under-18s. The power will apply to both on and off-licences, which is a strength of the proposals. The power will be triggered where evidence is gathered to suggest persistent selling to under-18s.

Photo of David Davis David Davis Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

The right hon. Gentleman has announced a number of what appear to be sensible measures. One of the concerns that I raised earlier was that many existing measures are not being used. I take, for example, under-age drinking. There has been a halving of the prosecutions for sales to under-age drinkers and almost an elimination of cautions and prosecutions against under-18s who have bought drink. How will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that these measures are used?

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Home Secretary

The right hon. Gentleman is right. It is a point that I raised with the police when I first met them to discuss these matters. There is an issue about resources, which we are tackling. There is also an issue about new powers, which we are addressing in the way that I have described. There is also an issue, as the right hon. Gentleman rightly says, about the use of existing powers so that there is proper enforcement.

I can say only two things at this juncture. First, the greater powers that we have given to local government, working with the police, will strengthen the ability to enforce. That will be their direct result. Secondly, my colleagues in the police have been clear in acknowledging that there is a need to act more on the enforcement side. To be frank, the fact that we have given them what they are looking for in this regard will enable us more effectively to carry through our policy.

We already have a number of measures in place to tackle the problem of alcohol-fuelled disorder. The police enforcement campaigns, the alcohol harm reduction strategy, the Christmas drinking campaigns and the introduction of the new fixed penalty notices are having an effect. Part of the industry is already raising its game and acting responsibly, and we welcome that. However, we need to do far more. The measures proposed last Friday in the consultation paper are a robust package to ensure that the industry and individuals take their full responsibility for their part in the problems of alcohol-related disorder. We must keep clear in our minds the need to have a focused strategy to tackle alcohol abuse, which is what we have put forward. We must not confuse that issue, which is very important, with the other important issue of more flexible opening hours, which I believe will be of benefit to the country as a whole.

Photo of Frank Dobson Frank Dobson Labour, Holborn and St Pancras 1:28, 25 January 2005

I start by feeling somewhat embarrassed because both my right hon. Friends the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport have been friends of mine for in excess of a quarter of a century. I hope that they will not take offence at some of the things that I have to say.

I fundamentally believe in representative government. Nobody gets into this place, nobody becomes a junior Minister, a Cabinet Minister or even a Prime Minister unless they purport to represent their constituents. In pursuit of trying to represent the interests of my constituents, for more than six or seven years I have been urging Ministers to take action to tackle the disorder, the nuisance and the loutish behaviour that is making life intolerable for people living in many parts of my constituency. It is not just the people living there whose lives are made intolerable but people who want to go to the theatre or a restaurant in the area where all that drinking is taking place. That applies to my constituency, Covent Garden, our part of the west end and Camden Town. I have been raising this issue for a number of years, but we have never had a jot of support from Tory or Liberal Democrat Front Benchers. I have been joined in my efforts by my hon. Friend Ms Buck and, if I am truthful, Mr. Field, and his predecessor, Peter Brooke, who is now a Member of the House of Lords. We have pressed for the law to be toughened up to protect law-abiding people who are going about their business and, above all, to ensure that local residents can maintain the quiet enjoyment of their homes, to which everyone is entitled. My hon. Friend the Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North can claim the credit for some of the best parts of the Licensing Act 2003.

When my right hon. Friend Mr. Clarke was a Minister of State at the Home Office, I took a delegation of local people to see him. When we came out of his office, they said that he really understood what they were talking about, and listened to their points about disorder. Partly as a result of that meeting, the law was changed so that licensed premises that are a source of disorder can be closed by the police for 24 hours without resort to magistrates or anyone else. That was greatly to my right hon. Friend's credit, and it was a big step forward.

About four years ago, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North, I met the then Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend Mr. Straw. We made many more points, and I remember confessing that I had not pressed my right hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South enough. My right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn agreed that 24-hour closures could be extended beyond premises causing disorder to premises causing serious nuisance. That provision has since become law. He agreed that councils should have a licensing plan so that if they received applications for a new premises they could say, "I'm sorry, this street has enough booze outlets already". That, too, is an important provision in the Licensing Act. He also agreed that all the costs of dealing with licensing, when transferred to local authorities, would have to be met in full from the fees charged to the licensing applicants. When he agreed to those three concessions, one or two officials, while not exactly grinding their teeth, were none too jolly about it. Nevertheless, it was the right thing to do.

When my right hon. Friend Tessa Jowell became Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, responsibility for the booze laws was transferred to her Department. I mentioned the three undertakings that we had been given, but she told me that her officials could not find any record of them. Fortunately, I had issued a press release, which was cleared by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn, and when I passed a copy to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, she accepted those undertakings, all three of which were included in the Licensing Act. There were further meetings with Ministers, and other issues were raised in debate. One of the problems was that change had become an article of faith for Ministers, and there was an unrelenting commitment to 24-hour opening which, it was believed, would end British binge drinking—everybody would be knocking back the odd Campari in delicate circumstances à la Tuscany. I never believed that that would be the case, and we could have avoided many of the problems that have confronted the Government in the past few weeks and months if Ministers had listened more carefully to representations made by MPs on behalf of their constituents, to organisations such as Alcohol Concern, to academics who had studied the topic, and to the police. In fairness to Ministers, some of the police criticisms of the Government proposals came a bit late in the day. I exhorted the police to object when the Licensing Bill was going through Parliament, but they would not do so, so they only have themselves to blame.

I remain concerned about the extension of opening hours. To give a simple example, at one end of a street is the Dog and Duck, which still closes at 11 o'clock. In the middle of the street is a pub called the Pig and Whistle, which receives permission to close at 12 o'clock. A fancy wine bar at the other end of the street closes at 1 o'clock. Instead of being woken up and disturbed by people turning out at 11 o'clock from all three establishments, the residents are woken up at 11, 12 and 1 o'clock, with intermediate problems caused by shuffling and shouting as people move from the pub closing at 11 o'clock to the one closing at 12 o'clock and then to the wine bar closing at 1 o'clock.

Photo of Frank Dobson Frank Dobson Labour, Holborn and St Pancras

I do not have time, I am afraid, and I will prevent other Members from making speeches if I accept interventions.

It is likely that the changes to opening hours will result in more booze being consumed. The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport has said—and I hope that this will be the case—that if

"local people don't want 24 hour drinking or extended hours they won't have to have it—for the first time the Licensing Act puts control over licensing decisions in the hands of local people and their representatives."

I hope that means that councils can reject applications for longer opening hours if local people object to them. In my constituency, where my right hon. Friend lives, there will be objections to most applications, so I hope that the council will reject them. I hope that the Standards Board for England will not complain if local councillors start to lobby the licensing committee to look after the interests of local people.

Photo of Frank Dobson Frank Dobson Labour, Holborn and St Pancras

I do not have time, I am afraid.

We must remember that we are not dealing with the odd individual who runs the Rovers Return or the Queen Vic. We are usually dealing with large, well funded, nationwide chains and, in some cases, multinationals with lots of money that are likely to challenge court decisions, thus increasing councils' costs. We have been promised, however, that the fees charged will meet costs. I have made representations to Ministers, as have the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster and my hon. Friend the Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North. The fee levels have been revised and improved, but they will still leave Camden council with a £2 million deficit over the next three or four years, so it is clear that the fees will not meet costs, which is quite unacceptable. The Government should make a clear commitment so that if they have got it wrong, Camden council, Westminster city council and other councils that operate at a loss can recoup their losses. I choose my words carefully in saying that it would add injury to insult if people had to pay for the licensing system for all those sources of nuisance.

There is one last point that I shall make. Several times we made representations to Ministers, drawing attention to the fact that many licences contain conditions and also undertakings, which are not quite as powerful as the conditions. We pressed Ministers to require someone applying for a new licence to disclose to the new organisation—the council—the undertakings, as well as the conditions, because many of those undertakings protected local people. Ministers rejected that. If there are to be the revisions in the law that have been proposed recently, I hope they include the requirement that applicants disclose to the council not just the conditions, but the undertakings that were introduced to protect people. That will be a step forward.

I hope that in future the Government will learn and that, instead of listening to ghastly organisations like the Portman Group, which is just a front for the booze industry, they will pay more attention to what elected Members of Parliament and local councillors are saying to protect their people.

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport 1:40, 25 January 2005

I am delighted to follow Mr. Dobson. Perhaps many more of us should have been listening rather earlier to his remarks. I hope he will consider me a repenting sinner. As the Liberal Democrats support the motion in the name of David Davis, the House should be aware that we are being consistent with the concerns that we expressed during the passage of the Licensing Act 2003, and with our decision to vote against both the Second and Third Readings of that Act.

During the passage of the Act, we had some concerns about the Government's motivation for introducing the proposals. Reference has been made to that famous text message,

"Cldnt give a XXXX 4 last ordrs? Vote Labour 4 xtra time."

We wondered whether the motivation was to garner the youth vote, rather than to address the real problem of binge drinking that afflicts the nation. There are now real concerns on the part of the public and many hon. Members about various provisions of the Licensing Act. There is clearly not a great deal of public support for the provisions. A recent BBC poll for the "Breakfast" programme showed that 67 per cent. of people thought the legislation would increase the trouble on our streets and 62 per cent. thought the Act likely to make Britain a worse place in which to live.

If the right controls and the right support mechanisms are put in place, flexibility in our licensing laws could help address the problems of binge drinking. Our concerns are that we do not have the right support measures and controls in place. For example, as I shall amplify, we do not believe that the powers of local authorities are adequate. We do not believe that support mechanisms—for example, the availability of public transport—are in place, and we continue to be worried about the fee structure so recently announced. However, we acknowledge that if we could develop the continental café culture, it could have some benefits.

We welcomed from the beginning the increased powers that the Act gives to police and others to close down institutions—pubs, clubs and others—which experience significant problems, but as others have pointed out, we do not seem to be using even existing legislation to combat such problems. Examples have been given of provisions that are not being fully utilised, and a couple of other examples serve to illustrate the point. Only 12 landlords on average each year since 1997 have been prosecuted for allowing drunken or riotous behaviour on their premises. In the same period only 11 people in total have been prosecuted for buying drinks for friends who were incapable as a result of binge drinking. We welcome some of the increased powers, but we hope that the existing powers will be more effectively used.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan PPS (Rt Hon Alan Milburn, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster), Cabinet Office

Will the hon. Gentleman clarify his party's position? He said that he would vote for the motion, which states that

"extended opening hours will have an adverse serious effect on the health of the nation."

So are the Liberal Democrats against extended opening hours?

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

I hope I have made it clear that we believe that with the right control mechanisms and support mechanisms in place, extended opening hours may help. Our argument is that at present the support and control mechanisms that we believe are necessary are not in place. Without them extended opening hours will lead to increased harm.

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight PPS (Ms Rosie Winterton, Minister of State), Department of Health

Will the hon. Gentleman sketch out what he thinks should be done? For example, he said that the existing powers were not being used sufficiently. When I speak to the police in my area about that, they say they do not have the resources to enforce those powers. They will welcome the new fees that have been announced and the new approach in the Act, which allows the cost of enforcement and inspection to be included in the fees, rather than just the administration costs for the licence.

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

Of course I intend to sketch out what we believe should happen. There would not be much point in making a speech if all I did was to criticise. I shall make some positive suggestions. The hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to the fact that his police, and no doubt police all over the country, are deeply concerned that if they do not have increased resources, they will not be able to carry out the policing that is necessary. The increased fees that have been proposed will provide additional resources only to the local authorities to enable them to do the monitoring. We have still to see where the additional resources for the police are to come from. The Secretary of State may wish to say more about that when she winds up.

The debate has been unfairly characterised as being about 24-hour drinking. We recognise that the vast majority of pubs are unlikely to want to move towards that. The powers that pubs were given during the new year period to open for as much as 36 hours were not taken up by a single pub, as far as I am aware. The Home Secretary was right to point out that the debate is not just about pubs and clubs. With more than 50 per cent. of alcohol being purchased from supermarkets and other off-licence establishments, we need to address that as well, as is acknowledged in some of the measures being introduced.

In my constituency, Bath, a recent newspaper article sums up the nature of the problem that we face. On 18 December last year The Bath Chronicle reported:

"Insp Paul Mogg said yesterday that he and his officers could no longer keep pace with the rising level of drink-fuelled violence in the city each weekend.

Insp Mogg said that revellers and his own officers were being assaulted on the streets, and many residents were too scared to venture out in the evening.

And he said Bath's reputation was being tarnished by armies of drunks who caused 'mayhem' on Fridays and Saturdays."

Other Members have referred to the numerous statistics about the binge drinking problem in this country. The Secretary of State rightly points out that these are problems that exist now, before the introduction of the new legislation. Reference has been made to the health costs, the impact on crime, and the problems that face many employers because of days of work being missed. That represents a great deal of human misery and a significant cost to the country, estimated by the Government to be in the region of £20 billion a year. We need to focus more on the problem in relation to young people. As we have already heard, British teenagers are drinking far more than any of their European counterparts.

Photo of Charles Hendry Charles Hendry Shadow Minister (Children, Young People and Families), Deputy Chair, Conservative Party

I know that it is Liberal Democrat policy to allow people to vote at the age of 16, because the Liberal Democrats believe that that is the age at which people become adults. Does the hon. Gentleman therefore also believe that that is the age at which people should be able to buy alcohol, and if not, why the inconsistency?

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

The hon. Gentleman rightly points out that we have a belief that the age of 16 should be consistently used for all issues, including the one that he is talking about. Our saying that 16-year-olds should be able to buy alcohol does not mean, however, that we are advocating that they should become involved in binge drinking. It is worrying that the figures demonstrate that about 33,000 children are admitted to hospital every year because of alcohol-related illnesses. In another debate on the same issue in Westminster Hall earlier today, my hon. Friend Simon Hughes referred to the situation in the Grampian health authority, where two young people under 15 are admitted every single week with acute alcohol poisoning.

There are real issues, and the question is whether the 2003 Act as it currently stands and is intended to be implemented will work. When the legislation was introduced, many of us believed more passionately than now that there was a chance that it would work. As has been said, much of the information provided by the Government told only half the story.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan PPS (Rt Hon Alan Milburn, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster), Cabinet Office

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that it is Lib Dem policy to legalise drinking at the age of 16? Does he think that that will contribute to a reduction in binge drinking?

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

The answer is yes. I do not think that I could explain the position more clearly. I have already set it out to Charles Hendry. I am clear about that policy, but I have no reason to accept any suggestion from Kevin Brennan that it would lead to an increase in binge drinking if we get the correct measures in place. Our concern is that the legislation does not provide us with the complete panoply of measures that we believe are necessary.

We were sold a false prospectus by the Government during the passage of the legislation in terms, for instance, of whether the police supported it. We now know that very many police are deeply concerned. The Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, Sir John Stevens, made that clear when he recently said:

"The move towards 24-hour drinking needs to be slowed down. The fact that large groups of people will be coming out at 3am or 4am will mean that we have to man the streets to ensure they behave."

We now know that even some of the information that was to be included in the alcohol harm reduction strategy and that would have been helpful subsequent consideration of the issues was removed. According to the Daily Mail, that includes this initial warning:

"Relaxing availability increases general harm whether through more outlets (Finland), denser outlets (California), or longer hours (Western Australia)."

The consensus has certainly moved away from support for the measure. We have also heard that there were deep concerns even in the Cabinet. The Prime Minister has already referred to binge drinking as the British disease, and as we have heard, the former Home Secretary described the proposals as a leap in the dark.

If we were given a dodgy dossier, however, the real issue is whether we are being given a sensible set of proposals that will really work. We are being told that local authorities will have significant powers to deal with the issues, but the more we study the Bill, the more we see its deep flaws. For example, at the very last minute, the Government accepted Liberal Democrat proposals that there should be some measures in place to address the issue of cumulative impact. The idea of special saturation policies was referred to. It does not appear in the Bill, but it is included in the guidance. Nevertheless, that opportunity is a rather thin one. For example, the very same guidance says:

"nothing in this Guidance should be taken as indicating that any requirement of licensing law or any other law may be overridden".

It does not give particularly special powers.

When local authorities such as mine, Bath and North East Somerset, considered whether to introduce a special saturation policy, they realised that there were two problems. First, in the area immediately outside the saturation policy areas a green light would be given to all sorts of developments that might be unwelcome to local residents. Secondly, and more importantly, the authorities recognised that there was a real possibility of legal challenge. Indeed, Andrew McNeill, director of the Institute of Alcohol Studies, recently said:

"I think it's going to be a legal minefield".

Local authorities are not very keen to pursue matters with the power of the big breweries that might challenge them and the legal costs that are likely to follow.

There are also concerns about the guidance relating to temporary event licences, as it will make it very difficult for local people to do anything about raves in their area. As the Secretary of State will know, only the police are allowed to object, and they have only 48 hours in which to do so. A rave organiser can simply put a letter through a rural police station letterbox on a Friday, and there will be no time whatever for action to be taken.

Photo of Eric Pickles Eric Pickles Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

I agree with the hon. Gentleman on that point, but I want to go back to his previous point. A number of local authorities have attempted to strike a balance between licensees and the local population. Does he appreciate that those agreements will now mean nothing unless the Government remove the "must" obligation to grant permission unless there is an objection?

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

I was about to come to that point. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman—perhaps he will have an opportunity to develop his argument later, if he catches your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker—will be well aware that, because of the problems that he mentions, the magistrates courts may become clogged up with all sorts of applications and we may have difficulty in implementing the measures anyway. I was going to make that point in a minute, but I am grateful to him for giving me the chance to do so now.

The local flexibility that the Government talk about is very one-sided. The Government say that, on licensing, they strongly recommend

"that statements of policy recognise that longer licensing hours" are

"necessary to reduce the friction of late fast food outlets, taxi ranks and other sources of transport which lead to disorder and disturbance".

Earlier, the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras asked the Secretary of State whether it would be possible for a local authority to say no to any increases. The problem is that local authorities are required to have a licensing policy saying that they recognise that increasing licensing hours is a good idea. That makes it very difficult for them to follow the line that he might want to suggest. To add insult to injury, the guidance on the special saturation policy areas that local authorities might wish to introduce states specifically that no rule can be introduced in those areas saying that all the pubs must close at the same time. The guidance forbids local authorities from doing that. When he asked the Secretary of State about that issue, she should have said that such an approach was not possible.

There are also concerns about the role of local councillors. How can it be right for a local councillor who represents a particular area of a town or city where there is a serious problem to be told that he or she cannot serve on the licensing committee considering licences in that area? Frankly, that is complete madness.

The fees themselves are another problem. The Secretary of State has introduced a new set of fees. Many people will welcome them, but it is worth pointing out that the fees on which she consulted extensively and those that were introduced are significantly different. The new fees have come as a huge shock to the pubs and breweries, and various other related organisations. I am not arguing about whether they are right or wrong, but the publication of the fees within days of the first named day, 7 February, makes it hugely difficult for those involved to decide what action to take. At the same time, many bodies—not least small sports clubs—are deeply worried that the fee levels are far too high. All those arrangements have been introduced at very short notice.

Photo of Desmond Swayne Desmond Swayne Parliamentary Private Secretaries To Leader of the Opposition

On small clubs, my constituent, Mr. John Crosthwaite-Eyre, who is treasurer of Dunwood Manor golf club, has informed me that the price of the club's licence will increase from £16 to £1,145, which is simply outrageous.

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

The hon. Gentleman's example is one of many that will undoubtedly be cited. I will give him advance notice of how the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport will respond to his point: she will say that the Government have given local amateur sports clubs new powers to obtain additional money and that only 2,000 clubs have taken up the offer, although many thousands of them could do so. When the Government introduced that concession on rates, however, it was intended to provide additional support to sports clubs to help them carry out sporting activities. The tune seems to have changed, and sports clubs must use that benefit, if they take it up, to pay the increased fees to which the hon. Gentleman has alluded, which cannot be right.

The Government have recently introduced a set of new sticking-plaster measures. Stung by the criticisms, they have brought in proposals, which are only proposals, for alcohol disorder zones, a "three strikes and you're out" scheme and charges, which might or might not be made, to certain pubs and clubs to help pay for policing, which would be similar to the situation with football clubs. If the package of measures is going to work, we need to know where the new measures, which may or may not be sensible, are going and how they fit into the overall picture.

The motion calls for further time, which makes a great deal of sense: time to consider the new proposals; time to consider how we can improve education about alcohol misuse; time to consider how we can provide more financial support for those working to combat alcohol misuse; time to consider unit labelling on all drinks; time for the Government and the industry to consider how they can tackle unacceptable promotions, which many companies used to run and which many companies are, I am delighted to stay, stopping under the voluntary code; time for more training for health workers; time for the Government to introduce their promise to make pubs a single use class—we have still not had the details—under our planning legislation; and, perhaps crucially, time to gather benchmarking statistics, which my noble Friend Lord Avebury proposed in another place, to allow us to assess the Bill at a future date. I genuinely believe that the public in this country do not want to see the immediate implementation of the legislation. At the least, they want to see a delay while we get some of the other measures sorted out, increase support for the police and local councils and provide local councils with greater flexibility.

I hope that the Secretary of State will comment on this final point. This House has welcomed the concept of pre-legislative scrutiny, which has been tried on a number of occasions. There is growing talk about post-legislative scrutiny being carried out by both Houses, and I hope that the Government will be willing to introduce the concept of post-legislative scrutiny whenever the Bill is implemented.

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. May I remind all hon. Members that Mr. Speaker has imposed a 12-minute limit on all speeches by Back Benchers?

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight PPS (Ms Rosie Winterton, Minister of State), Department of Health 2:04, 25 January 2005

I refer hon. Members to my entry in the Register of Members' Interests in relation to my chairing the all-party leisure group. It is a pleasure to follow Mr. Foster, who made some good points about sports clubs and the presumption in the guidance, which I have discussed privately with the Secretary of State. He sat on the fence on some other matters and I would have liked more detail on what he wants the Government to do. I was startled by his party's policy on extending the legal age at which one can buy alcohol to 16.

The hon. Member for Bath was less confused than David Davis, who wants to suspend implementation of the Licensing Act 2003, but who intervened on the Home Secretary to say that he thinks that we should liberalise the licensing laws once we have implemented measures to stop binge drinking, which is the approach adopted by the Government and in the 2003 Act.

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman and I can join in recommending to the Government that full-blown implementation should not go ahead and that those areas that are interested should be given the opportunity to pilot some of the measures.

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight PPS (Ms Rosie Winterton, Minister of State), Department of Health

I shall resist the temptation to join the hon. Gentleman in advocating that suggestion. The problems with binge drinking are severe and we should act now. The Licensing Act 2003 provides a balanced range of measures that we should get on with. I agree with Rick Naylor of the Police Superintendents Association, who told Radio 4's "PM" programme on 29 April last year that

"The Superintendents' Association have always been in favour of relaxing licensing laws and bringing them into the twenty-first century, and it is slightly disappointing we can't get this piece of legislation implemented sooner, because I think it will have an effect on violence in the streets."

Photo of Desmond Swayne Desmond Swayne Parliamentary Private Secretaries To Leader of the Opposition

Given the hon. Gentleman's admission about the binge-drinking culture, is he not ashamed of the text message that his party put out before the last election:

"Cldnt give a XXXX 4 last ordrs? Vote Labour 4 xtra time"?

Is that an incitement to café culture? Is that a measured contribution to dealing with binge drinking?

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight PPS (Ms Rosie Winterton, Minister of State), Department of Health

I am happy with the idea that the vast majority of our electors are responsible drinkers, including the vast majority of young people. I do not want to label young people as irresponsible. The irresponsible minority who cannot handle their drink and who cause alcohol-related violence must be dealt with, and the 2003 Act gives the police and local councils the powers to do that.

I was a member of the Standing Committee that scrutinised the 2003 Act, which is based on sound logic. Alcohol-fuelled violence is a problem on our streets and we need to liberalise the laws for the many, while clamping down on the few who abuse them. We are not discussing 24-hour drinking but flexible drinking. The British Beer and Pub Association conducted an extensive survey of its members and did not find anyone who wants to open for 24 hours. It is unfortunate that some people are getting on the bandwagon and labelling the policy as 24-hour drinking to score points with their friends at the Daily Mail. Who is the leader of the Opposition in this country? Is it Mr. Howard or the editor of the Daily Mail? However, that is not the subject of this afternoon's debate.

My view has been informed by accompanying the police in Weymouth late on a Friday night and through into Saturday morning to observe the behaviour of some of the irresponsible members of the community, who mix with the many responsible people who enjoy their leisure time in Weymouth town centre. I observed the activity in Weymouth town centre on the extensive CCTV system, which is funded by this Government, and on the streets with police officers.

In Weymouth, there are pinch points between 11 pm and 11.30 pm, when the pubs chuck out, after 2 am, when the nightclubs chuck out, and in Westham road, where late-night refreshment establishments are concentrated, where people get kebabs, pizzas and chips and where the concentration of people towards the end of the evening and early in the morning causes a lot of disturbance and inevitably leads to fights, which can occur over taxis. I have spoken to the police, met local licensing officers and discussed the matter with taxi drivers in my constituency and they all agree that the most important way in which to tackle alcohol-fuelled violence is to remove the pinch points. That is why a flexible approach is the right one in dealing with alcohol-related antisocial behaviour.

The police want the resources to deal with the problem properly. That is why I welcome my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State's announcement of the fees structure, particularly the multiplier. That means that town centre licensed premises will have to pay considerably more than those with lower rateable values, so the full cost of inspection and enforcement can be recouped from those who make profits from selling alcohol and the community no will no longer have to pay through its council tax.

The Act introduces a complete policy that tackles late night refreshment as well as licensing. That is welcome. Licensing officers and police in Swanage in my constituency have told me that one or two establishments selling kebabs and the like, where people congregate after the pubs have shut, are the main cause of civil disorder and public nuisance.

The Act contains many powers that balance the liberalisation that I have advocated in respect of reducing the pinch points. They include the power of the police to close premises down for 24 hours where they see disorder, the inclusion of late night refreshments and the ability to introduce a special policy, although I have some concerns about that along the lines articulated by the hon. Member for Bath. I welcome the introduction of personal licences, whereby a licence is required not only for the premises but for the person who is responsible in that operation. That licence equates to their personal livelihood, which they put at risk if they flout the law. That is a powerful sanction.

At the heart of the approach taken in the Act is the principle of local accountability. People now have the power to object to their elected representatives, and if their elected representatives choose not to listen, they have the power to vote them out of office at the next election.

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight PPS (Ms Rosie Winterton, Minister of State), Department of Health

I have given way twice and used up all my available time, although of course I would love to listen once again to the wisdom of the hon. Gentleman, having heard so many of his wise words on all sorts of bizarre things in Standing Committee.

The Act also gives the police enhanced powers to object and introduces increased fines for certain people who are drunk and for those who serve children under the age of 18.

The aims of the new policy, which are stated at the beginning of the Act and in every licensing policy that every council will introduce, are to reduce public nuisance and disorder and to reduce harm to children. Every council has a responsibility to implement a policy that fulfils those aims, with which I am sure that every Member in the House agrees.

The views of the police were expressed clearly when we debated the legislation, but they seem, like many others, to have come under the influence of our friends at the Daily Mail. At the time of the White Paper, the Association of Chief Police Officers said:

"ACPO has been consistent in its support of the removal of rigid permitted hours and the introduction of more flexible opening hours because of the strong link to crime and disorder."

Chris Fox, speaking on Radio 5 Live on 25 October, said:

"Well, let's get it straight, we're not against twenty four hour licensing, that's not the issue at all. What we're saying at the moment is that if we continue to run licences for twenty four hours in the way that we're running them currently we're going to have more street disorder, more drunkenness, more bad behaviour over a longer period."

Voices in the police are clearly saying that the status quo is not working. We all know that that is the case and that we have to take action now, and that is why a delay in the implementation of the Act would be a mistake. I do not understand why Opposition Members are arguing for a such delay, which would deny to the police and local authorities new powers to act against the problems that we are experiencing in our town centres.

In my constituency, I am working on a campaign, which I have discussed with Feargal Sharkey and others on the Live Music Forum, to encourage licensed premises to promote more live music now that they will no longer have to pay extra to do so. That might be popular not only with our younger voters but with voters of all ages, as I saw on Sunday afternoon when I attended, as did more than 600 others, a fundraising concert in Weymouth for victims of the tsunami disaster, where we listened to the likes of Billy Bragg. About £20,000 was raised by the many music lovers in my constituency, who want the Act to be implemented as soon as possible so that we can encourage more venues to promote live music.

I urge hon. Members—and even right hon. Members, although I do not know if they will all listen—to support the Government amendment and wholeheartedly reject the opportunistic, bandwagoning approach of the Conservatives.

Photo of George Young George Young Chair, Standards and Privileges Committee, Chair, Standards and Privileges Committee 2:15, 25 January 2005

It is a pleasure to follow Jim Knight. He did not go out of his way to cultivate the support of the readers and editor of the Daily Mail, which might have been unwise given his small majority.

I do not normally contribute to debates on licensing, and feel a little like a stranger who has wandered into a bar where a few regulars are exchanging familiar arguments and anecdotes. Nevertheless, I want briefly to make two points. The first echoes what the hon. Member for South Dorset said about his experiences while out with the police. I spent 30 days on the police service parliamentary scheme. Several of those days and nights were spent in Southampton inspecting exactly the problem that we have been discussing. That is when I first came across the phrase, "the night-time economy." To begin with, I was suspicious of what I regarded as a new Labour phrase. However, it is true that Southampton has a night-time economy that complements its day-time economy and which will probably, with the passage of time, become more important as people have more money and leisure.

That economy relates not only to pubs and clubs, but to food outlets and minicabs and, going back a stage, to clothes, shoes and fashion accessories. There is an industry there of which we should be cognisant, and as a Conservative who is responsive to market forces, my overall instincts are not to stand in the way of such an expression of consumer power. It is important that those of us in the House of Commons, which is slightly detached from young voters, should not say anything that implies that we do not understand how young people like to use their leisure. They like to pub and club, at times of the day and night when most of us are asleep, and the vast majority do so entirely inoffensively. Indeed, when I went round the pubs and clubs in Southampton, the vast majority of people, including several off-duty policemen and women, were enjoying themselves and acting entirely responsibly.

I was struck by the all-pervasiveness of CCTV, not only at fixed points run by the local authority but as mobile cameras operated by the police. Young people should realise that, if they commit an offence in a city centre, it is almost certainly recorded on CCTV somewhere and will be used in evidence. On one occasion, I saw a young man being chased by potential assailants just outside the city centre. He headed for a spot that he knew was covered by CCTV, and the moment he got there his assailants stopped chasing him. Although CCTV may be criticised on libertarian or displacement grounds, I am all in favour of it as regards bringing law and order to the city centre. I was worried not so much by the alcohol as by the noise, which struck me as far more likely to injure people's health than alcohol. Several of the young people were not drinking alcohol at all, but soft drinks.

Of course there are problems, as my right hon. Friend David Davis rightly said. There are some very aggressive people, and I was interested to see how well informed many of them are as to exactly how far they can go with the police without getting arrested. They know that they can abuse the police without getting arrested because they have to be cautioned first. Once they are arrested, it is clear that everything that people say about police bureaucracy and filling forms is true. When we took one inebriated young man to the custody suite, the policeman had to fill in a form before he could be taken in. One of the questions was: "What is your religion?" If one asks a man inflamed with alcohol what his religion is, one is likely to spark a theological discussion in which everybody else in the custody suite feels free to join. I am sure that one could consider more critically the number of questions on the form that people have to answer before they are allowed to go through. In one case, a man, once arrested, had to be detained under the Mental Health Act 1983. That meant that the policeman who arrested him had to spend the whole of the rest of his beat in the cell sitting next to him. He was therefore off duty.

Many policemen who should be policing the city centres do not do so because they are back at the police station, filling in forms and getting tied up with bureaucracy. There is enormous scope to streamline that. If people are charged, the defence solicitors are up to every trick in the book. Even though they know that their client is guilty, they will advise him to plead not guilty in case the witnesses or the police do not turn up. If they do, the plea is switched to guilty in the hope of a lenient sentence. Much can therefore be done in the existing framework to improve the effectiveness of policing.

My second point is based on what happens in Andover. The brewing industry appears to focus on the city centres. In my part of Hampshire, it drives up the rents of the village pubs, which are closing, and opens fresh outlets in the city and town centres. I ask it to consider what it is doing. Viable village pubs become unviable if the rents are jacked up in the rent review. We have lost the Hare and Hounds outside Andover, and other pubs are threatened.

Yesterday, I spoke to the landlord of the Southampton Arms in Andover, where we have pubwatch, which I am sure that other hon. Members have in their constituencies. There are some 26 individuals on the Andover pubwatch scheme. I found it interesting that the police implement it in Andover. The police rather than the landlord impart the good news to the individual that he is banned from every pub in Andover. That obviously removes a point of friction between the customer and the landlord.

The application forms for the new regime that starts on 7 February are not available at the local authority in Andover. The people to whom I spoke yesterday believe that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport is responsible for ensuring that the forms are available. It is unlikely that any pubs in Andover will open for 24 hours but the position may be different in other constituencies.

Some people are reluctant to go to the town centre, especially at weekends. To deal with that, the police are piloting a new strategy for eight weeks. It has two key personalities. The first is PC Ken Crosby, who is based on a bicycle. That enables him to access the many alleyways and pedestrianised areas of the town. He has CCTV on his helmet and his job is to identify potential trouble makers—groups of young people who could cause difficulty. He is backed up by a 4x4, which has CCTV front and rear. It also has three directional microphones that pick up sounds 100 yd away and is backed up by a community patrol vehicle.

Another key personality is Amara, a black Labrador, who sniffs out a wide range of drugs. She can smell crack cocaine at 40 ft and she examines people who stand in line for the clubs. To keep her on her toes, there are two stooges with 10 g of cocaine somewhere in Andover. They ensure that she is alert.

The new scheme covers the off-licences as well as licensed premises. As we have heard, off-licences are often the problem. It is supported by the local authority licensing officer, the community wardens and the fire service. It focuses roughly on 2 am when there is a mass exodus and concentrates on the taxi ranks and fast food outlets.

The initial evidence from the pilot scheme is encouraging. Proactive arrests early in the evening send a clear signal to the rest of the community. There is some evidence that the licensees are acting more responsibly and that revellers are more aware of what is going on.

Although the House needs to tackle big strategic issues such as whether it is the right time to change the regime and the impact on consumption of longer or more flexible licensing hours, whatever the regime, much could and should be done now. My experience of Andover shows that genuine progress can be made through the police and local authorities working together and sending out a strong signal to minimise the irresponsible minority who threaten the pleasures of the vast law-abiding majority.

Photo of John Grogan John Grogan Labour, Selby 2:24, 25 January 2005

It is a great pleasure to follow Sir George Young, who clearly had a couple of informative nights out in Southampton and Andover. I learned a great deal from listening to his account of good practice in his area.

I support the Government. My Whip would probably say, "About time, too." I support them on this occasion for several reasons. First, although I share views with Mr. Foster on a range of issues, such as gambling and broadcasting, I was surprised that he committed himself to drinking in pubs by 16-year-olds. Whatever the differences between the parties, I believed that there was a fair consensus that the law on under-age drinking had not been properly enforced, as David Davis said at the beginning of the debate.

It was announced last week that, for the first time, it may become an offence for someone who is under 18 to try to purchase alcohol at a bar. Many people in the industry and in government have put much effort into the pass scheme, which will permit the use of a commonly recognised proof-of-age card throughout the country. That will be popular with many 18-year-olds who experience social embarrassment if they have to prove their age. As a friendly gesture towards the hon. Member for Bath, I ask him to reflect on his view because I have seen what some of my Whips and perhaps less scrupulous friends have done with Liberal promises in the past. I fear that the hon. Gentleman has given a hostage to fortune on 16-year-olds drinking.

I want to put the subject of the debate in context. At the weekend, I looked at a picture the like of which we have all become familiar with in recent weeks on television and in newspapers. It depicts several young men fighting in the background, an older man falling over with a drink still in his hand and some young women who are clearly inebriated. It was an engraving by Hogarth in 1761 entitled "Gin Lane". I do not say that to diminish the current problem—we clearly have a problem with binge drinking, which has been graphically described—but to illustrate the fact that the problem has occupied the House many times over the years.

I contend that we have had a century-long experiment in fixed opening hours and closing times for pubs, ever since Lloyd George proclaimed when he introduced the liquor licensing laws that we were fighting three enemies: the Hun, the Austrians and the drink, and that the greatest was the drink. Since then, our licensing laws have been framed in that context. I believe that they encourage binge drinking. The various early-day motions that support the Government were not generally inspired by big pub companies or civil servants with links to such companies. I shall not embarrass hon. Members by reading out the names of some who signed the early-day motions in the previous Session and the previous Parliament.

The early-day motions were largely inspired by CAMRA, the Campaign for Real Ale. It is unfair to characterise its members as middle-aged men with beards. Its current president is a woman and it represents beer drinkers of all ages. However, it does not represent the cutting-edge youth drinking market yet it supports more flexible opening hours. The right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire mentioned the phrase "the night-time economy." He is probably right that it is a bit of a new Labour phrase but the words have tripped off my lips occasionally.

The problem with the night-time economy is, as many hon. Members have pointed out, that it is often the province of the young. The only places that can stay open after 11 pm are those with entertainment licences. A bar or a club can stay open after 11 pm only if it makes noise. An ordinary pub cannot stay open except in special circumstances. That is nonsense and distorts the evening economy. It stops people who come out of cinemas and theatres going for that last drink.

Some chief constables have latterly said that they are against the new measures and my chief constable in North Yorkshire has made such signals. However, when I asked her local police whether that means that they will clamp down on all the lock-ins in villages and suburban areas about which they know, they say that they will not because they do not cause problems. The situation should be regularised, because the law should not be flouted in that way. If a well managed pub in a village or suburb is not causing a nuisance to anyone, why should it not stay open later if that meets a demand? Such regularisation would have a civilising effect, as it has in Scotland and in the Isle of Man. The Isle of Man is perhaps not the most socially liberal part of Europe, but it reformed its licensing hours two or three years ago in much the same way as we are doing. That resulted in a decrease in violent crime in the capital, Douglas, which had been having problems until then.

Photo of Andrew Turner Andrew Turner Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way, although I am not intervening on him because of his reference to another offshore island. Will he go back for a moment to his recollections of the views expressed by CAMRA during the passage of the Licensing Bill, and compare them with those of the Association of Chief Police Officers? Hon. Members across the House know that the problem is not that we did not want reform, but that we wanted reform that was well thought through and would achieve the objectives that the Government said that it would. In Committee, we were told that licensing authorities could not reject licences unless to do so was in line with the licensing objectives in the Bill. Those objectives, narrow as they were on Second Reading, were even narrower when the Bill came out of Committee, because Labour Members, and the Minister in particular, rejected our amendments to widen them.

Photo of John Grogan John Grogan Labour, Selby

In regard to the licensing objectives, why else would a licensing authority reject an application for a late licence if a pub was not causing disorder, nuisance or harm to children? Some of the powers to do with saturation were, in fact, widened. My right hon. Friend Mr. Dobson made progress in those areas. A pub has to pass quite a tough test to get later opening hours and I think that many will apply for them and not get them, because they will not pass that tough test. The hon. Gentleman also mentioned ACPO. The presence of its representative, Chris Fox, at the press conference last week was illustrative.

There has been creative tension between the Home Office and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in recent months, but the package that was announced last week has great merit. I urge the industry not to mount blanket opposition to it, but to examine it carefully. Most small village pubs, for example, will not pay higher fees than was originally intended. They will not pay for extra policing. The pubs that will pay extra fees as a result of last week's announcement will tend to be the larger pubs and clubs, and they will probably end up paying much the same as they did under the old regime, if they take into account the effect of public entertainment licences.

The alcohol disorder zones will probably be used only as a last resort, because town and city councils will want to try to solve any problem with the industry before declaring such a zone. Obviously, it would not do much for the image of a town to admit that creating such a zone was the only way of solving the problem, but it is nevertheless a useful power of last resort for councils.

I also urge Ministers to look carefully at some of the existing powers. Exclusion orders exist under the present law, for example. They allow anyone convicted of a violent offence in a pub to be excluded not only from the pub in question but from others within a certain distance, if the magistrates so wish. I and others have urged Home Office Ministers for some time to ask magistrates to consider automatically imposing an exclusion order in such circumstances. That move is backed by publicans and the trade unions that represent people working in pubs.

I want to return to the fundamental point about whether we should postpone the introduction of more flexible hours or experiment with them, as the hon. Member for Bath and others have suggested. I am against experiments or pilots because I cannot imagine anything worse than having just six or seven towns or cities being given the authority for much later licensing. Some young British people behave badly on holidays abroad because they regard drinking after 11 pm as exceptional and different. Pilot schemes here could have the same effect.

We suffer from a similar effect in parts of central London, where people think that they can behave badly because late night drinking is outside the norm. It should be very much the norm to be able to have a drink after 11 pm in civilised circumstances if people are behaving well. There should be nothing wrong with that. It will take a while to change our drinking culture, which goes back a long way, but that principle is an important one. I am anxious, as is the Police Superintendents Association, to give councils—which are much better placed than magistrates to deal with these matters—these powers urgently, so that we can regulate our night-time economy.

Photo of Andrew Turner Andrew Turner Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

The hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for South Dorset referred to the role of councillors. Does he accept that it is unreasonable that, if a resident who lives next door to a pub speaks to their councillor about that pub—or even if they do not—that councillor is disbarred from being involved in any decision relating to the licensing of the pub, even if he represents a ward as big as some of those in Birmingham, which have 20,000 voters?

Photo of John Grogan John Grogan Labour, Selby

My understanding is that nothing can prevent a councillor, or an MP, from making representations to a licensing committee on behalf of their constituents. However, just as we would not expect a representative of a particular ward to take part in certain planning decisions, equally we must ask whether the councillor in the hon. Gentleman's example would be the best placed person to take such a decision. On the whole, I do not think that they would be.

Photo of John Grogan John Grogan Labour, Selby

No, I want to bring my remarks to a close.

In confessional mode, I agree that the text message was not a product of Millbank's finest hour. It gave entirely the wrong signals at the last election, because it implied that the main beneficiaries of licensing reform would be the young. I would argue that that is not the case. Whatever happens with licensing reform, young people will be out and about on the town at midnight or 1 am. The main beneficiaries of the new Licensing Act will be those in the more mature market—which is well represented in the Chamber today—who will, for the first time, be able to find somewhere conducive to having a drink after 11 pm. Their very presence in our town and city centres will have a civilising influence. The other main beneficiaries will be residents who, for the first time in a long while, will be able to make representations to their local councillors about their immediate situation, instead of having to go to a rather remote magistrates court.

I want to end with the perspective not of the big brewers, CAMRA or the consumer, but of a barmaid who wrote to me some time ago to describe what happens when she calls last orders. She said:

"You spend hours, days, weeks cultivating a relationship with the regulars, charming newcomers, learning to pour that perfect pint, yet, the moment you ring that bell, it all goes out the window. Suddenly all eyes are upon you, then all eyes are upon the clock and the muttering begins: 'That clock's fast', 'Is it that time already?', 'Give us a takeout', 'I've just put two quid in the jukebox', 'Down it, we'll squeeze one more in.'

And the bar that you have served so efficiently all evening becomes THE place to be, no joking, no social niceties now. It is each for their own, digging that elbow space, thrusting fivers in your face, no-one is going to risk returning to their mates empty handed . . . You have to wander round the pub forcing people to down their drinks, shouting, 'Come on, drink up, folks. Can I have your glasses please?' In under half an hour you have gone from being a right laugh and everybody's friend to public enemy number one."

I honestly cannot believe that the English and the Welsh are alone among the civilised peoples of Europe. Are we the only people who cannot cope with having a drink in the right environment and not annoying their neighbours after 11 o'clock at night? I enthusiastically support the Government's amendment.

Photo of Eric Pickles Eric Pickles Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government 2:39, 25 January 2005

It is a great pleasure to follow Mr. Grogan, who suggested that some of us in the Chamber are mature. I suppose that many of us are approaching maturity, but sadly from the wrong direction. He took us on a tour of Hogarth's London and the gin joints, and mentioned the great thundering voice of David Lloyd George, who may be starting to rotate at the thought that his once great party now advocates the extension of drinking to 16-year-olds.

I want to make a relatively narrow point—putting aside the rights and wrongs of 24-hour drinking—on implementation and the effect on local authorities, on which several Members have touched briefly. I was very much in favour of the transfer of powers from magistrates to local authorities. Councils have a responsibility for crime reduction partnerships, with specific responsibilities for tackling youth disorder. Licensing in many ways has some commonality with planning, and most importantly, councils are democratically accountable to the population. It was therefore a brave decision, as it was in the face of opposition from many in the drinks industry.

I cannot understand, however, what the point was of giving all those powers if they were to be made worthless once the guidance was produced. Under the regulations, unless an objection is made to a licence application, it will automatically be approved in full without amendment. The point that Mr. Foster made about raves is a good one. Local ward councillors are considered to be biased in favour of local residents and will be prevented from voting on late licences within their ward. They can object only if they live in the vicinity, in which case they must declare a prejudicial interest, which prevents them from attending any licensing application hearing. Therefore, it is somehow bad for democratically elected people to be biased in favour of their populations.

I confess that I am biased in favour of the electors of Brentwood and Ongar. I doubt whether many Members of Parliament are not biased in favour of their electorate. That does not blind me to individual justice or the merits of an individual case. A balance must be struck—it happens in decisions made in this Chamber and in council chambers across the country—between individual rights and democratic accountability. The guidelines remove the one person who probably knows the local ward better than anyone, and to whom local residents look for guidance and leadership. That person is not only removed from voting, but cannot give evidence at any hearing. The representative nature of democracy, to which Mr. Dobson referred, is wholly pushed to one side because of the new guidelines.

Councils are being advised that under the Human Rights Act 1998 they should not allow local ward councillors to sit and consider applications for their own wards, because of bias against pubs and clubs. That prejudice will lead to some strange circumstances. For example, Councillor Smith lives in Applegate ward, but two miles from the public house subject to the application. Councillor Black lives in the adjoining Mayflower ward, but one mile from the pub. Councillor Black can vote, but Councillor Smith cannot. There is no logic to that. Only in the never-never land of the Human Rights Act or the guidance would electoral divisions be regarded as natural catchment areas for licensed premises.

Parish councils will not be recognised as objectors, but residents associations will. The guidance specifically defines interested parties as

"a person living in the vicinity of the premises in question; a body representing persons living in that vicinity, for example a residents' association; a person involved in business in the vicinity of the premises in question; and a body representing persons involved in such businesses, for example, a trade association."

It is unlikely that many residents associations are coterminous with parish councils—I am not aware of any. Again, that marginalises councillors. Councillors will not be able to object to the saturation of pubs and clubs if existing premises apply to extend their licensing hours. They will not even be able to introduce a staggering of opening hours. The guidance says:

"Above all, licensing authorities should not fix predetermined closing times for particular areas."

It continues:

"Licensing authorities should not seek to engineer 'staggered closing times' by setting quotas for particular closing times".

That was supposed to be the great advantage of the new licensing laws.

My belief is that local councils should be free to decide that there are already enough bars and pubs in a neighbourhood. Clusters of pubs and bars can create disorder and disorder hotspots. Local councils should be able to take into account the proximity of existing licensed premises when considering a new application. Such decisions would not be taken in isolation—there are examples from other parts of the world. In New York, for example, a bar would not be licensed were it within 500 yd of another bar. I see my hon. Friend Mr. Field in his place, and I look forward to his contribution. He represents a council that is a shining example of deciding on a set of policies that balance the rights of consumers and publicans and ensure that visiting those parts of Westminster is an enjoyable experience. All that hard work counts for nothing because of these new regulations.

Photo of Andrew Turner Andrew Turner Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

Would my hon. Friend be surprised to hear that when the Bill came from another place, one of the requirements for local authorities to take into account when deciding whether to grant licences was

"the prevention of unreasonable diminution of the living and working amenity and environment of interested parties in the vicinity of the premises balancing those matters against the benefits to be derived from the leisure amenity of such premises"?

But the Government, with their amendment No. 8, removed the whole of that, and merely put in some words along the lines of a public nuisance provision. Public nuisance is a narrowly defined legal concept, however, and their lordships were sensible to bring forward their provision. I cannot for the life of me understand why the Government wanted to remove it.

Photo of Eric Pickles Eric Pickles Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

I agree with my hon. Friend, who makes an extremely good point. In preparation for the debate, I spent many hours going through the new regulations, which are beautifully reproduced on the Department's website. It seems to me that the points that the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras was making, and the concessions, have been whittled away stealthily by the guidelines. That seems fundamentally wrong, and if the House will forgive me for saying so, fundamentally deceitful.

It seems to me that the way in which pubs and clubs are managed is a key factor in explaining why some venues generate disorder and others do not. Local councils should be able to attach conditions to licences, for example, on drinks promotion. All those things are denied, however, by the guidelines.

I want to make another point on the question of fees. Much has been said about the fees, and Jim Knight mentioned the idea that they would perhaps cover the costs of councils. The new multiplier for town and city pubs will have little impact, however, as most such premises are in rateable value bands of A and B. It will have only a limited effect in London. Most high-band premises are likely to be town halls, hotels, supermarkets and schools. In most local authority areas, only 5 to 10 per cent. of licensed premises are in bands D and E. I represent a prosperous part of Essex with high levels of council tax in terms of capital value, but although one would expect that to be reflected in the rates, in the Brentwood borough council area just 6.7 per cent. of premises are in bands D and E, and 80 per cent. are in bands A and B. In hard numbers, there are seven premises in band D and 11 in band E. Those 18 are Brentwood leisure centre, a number of supermarkets and the secondary schools. No public houses are involved.

Given that revaluation is about to occur, any licensee with an eye to cost will put in for a new licence immediately to benefit from what are currently relatively low rateable values. Revaluation will mean dramatic changes in the figures. Licensees will put their applications in early to save money, and from February onwards authorities will be smothered in sacks upon sacks of applications. That is why the figures given by the Home Secretary and the Minister are so far off the mark.

There has been a move towards a concession in the review. I am glad that the Home Secretary committed himself today to a review that will examine local authorities' transition costs, the level of fees and the size of committees, for all those things are important.

An important transfer of responsibilities to local authorities has been seriously undermined by the diminution of the role of councillors in speaking up for their local populations and the people whom they represent. What was sold to us as local democracy and local people working things out together has deteriorated into what is simply local management of a licensing system that is devoid of democratic accountability.

Photo of Charles Hendry Charles Hendry Shadow Minister (Children, Young People and Families), Deputy Chair, Conservative Party 2:52, 25 January 2005

It is a pleasure to take part in this important debate. I agree with my right hon. Friend Sir George Young: the debate is not remotely concerned with how the overwhelming majority of law-abiding citizens, especially young people, live their lives. We know that they often live in a night-time culture, that they like going out at night and that drink is part of that culture, but the vast majority behave in an extremely responsible way. The debate is really about delaying the change in the laws to take account of growing public concern about the antisocial behaviour that already exists.

Perhaps the most surprising thing that has emerged from the debate so far is the Liberal Democrats' commitment to reducing to 16 the age at which people will be allowed to buy drink. That is very irresponsible. It may be welcomed by 16 and 17-year-olds, but it will cause profound concern to parents, the medical profession, charities working with addiction, the police and many others. I hope that the Liberal Democrats will be prepared to reconsider.

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

I am slightly perplexed by the juxtaposition of the hon. Gentleman's opening remarks, in which he praised the vast majority of young people for behaving responsibly, with his later comments. Does he not believe that 16 to 18-year-olds can behave responsibly? If he does, does he not believe that they can therefore treat drink responsibly?

Photo of Charles Hendry Charles Hendry Shadow Minister (Children, Young People and Families), Deputy Chair, Conservative Party

I certainly believe that the overwhelming majority behave responsibly, and would behave responsibly; but if the hon. Gentleman consults the charities working in the sector, the medical profession and the police, he will learn that they have serious misgivings about the extension that he proposes.

Today, however, we are obviously focusing on the Government's position. I am afraid that I thought the Home Secretary's speech was characterised primarily by a sense of complacency, which did not seem to take account of the depth of the crisis that we already face. This issue does not just affect big cities; it has spread to small towns. My constituency contains four medium-sized towns containing between 10,000 and 20,000 people, and antisocial behaviour linked to alcohol and the crime that accompanies such behaviour are an increasingly regular problem in those communities. Even the smaller villages containing 3,000 or 4,000 people are experiencing alcohol-related problems, including crime, which were unknown just a few years ago.

My right hon. Friend David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, said that the cost of alcohol-related crime was £7 billion a year. That is an horrific and frightening figure. Perhaps we should set it against the amount that the Government will make from the change in the licensing hours. They will gain extra money from income tax and national insurance, extra money from VAT on the extra alcohol that is served, and extra money from corporation tax on the extra profits that are made. Yet they say that they should bear no responsibility for the associated costs of disruption and crime that will follow the change, which I consider very irresponsible.

It goes further than that, however. The Government cannot claim to be the party to solve the current problems when they must bear responsibility for the growth of those problems in the first place. Reference has been made to their campaign at the time of the last election:

"Cldnt give a XXXX for last orders? Vote Labour for xtra time."

I am encouraged by the recognition on the part of Mr. Grogan that that was an ill-thought-through campaign. It was not targeted at the majority who will drink responsibly; it was deliberately designed to say to young people "Vote Labour. Get a Labour Government, and go out and get hammered at night." It was an irresponsible campaign, and the Government should take responsibility for it. They must take the blame for the fact that alcohol-related crime and binge drinking are at their worst ever levels. They worked to encourage that culture—they thought it would be cool to be the champions of late night drinking—and now they face the consequences as the majority who do not want that kind of society rise up in anger.

The Government have also shown shocking naiveté. The Home Secretary must be the only person who believes that longer opening hours will not lead to more drunkenness. We must ask ourselves why the publicans would want the longer hours. Do we honestly believe that if they thought the same people would be drinking the same amount of alcohol, but over a longer period, they would be keen to stay open for longer? Their staffing costs would rise, their takings would stay the same and their profits would go down. The publicans only want to stay open because they know that people will drink more. We must be in no doubt that, as a result of these changes, some people will become more drunk, and the consequences will be more serious. The Home Secretary also seems to make no distinction between all-day drinking and all-night drinking. The culture that goes with night-time drinking is very different.

It is clear that the Government simply do not recognise the misery that drunken behaviour causes. It is not just the violence; it is the noise, the rowdiness, the rudeness and the threatening behaviour that so often accompany drunkenness. Nor do the Government take account of the consequences. They take no account of those who must clear up the broken glass, those who must dodge the sick left on the pavement the following day, and those who must put up with the smell of urine that is left behind. Those are things that have blighted communities and made living in too many of our town centres a misery for people—people on whom the Government have turned their back. People want a Government who will deal with the root causes, and not just bandage the problems that they have allowed, even encouraged, to get worse.

Photo of Andrew Turner Andrew Turner Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

There are further consequences in terms of the number of admissions to hospital accident and emergency units, of which I understand 70 per cent. are rooted in alcohol. Most instances of domestic violence are also rooted in alcohol, and many take place at night.

Photo of Charles Hendry Charles Hendry Shadow Minister (Children, Young People and Families), Deputy Chair, Conservative Party

My hon. Friend is entirely right. Some time ago, I spent a night with the Sussex ambulance service and my respect for the people doing such work knows no bounds. Every single call responded to that night, bar one, was related to drunkenness or drugs; only that one call involved an immediate medical problem. Such people are right in the front line, and they also have to deal with very aggressive and dangerous behaviour.

We need tougher action to be taken, and I welcome what the Home Secretary said about tightening up on the sale of drink to people below the legal age. But I hope that the Government will go further, and that the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport will say something about how we tackle the false identity documents that so many young people possess these days. Not only do some young people photocopy their passport and then change the date of birth electronically, thereby producing what appears to be a copy of a legitimate passport; they can also get false ID cards online. To do so, they simply give a date of birth, and no verification of it is sought. So those who are doing their best to be responsible are sometimes thwarted by young people who carry false ID cards.

The people who bear the brunt of these problems are of course the police, whose concerns have already been discussed at some length today. Just last week, the chairman of the Sussex police authority wrote to the Home Secretary. In that letter, copies of which were provided for local Members of Parliament, he expressed concern about the impact that such changes will have on police officer recruitment and training in particular. He said:

"It has been widely acknowledged that if people are drinking longer and later, our towns and cities will be busier and people will be drinking more. The result will be more people under the influence of alcohol or drunk, and this will result in more crime and disorder.

The implications for Police Forces in terms of additional workload are significant and officers will have to be diverted from other policing priorities and activities to undertake enforcement activity against those who are drunk and disorderly.

If drinking establishments were allowed to open until three or four in the morning the police would have to take officers off day shifts in order to do their job effectively at night.

However, I am particularly disturbed by recent comments from ministers that simply introducing a levy on the drinks industry will pay for the extra cost of policing the effects of binge drinking. Of course the industry—as a major contributor to the problem—should meet the lion's share of the costs, but these comments make huge assumptions that Police Forces will easily be able to recruit police officers and attract young people to a career which fundamentally involves policing anti-social, violent binge drinkers."

The chairman has put his finger on an extremely important issue. The nature of policing in our communities will change, and the police will be spending more time dealing with some of the most aggressive, violent and rowdy people. At the moment, such behaviour is contained within a certain period, following closing time. However, if such changes go through, that behaviour will be spread over a much longer period and the police will have to deal with more aggressive and drunk people. We need to take this issue very seriously indeed.

I believe that the Government want to push these changes through at such speed because they want to appear cool, but these changes are neither cool nor clever. In my role as shadow Minister with responsibility for young people, I probably go to more youth clubs, schools, colleges and universities than most Members do. I know from the young people I meet there that their first concern is crime and their safety. That is not surprising, because young people are more likely—twice as likely as the average person—to be the victims of crime than any other section of the community. They are also more concerned about crime. Their fear of crime is greater, which is not surprising, given that their experience of it is so much greater than the average. They want to be able to go out and enjoy themselves, and they want the Government to clamp down on alcohol-linked antisocial behaviour.

It is therefore extremely important that the Government think again and provide some extra time, so that the issue of flexible opening hours can be addressed—we all agree that it must be addressed—and that the urgent issues of alcohol-related crime, binge drinking and antisocial behaviour can be dealt with first.

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Shadow Minister, Shadow Minister (London) 3:04, 25 January 2005

Let us for once be wise before the event. The Government cannot claim that they have not been warned by Members on all sides of the House—let alone by the police, the medical profession and smaller, independent, family-run licensed businesses—about the consequences of the Licensing Act 2003. I hope that we can put its implementation on hold until we have a sensible strategy on antisocial behaviour and binge drinking. To do anything else would be naive to the point of negligence. Simply Europeanising our drinking habits and licensing laws will not instil in our young people Mediterranean attitudes to alcohol consumption.

I want to explain what lies at the heart of my objections to this legislation, and I should first point out that I do not support the idea of a nanny state. Reference has been made the problems that exist in London's west end. Many bars in Soho and Covent Garden already have staggered licensing hours; indeed, the same is true of much of central London. The myth has arisen that this country has a pre-first world war licensing regime. Mr. Grogan referred to the brooding presence of Lloyd George in debates on licensing matters, but licensing hours, particularly in our larger towns and cities, have already developed well beyond those days. My own constituency contains a number of bars and pubs that remain open well beyond 11 o'clock; indeed, some remain open until as late as 3 o'clock in the morning. I am afraid that flexible licensing has not made a great deal of difference to much of the behaviour on our streets.

I must confess that I am instinctively a libertarian: I do not like imposing lots of rules and regulations. I can understand part of the Government's thinking, and it is an important part. They want to take a much more flexible attitude, and I only wish that we could rely on many of our citizens behaving responsibly. I want to discuss my own constituency not because it is entirely unusual—that said, Westminster has more alcohol licences than any other borough in the country—but because it underlines the point that without that sense of responsibility, we cannot ensure that we will create the sort of world in which we would like to live.

In Soho and Covent Garden—a part of London that I share with Mr. Dobson—the great majority of the residential population are not necessarily there out of choice. I have always believed that those who buy a property next door to a football ground or a pub have to expect a certain amount of disruption. In a previous life, I was a member of the planning committee of the royal borough of Kensington and Chelsea, which often debated such matters. It struck me then that to buy a property knowing that certain problems would arise because it was near a large entertainment venue, and then to complain about such disruption, was the height of selfishness. However, some 60 per cent. of the population of Soho and some 70 per cent. of the population of Covent Garden—many thousands of people—are living in some form of social housing. They have very little choice about where they live, and many of them constitute some of the most vulnerable in our society. They are trying to bring up their families in the face of appalling disorder.

My hon. Friend Charles Hendry rightly referred to the debris that we see on our streets. Indeed, we see it day in, day out on the streets of Soho and Covent Garden. In addition to rubbish, urine and vomit, we sometimes come across used needles and the other detritus that is part and parcel of a "good night out". When the young people living in inner-city London discover such detritus outside their schools, churches and church halls—the places that constitute the very heart of our inner-city communities—that creates an extremely difficult situation.

It is often forgotten that places such as Leicester square have a thriving residential population. Some 10,000 people live in Soho and Covent Garden, which combined constitute an area of some two and a half square miles. We need to encourage vibrant residential populations not just within London, however, but within all our cities. For the first time in two centuries, inner-city populations are rising in places such as Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool. That is greatly to be welcomed, but we need the civilising force that a genuine sense of community would provide.

I am not against the alcohol trade at all. In Standing Committee, many of the Act's most vocal supporters came from the smaller, family-run outfits, who felt that they were being driven out of central London. One of the greatest pities is that the larger alcohol and entertainment businesses have little stake in our communities and therefore little sense of the needs of inner-city residential populations. As several hon. Members have pointed out, they are able to employ the most expensive lawyers to ensure that they maintain their licences.

I am not against young people having a good time either. I suspect that I am the youngest hon. Member in the Chamber at the moment—although I am not as young as I should like to think, having already celebrated my 40th birthday. However, the selfish and loutish behaviour evident in our towns and cities is simply unacceptable. We should try to cultivate civility, good manners and consideration. In addition, the inner cities should be places where families can thrive, as well as places where people both old and young can enjoy the available resources. We need to ensure that a sense of community runs from cradle to grave.

While we are in the business of exploding some myths, there are a few others that I would like to consign to oblivion. To put it charitably, the Prime Minister could be said to have been inexact in his recollection of events when he argued at last week's Prime Minister's Question Time that the Conservative party was jumping on a bandwagon, having previously supported this Act. That is not the case: we had a robust debate in Standing Committee, and we also opposed the legislation on Third Reading. We divided the Committee umpteen times, and our opposition to the Act has gained many third-party endorsements.

The boorishness and vulgarity promoted by many members of the celebrity media shame our cities and towns, but we also face the unedifying spectacle of a Government in a wild panic as they try to close down what they see to be a public relations disaster. The hapless rearguard action being led by the Home Office and the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport is rather pathetic. Since last weekend, we have heard much rhetoric about banning orders, on-the-spot fines and the "three strikes and you're out" response. That rhetoric is getting louder and brasher, but as ever with this Government, it is all about spin. The Government are more concerned about getting headlines than controlling the real problem that faces us.

How in heaven's name can any of the new rules be enforced if we do not have the necessary police and transport infrastructure? We asked those questions two years ago, when the Bill was in Committee, and it is unfortunate that we are no further forward in ensuring that we have that infrastructure. It is all very well to have endless rules and regulations on the statute book, but they will have no value if we cannot enforce them through tough and effective policing.

The astronomical proposed increase in flexible licence fees may help local authorities recoup some of the administrative costs that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has been so reluctant to underwrite. However, what will be the cost in the longer term? Ministers must understand that the legislation will have a most serious effect on small, responsible, family-run bars, restaurants and pubs—the very establishments that we should be looking to encourage, as they would ensure the civilised nature of our towns and cities to which I referred earlier.

I fear that the agenda will be set instead by the all-powerful alcohol industry and its close cousins, the large-scale entertainment operators. They were the driving forces behind much of this legislation, and no doubt they will become handsome contributors to the Labour party's coffers.

I could say a lot more, but I know that time is running out. I wanted to touch on the point so ably made by the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras about the many undertakings that have been swept away. They worked well and provided an effective mechanism for allowing residents, local councillors and businesses to have a real say under the old procedure. I regret their loss.

I shall end as I began: I am not a killjoy, and I do not support restrictive, nanny-state regulations. I wish that everyone could be responsible, civilised and courteous, but we must face the facts in respect of our society. What sort of cities should we aspire to have in 20 or 30 years? Do we want there to be no-go zones? Do we want there to be a commercial free for all in inner cities bereft of a residential population? Do we want Governments of whatever colour enforcing on a daily basis banning orders on drinking, on-the-spot fines for people roaming the streets late at night, and implementing the "three strikes and you're out" policy?

The lesson of regeneration in the cities to which I referred earlier is that it is vital that our cities have vibrant and articulate residential populations. I spend a lot of time speaking to residents associations in the villages that make up central London. The people to whom I speak are passionately proud of their sense of community and want to develop it. I want our cities to be wonderful places for families, but any sensible observer would concede that this Act, as it stands, undermines their very fragile balance. I beseech the Government to think again, and to work to get the legislation right.

Photo of Desmond Swayne Desmond Swayne Parliamentary Private Secretaries To Leader of the Opposition 3:16, 25 January 2005

I went to university in Scotland, some considerable time ago. When I first arrived, people who wanted to get a drink on a Sunday had to go to a hotel, as bona fide travellers. Since then, the word "traveller" has acquired an unwelcome connotation, but there has been little progress when it comes to licensing.

The licensing Act 2003 is a dreadful measure. I am glad that I voted against it. It introduces licensing flexibilities, but at an enormous cost. I have already spoken in the House about the experience of my constituent, Mr. John Crosthwaite-Eyre. He has been told that the licence for his Dunwood Manor golf club will rise from £16 to £1,145. That will not secure a more flexible licence that extends opening times beyond what was previously available. The new licence will only allow the club to open as it has always done.

That huge increase in cost is presumably a consequence of the shift from magistrate licensing to local authority licensing. I understand the rationale behind that, as it will lead to greater public accountability. However, we have already heard about the regulations that will remove any real accountability, as they will prevent councillors from representing the localities to which they are supposed to be accountable.

Some months ago, my wife and I had the misfortune to have to go on a mission of mercy—we had to accompany a friend to casualty on a Saturday night. The local general practitioner had diagnosed an infection in our friend's joints, and had recommended that the lady concerned should be taken to hospital in Southampton. We arrived in casualty to be greeted by a scene that could have been painted by Hieronymous Bosch. I could not believe it—there was blood and vomit everywhere, and people were arguing and fighting. Some of the "clients"—if one can call them that—made it clear that what we witnessed was a typical Saturday night, and that impression was reinforced by the staff. Many people consider ending up in casualty on a Saturday night as part of what habitually happens. It is, to them, unremarkable that one might end a Saturday evening with a trip to casualty.

By contrast, the Government have held out the prospect of a café culture, with a more Mediterranean approach to drinking habits. I can understand the attraction of that.

Mr. Grogan gave us a good illustration of what happens in a pub as we approach closing time. However, I do not swallow the argument that the problem that a minority of our fellow citizens have with drink arises because of the confines of our existing drinking laws and that by getting rid of them we will be able to move to the sunny uplands of a café culture. I just do not believe that. The cart is being put before the horse. We have to analyse the real causes of our problematic drinking culture and then we will, perhaps, be able to liberalise our drinking laws in the hope that that will lead to more sensible drinking. But it is madness to do it the other way round and assume that the benefits that are enjoyed by certain Mediterranean countries will automatically flow to us simply by liberalising our licensing laws, when we already know that we have a severe problem.

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman recognised the irresponsibility of the text message that was sent to young voters just before the last general election. It bears repetition:

"Cldnt give a XXXX 4 last ordrs? Vote Labour 4 xtra time".

That is not a message for people seeking to enjoy a café culture. It has a wholly different connotation.

There may be additional marginal benefits for people who wish to drink at any time in a 24-hour period. However, I cannot understand the desire to drink at 7 am, unless one is suffering from a dreadful toothache or something similar. The benefits and convenience will accrue to those people who wish to drink at 7 am, but enormous inconvenience will be caused to my constituents. My hon. Friend Mr. Field made the point about the residential population of places such as Covent Garden. My constituency is typified by small towns—for example, God's own town of Lymington—in which the High street contains not only commercial premises but people's houses. It is a residential area, but those who live there have to endure the problems that arise as drinkers approach pubs, at closing time and after closing time. I do not believe that those problems will be solved if closing times are staggered so that people are not thrown on to the street at the same time. The reality for my constituents will be that the agony will be prolonged. Frankly, that is not an experiment that I want to see take place. I would prefer the benefits to be established before it happens in Lymington.

Labour Members—I exclude Mr. Dobson, because he has a long and honourable record on the issue—seemed to be over-sensitive when they intervened on my right hon. Friend David Davis. The tenor of their interventions was not that my right hon. Friend's argument was wrong. Indeed, the premise of their interventions was that they accepted entirely what he was saying. They merely complained that he had not said it sooner. They implied that it was the job of the Opposition to discover the falsehoods inherent in the Government's arguments and statistics. Well, those Labour Members were wrong in fact, because many of us have been making such points for some time—perhaps not as vocally as we should have done—and they also attempted to absolve themselves from any responsibility for holding the Government to account. It is not only the Opposition who are responsible for holding the Government to account the entire House of Commons, but—indeed, it is the entire Parliament. Part of our problem with the passage of legislation is the acceptance that scrutiny is down to the Opposition. If more Labour Members had taken the lead from the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, given that their influence over the Government is likely to be much greater than ours, we might have made more progress than we have.

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight PPS (Ms Rosie Winterton, Minister of State), Department of Health

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will have noticed that during this Parliament, Labour Members have done their best to hold the Government to account on a range of issues. Labour Members have shown great independence from Government, as is evident from their voting records. The problem is that when the Opposition are slow to discover their opposition, it looks as if they are jumping on a bandwagon.

Photo of Desmond Swayne Desmond Swayne Parliamentary Private Secretaries To Leader of the Opposition

I accept entirely that several Labour Members have a good record of voting against the Government. I urge them to do it more often—

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. Perhaps hon. Members would return to the motion under discussion.

Photo of Desmond Swayne Desmond Swayne Parliamentary Private Secretaries To Leader of the Opposition

Precisely, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Foster was very honest in his speech when he made the profoundly shocking admission that the Liberal Democrats' policy is to reduce the age at which alcohol can be consumed legally. In my constituency, we have a problem with under-age drinking and the disorder to which it gives rise. That criminality could certainly be avoided at a stroke by reducing the age at which alcohol can be consumed, but does it really address the problem?

Photo of Andrew Turner Andrew Turner Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

Is it not curious that the Liberal Democrats believe that the introduction of the measures in this Act should be delayed pending a resolution of the problems of binge drinking, but have said nothing about delaying the reduction in the age at which youngsters could buy alcohol pending resolution of the problems under-age drinking causes? Presumably, the Liberal Democrats know that they will never be in a position to deliver that reduction.

Photo of Desmond Swayne Desmond Swayne Parliamentary Private Secretaries To Leader of the Opposition

That is the key point. We should not for one moment assume that a reduction in the age at which alcohol can be purchased will lead to a lessening of the problems that arise from young people acquiring and consuming alcohol. However, I reassure my hon. Friends that there is not the remotest prospect of such a policy being implemented. When I knock on doors and discuss the voting intentions of constituents, I am sometimes tempted to terrify them with Liberal Democrat policies—

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. There is no reference to voting intentions in the motion.

Photo of Desmond Swayne Desmond Swayne Parliamentary Private Secretaries To Leader of the Opposition

If my constituents were to be worried about the prospect of a reduction in the age at which alcohol may be purchased, I would seek to reassure them that the likelihood of that happening lay in their own hands.

Photo of Andrew Turner Andrew Turner Vice-Chair, Conservative Party 3:28, 25 January 2005

In the few moments available to me, I want to read an excerpt from the Government's favourite newspaper, the Daily Mail, and invite the Minister to intervene on each and every occasion when something in the article by Steve Doughty on 13 January is wrong. She has an open invitation to do that.

The article says:

"Experts who prepared a report for the Government stressed that increasing availability of alcohol could have dangerous results, and cited examples round the world."

Is that untrue? I ask the Minister.

"But this evidence was cut out of a 'sexed-down' dossier published last year."

Is that untrue? The Minister glances at the sky.

"The report, Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy, was produced with the help of 17 experts."

I take it that there is no dispute about that. It goes on to say:

"First drafts contained a key passage which said: 'Restrictions on availability reduce consumption and general levels of harm. Relaxing availability increases general harm whether through more outlets (Finland), denser outlets (California), or longer hours (Western Australia) . . . When the final version of the report appeared, no reference to the effects of extending drinking hours was left in.

Is that true? I ask the Minister.

"Instead the report carried a soothing foreword by Tony Blair which declared that the report showed 'the best way to minimise the harms is through partnership between government, local authorities, police, industry and the public themselves'."

I ask the Minister—why were those changes made?

"Some medical experts who contributed to the report were so alarmed that they contributed to an independent report ultimately published virtually simultaneously with the Downing Street dossier by the Academy of Medical Sciences."

The Government really have to explain why those of us who served on the Standing Committee and took part at such length in its proceedings were not provided with accurate information by the then Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting, who is now the Minister for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education. I do not know whether it was his fault, the fault of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport—in which case, the Secretary of State can doubtless answer—or of the Prime Minister, who once again removed information that should have been put before Parliament. It is most important that, if nothing else, we hear the answer to that in the Minister's winding-up speech.

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport 3:31, 25 January 2005

When the Home Secretary made his speech at the beginning of the debate, I think that he said that he agreed with the first quarter of the remarks made by my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary. Almost every person who has spoken in the debate would agree about the seriousness of the problems that we now face—binge drinking, alcohol-related violence, the implications for the health service and the damage to the quality of life of people living not just in our inner cities but in towns throughout the country. I represent a rural area, and the problems are as serious for my constituents as they are for the constituents of my hon. Friend Mr. Field.

The problems have always been at the centre of the debate surrounding the Licensing Act 2003. When the Bill received its Second Reading 22 months ago, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport began her speech by pointing out the cost to the nation of alcohol-related disease and the growing problem of alcohol-related violence. She then specifically defended the proposals in the Bill on the basis that:

"Abolishing arbitrarily fixed closing times means that the incentive to drink as much as possible before closing time at 11pm will go. Disorder and nuisance will be reduced as the concentration of people on the street at closing time will fall."

She went on to claim:

"The abolition of fixed closing times and its effect on binge drinking ties the Bill very closely to the national alcohol harm reduction strategy." ."—[Hansard, 24 March 2003; Vol. 402, c. 57–8.]

In the same debate, we pointed out that many people disputed this view and that, in particular, there was international evidence that did not support it. Indeed, a number of police officers and local authorities had also questioned it. However, what we did not know at that time was that this view was also disputed by many in the Government as well and that the assurances that the Government were acting in accordance with the views of the police and their own advisers on alcohol reduction were not correct.

We now know that the draft alcohol harm reduction strategy circulated to the Cabinet in August 2003 stated:

"Relaxing availability . . . increases general harm whether through more outlets (Finland), denser outlets (California) or longer hours (Western Australia)."

However, when the interim strategy was published the following month, that sentence was removed because, in the words of the Secretary of State, it was misleading and based on a highly selective review of the available evidence. That seems to represent a strong attack on the competence of the Prime Minister's strategy unit, which drafted the document.

The unit was not alone in the Government in expressing its concern. We now know that the Home Office's crime reduction director said a year ago:

"The Licensing Act will make matters worse. Binge drinking is a particular problem".

The then Home Secretary apparently said that plans to allow 24-hour drinking were a leap in the dark that risked worsening the situation of violent crime and yobbish behaviour.

Too many of our towns and cities are already becoming no-go areas at night because of the activities of drunken yobs. Prior to the passage of the Licensing Bill, I spent a Friday night in the west end with licensing officers from Westminster city council. We visited several large clubs—I believe that they are now known as vertical drinking establishments—each of which was packed with more than 1,000 people who appeared to have the sole purpose of drinking as much as possible in the time available. I also spoke to residents of Soho that evening, and my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster has referred to their experiences every weekend and the fact that their quality of life had been destroyed as a result. After entering the home of one resident to talk about the scale of the problem, I emerged to find that someone had vomited on his doorstep. He said, "Don't worry. It'll probably be the first of three or four occasions when that happens tonight." I have also spent a night with the police in Chelmsford in my constituency. Over the course of about six hours, almost every incident that we attended was related to excess drinking and the fights, vandalism and yobbish behaviour that result from that.

According to the Government's figures, alcohol misuse is costing £20 billion a year. It accounts for half of all violent crime and up to 70 per cent. of admissions to accident and emergency departments. It accounts for about 17 million lost working days and 22,000 premature deaths. Of course, the Government are right to say that those figures reflect the present situation and thus cannot be blamed on the relaxation of drinking hours, which is yet to take effect, but they cannot ignore the list of experts who unanimously predict that extended opening hours will make the problem worse.

Although the Association of Chief Police Officers' original response to the White Paper supported flexible opening hours, subject to caveats, even then it pointed out the danger that they could lead to

"an unintended and much later uniform closing time . . . when fewer police resources are available and facilities such as transport are more limited".

Since then, it has expressed greater concern by warning:

"The result will be more people under the influence of alcohol or drunk and this will lead to more crime and disorder".

The Chief Inspector of Constabulary said:

"it may be pouring people out on the streets at different times but that's in an even worse state of inebriation".

The Police Federation said:

"Our officers' experience is that if even more alcohol becomes available through 24-hour opening there can be only one result: even more drunkenness".

We now learn that the medical profession, too, is united in its opposition. The chairman of the Royal College of Physicians alcohol committee has said:

"we are facing an epidemic of alcohol related harm and to extend the licensing hours flies in the face of common sense as well as the evidence from other countries".

An A and E consultant at St Mary's hospital, Paddington, has said:

"Ireland and Australia have seen a huge increase in alcohol consumption and attendances at A&E departments have also soared."

The Irish Medical Organisation has said:

"The Royal College is right to be concerned. The evidence from Ireland shows that if the pubs open all night then people drink all night".

However, let us remember that the Prime Minister's strategy unit document pointed out overseas experience, but the Secretary of State removed that by suggesting that it was a highly selective review of the evidence.

Yesterday, we debated the Gambling Bill on Report. The Government appeared for a long time to dismiss the concerns of those who warned against the dangers of gambling addiction that could result from the introduction of mega-casinos into the UK, yet in that same Bill the Government proposed to place draconian restrictions on family seaside arcades for which no evidence of harm has ever been produced. Today, in the Licensing Act, we face an almost identical situation: the Government are pushing ahead with the introduction of extended opening hours against a chorus of opposition from the police, doctors and experts in alcohol addiction. Yet, in the very same Act, as my hon. Friend Mr. Swayne pointed out, they are forcing local voluntary sports clubs to pay massively increased fees for a licence to run a bar at the end of a game. Last week, the chairman of the Central Council of Physical Recreation said:

"In the Government's quest to appear tough on binge drinkers, it has penalised sport and recreation organisations that do so much good in the community . . . It is completely unacceptable to devastate the British sporting landscape just so the Government can appear tough on crime."

It seems extraordinary that, with the same piece of legislation, the Government are going to drive out of business many sports clubs, which play a vital part in increasing the fitness of the nation and therefore improving the health of the nation, while ignoring all expert advice and going ahead with extended opening hours, which will lead to more drunkenness, more violent crime and more alcohol-induced illness and death.

In the course of the debate, we have heard extremely good speeches from hon. Members on both sides of the House. Mr. Dobson is fully justified in claiming to have been consistent on the issue: he has indeed campaigned on it for many years and it is a pity that he was not listened to earlier. Mr. Foster made some sensible comments—I often find myself agreeing with him. Like my hon. Friend Mr. Pickles, he pointed out some of the difficulties that local authorities will have in taking advantage of the powers once the guidelines have tied their hands. However, like many of my colleagues, I found extraordinary the hon. Gentleman's confirmation of the Liberal Democrat policy of reducing from 18 to 16 the age at which people are able to purchase alcohol and drink in pubs. When we are facing a significant increase in under-age drinking and the problems to which it leads, to cut the age at which people are allowed to drink seems a curious solution.

My right hon. Friend Sir George Young made some interesting observations drawn from his experience of participating in the police parliamentary scheme, and he described methods being adopted in Southampton. It is true that a co-ordinated approach is required and many of the strategies being adopted by the police in places such as Southampton bear examination. Mr. Grogan rightly pointed out that the problem is not a new one: it goes back many years. He honestly admitted that the spin put on the policy by Millbank's sending out that famous text message contributed little to the arguments in favour of it.

It was my hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar who made some important observations about the difficulties that local authorities will have in implementing the legislation and using their powers to control binge drinking. He supported the transfer of responsibilities to local authorities. We had some reservations about that when it was proposed, but we accepted the case for transfer, albeit only if local authorities were able to use those powers properly. My hon. Friend pointed out one or two serious problems that have since been discovered in the published guidelines—in particular, the fact that a local ward councillor is considered to be biased and will therefore not be eligible to vote on the proposal to approve an application for an extended opening hours licence. As my hon. Friend said, the one person who knows the circumstances best of all in that ward is undoubtedly the ward councillor. Yet he is disqualified. Equally, parish councils are not able to make representations. The ability of local authorities to control excessive drinking will be severely constrained as a result. I hope that the Government will revisit this matter.

My hon. Friend Mr. Turner made the important point that when we came to consider what is now the Act, 18 months to two years ago, we did so without the Government telling us of the analysis that had been carried out within Government and of the advice that they were receiving outside Government. Given what we now know, we consider that the Government should pause. The degree of opposition from the police, the medical profession and other experts is so great that it would be foolish for the Government to press ahead without pausing and carrying out a thorough assessment.

On the Gambling Bill, the Government agreed to retreat. They agreed to introduce a pilot scheme before allowing mega-casinos to come to this country. There is an identical case here. We have the evidence before us. I hope that the Government, even at this late hour, will stop and think again.

Photo of Tessa Jowell Tessa Jowell The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport 3:46, 25 January 2005

Along with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary I, too, welcome the debate. It provides an opportunity to deal with what are literally shoals of red herrings swirling around the issue. If a fraction of what some newspapers and Opposition Members are saying were true, I would not be defending these policies and nor, I suspect, would many of my right hon. and hon. Friends.

I start with where I think we have established a clear consensus, which is that in this country we have a severe problem with drink, drink-related crime and behaviour that is associated with people getting drunk. Throughout the country, alcohol-related disorder is rising. As many Members have described graphically, groups of yobs make some streets in some of our cities no-go areas at night. Too many of our young people have a drinking culture that encourages binge drinking—the deliberate drinking of too much too quickly so as to get drunk. Rightly, there is public concern about that and right hon. and hon. Members reflect that concern.

It is important to recognise that the status quo is the problem, not the Licensing Act 2003, which, although it secured Royal Assent two years ago, is not yet in effect.

I take seriously the claim of David Davis, which was repeated by Mr. Whittingdale, that somehow the evidence that underpins our strategy has been tampered with. I commend to the House the interim analytical report, the research evidence that provided the background for the alcohol harm reduction strategy, which gives an unvarnished account of the harm that alcohol does in all its various ways.

There is the question of what fuels an increase in drinking. By and large, we drink less than some of our European counterparts. There is a debate among the experts, as rigorous examination of the various research will reveal. There is a debate about price, and the price of alcohol is falling in this country. The price of alcohol in supermarkets is much less than it is in a pub. It is possible for someone to get drunk for much less money if they buy alcohol from a supermarket or from some off-licences. There is a strong body of support for the belief that that is principally driving the increase in binge drinking and alcohol-related disorder.

Other evidence about the impact of opening times was obviously considered. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary set out clearly the evidence from the legislation in Scotland and the Isle of Man. There is also evidence of the impact of reduced consumption following the liberalisation of the licensing laws by the previous Government in 1988.

Photo of Charles Hendry Charles Hendry Shadow Minister (Children, Young People and Families), Deputy Chair, Conservative Party

In her heart, does the Secretary of State believe that if the pubs are open longer, people will drink more, less or the same?

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

I believe that there will be less drunkenness if we link the impact of flexibility and decisions made by local authorities in the knowledge of their local communities with the tough action that my hon. Friend the Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing and Community Safety announced on Friday to tackle the yob crime and disorder that causes concern among Members on both sides of the House.

Photo of Dave Watts Dave Watts PPS (Rt Hon John Prescott, Deputy Prime Minister), Office of the Deputy Prime Minister

Although I agree with the main thrust of Government policy, does my right hon. Friend agree that a major problem is caused by pubs and clubs continuing to sell alcohol to individuals who are obviously drunk? If we are going to tackle binge drinking, we need far more effective enforcement procedures in pubs and clubs.

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

My hon. Friend is right. There are two ways in which we intend to strengthen those procedures. First, it is an offence for a licensee to sell alcohol to someone who is drunk. By giving local authorities the resources for greater enforcement of the new powers, we intend to ensure that they will undertake inspections that will reveal the pubs and clubs where that is happening. We also intend to make that subject to a fixed penalty.

No one is claiming—I am certainly not—that the Licensing Act alone will heal all the problems of alcohol and alcohol-related crime. However, we will not achieve a solution for the problems that we face without that Act, which is part of a bigger jigsaw of pieces that must be put in place if we are to make progress. The 2003 Act directly complements the alcohol harm reduction strategy, which was published last March and aims to reduce significantly the harm that alcohol causes. By linking the impact of the Licensing Act to public health education and to the targeted powers heralded in the alcohol harm reduction strategy for tackling disorder, we can begin to change the behaviour of young people. The strategy includes the development of a code of practice that addresses irresponsible sales promotions. Many young people drink too much too quickly as a result of promotions that encourage them to drink all they can for £9.99. Those promotions are designed to do nothing but encourage drunkenness. We can make responsible conduct of premises, which involves not promoting drink in that irresponsible way, a licence condition. We can also work with the industry, the best and responsible parts of which want an end to such promotions.

Photo of Dari Taylor Dari Taylor PPS (Ms Hazel Blears, Minister of State), Home Office

Does my right hon. Friend accept that some licensees already want to take up the mantle of responsibility? Over three nights, well over 6,000 young people visit Stockton town centre. Licensees have made a small additional payment to the police, who have agreed to respond quickly to incidents. In two months, there has been a 21 per cent. reduction in violent crime, and it is important that we all acknowledge that.

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

My hon. Friend makes an important point. We do not need to wait for legislation to begin to take action. To her excellent example from Stockton, for which she has been a powerful advocate, I could add BAND—Burnley against Night-Time Disorder—Bedford's Bedsafe, Camden's Glitterball Project, High Peak's Safer Pubs and Clubs, Leicester's NiteRIDER, Liverpool's Crystal Clear, Manchester's City Centre Safe, and Northumberland's Alcohol Awareness plus. All those examples will be familiar to hon. Members in all parts of the House and show how local authorities, publicans and licensees are getting together to solve the problem on a voluntary basis, because they know that such responsibility is good for their businesses.

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

No, I shall make progress.

The tough powers in the Licensing Act 2003 also means that, as we have underlined, anyone who sells unlawfully to people who are drunk puts their business at risk.

Before recapping briefly what the new Act will do, let me make it clear what it will not do. It does not promote or encourage 24-hour drinking. That is a myth. It promotes flexible hours as a means of reducing the pressure of last orders. My hon. Friend Mr. Grogan described vividly the risks that that involves. The legislation has been strengthened by our listening to my right hon. Friend Mr. Dobson, who is so critical and who argued strongly for the powers that he set out, which are now included in the legislation.

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

No, I am not giving way.

The Act presumes that the vast majority of people should be treated like the adults that they are. It is wrong-headed for a Government to tell the entire population that they cannot be trusted to drink after 11 pm. Our role is to give adults the freedom they deserve, while giving the yobbish minority the rough and tough treatment that they deserve. Remember, the objectives of the Licensing Act are the prevention of crime and disorder, the prevention of public nuisance, public safety and the protection of children from harm. For the first time, democratic accountability will be at the heart of alcohol licensing. I can reassure Mr. Pickles that he has got it wrong. I am happy to write to him to set out clearly the position of local councillors.

The Act does not just give new powers to local authorities. It empowers the community as a whole. It is astonishing that no previous Government thought to give local residents any say in how their local pub was run. We have done so. For the first time, local residents will have the opportunity to intervene not only when a new licence is being considered and any extension of hours is being proposed, but at any stage after it is granted. The Act also provides a new and expanded raft of powers to enable licensing authorities to respond to residents' concerns. They will be able to add new conditions to licences, restrict the opening hours, suspend licences for one day, a weekend or up to three months, require the removal of a designated premises supervisor, remove an entire licensable activity such as selling alcohol, or as a last resort, revoke a licence.

The Act strengthens police powers in respect of licensing and is tougher on crime and disorder and under-age sales, all of which are contributory factors to the town and city centre disorder that gives rise to such concern. The police have been consistent in wanting resources in support of new powers, but have recognised the potential benefits of flexible opening. Our message to the police is, "We are giving you the new powers and the resources. Now use them to promote the solutions to the problems that cause such concern."

There is an opportunity now for every single Member of this House to act on behalf of their constituents, because every single licence, from 7 February, will be coming up for renewal. The police have the power to object to a simple renewal of any licence. Local residents, councillors, Members of Parliament and area child protection authorities all have the power to object to any variation of the existing licence. Democracy is there, and I urge every Member of the House to use it. I am happy to reiterate in relation to local authorities my previous undertaking that the fee levels to fund enforcement and running the new system will be kept under constant review.

The answer to the problems that we have lies in local democracy, a more responsible drink industry and police with the power to take on the yobs. The problems have developed over years. This Government in this Licensing Act have put out a series of practical solutions that will change our town and city centres for the better. I urge the House to vote for the Government amendment.

Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 174, Noes 270.

Division number 44 Licensing Act 2003

Aye: 174 MPs

No: 270 MPs

Aye: A-Z by last name

Tellers

No: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 31 (Questions on amendments), and agreed to.

Mr. Deputy Speaker forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House considers that failure to implement the Licensing Act 2003 without delay would deny the local community increased powers of intervention and improved democratic accountability with regard to licensing, deny the police the expanded powers that are vital to their efforts to tackle alcohol-related crime and would prevent licensing authorities from receiving income from licensing fees needed to recover on-going expenditure in preparing for the new regime; believes that any delay in the implementation of the Act would undermine the prevention of crime and disorder and public nuisance, damage public safety and hinder the protection of children from harm; further believes that the Act will complement the delivery of the Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy for England which aims to reduce excessive drinking and the harms that causes; and, furthermore, commends the proposals for Alcohol Disorder Zones and the extension of fixed penalty notices and other measures set out in 'Drinking Responsibly', the consultation paper published jointly by the Home Office, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister on 21st January 2005.

Photo of Anthony Steen Anthony Steen Conservative, Totnes

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As you know, a service will be held in Westminster Hall on Thursday to commemorate holocaust day. Do you know of any Members of Parliament from our House who have been invited? Who sent the invitations out for it? As far as I know, no Jewish Member has been invited to attend. Can you give us guidance about who is organising the event and how it is being arranged?

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

I understand the hon. Member's concerns but, without considerably more notice, I am afraid that I cannot supply any answers. I know that I have not been invited but, since the event would not take place in Westminster Hall without the authorisation of Mr. Speaker and the Lord Chancellor, the most productive line of inquiry probably lies with the Speaker's Office. I hope that that is helpful.