I beg to move,
That this House
notes the growing public concern that the Licensing Act 2003 will increase levels of violent crime and anti-social behaviour;
observes that the cost to the taxpayer of rising alcohol-fuelled crime and disorder is already £12 billion a year;
objects to the presumption in favour of late-night drinking irrespective of the views of local residents and local representatives;
disapproves of the disproportionate burden of administration and increased costs for village halls, sports clubs and community centres;
calls for local councils to have greater discretion to take into account the interests of their local community;
and calls on the Government to cancel the full commencement of the Act and overhaul the primary legislation.
It is a matter of record that, since the Committee stage of the Licensing Bill, my party has consistently raised our concerns about the implications of the Government's proposal to introduce extended licensing hours. Both in Committee and since, we have argued that the drinking culture in the UK—in particular, the culture of binge drinking and the explosion of alcohol-fuelled violence and antisocial behaviour— has made the Government's plans dangerous and foolhardy.
"We will tackle the unacceptable level of anti-social behaviour and crime on our streets. Our 'zero tolerance' approach will ensure that petty criminality among young offenders is seriously addressed."
The reality on our streets is very different. There are now 1 million violent crimes a year and, in the three months to June, police recorded 318,200 violent crimes—up 6 per cent. on the same period last year. A particularly worrying statistic is that half the violence is due to binge drinking.
"The idea behind the Bill is to liberalise the licensing laws, simplify the system for getting an entertainment licence and let pubs stay open for longer, so long as there is no public nuisance. I would say 'amen' to all those things."
We have always said that it is about getting rid of the binge drinking culture. There are indeed powers in the Bill that my hon. Friends and I welcome, but I wish to concentrate on extended licensing hours and the problems that they will cause for people up and down the country, including the constituency of Kitty Ussher.
Two thirds of sentenced male prisoners—about 50,000 men—have admitted to hazardous drinking, and 25,000 of them have a severe alcohol dependency. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is not surprising that the Government are in dereliction of their duty, because not one prison has a ring-fenced programme for dealing with alcohol problems?
My hon. Friend has made an important and valid point. She has spent much time examining the issues that we need to address if we are to ensure that prisoners can deal with problems such as drink. Under the current arrangements, there will be even more problem drinking and it is likely that even more people will end up in the position that she highlighted.
Has my right hon. Friend noticed that the point made in the earlier quotation from the Oxford Journal concerned the intentions behind the Act? Whatever those intentions were, the measure is badly constructed and has been badly introduced. The promises about safeguards that were made to our party and to others have been largely forgotten.
My right hon. Friend is right. It is disappointing not only that those safeguards have been forgotten but that Ministers continue to give those assurances to this day, despite the fact that it is patently obvious that our concerns have not been met.
Everyone in the House shares the right hon. Lady's concerns about binge drinking, so I hope that she will not suggest otherwise, but will she address the facts on the table rather than the myths that are being peddled? Scotland has had staggered licensing hours for some years and everyone involved, including the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents, has concluded that they have had far fewer problems with binge drinking as a result. Why has the right hon. Lady not taken that into account?
The Act has not resulted in staggered hours. Binge drinking is not a myth—it is a problem on the streets of our towns and cities. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to express concern about binge drinking, he has an easy option: he can join us and vote for the motion.
The cost to the taxpayer of the explosion of alcohol-fuelled crime and disorder is £12 billion a year, which is £5 billion more than the original estimate by the Downing street policy unit. I am not alone in thinking that extending licensing hours when we have an explosion of alcohol-related crime is sheer lunacy. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House have expressed concern about the impact of the new law. Earlier, in Culture questions, I cited the concern of three senior police officers, including Commander Chris Allison, the licensing spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers, who said:
"We are seeing hundreds of licensed premises applying for an extra hour during the week and two at weekends. People are going to drink more because of longer hours and there will be lots more crime and disorder."
The Secretary of State told me that I should not quote one senior officer selectively. I did not do so then and I will not now. The deputy chief constable of the British Transport Police warns that police believe that extending licensing hours could lead to
"more binge drinking and violence".
The chief superintendent of Derbyshire constabulary warned that
"all-night opening will have significant implications for both the police service and peace in the community."
He went on to say:
"Domestic violence often follows drinkers' arrival back at their home address. This is likely to be more frequent and prolonged than it currently is. This will affect violent crime statistics."
The deputy chief constable of north Wales said that it was "inevitable" that there would be
"an increase in violence of all types despite our best efforts".
I could cite more warnings. It is clearly not just me who is worried about the impact of the new laws.
I used to chair the public health committee at Newcastle city council. We conducted experiments during Euro 96 and on millennium eve, when we did not have any closing hours. The police are on the record as saying that far fewer people were arrested for violence and disorder on those two occasions than on a usual Friday or Saturday night. The right hon. Lady should consider that experience rather than picking out quotes.
One cannot extrapolate consistent consequences from the experience of just two nights. The problem is not staggered hours but people being disgorged on to the streets at 1 or 2 am—
I wish to give my right hon. Friend a further example not only of a police officer objecting to the current arrangements but of the consequences of doing so. The chief superintendent in charge of the Isle of Wight police has complained that she cannot provide the resources to police Newport, Ryde and other towns at 3 or 4 am if long licensing hours are approved. The response of licensing officers for the Isle of Wight council was that that was not a valid objection under the law that the Government pushed through.
My hon. Friend makes an important point and I shall come to the problem of valid objections. That chief constable is not alone in her worries about police resources. Many police forces up and down the country have said that it will be difficult for them, with existing resources, to manage extended licensing hours and the resultant problems.
The right hon. Lady quoted selectively from ACPO, so may I give her another quote from that organisation? It says that
"it still has concerns about binge drinking and the consequences of longer opening hours in some cases. The answer to this is changing the behaviour of customers and proprietors as well as strong licensing regulations."
Does the Act not do just that?
That is the whole point. The Bill does not do just that. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman look at the comments made by Commander Chris Allison of ACPO, who said:
"Since our first submission to the government in 2000, we have consistently raised genuine concerns over the possible effects of extending the hours during which people can drink given the culture of excessive drinking that already pervades our society."
That is the point. The Bill does nothing to destroy that culture of excessive drinking. In fact, it encourages it.
My right hon. Friend said that the Act would adversely affect constituents in towns and cities. I would also like to mention the many people in the rural villages near Shrewsbury in Shropshire. Many senior citizens have come to my surgery to tell me how worried they are about the effect that the legislation will have on village life, with some pubs planning extensions until 4 am. Many senior citizens choose to live in small rural villages so as to have a peaceful, quiet life.
My hon. Friend is right. People's quality of life will be badly affected when the legislation comes into force, but even at this late stage the Government have an opportunity to think again.
No, I want to make some progress.
It seems that the Prime Minister agrees with us about the binge drinking culture. Last year, he said that
"as a society, we have to make sure that this form of what we often call binge-drinking doesn't become a new sort of British disease".
I say to all Labour Members that there is one way to do something about that: they should vote with us tonight to tell the Government not to extend licensing hours, because that will encourage the binge drinking culture.
No, I want to continue to make some progress.
In previous debates, and during Culture questions today, Labour Members have raised the issue of police powers to tackle the problem. However, I question whether existing powers are being used to tackle under-age drinkers and other problems related to drinking. The number of people found guilty of, or cautioned for, offences of drunkenness has fallen by almost 10,000 since 1997. The number of people under 18 found guilty of, or cautioned for, buying intoxicating liquor has fallen by 81 per cent. since 1997. In 2003, only 53 teenagers were found guilty of, or cautioned for, buying or trying to buy alcohol. I would welcome new powers to deal with the problems of alcohol and young people, and with problem pubs and clubs, but existing powers also need to be used effectively. It is rich of the Government to say that the Act must go ahead because it gives the police extra powers to deal with problem drinking when it will actually exacerbate the problem.
When the legislation came before Parliament, colleagues on both sides of the House were given certain assurances, as my right hon. Friend Mr. Gummer said. Ministers claimed that the new laws would give greater powers and discretion to local councils, and that local residents would have greater powers to deal with rowdy pubs and to shut down those that encouraged violent or antisocial behaviour. We were also assured, time and again, that the new laws would lead to the introduction of what the Prime Minister calls a European-style café culture. Tell that to the Council of Her Majesty's Circuit Judges, which, in its submission to Home Office consultation earlier this year, warned that
"those who routinely see the consequences of drink-fuelled violence in offences of rape, grievous bodily harm and worse on a daily basis, are in no doubt that an escalation of offences of this nature will inevitably be caused by the relaxation of liquor licensing which the Government has now authorised. We regard it as simply wishful thinking to suppose that the introduction of the Licensing Act will bring about the cultural change which Government envisages".
I find it incredible that, at this late stage, the Opposition are objecting to an Act that will expand police powers, give local authorities additional powers to refuse licences and enable tougher action on under-age drinking. More importantly, in January 2005, the current leader of the Conservative party said:
"If a local authority is given real power to decide, which the Government is not giving them, and if the local people in the area say, 'We'd like 24-hour drinking', why shouldn't they have it?"
I would welcome greater powers for local residents to have a say in what happens in their locality but, while the role of the magistrates has been transferred to local councils, the result of the Act in practice is that the new system fails to provide a proper say for local communities.
No, I want to make some progress.
Let us examine the detail of the Act's implementation. Applications are automatically granted unless an objection is made. However, only certain people are allowed to object. For example, residents can object only if they live in the immediate vicinity of the premises concerned. The definition of "vicinity" is down to the local authority. There are plenty of examples of local authorities that have adopted definitions such as 100 yd or 150 m, which has resulted in people being unable to object to applications for licence extensions until 6 am because they live 150 yd away from the pub or nightclub. They are told that they cannot object because they do not live close enough to it. Those who decide to take their objection to a magistrates court find themselves threatened with legal bills of thousands of pounds because they are responsible not only for the licensee's costs but for the costs of the local authority.
May I express my concern at the right hon. Lady' s lack of faith in local authorities? In Blackpool, the local council has certainly not decided on some arbitrary distance from an establishment. It has allowed anyone in the town to object to a licence application. Those objections then go to the licensing panel, which listens to everyone who has made an objection. It listens to the police and to the local community before reaching an informed decision on behalf of the people it represents. Will she acknowledge the hard work carried out by local councils—
If there is a council that is genuinely taking local people's concerns into account, I am pleased to hear it. However, the hon. Lady might wish to go back to her local council and point out that, under the terms of the Act, it can take representations and objections only from people who live in the vicinity of the establishment concerned and that, under the DCMS guidelines, it has to give a definition of what "in the vicinity" means.
Is the right hon. Lady aware that counsel's legal opinion given to Colchester borough council is that elected councillors are not permitted to make representations on behalf of their constituents unless they have received a letter from a constituent first?
Is my right hon. Friend aware that parish councils are not statutory consultees under the Licensing Act? Is not that a scandalous omission, since they can best reflect the impact on their communities of a proposed application?
Indeed. I fear that that represents yet another example of the Government's attitude towards parish councils—trying to sideline them at every opportunity.
When I referred to the costs incurred by people taking their objections to the magistrates courts, I noticed the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, James Purnell sitting with a smile on his face, apparently suggesting that I was wrong. I suggest that he talk to Labour councillors in Newcastle, where two councillors have been left with a £2,100 bill as a result of taking an appeal to the magistrates court. That is the kind of bill that people are facing.
So much for this legislation giving local people more powers. In reality, there are few powers to hold pubs and clubs responsible for rowdy or drunken customers once they are outside the licensed premises, even if the nuisance was caused by the pub having served them the alcohol in the first place. Councils and police cannot use nuisance and noise from outside a licensed premises as grounds for a closure order against a particular venue. Pubs and clubs can only be penalised if they make excessive noise from inside a pub, so licensed premises cannot be held responsible for the antics of their drunken customers leaving in the early hours, ruining the lives of those living nearby in the process. Again, as Commander Chris Allison of the Association of Chief Police Officers has said:
"We cannot just willy-nilly object because as soon as we object to a licence the licensee has a right to appeal and we have to provide evidence linking the premises with disorder. Often the disorder is a half-mile or more away from pubs".
Noise is not just car doors slamming, taxis drawing up and the general noise that comes with people leaving a pub very late at night. Many pubs also have beer gardens and people who live in the surrounding area might easily be kept awake until 1 or 2 am. The quality of their lives will be affected.
That is exactly what this is about: binge drinking and its impact not only on those who indulge in it but on local residents who live around such pubs, whose lives will be made a misery as a result of this Government's legislation.
The right hon. Lady is right to identify irresponsible licence holders or retailers selling alcohol, but she will also be aware that the Violent Crime Reduction Bill contains a provision to deal with them. Can she explain why her party voted against it, as did the Liberals and the nationalists?
If the powers are there to deal with irresponsible licence holders, I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that if he wants to do something about binge drinking, he vote with us tonight to ensure that this Government do not implement an Act that can only lead to more violence and disorder on our streets.
To return to what can be considered by a licensing committee, the advice given to one such in my constituency is that, in the absence of police evidence, it cannot consider complaints from people who live in the vicinity of a pub about what has happened. Given that the rural police force is rather stretched in my part of the world, it is unlikely that such evidence will be brought forward by the police.
Indeed. Of course, given that the police must bring forward evidence that there is disorder related to the pub rather than disorder in the streets, I assume that, effectively, there can be no objections—
No, I shall make progress.
Bob Russell raised the issue of councillors and their position. We were told that they would have far more powers to tackle nuisance pubs, but, as he says, they cannot lodge an objection in their own right in their capacity as ward councillors. They cannot consider licensing applications from their wards as they might be biased in favour of local residents and, despite having a democratic mandate from local residents, they can object only if they live in the vicinity. In such circumstances, the code of conduct for councillors states that they have a prejudicial interest and should not be allowed even to address the licensing sub-committee, so they cannot speak up, residents are disqualified even if they live close to the pub, and police cannot object—hardly the brave new world of local accountability promised by the Government.
We believe that it is dangerous, indeed reckless, to press ahead with extending licensing hours in this way. It is simply not good enough for the Government to light the blue touch paper and retire to a safe distance. The consequences for our society are too great. Does the Secretary of State really believe that, if pubs are open longer—substantially so in many cases—people will not drink more? If she does, she should speak to David Daly, president of the National Association of Licensed House Managers, who is quoted in a newspaper today as calling these reforms "an absolute cock-up". He represents 3,000 managers of larger chain-owned pubs, and he has said:
"How we make our money is to make people binge drink".
"Our fear is that managers will be pressured into selling more and more alcohol in a way that is not responsible. There is no doubt that people will drink more."
It does not take much to work out that, if pubs are open longer, people will drink more.
The Minister assured us when the Bill was passed that brawls at chucking-out time would end and that staggered closing would be introduced. What the licensing laws do is to impose less, not more, flexibility for local councils in deciding closing times, because the Government's guidance explicitly states that councils are to be discouraged from determining fixed closing hours or introducing staggered closing times. Yet stopping the pinch-point of people leaving at the same time was precisely one of the reasons why the Bill was supposed to have been introduced in the first place.
No, I have been generous in giving way, and I will make progress.
We have major concerns about the implications of the law in one final area: supermarkets. We have already heard about the problems of teenage drinking. The new laws allow for supermarkets that have planning permission to open 24 hours to sell alcohol during the same period and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport guidance creates a presumption in favour of 24-hour supermarkets having a 24-hour licence for off-sales. We all know the problems caused by many under-age drinkers having access to alcohol as a result of being able to buy it in supermarkets and shops. In effect, we are making it easier for young people to buy alcohol. That does nothing to alleviate the problems of binge and under-age drinking in this country.
We have heard from Ministers previously about those who do not want the changes postponed. They have cited ACPO and the Local Government Association, but they have not cited the growing list, from the judiciary to police officers, from the British Medical Association to the Royal College of Physicians, all of whom warn of the devastating consequences of pressing ahead with the Government's plans. Those are not groups with a political axe to grind—
I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman thinks that the judiciary and the BMA have a political axe to grind. Those are people talking about their experience of what happens with drunkenness on our streets and the violent crime that results from it. They are not people who, as the Minister has accused me of doing in the past, are playing politics. They are concerned people who deal with the consequences of the Government's folly. We can add to that list the many people living near pubs and clubs whose lives will be made that little bit more of a misery when the pub closes not at 11 pm or midnight but 1 or 2 am or later. They are worried, if not frightened, residents who will have to live with the consequences of extended drinking hours.
It is not too late for the Government to listen to the police, the judiciary, doctors and voters up and down the country and say, "Yes, we got it wrong. Let's abandon these plans for extended licensing hours. Let's work together to get rid of the binge drinking culture that damages our society." The question is not whether the Government are wrong, but whether the Secretary of State will have the guts to admit that the Government are wrong, and take this last chance to do something about it.
I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof,
"commends the Government on its effective publicity campaign that, together with the excellent work of licensing authorities, has resulted in 97 per cent. of those needing to make applications having done so, with the expectation that virtually all those who want a licence will have the necessary licence by 24th November;
welcomes the involvement of more local residents than ever before in the licensing processes and their ability to influence the hours that premises open near their homes;
notes that there is no presumption in favour of late night drinking in the Act and that it is for licensing authorities to decide appropriate hours of trading where any dispute arises;
considers that the implementation of the powers to review premises licences after 24th November are a vital step in fighting anti-social behaviour;
and believes that delaying the implementation of the Act would be contrary to the wishes of the police, licensing authorities, the Central Council of Physical Recreation, Action with Communities in Rural England and industry and would be an unacceptable waste of the resources and effort put in by those who have been preparing for full implementation since 7th February 2005."
It is the third time this year that Opposition Members have brought to the House the same old argument that the Licensing Act 2003 should not be implemented. As we have heard, they have put forward not a single constructive alternative, laying sins at the feet of a piece of legislation that has not yet been implemented. That argument is just about the most consistent thing about their position on the matter. For all their bluster, they failed to vote against the Bill's provision on extending opening hours when they had the chance to do so, and neither the Conservatives nor the Liberal Democrats tabled any amendments to the provisions about flexible hours in Committee or on Report. Nor did any of their Front Benchers speak against the provisions. Indeed, the predecessor of Mrs. May, Mr. Whittingdale, who is currently in the Chamber, said:
"As we made clear on Second Reading, we accept the need for reform of our licensing laws. We support some elements of the Bill. We agree, for instance, with the need for greater flexibility in opening hours, and we accept the argument for doing away with the universal chucking-out time."—[Hansard, 16 June 2003; Vol. 407, c. 172.]
So what have the Opposition done? Yet again, they have caught sight of a passing bandwagon and jumped right on to it.
My right hon. Friend will recall that, both in writing and in conversation with her, I expressed my deep reservations about the extension of licensing hours. I voted for the Licensing Bill in the end because she undertook to review the operation of the Act. If Britain's alcohol problems become worse, will the Government commit themselves to changing the law again in the future?
I have made clear, as has the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend James Purnell, that the guidance will be reviewed, as will the implementation of the Act. Of course, given that the Act's intentions are to tackle alcohol-related crime and disorder, reduce public nuisance, increase public safety and protect children from harm, when we review it we shall do so in the context of its success in those four licensing objectives. With great respect to my hon. Friend, I think that that goes without saying.
There may be some agreement on just one aspect. Does the Secretary of State agree that if she is to fulfil the promise that she just gave Kelvin Hopkins, there is one crucial requirement? Before anyone can conduct an assessment of the impact of the law, there must be agreed benchmarks against which judgments are given, but so far the Secretary of State has refused to consent to the establishment of such benchmarks. Will she now at least do that?
When the Act is implemented, we will set out the proposals for review, the terms of reference for review, and the way in which it will be conducted. I shall not be drawn into discussing the methodology at this stage, but we should be clear about one thing: it is this Government who have shown dedicated commitment to tackling alcohol-related violence, and the purpose of any review of the Act will be to ensure that if further improvements can be made, they are made so that the Act does that more effectively.
No, I want to make some progress.
Mrs. May has failed to persuade the House before, and I believe that she will do the same today. The facts are simply not on her side; nor are the vast majority of experts in this business. The Association of Chief Police Officers, for instance, recently confirmed that it did not want implementation of the Act delayed. Local councils, as the new licensing authorities, have put enormous effort and good work into delivering the requirements of the transitional period, and I congratulate them on that. Only recently, the Local Government Association confirmed that it did not want that effort to be wasted.
People with direct interests include Mr. Cameron, who, along with me and other Back Benchers, tended to make supportive noises about the Bill before it came into being. Although as company directors such people have a vested interest, they have supported the legislation nevertheless.
I agree with my hon. Friend.
Sandy Bruce-Lockhart, Conservative chairman of the Local Government Association and leader of Kent county council, is on record as saying:
"We support the Licensing Act and are fully committed to ensuring it is successfully implemented on
In recent weeks, the Central Council for Physical Recreation has also confirmed its opposition to delay. It represents sports clubs that have gone through the conversion and variation processes, and have paid their fees. Then there are the tens of thousands of small businesses that have paid for their new licences and expect to see the benefits on
The result would be chaos, confusion, and damage to those small businesses, which are a very important part of the tourism industry on which Blackpool relies.
I am grateful for your advice, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
The right hon. Member for Maidenhead ignores local residents who have engaged in the process of licensing in greater numbers than ever before. Their time and effort in objecting to variations, where they have done so, would be wasted if she had her way.
We have already heard this evening about at least one Conservative Member with very strong views on the Act, who believes that it is rooted in common sense. He is such a keen proponent that he has been a director of the drinks company Urbium. His name has been mentioned a number of times this evening: he is, of course, Mr. Cameron, and I believe that the right hon. Member for Maidenhead is backing him for the party leadership. Her position on the Licensing Act could just be a rather bad career move. The obvious conclusion is that the right hon. Lady and other Conservative Members would rather keep the status quo, which gives rise to all these problems, than come up with the practical solutions advocated by the police and others.
None of us is suggesting that there should be no change. We want the problem of binge drinking to be tackled, for instance.
The Secretary of State has quoted many people tonight. What does she think of the comments of Dave Daley, head of the National Association of Licensed House Managers? According to yesterday's edition of The Observer, he said that house managers were already being incentivised to the tune of £20,000 to ensure that people stayed in the pubs after 11 pm, drank doubles rather than singles, and drank more shots in between. There is a policy that encourages people to binge drink.
Pubs that act in that way risk being closed for breaching their licence conditions. The law has been strengthened. The voluntary code is being developed, and if licensees do not adopt it, it may become a licence condition. Pubs and clubs that think that that is how the new legislation benefits them should beware, because they risk losing their licences and their livelihoods if they behave in such an irresponsible fashion.
No, I will not.
Research and police evidence clearly show—the Act is predicated on this—that there are two surges in street disorder, at 11 pm and at 2 am. Those are the chucking-out times for pubs and clubs. Pubs that chuck people on to the streets at exactly the same time generate the drunken loutishness that is captured on CCTV and in our newspapers throughout the summer. We know that the national curfew, dating from 1917, does not curb disorder but makes it worse, and we know that it does not prevent alcohol misuse but makes that worse as well.
My right hon. Friend has touched on a point that was raised by Mrs. May at least three times, relating to staggered hours. Staggered closing times are very desirable. In Wolverhampton—the premier nightclub spot in the west midlands, of course—that is effectively what we have had, thanks to the closing hours granted by the licensing committee. They have de facto led to staggered hours, but other places do not currently operate such hours, given that many establishments empty out at 2 o'clock in the morning.
My hon. Friend draws attention to an example of very good licensing practice in his constituency.
The curfew ensures that the law-abiding millions in this country, who might like the chance to enjoy a night out beyond 11 o'clock, are not allowed to do so. Meanwhile, those who do not abide by the law get away with doing so more often than not, because the police simply do not have the necessary powers to take decisive action. So in punishing everyone for the crimes of the minority, we have managed to deprive them of one of their freedoms of choice, and have done little to punish the minority.
All that will change on
I am incredibly grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way. I am very intrigued by her comments about local accountability. Will she address the point raised by my right hon. Friend Mrs. May and Bob Russell, who said that local councillors, whose job it is to represent local people, are not allowed to speak up at licensing meetings on behalf of residents in their own wards? Unless they go through the convoluted process of putting such points in writing, they cannot represent their own constituents. Is that not outrageous?
If it were true, it would be outrageous, but the fact is that where local councillors are acting as representatives of those whom they represent, they have the power to do just that—to represent them.
I am going to make some progress.
The quid pro quo that this Act creates for the majority is also matched by the introduction of draconian new powers for the police to mete out swift and heavy punishment to the pubs and drinkers who abuse that new freedom. They can fine people on the spot for disorderly behaviour, and they can close down pubs that cause a nuisance. They can take away licences, and they will soon be able to declare an area that is persistently disorderly as an alcohol disorder zone, in which publicans will have to pay a levy to help cover the costs of extra policing. In addition, for persistent offenders there will be drink banning orders. Make no mistake: from
I want the police authorities to know that they have the Government's full backing to use the new powers conferred on them to the full. I want publicans to understand that they have a duty of care to their customers and to local residents. The majority run respectable houses, and they will get the support that they need to keep things that way. But publicans who run disorderly pubs—who turn a blind eye to under-age drinking and persistently serve people who are already drunk—are on notice. I say to them directly that they have a month to mend their ways.
The House will remember that in July, the Opposition predicted that there would be chaos by November as the process of applying for new licences collapsed; that the Government had not done enough to publicise the requirements; that not enough applicants would have applied; that the views of residents would be ignored; and that licensing authorities would be unable to cope with the
My right hon. Friend alluded to the contribution that local residents can make to the process, and in practical terms that reflects what has happened in my constituency. As part of the review, will she revisit the notification process? Many people still have not seen the blue notices in the premises or the newspaper adverts. Will she also confirm that local authorities and councils can notify residents that an application has been submitted?
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention and I can confirm that last point. I also undertake that when we review and update the guidance, because we will have moved beyond the transition period, we will certainly take account of the point that he makes.
A large percentage of those who have become involved in local representations have influenced the outcome by securing changes in the opening hours of premises near their homes.
I will not give way. The right hon. Lady has had plenty of time to make her points, and many Back Benchers wish to speak.
Some 95 per cent. of cases in which representations were made have been successfully negotiated with the local authority and the licensee. So having painted a lurid picture of chaos on our streets, the question that the right hon. Member for Maidenhead should answer is: which of the police's new powers does she want to delay? Does she want to delay the police's extended closure powers in respect of individual premises? Does she want to delay the new closure powers for environmental health officers? Does she want to delay the increased penalties for breaches of licence conditions—a point that was raised earlier? Does she want to delay the increased penalties for selling alcohol to children? Does she want to delay the tough new penalties for irresponsible retailers?
Does the right hon. Lady not approve of those powers? Does she not want to see changes to our drinking laws that increase protection for children? Is she happy that children can be sold alcohol in some 20,000 members' clubs and on booze cruises? So the police and environmental health officers will have new powers concerning the protection of children, the promotion of public safety, the prevention of public nuisance and the prevention and reduction of crime and disorder.
I listened carefully to the speech of the right hon. Member for Maidenhead, but I remain unclear as to what she wants. At best, she seems to want to wreck the Act, even though that would mean a continuation of the problems.
The fact is that binge drinking is a problem now. The Licensing Act forms part of the solution, and it is a crucial part of our strategy for combating alcohol-rated harm, but the national problem of alcohol abuse has many roots. This legislation is a necessary, but not of itself a sufficient, part of the cure. That is why, in partnership with the alcohol industry, a standards and principles document is being developed under the alcohol harm reduction strategy. It will be a voluntary code, but those parts of the industry that do not sign up to it will make themselves targets for review under the Licensing Act. So they should consider themselves on probation.
The code will promote a more responsible approach to sales promotions, happy hours and the various promotions that can cause binge drinking and the like. It will ensure that better training becomes a high priority for the industry, and it will set out examples of good practice.
I want to make some progress.
The alcohol harm reduction strategy will also focus on education. There will be new teaching materials for educating the public and educating our children in schools about problems associated with alcohol. The Violent Crime Reduction Bill will add to the measures for tackling the problems that alcohol misuse can cause. It will include drink banning orders to exclude violent and antisocial drinkers from premises that sell alcohol. It introduces alcohol disorder zones, enabling the police and local authorities to put in place action and measures to combat the problems of alcohol-related crime and disorder and to charge the premises selling alcohol for the additional enforcement costs when that becomes necessary.
Who would initiate that process if the problems that the Secretary of State has mentioned occur? Would a local councillor have the right to initiate it?
As the hon. Gentleman is aware, those powers have been greatly argued for by the police and are supported by local authorities. They are still subject to debate in the House, but I expect that the advocates of crime reduction on behalf of both the police and local authorities will ensure that their voices are heard and are represented in the legislation, although the way in which representations can be made has not yet been settled.
The Bill will also expedite fast-track reviews, where serious crime—drug dealing or the use of guns and knives—is associated with any premises. It will also create a Licensing Act offence of persistently selling alcohol to children and a new power to ban the sale of alcohol for up to 48 hours at the premises where the offence is committed. That is extremely important for addressing the current problem that much of the alcohol consumed by young people is bought not from pubs, but from off-licences.
My right hon. Friend makes a powerful case for how the legislation will help to tackle binge and under-age drinking. Does she believe that the Liberal Democrat policy of lowering the licensing age to 16 is, in the current circumstances and against the backdrop of these events, utterly irresponsible?
I hope that it is not too unkind to say that it is not unusual for the Liberal Democrats to come up with policies that are impractical and inconsistent. This is yet another example.
We take the issue of binge drinking and alcohol-fuelled violence very seriously indeed. We know that the Act and other measures will have an impact on every high street and just about every person in the country. That is why we shall tread with great care and review the operation of the Act carefully. However, if the right hon. Member for Maidenhead has her way, we shall be asking the police to fight 21st century yobs with 19th century laws. It simply will not work—[Interruption.]
The right hon. Lady should accept that she is wrong and that the very worst option is to continue as we are. That is all that the Opposition offer. On the Government side, we recognise the scale of the problem that the country faces and we recognise that the present law infantilises millions, while giving the yobbish minority free rein. We have done something about it, while the Conservative party flip-flops and operates in an entirely opportunistic way.
This country has a real problem with drink and disorder, and the Licensing Act will go a long way to tackling it head on. I urge the House to reject the Opposition motion, which is uninformed, opportunistic and denies the police the essential powers to tackle this 21st century problem. I therefore urge the House to support the amendment and reject the motion.
May I say that I have great respect for the Secretary of State and congratulate her again on her role in bringing the Olympics to London? I notice that she has been nominated by The House Magazine as one of its Ministers of the year, but on the basis of tonight's performance I do not believe that her chances of winning will be much good—[Interruption.] On the basis of tonight, I have to say that.
The Secretary of State has been very clear: she believes that this country has a serious problem with binge drinking. On that, we agree. She believes passionately that the new Licensing Act will help to solve that problem. On that, however, we fundamentally disagree. We believe that the Licensing Act should be placed on ice until binge drinking is brought under control. Similarly, in view of what David Taylor said, let me make it clear that, while the current binge drinking problem remains, no party would be responsible if it urged a reduction in the age at which people can buy alcohol. There, I am expressing the policy of the Liberal Democrats.
I am pleased to hear that evidence of a U-turn, albeit one performed behind a smokescreen. Does the Liberal Democrat spokesman agree that concern about binge and under-age drinking has been evident for a significant period and stretches back at least to the time of the Standing Committee examination of the Licensing Bill? Will he confirm that Liberal Democrat members of the Committee tabled no amendments, at no stage voted against clauses dealing with flexible licensing hours, and, indeed, nodded through the relevant legislation, as we have come to expect from Liberal Democrats in this place?
The hon. Gentleman is wrong: the Liberal Democrats voted against the legislation—full stop. That is clearly on the record. He should take into account what his Secretary of State said. She referred to a number of issues that she claimed had not been argued by either of the Opposition parties. She failed to point out, of course, that many of the issues came to light not in Committee, but in the regulations that resulted at a later stage. Many of those regulations are creating many of the current problems. The hon. Gentleman should also be aware of the huge delay. The Government have only just finished consulting—despite the fact that the Act was passed in 2003—on what to say about temporary events notices, which have not yet been debated on the Floor of the House. The hon. Gentleman really needs to check his facts about what the Liberal Democrats and others did during the Bill's passage.
I understand entirely where the Secretary of State is coming from. She and the hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire have said that we have a serious problem with binge drinking, but the real problem is that it is getting significantly worse every year. The figures are clear. The British crime survey released last week shows a 12 per cent. increase in violent assaults, in which alcohol was a major contributing factor. There has been a 15 per cent. rise nationally in
"violent offences committed in connection with licensed premises", which amounts to almost 1,000 a week. Last year, there were an estimated 116,000 violent incidents against national health service staff—318 a day. Incidentally, that is 20 times the number of arrests at a football match.
Health problems are deeply concerning and getting worse. There has been an 18.4 per cent. increase in alcohol-related deaths over the past year. The overall cost of alcohol to the health service and others is about £20 billion a year, with one in 13 adults dependent on alcohol and nine children being admitted to hospitals in England every day with alcohol-related problems. The Secretary of State is right; we have a very serious problem, and, sadly, it is getting worse.
The real question for the House is whether the Licensing Act will help to solve that problem or make the situation worse. Much has already been said about the Government's motives for introducing the legislation. Their motives were clear. We saw them in that infamous text message:
"Couldn't give a XXXX 4 for last orders? Vote Labour for extra time."
Today, the Minister said that he regretted that, and the Secretary of State has said that it was silly. Nevertheless, it gave the public the clear impression that the Government were not interested in solving the problems of binge drinking, but were much more concerned with garnering the youth vote.
The Secretary of State said the message was silly and the Minister said it was unacceptable, but the spin continues. On the departmental website, we can read the regular bulletin "Licensing Countdown". I have in front of me the October 2005 edition. What sort of spin are the Government putting on it? Is it all about getting rid of binge drinking? What does the headline say? It says:
"Calling time on last orders."
That is hardly an indication that the Government are cracking down on binge drinking. The bulletin continues:
"During the summer the Government made an order confirming 24th November as the eagerly awaited 'second appointed day'."
Apart from the Minister and the Secretary of State, I know of few people who are eagerly awaiting
I do not know the details, but if the Government create legislation and, as we have already heard, give opportunities for the licensing trade to increase what it earns, I am not surprised that people pursue such opportunities. I want clear Government legislation that gives people who want to drink responsibly the opportunity to do so without the rest of us having to deal with the problems of irresponsible drinking, of which there is, sadly, far too much in this country. Sadly, the problems are growing.
I want to make some progress.
I want to point out why the Government are wrong in their belief that the Licensing Act will help to solve the problem. In fairness, the House needs to hear their reasons. I would have thought that the Government would give us research evidence to show that increasing the availability of alcohol would in some way help to deal with the problem of binge drinking. The Government have not given us that evidence, but several respected bodies have done so. All Members have received an extremely useful briefing from the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology—"Postnote", which, under the heading "Binge Drinking and Public Health", makes it clear that in countries with an existing binge drinking problem increasing the availability of alcohol leads to an increase in the amount of drinking.
If the Secretary of State and the Minister do not want to take note of that research, far more is available. I have a pre-publication copy of the International Journal of Drug Policy, which states that
"past experience suggests that the new licensing arrangements risk leading to a rise in heavy drinking, illicit drug use, violence, morbidity and traffic accidents. The lack of attention the UK Government has apparently devoted to the experience of other countries where on sale availability has been extended is remarkable."
The Government simply have not done their homework or given us the evidence to show how the legislation will do what they say it will do—reduce the problems of binge drinking. Very few people believe the Government. Judges, health experts, the licensed industry, local authorities and the public simply do not believe that the reforms will help. Judges have described the legislation as "close to lunacy". Let me quote the submission by the Council of Her Majesty's Circuit Judges to the Government's consultation:
"Those who routinely see the consequences of drink-fuelled violence in the offences of rape, grievous bodily harm and worse on a daily basis are in no doubt that an escalation of offences of this nature will inevitably be caused by the relaxation of liquor licensing, which the Government has now authorities."
Health experts say exactly the same as judges. Professor Christopher Day, a liver specialist at Newcastle university, believes that the Government have deliberately downplayed the medical evidence. The Royal College of Physicians says that there is already an epidemic of binge drinking and that the Licensing Act 2003
"flies in the face of common sense".
As for licensed industry experts, Mrs. May quoted Mr. Dave Daley, the president of the National Association of Licensed House Managers, who described the reforms as "an absolute cock-up". The Publican says that three quarters of licensees think that extended licensing laws will not help binge drinking.
The public, too, are desperately concerned by what is going on. The British crime survey released last week shows that the number of people worried about public drunkenness and rowdy behaviour was up from 20 to 23 per cent. A BBC poll showed earlier this year that 67 per cent. of people thought that the Licensing Act 2003 would increase trouble on our streets, with 62 per cent. saying that it would make Britain a worse place in which to live.
If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I will answer his question in a second. Frankly, in her speech, the Secretary of Secretary gave up on all the other arguments and concentrated solely on the police powers, so they deserve a very serious response.
The Secretary of State prayed in aid local authorities. She said that they are very keen on the legislation and want all the reforms to go ahead; but, in fact, that is hardly the truth, as she knows because she is the one who received the letter, dated
"this is a challenging time for all parties and councils cannot be held responsible for inherent flaws in the system which we advised against in the first place".
That is hardly a ringing endorsement for the Secretary of State's legislation. It is not surprising that, as we have heard, local authorities are concerned that they cannot fully engage residents in licensing decisions. They are concerned about the role that local councillors can and cannot play. They simply cannot believe it when the Government say that their legislation contains no presumption for longer hours. We have heard that there is no such presumption in the legislation, yet the guidance says that the Government
"strongly recommends that statements of" licensing
"policy recognise that longer licensing hours . . . are
"necessary to reduce the friction of"— and it goes on to justify what the Government are doing.
Local authorities cannot understand why the Government are not prepared to give a clear, legal basis for saturation polices, which experts have described as a legal nightmare. They do not understand why the Government cannot give them better help than they have received so far from the Office of Fair Trading about the ability of local authorities to set minimum drinks prices in their areas and, incidentally, to do something about soft drinks. They fail to understand how the temporary notice procedures will help, rather than hinder. We have not yet debated those procedures in the House, so perhaps we will come back to them later. Like very many other people, local authorities are desperately worried about all the red tape and bureaucracy that the legislation has introduced.
The landlady of the Pig and Fiddle, an excellent pub in my constituency, has spent £37 just on postage stamps to send back the various forms for the four pubs for which she is responsible.
What is the hon. Gentleman's opinion of the experience in Scotland, which has had longer and more flexible hours for some time? Will he be pressing his Liberal Democrat colleagues, who have some influence in the Scottish Parliament, to reduce opening hours to 11 pm? Surely that is the logic of his argument.
I never said I was in favour of 11 pm as a closing time. I hear what the hon. Gentleman says. As he asked the question, he will have assiduously studied what is happening in Scotland, and will know that that is under review. Being a firm believer in devolution, I will not tell the people of Scotland what they should do. However, I would gently recommend to them that they should not repeat the mistakes that we are making south of the border.
People in local authorities are confused about much of what is going on. For example, when the Government have a good idea—for once I agree with them—such as the "polluter pays" principle, whereby big pubs where lots of people go will pay more because they will have a greater impact on the surrounding area, local authorities fail to understand, as do I, why nightclubs will not have to pay the escalator charges, just because their primary purpose is not the sale of alcohol.
Local authorities are particularly perturbed about the Secretary of State's belief that the Government's plans will lead to staggered hours. In response the Minister will no doubt quote research that the Department has done to show that that will happen. When he studies that in detail and examines particular areas in a town or city covered by the research, he might find that the theory does not hang together quite so well. No doubt he will explain to the House how a local authority is meant to make staggered hours happen.
Let us suppose that two pubs are next door to each other. One applies to the licensing committee to stay open until midnight and the committee agrees, and a few weeks later the other pub makes a similar application. The local authority can hardly say, "No, sorry, the pub next door is staying open till midnight. You can only stay open until 11.30." Would it be allowed to do so under competition law or under the guidance? The answer is no, so it is not possible for a local authority to engineer the staggered hours that the Minister and the Secretary of State claim are possible under the Bill.
My hon. Friend makes a valid point about staggered opening hours. When I speak to landlords in my constituency, they consistently tell me that the reason they are going for extended hours is that all the other pubs are going for exactly the same hours.
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. I need not comment.
I turn to the important subject of police powers, which the Secretary of State mentioned. Does the Bill contain sufficient police powers, which would not take effect if the legislation did not go ahead? That is not the case. If it were, there would not be so many people in the police who are so deeply concerned about the Bill. The Secretary of State and the Minister have referred to the position of ACPO. Sir John Stevens, the former Metropolitan Commissioner, said:
"The move towards 24-hour drinking needs to be slowed down. The fact that large groups of people will be coming out at 3 am or 4 am will mean we have to man the streets to ensure they behave."
"the end of their tether" at the prospect of the legislation. He went on:
"Our stretched resources will be even more stretched, with more officers having to work late at night and therefore fewer available during the day.
It is very, very wearying and stressful for police to be constantly working extended late shifts, or all night."
The chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, Glen Smyth, said:
"Most nights of the week our officers are overwhelmed by a sea of drunken, violent, vomiting yobs who when they're not fighting each other, are falling through shop windows . . . That's now. What's it going to be like when we have a licensing free for all?"
The legislation has not attracted clear support, and the Secretary of State knows it.
The Secretary of State has said that some additional powers will be helpful, but the Government have already introduced some of the powers in the 2003 Act, such as the powers in sections 155 and 199 that allow police officers to confiscate alcohol from young people. She has made great play of the police's ability to close pubs for 24 hours at very short notice, but she should check the existing legislation—the 1964 Act already gives the police those powers, which were further extended in 2001.
The Secretary of State should consider the police's existing powers and examine whether they are being enforced. For example, she has referred to drunken people on the streets, who must buy their alcohol from somewhere. As the right hon. Member for Maidenhead knows, an existing law forbids landlords to sell alcohol to people who are drunk. That law was amended in 2001 to ensure that anybody who sells alcohol to somebody who is drunk is breaking the law. The House may be surprised to know that on average there are 11 prosecutions a year under that legislation. The Secretary of State may be taking a few additional powers, but most of those powers already exist, so we should make sure that the existing legislation is being used.
All the evidence suggests that the 2003 Act will not resolve the problem of binge drinking, and I believe that it will make the problem worse. I do not accept that chaos will occur if we do not go ahead with the 2003 Act, because all the existing licences for pubs, clubs and off-licences will continue until February 2007. There will not be chaos if the 2003 Act is stopped, but there will be chaos if we go ahead with it. The public do not want it, and I hope that the whole House will support the motion. Let us end the nonsense that the Government are going to deal with binge drinking, which is something that the 2003 Act definitely fails to do.
During the general election campaign, my Conservative opponent accused me and the Labour party of being in favour of 24-hour drinking. His slogan was, "Vote Conservative. Vote against 24-hour drinking". That slogan has nothing to do with the legislation. My constituency does not contain a single licensed establishment that has applied for a licence to allow 24-hour drinking. In my constituency, that Conservative campaign failed abysmally, which is one of the reasons why I increased my parliamentary majority.
Such misrepresentation continued after the general election campaign, with certain elements of the press suggesting that we will see a descent into chaos, the end of civilisation as we know it, confusion and anarchy. Having heard those prophecies of doom, it was not enough for me to take the Government's word for it, so I decided to go a step further and ask my local authority what is happening on the ground.
I therefore spoke to people at Caerphilly county borough council, and the first thing they said was—surprise, surprise—that not one single establishment had applied for 24-hour opening and none was likely to do so. Moreover, they said that far from confusion there is a great deal of orderliness in the new regime that has been introduced. Only this morning, they told me that 88 per cent. of previously licensed premises have already applied for a continuation of their licences and have been granted one. More are in the pipeline, and I anticipate that the figure will go up to the upper 90s before the process is completed.
So far, 483 pubs and clubs have made applications for licences in the Caerphilly borough, and it is interesting to note the detail of those applications. The breakdown is as follows: 218 are for conversions of existing licences, 249 are for varying existing licences, and 16 are for new premises. In other words, there is no uniformity whatsoever. In fact, nearly half the existing licensed premises want to continue as they are. That is what is happening in practice in one particular part of the country, and I would suggest that Caerphilly is fairly typical not only of many other parts of Wales but of many other parts of Britain.
Of the applications for varying existing licences, in many cases any objections from local residents were resolved at the hearing stage through mediation and agreement between the parties. That is a vital and central aspect of the Act, and in practice it is working very well. Of course, it is recognised that in some cases mediation has not led to an ideal situation so far as all parties are concerned. However, it is important also to recognise that, contrary to what some Opposition Members have said, there is no presumption in the Act in favour of longer hours over objections from local people. Let us be absolutely clear about that. Where there has not been agreement, all parties have been clear that the licences that were issued would be subject to strict monitoring and very careful review.
When I asked the chief executive of my local authority what he thinks about the suggestion that there could be an extension beyond the
As a result of the hard work of Caerphilly council, 15 councillors have been properly briefed and trained to oversee the whole process. That is far more democratic than the former arrangement whereby determinations about licences were made by faceless magistrates whom nobody knew or had any contact with, and who often did not know or understand anything about the locality. The new arrangement is an important step forward for democracy, and the Government should be complimented—as should local authorities such as Caerphilly county borough council for introducing it so effectively.
Caerphilly council is taking two initiatives that add weight and importance to the legislation. First, the safer Caerphilly county borough community safety partnership has been established. As one of the first new licensing forums in Wales, it is bringing together, very effectively, all the stakeholders involved in the process, who meet monthly and produce their own newsletter. That has been very well received.
Secondly, the local authority is introducing a drinkwise scheme for responsible licensed premises. Again, it is the first of its kind in Wales. It will give accreditation to licensed premises that are following good practice. That is warmly to be welcomed.
In addition to those two initiatives, the local authority has had the wherewithal to recognise that other policy areas are affected by the legislation. For example, it is mindful of the fact that there will be a greater demand for taxis when some premises have extended opening hours. It has therefore established a taxi association to liaise with local taxi operators, and is in the process of introducing additional taxi ranks. All those measures are to be welcomed and show why many of the fears that were whipped up in Caerphilly just a few months ago have no basis whatsoever.
At the end of the summer, I took part in the police secondment scheme. I spent the best part of two weeks with Gwent police, especially in Newport. I naturally asked the police with whom I worked what they thought of the new legislation. I shall be frank: some believed that the Act would cause more problems and others thought that it would make no difference. However, the majority of police officers to whom I spoke believed that it would lead to an improvement in many young people's behaviour. Policemen and women on the ground, who are in touch with their communities and engaged in neighbourhood policing, look forward to the implementation of the Act.
One Saturday night, I spent a couple of hours in the custody unit at Newport police station. It was quiet for most of the evening but, as expected, from 11.15 pm till midnight, all hell broke loose. It happened because, as we all know, that is when the pubs close, the binge drinking takes place and the trouble occurs on the streets. That is one of the main problems that the Act tries to tackle and I believe that it will succeed.
The new powers that are proposed for the police complement the central element of this legislation. Contrary to the comments of Mr. Foster, many aspects of the Act are brand new. It extends existing legislation and takes matters forward significantly.
I am mindful of the time limit that has been placed on Back Benchers and I shall therefore conclude. I do not want the implementation date of
I shall follow your advice, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and try to be brief.
When the debate was called, I anticipated that the Secretary of State and many Labour Members would refer to the position that the Opposition took during the Bill's passage. Since I was the Opposition spokesman at the time, I read my remarks before the debate. At the time, we supported more flexible opening hours. However, even then, we raised some anxieties and we based our support for the measure on the Government's argument that longer and more flexible drinking hours might reduce binge drinking, crime, disorder and public nuisance. I pointed out that, even at that time, several people were questioning that assumption and that it was not necessarily the view of several police officers or local authorities.
Nevertheless, the Association of Chief Police Officers recommended supporting the relevant provision in the White Paper, subject to two caveats. First, it was concerned that there may not be sufficient police officers available to deal with problems that might occur later in the evening or the early hours of the morning. Secondly, it echoed the concern of Mr. Foster that the consequence of more flexible opening hours might not be different closing times but, because of competition and for other reasons, pubs all closing at the same time but later in the evening. At that time, fewer police officers would be available on the streets. The same problems would therefore arise but with fewer people to deal with them.
Genuine concerns were therefore expressed during the Bill's passage but the Government assured us that the police believed that the measure would contribute to tackling the problems and we supported it on that basis. However, since then, there has been a stream of informed protest from a wide variety of groups.
Several hon. Members have already cited people who have expressed anxiety and I do not intend to repeat their remarks, but let us consider the number of different organisations that have voiced their concerns. From the police, we have ACPO—my right hon. Friend Mrs. May quoted the ACPO licensing representative—the chief inspector of constabulary; the former Metropolitan Police Commissioner; the Police Federation; and the chief constable of Nottinghamshire. It is plain that many police officers believe that the Act will make things worse.
The judiciary will have the job of enforcing the legislation, and both Her Majesty's Council of Circuit Judges and the Magistrates Association have been vocal in their criticism. In the medical profession, the Royal College of Physicians, the Irish Medical Organisation and, most recently, Professor Lord Winston, who sits on the Government Benches, have all expressed concern about the Act increasing the opportunities to drink and therefore increasing the likelihood of binge drinking, leading to alcohol-related disorder.
After the Bill reached the statute book, we discovered that concerns had been expressed not only outside Government but within Government. The then Home Secretary, Mr. Blunkett, talked about the proposals in the Bill as
"a leap in the dark" that risked "worsening the situation" of violent crime and yobbish behaviour, yet none of that was said when we debated the Bill.
I say to the Secretary of State and to the Minister who will respond to the debate that, at the time of the Bill's passage, we were willing to accept the assurances that the legislation was supported by the police and many others as a means of helping to solve the problem of binge drinking. Now we discover that there is a widespread belief that it will help to make the problem worse. We have changed our view on the basis of the fact that expert opinion is almost unanimous in its belief that the Bill poses real dangers. We now believe that the Bill should not be implemented. Having listened to expert opinion, we have demonstrated that we are a responsible Opposition. I just regret that the Government have not taken the same stand. I hope that, even now, the Minister will reflect on that.
In fact, not just expert opinion, but our own experience has led to our change of heart. I suspect that many hon. Members have been out with their local police, and I spent a night out with a police officer in a squad car. We responded to about 12 or 15 incidents. Every one was alcohol related. A lot is said about vertical drinking establishments in inner cities but the problem is now affecting every market town in Britain. Maldon and Burnham in my constituency both have a major problem with hooliganism that is directly related to alcohol. The incidence of such behaviour is another reason why we need to proceed cautiously.
I do not want to repeat the arguments that have already been advanced by the Front-Bench team; instead, I shall discuss two other aspects of the Act that have not been mentioned. First, let us consider its impact on village halls, which are central to many local communities. In my constituency, a new village hall was recently built, which cost £1.5 million. All the money for it was raised by the local community through the sale of land for building. That project did not receive any assistance from the lottery or Government. The village hall is a remarkable achievement, which will be a real asset to the community, but it needs to cover its costs. Those behind the project came to see me and said that the only way they could so was if they were able to rent the hall out for private functions on every Friday and Saturday of the year. At the vast majority of those private functions—parties, wedding receptions and the like— people will want to enjoy themselves and drink, but the village hall is limited to just 12 temporary event notices a year.
I know that the Minister has said that that limit will be considered and that a review is under way, but I hope that he will give at least some indication this evening that that limit will be raised significantly, because many village halls throughout the country will find it difficult to cover their expenses if they are confined to just 12 temporary event notices a year.
The other matter to consider is the effect of the Act on another institution that is central to many local communities—the sports clubs. The Central Council of Physical Recreation, which the Secretary of State cited in support of some of her remarks, has been vocal throughout in pointing out the huge burden and cost that the new provisions will place on thousands of sports clubs. I happen to be vice-president of Maldon cricket club, which, like many other such clubs up and down the country, is staffed largely by volunteers. It manages to muster three or four enthusiastic local teams, but it does a lot more. It provides an opportunity for young people in the community to learn about cricket and runs a quick cricket day for all the local schools. It is a hugely valuable resource.
I asked the club organisers about the impact of the Licensing Act. They replied that there are two types of cost—financial and time—and went through how they add up. They wrote:
"The 80 page Statement of Licensing policy from . . . District Council needs to be read and understood—minimum of 3 hours.
A training course held by . . . District Council—2 hours.
Fill in the 21 page application form and enclose copies of old registration certificates and Club Rules, plus production of plans of the building . . . highlighting emergency exits . . . 2 hours.
These had to be copied . . . a further 8 times and sent to Trading Standards, Child Protection, Police, Fire Service authorities . . . 1 hour plus £30 photocopying charge.
Notice produced and dispatched for insertion in the local newspaper—1 hour plus £184 charge by local newspaper.
Notice produced, copied and displayed locally in the vicinity of the Clubhouse—1 hour.
A query was then raised by the police which took 2 phone calls and a letter (with copies) to resolve—a minimum of 1 hour.
Maldon District Council then sent letter indicating that an objection had been received from a neighbour and therefore a Hearing had been arranged. It transpired . . . that the letter was about another matter which had been amicably resolved some time earlier . . . minimum of 1 hour."
The cost of the licence was £100, plus a £70 annual charge, so the total cost so far has been a minimum of 15 hours spent and £384—and the club has still not yet been told whether it has a licence.
The legislation is having a real effect on thousands of clubs that do an enormous amount for their local communities. They should not be treated in the same way as commercial licensed premises. The CCPR has proposed some sensible ways in which relief could be given to sports clubs—for example, classifying them all in band A. I hope that the Minister will be able to assure me that he will provide the vital help that the clubs need.
I wish to bring the debate back to its roots in actuality—what is happening on the ground. Like my hon. Friend Mr. David, at the last election, I faced the suggestion of 24-hour drinking. That seemed to be the only line taken by the Tory candidate standing against me—it was the only thing I heard her say. It came as no surprise to me that that late-in-the-day concern about the issue arose so near to the election.
I think that the whole House accepts that licensing laws in England and Wales are out of date and do not work as they were intended to. The licensing regime in its present form was introduced almost 100 years ago, during the first world war. We have heard nothing about the fact that the licensing laws were relaxed under the Conservative Government. Hon. Members will recall that pubs used to shut at 3 pm, but that was done away with under the Conservatives—I see Opposition Members nodding—because it was thought a reasonable measure, and so it was. I submit that the new regime is simply an extension of that policy. It was right then, and it is right now.
Kicking off the debate for the Opposition, Mrs. May said that she did not want licensing applications to extend opening hours to 1 or 2 am. I have asked my local council to send me a copy of every licensing application in my constituency and I have looked at all of them. I can think of only one that was for hours beyond the ones to which I have referred. One premises called Aurora made an application for 4 am. In the end, the licensing committee extended its licence to 12.30 am. Of all the other licensing applications that have gone through in my constituency, none has gone past 12.30 am. There is the idea, as Mr. Foster said, that this is a licensing free-for-all. It was a scaremongering exercise during the election. It is a misrepresentation of what is going on throughout the country.
My hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly said that he would find it difficult to believe that his constituency was unrepresentative. In the same way, I would find it incredible if my constituency were out of the ordinary. That opinion is rooted in what is happening and not in scaremongering. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State mentioned that there was a success rate of about 95 per cent. in negotiations between local residents, local councillors and those making decisions. Having taken special care to examine applications in my constituency, I know that, far from local residents having no voice, and given that I have come across no applications for a licence extension beyond 12.30 am, it is clear that the councillors on the sub-committee have taken into account the observations and objections that it said are not being taken into account in other parts of the country—something that I do not accept.
The borough in which my constituency is located has had a problem with a ward that was represented by three Tory councillors. I have no idea what they were doing because it does not come within my common experience.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that we are not talking of a one-off strategy and that it is not a be-all-and-end-all answer to binge drinking. I note that the motion does not even mention binge drinking as a specific item to be debated. The Violent Crime Reduction Bill will add to the powers to regulate the way in which licensed premises can conduct themselves. An alcohol reduction strategy is running in parallel with that to try to tackle the concept of binge drinking.
The hypocrisy—I am sorry to use such a stark word—is writ large in my constituency. I have already said that, having gone through the applications there, I was startled to see that Oxton Liberal club made just the sort of application about which crocodile tears have been shed. It is the headquarters of the Liberal party in my neck of the woods.
As the hon. Gentleman has such a grip on the numbers of applications within his constituency, perhaps he could help us—perhaps the Minister will elaborate when he replies—by telling us how many applicants have not been able to have their applications submitted to enable them to continue trading. There are many in my constituency and I have been in extensive discussion with the Minister, in relation to much of which there has yet to be a response, to encourage applicants to submit their applications. They have been discouraged because the police were given no discretion within the 48-hour rule, whereby they had to receive copies of applications. Immense expense and trouble has been experienced by many existing licensees. If the Minister had given discretion to the police, the problem would not have arisen. For example, a publican who has been trading for 22 years has been treated like a new entrant.
I cannot help the hon. Gentleman. That problem has not revealed itself in my constituency.
David Davis came to Greasby in my constituency about seven weeks ago at the behest of the defeated Tory candidate, who seems to want to go at this issue like a dog with a bone. The right hon. Gentleman wanted the hours frozen, rejected the idea that pubs would be able to apply responsibly for an extension of just a few more hours and called the new licensing regime a huge social experiment that will make everyone's life a misery. Lastly, and presumptuously, he chose specifically to comment on the situation locally on the Wirral.
Having followed closely the licensing applications in my constituency, I knew that as the right hon. Gentleman spoke, the Oxton Conservative club was making the application that he said could not, in all conscience, be made. He rejected the idea that pubs could responsibly apply for a few more hours—just the type of thing that the local the Tory club was doing. It was a case of, "Do as I say, not as I do."
I am pleased that someone recognises the sartorial nature of my tie.
Let us put the hypocrisy aside and get back to the genuine debate about whether hon. Members on both sides of the House can deal with binge drinking. It is said, variously and misleadingly, that the police are against our proposal. Chief Superintendent Alan Jones, the area commander of my borough, is firmly in favour. He does not have a problem with having the numbers to police it. He does not seem to have a problem with the principle that, over time, it will change the culture, as my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly said. In fact, the chief superintendent welcomes the changes and does not want us to avoid events on
The debate is serious. The right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden has not replied to the letter that I wrote as a result of his escapade in Greasby. His approach was rude, opportunistic and cowardly—
The lifeblood of the economy in Scarborough and Whitby is the tourist trade. There can be no doubt that, if our town centres are full of rowdy drunks, it will be difficult to continue with the excellent progress that has been made in attracting families and the all-important conference trade to the east coast of Yorkshire. The changes to the licensing laws are all about making it easier for yobs to drink around the clock, while law-abiding small businesses and the people who use them are penalised and entangled in red tape.
That is puerile, and I shall deal with it later.
The Grosmont House hotel in Grosmont sleeps 10 and is situated next to the terminus of the North Yorkshire Moors railway, famous as the Hogwarts express in the Harry Potter films. Many people, having seen the film or Yorkshire Television's "Heartbeat" series, come to stay at that small family hotel, which is renowned for its local lobster. Some residents enjoy a bottle of wine with their evening meal, or have a glass of something before embarking on one of the railway's excellent dinner excursions. Others fancy a nightcap before turning in. Rosalind and George Andrews, the proprietors, faced with increased charges and a minefield of regulation, have decided reluctantly not to maintain their table licence. One of them would have to attend a training course, despite the fact that Mrs. Andrews completed a similar course before entering the trade and despite the fact that her husband has been a licensee for 38 years. The police have never been called to an incident in premises controlled by Mr. Andrews who, according to the Government definition, is untrained.
The requirement to provide detailed plans of the hotel is ridiculous. Mr. and Mrs. Andrews must submit plans not only of the bar, dining room and lounge but all the corridors and, surprisingly, the kitchen. Rosalind is not brewing moonshine in there as far as I know, nor is she manufacturing alcopops on the aga. Perhaps the Government know something that I do not, but I have not received reports of drunken youths prowling the North Yorkshire moors with jugs of Mrs. Andrews' rum sauce, gorging themselves with trifle or terrorising local people with brandy butter running down their chins—the only alcoholic products to emanate from her kitchen. The Andrews say:
"We are not a drinking establishment; it is a service we provide. We can't even give people a free drink with a meal. The only people to benefit from this are the town pubs where the trouble is."
If holiday makers decide to buy a bottle of plonk from the village shop they may well discover that it, too, has given up its licence. Other small shops, such as Sandsend stores, have spent days submitting and resubmitting forms despite the helpful assistance of Scarborough borough council. Village shops now face annual licensing costs that have leapt from £10 a year to £180—a stealth tax if ever I saw one.
To address the point made by Mr. Kidney, many hotels and guest houses in Scarborough are dispensing with their licences for similar reasons. Those that have reapplied have burned the midnight oil filling in interminable forms. The proprietor of the Whitely hotel, Martin Smith, said that the total cost for his 10-bedroomed establishment is about £1,000. Similar businesses that have transferred their licences under grandfather rights may still have to reapply.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the measure does not just affect smaller establishments in North Yorkshire? In Hammersmith and Fulham, our local paper carried the headline, "Booze Chaos", referring to the world-famous River Café—it was designed by Richard Rogers and was where Jamie Oliver learned his trade—which is struggling with its licence. Its manager described the legislation as "a mass of confusion".
I appreciate that this is a nationwide problem.
Where can people have a quiet drink once many small guest houses give up their licences? If they have children asleep upstairs, they cannot do so. If they want to go out, they run the risk of coming across the groups of people whose drinking the Government seem keen to encourage. This afternoon, I spoke to Boleyns nightclub on St. Thomas's street in Scarborough. It said that it currently closes at 2 am on a Saturday night but proudly added that, from
While I welcome the principle of switching from magistrates courts to locally elected and accountable councillors, I am sad that the law of unintended consequences has once again come into play. Law-abiding responsible drinkers are having their holiday experience disrupted. Small businesses are facing disproportionate costs and bureaucratic burdens, while large pub chains and nightclubs are extending their hours and increasing their profits, resulting in obvious problems on the streets in the early hours. At a time when resorts such as Scarborough are trying to promote a café culture, the Government seem more interested in promoting the growing problems of an alcohol-fuelled yob culture. I support the motion calling for the postponement of the new measures and the extension of the transitional period until the problems that I have outlined have been adequately addressed.
I am staggered at the complacency of those Labour Members who seem to think that, as long as people are not making applications for 24-hour licences, everything is fine. The people of St. Albans are desperate for me to bring their concerns to this debate, as they will be badly affected by the Act. St. Albans is a lived-in city, not a desolate, late-night city. It is not a city that shuts up shop when everyone goes home to the suburbs. It has familiar large-name retailers, as well as small cobbled alleys, quaint historic quarters, picturesque conservation areas and lots of pubs. But people also live and sleep—or try to sleep—in the heart of St. Albans.
According to the chief licensing officer, St. Albans has more licensed premises per capita than anywhere else in Europe. The sheer number of those premises already causes problems with late-night noise, antisocial behaviour and policing issues. Those adverse effects are not covered in the Act. We are talking not about people bashing each other to bits on the streets, but about general rowdy behaviour that does not constitute an arrestable offence. At the moment, most of that noise and disruption ends at about 1 o'clock, when most of the drinkers disperse, often waking residents as they leave to go home. However, residents now fear that that disruption will carry on deep into the early hours of the morning. Okay, it might not go on for 24 hours, but 4 o'clock in the morning sounds pretty late to someone who has to get up at 6 o'clock.
The chief constable of Hertfordshire, Frank Whiteley, warned the Government that the new laws would be a disaster. Yes, that is another chief constable who is on record as a staunch opponent of the Act, and he says that his views have now hardened. At a recent meeting, he said that, because of the sheer number of licensed premises in St. Albans, he could not police them all. If he were even to try to do so, he would have to take resources from elsewhere. Front-line policing would have to be diverted to deal with licensed premises.
Between April 2004 and March 2005, there were 1,310 incidents of alcohol-related crime and disorder, and 848 alcohol-related arrests, most of which took place on a Saturday night. Seventy per cent. of police officers polled by Alcohol Concern reported that alcohol-related incidents frequently diverted them from tackling other crime. That is certainly true in St. Albans.
Like many other Members, I have spent a Friday night out with a local police inspector. My inspector and I visited a local pub, where we saw a young girl lying in the toilets, drunk and vomiting, at 10 o'clock. This was not because she was short of drinking-up time; she was just drunk. She is a product of our vertical binge-drinking culture. We saw men outside the Water End Barn, which has a later licence, so the drunkenness goes on until later. It takes £60,000 a week and is now licensed until 4 o'clock in the morning. In an attempt to get a slice of that very lucrative pie, other bars are following suit and applying for later licences. The complacency of Labour Members is not shared by the licensees of St. Albans; they all want some of that pie.
No, I want to make some progress.
I have seen the police operating at first hand, and I know that they are reluctant to arrest a shambling drunk if he is not causing too much trouble. The figure of 848 arrests is therefore the tip of the iceberg. As our inspector pointed out, our cells and accident and emergency units would be overflowing if everybody who was drunk was arrested or sent for treatment. Individual revellers are often noisy, but do not commit an arrestable offence. So nothing much can be done as they clatter down the streets, keeping the people of St. Albans awake.
"Cumulative impact" is a vital factor in a city such as St. Albans, but the local council's licensing policy is far from robust, and "cumulative impact" is not accepted when applications are being considered. Each application has to be judged on its own merits. Many city centre residents have joined the Save Our Sleep campaign in an attempt to lobby the council. They are worried about the problems that the evening economy is bringing. They put up a spirited, well informed argument at the meetings, and they are regularly supported by our local police, who—such is their concern—have taken it upon themselves to alert residents to applications by giving out leaflets to affected homes. But this is all time-consuming for the residents, the police and, most importantly, the council, which has had to put masses of extra resources into dealing with these issues.
At present, we have six committees dealing with licensing. They have granted 400 licences, and still the deluge continues. Before the Act, the former, Labour, Member for St. Albans reckoned that only about 1 per cent. of licensees would apply for longer hours, but the figure is 40 per cent. Just as importantly, many of the premises offer music and entertainment. Some residents who have bought flats above small shops now find themselves above café bars that have turned themselves into late-night music venues.
No, I will not.
With so many licensed premises in St. Albans, it will be almost impossible firmly to attribute blame, which is part of residents' problem. They are worried that if they challenge, they will have to pay their costs on appeal. Residents are also worried—the Government have not tackled this—that the future sale of their properties may be blighted if they keep being in dispute with local pubs and highlight the nuisance, so some are choosing to stay quiet. Some city centre properties are already blighted and some residents are moving out.
So how is the council coping and interpreting the policy? I believe that it is a shambles in St. Alban's, with brewers being the winners. At a recent licensing meeting, the chair gave her view that the council was "here to compromise". Perhaps that is the mediation to which one Labour Member referred. In this case, compromise means that if one applies to open until 3 in the morning, then quickly changes it to 2 in the morning, the objections of residents to 3 in the morning are deemed not relevant. Local police officers turn up to support residents with anecdotal evidence of rowdy behaviour—as I said earlier, they do not arrest everybody—but those views are deemed hearsay if an arrest has not been made, and the council cannot take it into account. St. Albans has also adopted a policy of not defining a vicinity. In theory, that means that anyone can object, but the reality is that the committee is left unsure as to how much weight to give to objections. Again, how will that stand up on appeal?
Worst of all, there is no concept of cumulative impact—the onus is on residents to monitor the licensed premises and then petition for enforcement if they can "show nuisance". It is a topsy-turvy way of dealing with the issue, which has residents and police wringing their hands. Is that what the Secretary of State meant when she assured us that the Act would increase the influence and power that residents and their associations would have over licensing? Well, my residents feel impotent. It does not matter what they say or do—the licences are being passed.
On a practical level, the chief licensing officer accepts that the police cannot patrol all these premises, but he has received an assurance from this Cabinet that he will have
"whatever it takes in resources to police this, including all-night council officers on duty."
The current noise nuisance hotline, which shuts at midnight, will now have to be extended until later. Can the Government honestly assure the council tax payers of St. Albans that all these extra resources will be covered by the fee? When the Secretary of State said that the fees will give local authorities the tools to do the job, did she envisage a 24-hour noise hotline, teams of additional council officers patrolling pubs, more enforcement officers, additional street cleansing and litter collection?
We need to stop before it is too late. We need to tackle the vertical binge drinking culture. If we want our cities to remain homes to families, welcoming to visitors and centres of tourism, we need to stop the binge-drinking culture and this flawed Act. I ask the Secretary of State to resile from her stated position and delay the implementation of the Act. It is folly. The people in St. Albans do not understand why you are not listening to them. Just because it is not causing a problem in your particular constituency—
I am grateful for the opportunity to make a short contribution to this important debate.
I should make a few declarations of interest. First, I am a member of the Campaign for Real Ale, was a judge at the great British beer festival this year, and opened the festival, which was superb. Secondly, I am a long-standing member of the all-party beer group and have been vice-chairman ever since it was formed. Thirdly, I own an off-licence in Swansea—[Laughter.] That is half my speech gone. And finally, I live next door to a pub in Pendleton in my constituency, which I frequent regularly.
I am one of the few Members who has had a look at one of these application forms. My sister received it, because we have an off-licence, and she got frightened and sent it to me. I looked at it, got frightened, and sent it back to her. We then employed a solicitor. What other Members have said about the cost is true—it has cost us well over £1,000 in solicitor's fees and to get an architect in to measure the shop, as well as various other costs. That is a heavy cost for us to bear, but I can only imagine the burden on many small rural businesses that do not sell much alcohol. One small business in my constituency has already let its licence lapse because it cannot afford to renew it and does not sell enough alcohol. Other smaller businesses and village halls will be affected, and it has come as a heavy burden.
We have been accused of scaremongering and opportunism. We have certainly not been scaremongering, and Esther McVeigh was not scaremongering in Wirral, West: she was absolutely right. What we have not been doing, unlike the Government, is pandering to people. I am thinking particularly of the message that the Government sent at the time of the general election, to the effect that if people voted for them they would be able to drink all day. I know that the Government regret that now, but the fact is that they did it. They were targeting younger people with mobile telephones.
The Government say that they want a café society. We, too, want to see more small wine bars opening. We are worried about the larger, urban pubs, which will contain several hundred people on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. That is where the drink problems will arise.
The Secretary of State herself admitted that there is a problem with binge drinking in this country. The front page of today's edition of The Sun spoke of an alcoholic aged 12. One lady is so petrified of her 16-year-old daughter getting smashed on her birthday that she has taken a photograph of her daughter to 30 pubs so that she will not be served. The Secretary of State tries to pretend that the new laws will protect all those young people and their parents, but many of the laws are already in place. Moreover, many of the laws that she mentioned could have been introduced in splendid isolation, separately from the Act.
If there is currently a problem with binge drinking, is it not logical to expect that if many more pubs can stay open until 2 am, 3 am, 4 am and 5 am, the problem will become worse? That is what frightens us. We are not worried about the staggering of closing times, which will have many benefits for the police. Many businesses, however, will start closing at the same time—4 am. Once one of them starts staying open until 4 am, there will be huge pressure on all the others in the vicinity to do the same.
The Government have gone so far down the road that they will have to proceed with their plans just to save face, irrespective of the effects on the United Kingdom. It was the same when cannabis was reclassified from a class B to a class C drug. After the Government had spent £1 million on telling people that, actually, cannabis was still illegal, they set up a committee to look into the mistake that they had made and the impact that the change in the law had had. I suspect that the same will happen in this case. Binge drinking will get worse.
We saw the front page of The Observer yesterday. The head of all the licensed landlords in the country said that landlords were being offered incentives to keep people on their premises after 11 pm. They might be on the receiving end of as much as £20,000 in return for encouraging people to drink more—to drink shorts or doubles. To reach the targets that they have been set, landlords will have to persuade more people to stay longer and drink more alcohol. That will be a real problem, especially for those living nearby.
We were told that councillors would be able to object to noise, but the fact is that they will not. Councillors have been told that they cannot object to licence extensions unless they live in the vicinity, because otherwise they are not interested parties. The code of conduct, however, states that councillors living in the vicinity cannot object because that would be prejudicial. They are caught: whatever happens, they cannot object to extensions, and that prevents them from doing the job that they were elected to do.
I shall end my speech early, because I know that the Minister will want to respond to many of the points that have been made. We are not saying no to any change at all. Stephen Hesford reminded the House that we changed the law to allow drinking in the afternoons, which I would describe as a sensible licensing extension. The Government's allowing drinking until as late as 5 o'clock in the morning is a sea change in comparison. We introduced that sensible change 20 years ago, but since then binge drinking has got much worse. More people are drinking more alcohol at a younger age, and this change to the law will make matters worse. The Government have made a mistake. It is still not too late to change it, but for goodness' sake, do it now.
If implementation of this Act were proceeding smoothly and it were being welcomed by the majority of our constituents and the electorate at large, I am pretty sure that we would not be having this debate. I strongly rebut the Secretary of State's claim that we are being opportunistic and are guilty of flip-flop—inconsistency. This legislation's progress has been inadequate; it has been late and badly prepared throughout. As Mr. Foster pointed out, in Committee we had no regulations, no guidance, no fee structure and no clear idea of implementation. There have been delays at every stage of implementation, and as many Members have said this evening, the application process has been a million light years away from the promises made by various Ministers.
When it became obvious that the Government were not addressing the binge drinking problem and ignoring representations from the police, the judiciary, local authorities and the village hall and sports club communities, we on the Opposition Benches opposed the legislation at every opportunity. The Minister in Committee raised the possibility of an amendment providing for a 20 per cent. limit on fees for sports clubs, but subsequent Ministers reneged on that. We opposed the Bill on Report and on Third Reading, and the Government's attempt to suggest otherwise is, at best, misleading, and, at worst, an outright calumny. In any event, since this Act was debated in the House in 2002 and 2003, the problem of binge drinking has escalated to the point where large swathes of society are now in despair at the Government's intention to press ahead with this Act and with the second appointed day.
A September Populus poll for The Times showed that the public are overwhelmingly against Government plans to extend licensing hours. It found that three fifths—62 per cent.—opposed the changes. Only a third—34 per cent.—were in favour of them. Women were against the changes by 71 per cent. to 25 per cent.; men were against them by 52 per cent. to 34 per cent. Not surprisingly, the only group in favour were 18 to 24-year-olds. In direct opposition to ministerial assertions, the proposals are not popular. People see the extension of licensing hours as having a direct correlation with crime, antisocial behaviour, ill health and additional costs to the taxpayer.
There are now 1 million violent crimes a year. Violent crime rose by 7 per cent. overall last year, on top of previous year-on-year increases. But the most important point is that nearly half of victims of violent crime thought that their attacker was under the influence of alcohol. The Home Office's report of June this year, entitled "Findings from the 2003 Offending, Crime and Justice Survey: alcohol-related crime and disorder", admitted that binge drinking is a major source of crime. It states:
"Binge drinkers accounted for a disproportionate volume of crime. They accounted for only 16 per cent. of the adult sample but were responsible for 55 per cent. of all offences reported by adults in the past 12 months . . . It is young male binge drinkers who have the highest rates of offending. This would therefore suggest that any measures to reduce alcohol-related offending should consider tackling binge drinking, particularly within the young male population."
More worryingly, the Government have fiddled and hidden evidence that shows the damaging effect of more late-night drinking. Papers uncovered by the BBC's "Panorama" programme show that, as originally drafted, the Government's alcohol harm reduction strategy, launched in March 2004, included evidence from other countries of the damaging effects of longer opening hours. The Downing street strategy unit, which consulted 17 experts in preparing the strategy, concluded that extending licensing hours could have a severe negative impact. It 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)".
Such concerns were removed from the final version, which made no reference to opening hours. A source cited by The Sunday Times as being close to the strategy stated that civil servants
"drafted what they thought was a pretty decent strategy only to see it get decimated as it got passed around government departments".
The cost of alcohol-fuelled crime and disorder is already £12 billion—£5 billion more than the strategy unit predicted.
The alcohol committee of the Royal College of Physicians stated:
"Already, alcohol-related diseases are costing the NHS about £1.7 billion every year. Around 17 million working days are lost annually because of alcohol abuse, costing our economy £6.4 billion. 70 per cent. of all weekend night-time admissions to hospitals Accident and Emergency Departments are linked to alcohol. More than half of all violent crime is related to drink."
The committee believes:
"The places that will take advantage of changes in the law are not the local, neighbourhood pubs where responsible drinking already occurs and the staff know their customers. It will be the large, anonymous, urban establishments, with a young clientele, that will benefit most—but experience the most trouble, whether it is through an increase in street violence or in damage to health."
There are few powers in the legislation to hold pubs and clubs responsible for rowdy or drunk customers once they are outside their licensed premises—even if the nuisance was ultimately caused by serving alcohol. Most local residents cannot object to controversial proposals for late-night licensing in their town centre—unless, of course, they live very close by. Yet antisocial behaviour, crime and nuisance are not limited to the immediate area around the licensed premises; they can occur miles away as drunken revellers return home. Moreover, councils and police cannot use nuisance and noise from outside a licensed premises as grounds for a closure order against a particular venue. Pubs and clubs can be penalised only if they make excessive noise from inside a pub. Hence, licensed premises cannot be held responsible for the antics of their drunken customers leaving in the early hours.
The Secretary of State claimed earlier in the debate that the curfew, as she calls it, would be a thing of the past. However, as the hon. Member for Bath said, there is nothing in the Act to secure staggered closing times. Let me quote Peter Fahy, the chief constable of Cheshire police:
"In the various applications coming through, we are seeing a general extension of an hour or two on to existing hours. And that means that some of the problems we see on a Friday and Saturday night are now going to spread into other nights of the week."
The idea that we will be able to curtail antisocial behaviour by staggering the closure of these outlets is nonsense. As my hon. Friend Mr. Evans said, publicans have looked at what their neighbours and competitors are doing and have put in for exactly the same extension of hours so that custom does not go elsewhere.
We ask in the motion for a delay, particularly in respect of the second appointed day.
No, I am about to finish and the Minister needs time to respond.
If there were a delay, existing licences would continue, as they do at present under the transitional arrangements under the Licensing Act 1964. New licences could stand and fees paid would be held in abeyance. Parts of the 2003 Act could be implemented. A simple statutory instrument could be introduced to implement the parts of the measure on which there is common agreement, but the hours extension provisions could and should be delayed for a rethink because of the binge-drinking implications.
This has been a good debate. When we last debated the issue, the Opposition were worried about the fact that only 20 per cent. of premises had applied for their licence, so I start by paying tribute to the hard work of all local councillors and local officers who worked so hard over the summer to increase the figure to 97 per cent. I am sure that all parties will join me in thanking them for that.
In the light of what my hon. Friend has just said, I thank him for visiting the licensing unit of Brighton and Hove city council a few weeks ago to thank staff for their hard work—it really boosted morale. What will be the impact on those local government officers if the House agrees with the Opposition motion not to proceed with implementation on
That is an extremely good point. It would be utterly demoralising for people such as the staff in Brighton and Hove council. The council is one of the best in the country and reached 100 per cent. extremely early, and I pay tribute to the work of the staff.
I listened with great interest to the speech of Mr. Moss. He takes a serious interest in the issues. I especially remember him saying during our last debate in July:
"Flexible hours was never an issue. Twenty-four-hour drinking was never an issue".—[Hansard, 12 July 2005; Vol. 436, c. 798.]
I agree with him. There are real issues, however, as Mr. Evans made clear in an excellent speech. He referred to the case reported in The Sun today of the young girl who is already an alcoholic. The paper published a picture of her in a beer garden drinking a pint of beer. That is legal under current law. That is exactly why we are changing the law. Such problems are occurring under the current law and they need to be fixed.
I have only just got here, so I am not planning to resign yet.
It is not acceptable for 11-year-olds to be getting drunk and falling over in the street. It is not acceptable for pubs to use irresponsible drinks promotions to boost profits and it should be shameful for people to get so drunk that they end up in accident and emergency departments or, worse, cause someone else to end up there. We recognise those problems, as Anne Main said. It is exactly because they are happening under the current law that we want to change it and fix them.
Will the Minister accept that longer hours will not make people drink less, so they will not address the problem of binge drinking? If he wants evidence, he should look at Scotland where alcohol consumption rose after relaxation of the drinking laws and where binge drinking is still a problem in my constituency and in the rest of the country.
I shall return to that point later, but if the current hours regime had actually been designed to encourage binge drinking the situation would not be dissimilar to the one that exists. There is a loophole in the current law whereby people can drink in pubs after 11 o'clock, but only in pubs that put on dancing and music—the very ones about which we are most worried. There are 320 such pubs in the centre of Manchester alone, so the idea that people are not drinking after 11 o'clock at night is wrong, but they can do so only in the places that we would be most worried about if we were designing the law from scratch.
That is why we should be giving the powers to people at local level, so that they can make decisions based on local circumstances. My colleagues, my hon. Friends the Members for Wirral, West (Stephen Hesford) and for Caerphilly (Mr. David), made excellent speeches showing how local authorities are using their discretion to adapt their policies to local circumstances. A decision about the Dog and Duck in Leeds, for example, should be made on the basis of circumstances in Leeds, not by me in Whitehall deciding on a blanket closing time for the whole country.
But does the Minister agree that local authorities and local councillors need clarification of what they can and cannot do? Legal counsel has given advice that ward councillors cannot speak on issues in their ward unless a resident has asked them to do so on their behalf.
We shall be happy to look at that issue sympathetically in the review of the guidance and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will contribute to it.
It is clear under the Act that councillors can represent the views of their constituents when they have received representations; they can also seek representations.
Does my hon. Friend agree that, under the new law, not only do people have a say but, for the first time ever, they are informed when licensing applications come before councils? Under the previous system, they were neither consulted nor encouraged to complain to magistrates courts.
That is absolutely right. One of the key advantages of the Licensing Act 2003 is that it gives the power to local councillors—the people who are accountable for the consequences of binge drinking in their areas and who will have the best incentive to take those decisions in the interests of their constituents.
The Opposition argue in their motion for delaying the Act's implementation, but those at the front line disagree. The LGA, ACPO and the Police Superintendents Association disagree, and the opposition case has fallen apart as those stakeholders and the representatives of those organisations—
I have already given way significantly. I have only five minutes to make these points.
The police and some others are concerned about certain decisions. Of course, when they have those concerns, they have been successfully making representations to committees and getting some decisions overturned. ACPO has made it clear that it believes that the answer to the concerns about binge drinking is to change the behaviour of customers and proprietors, as well as introducing stronger licensing regulations. We agree with the police. If we delayed the Act's implementation, we would not get the powers that we need, contrary to what the hon. Member for Bath suggested in his speech. He is wrong to say that we would have those powers anyhow. For example, if we delayed implementation, we would lose the power for review, which will be central to changing the incentives open to landlords, so that they know that, if they misbehave or cause problems, they will face an immediate review by residents or the police.
The hon. Member for Bath said that we should just rely on the current powers, but ACPO says that those powers are broken, and it has told us that they want new powers. Frankly, it is not folly to implement the Act; it would be folly not to do so against the advice of the police.
If we delay the Act's implementation, we would not have the powers to deal with binge drinking and the costs placed on businesses would rise. Hon. Members made important points about the costs, and we will look at them in the review that Sir Les Elton is chairing.
I can assure Mr. Whittingdale, who is the Chairman of the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, that we will seriously consider the point that he made about village halls and sports clubs. The representatives of the Central Council of Physical Recreation and of Action with Communities in Rural England, who represent village halls, have written to hon. Members to say that they do not want the Act's implementation to be delayed. If we delayed it, they would lose the £2 billion of savings that they will get over the next 10 years and all the work, which he described so eloquently, that has been going on over the summer would have been wasted, and the money would have been wasted. Hon. Members have championed that cause, and they would not be thanked by their constituents if we imposed greater costs on them.
The hon. Members for Bath and for North-East Cambridgeshire said that we did not have evidence for the Act. In fact, flexible hours have been introduced in New Zealand, Victoria and New South Wales, and they have reduced alcohol consumption in all those places. Today's argument about delay is not about serious politics; it is just about chasing headlines. I believe that this is good legislation, but even those who have had concerns about the specifics of the Act now say that they want it to be implemented. When politicians in the House look at the Act impartially, they agree with us. The deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats served on the independent Nicholson committee in Scotland that recommended following the path that we are following and he backed our proposals. Why are the Liberal Democrats not following the advice of their deputy leader?
Mr. Cameron, whom many Conservative Members back to become their next leader, has also said that he backs the proposals and the intention behind the Act. He has made it clear—
Question accordingly agreed to.
Mr. Speaker forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.
That this House commends the Government on its effective publicity campaign that, together with the excellent work of licensing authorities, has resulted in 97 per cent. of those needing to make applications having done so, with the expectation that virtually all those who want a licence will have the necessary licence by 24th November; welcomes the involvement of more local residents than ever before in the licensing processes and their ability to influence the hours that premises open near their homes; notes that there is no presumption in favour of late night drinking in the Act and that it is for licensing authorities to decide appropriate hours of trading where any dispute arises; considers that the implementation of the powers to review premises licences after 24th November are a vital step in fighting anti-social behaviour; and believes that delaying the implementation of the Act would be contrary to the wishes of the police, licensing authorities, the Central Council of Physical Recreation, Action with Communities in Rural England and industry and would be an unacceptable waste of the resources and effort put in by those who have been preparing for full implementation since 7th February 2005.