My Lords, I agree with the Association of Chief Police Officers that those responsible for administering and enforcing the new licensing regime need to play their part, in conjunction with the industry, to ensure that the new system is effective. I am sure that ACPO agrees that we need active co-operation between the police, planning and licensing authorities.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. However, does he accept that, while the Government's approach to 24-hour drinking in the Act—and, for that matter, to the licensing of casinos—is a strange mélange of libertarianism and authoritarianism, if I may characterise it in that way, it would help to allay the real fears of chief police officers and the wider community if the Government now gave full support to the idea that there should be minimum pricing for drinks in pubs and clubs and control over the timing of that offer?
My Lords, in response to the noble Lord's first question, I am tempted just to say no, but I will confine myself to saying that the Licensing Act is not about 24-hour drinking, it is about removing a particular single artificial closing time in an attempt, among other things, to avoid binge drinking at a single closing time, which is unfortunately too rife in many of our cities and, indeed, in the countryside and small towns as well, these days. I have forgotten the second question.
Ah, my Lords, happy hours. I am sure that the matter is being considered in government.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a former magistrate now on the supplementary list. Does the Minister agree—I am sure that he does—that the overwhelming number of minor cases that come before the courts are alcohol related? That is shown all over the country. Accordingly, will the Government consider issuing stricter guidelines for the issuing of licences for licensed premises by local authorities?
My Lords, I fear that the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, is raising one of the most difficult, complicated issues on which we spent many hours when considering the Licensing Bill last year. He is raising again the issue of saturation and of whether it is possible to limit the number of licensed premises in an area. That is a matter for the local licensing authority and not one on which the Government can issue a diktat.
My Lords, I think that the thought behind the right reverend Prelate's question is that somehow there is an additional burden on police. That is the reverse of the case. In fact, under the six licensing regimes which we had previously, around 1.6 million individual administrative processes had to be carried out annually by the police. The simpler regime that we are introducing will reduce that to around 170,000 processes. We considered the "polluter pays" principle in the National Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy that the Strategy Unit published in March, but it was not thought appropriate to have a compulsory levy.
My Lords, will the Minister take to heart the words of Paul Evans, head of the Home Office Police Standards Unit, when he spoke in evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee on
"if you take care of the little things the big things take care of themselves. If you take care of issues like alcohol, the anti-social behaviour and the thuggery that comes as a result of that, I think that will drive down some of your serious crime".
My Lords, that sounds entirely unexceptionable to me and I have no reason to disagree with it.
My Lords, will the Minister concede that the reality on the streets of our towns and cities is a million miles from the café society proclaimed when the Bill was introduced? Will the Government carry out an early review of the impact of this deregulation on public health, especially among young people, and on crime? The reality goes against the bland assurances that he is giving at the Dispatch Box.
My Lords, I am not conscious of having made any bland assurances. In answer to an earlier question, I said that unfortunately there is far too much binge drinking, not just in our towns and cities, as the noble Lord, Lord McNally, says, but also in small towns, villages and the countryside. That is certainly not being bland and is certainly not offering reassurances. The noble Lord asks for a single review; these matters are under continual review.
My Lords, what consultation has taken place with the Association of Chief Police Officers about licensing and the apparent danger of four or five acoustic musicians performing but acceptable risk of megawatt discotheques and large-screen television coverage of major sporting events?
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Colwyn, likes to revive the most enjoyable debates that we had during the passage of the Licensing Bill last year. We are in constant consultation with the Association of Chief Police Officers, which continues to maintain its support for the Bill. Issues of entertainment and music licensing are part of those discussions.
My Lords, I am led to believe that in most public houses alcohol prices are way below those of non-alcoholic beverages. In the interests of road safety for those who drive cars from public houses, should not publicans be encouraged to lower the prices of non-alcoholic drinks?
My Lords, does the Minister recall that he and I have had correspondence over the past year on what indices should be used to measure the effects of the Licensing Act 2003 on levels of crime and disorder? When will the Government decide what those indices should be? Are they satisfied that time remains for sufficient baseline data to be collected before the Act comes into force?
Yes, my Lords, I have had the privilege of reading many long, closely argued letters from the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, on the subject. He proposes that statistics on injuries caused by alcohol be collected from accident and emergency units. That is not ruled out, but I suggest that in many incidents, which, unfortunately, do occur—I am sorry that here I cannot give enough bland assurances—those injured do not go to accident and emergency units; we must rely on existing medical statistics.
My Lords, perhaps I might give the Minister a further opportunity to tell us whether he supports the view expressed by the Home Office that minimum prices should be established in clubs and pubs. The reason is very clear; it is all to do with binge drinking. I think that the noble Lord is aware of the issue.
My Lords, until 1979 the predecessor government had a Department of Prices and Consumer Protection. My noble friend Lord Hattersley, if he were present, would no doubt give a robust defence of it. In the 21st century, the idea that we should intervene to raise prices other than by taxation in individual establishments is a little remote from the ethos of the time.
My Lords, is the Minister therefore content that in our universities there are offers of all you can drink for £9 or £10? That is where a lot of binge drinking starts. Are the Government consulting those universities where that drinking culture is encouraged?