Licensing Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:00 am on 13th May 2003.
We had a long and fairly fruitful discussion on this clause earlier. I used arguments put to me in particular by Action with Communities in Rural England. That organisation deals with local councils in rural England, the rural environment and activities that are conducted in places such as church and village halls. Its submission stated that it wanted greater flexibility in the number of temporary event notices allowed for occasions and activities in village halls and community centres. The Minister graciously said that he would reconsider the issue with a view to increasing the number of events from five to something in the region of 12—one of our amendments referred to 24.
Since that discussion, ACRE has said that it wants to take part in discussions with the Minister to put its case as strongly as possible. It does not think that the figure of 12 will be enough, and, although 24 might be over the top, a figure somewhere in between could be important. ACRE wants to impress on the Minister what it has impressed on his colleague at DEFRA, which stands for—
Yes, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. ACRE made its arguments successfully to the Minister for Rural Affairs, and the Minister alluded to the fact that his door continued to be thumped on by the relevant Minister who was trying to press the case.
Will the Minister write to ACRE, or tell the Committee that he would be pleased to see its representatives to discuss the implications of keeping five, and listen to their arguments that a figure greater than 12 is necessary and would be of great help to many of those communities that will be affected? Their arguments are powerful. They have at their fingertips the details of the use of village and parish halls; they know what goes on in those communities; and they are well aware of the range of groups and activities that take place.
Many village halls are now being significantly refurbished with the use of lottery funds, so that they are thriving enterprises. However, there is a difference between having the money for capital refurbishment or construction, and having the income to maintain those halls on an ongoing basis. The income derived from such activities, particularly temporary events, is vitally important to many of those institutions. Is the Minister prepared to discuss those details with the relevant authorities?
I am happy to repeat my previous undertaking that I am going to take away the issue of numbers and consider it again. Whether I will have a chance to speak to representatives from Action with Communities in Rural England is another matter. I invite them to send me whatever information and arguments they can make.
However, remember that I have lived for a number of years and I know the old expression ''give 'em an inch and they'll take a mile''. I also know that the representatives are probably thinking, ''Well, he's backing off from a fight. Why limit our demand to 12?'' It is not a negotiation, but achieving the right balance between the protection of local residents and the rights of people to hold temporary events. It is a difficult balance to attain.
I hear the arguments that the hon. Gentleman has made on behalf of ACRE, and they are powerful ones. I repeat the undertaking that I will look at those numbers again.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 105 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clause 106 ordered to stand part of the Bill.