Schedule 4

Policing and Crime Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 1:30 pm on 12th February 2009.

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General licensing conditions relating to alcohol

Photo of Paul Holmes Paul Holmes Liberal Democrat, Chesterfield

I beg to move amendment 244, in schedule 4, page 123, line 17, leave out paragraph 2.

Photo of Hugh Bayley Hugh Bayley NATO Parliamentary Assembly UK Delegation

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: amendment 37, in schedule 4, page 123, line 24, leave out ‘appropriate’ and insert ‘necessary and proportionate’.

Amendment 38, in schedule 4, page 123, line 25, at end insert

‘provided always that no such condition shall increase the minimum statutory age at which alcohol can be purchased.’.

Amendment 39, in schedule 4, page 123, line 26, leave out sub-paragraph (2).

Amendment 40, in schedule 4, page 124, line 2, at end insert—

‘(4A) Before making an order under this section the Secretary of State shall undertake such public consultation as he considers appropriate in the context of the conditions proposed and have due regard to the representations received.’.

Photo of Sally Keeble Sally Keeble Labour, Northampton North

On a point of order, Mr. Bayley. Will you definitely be having a stand part debate? I wanted to speak on the clause, but it is pointless to speak to each group of amendments. I am happy to speak in a stand part debate, provided we have one at the end.

Photo of Hugh Bayley Hugh Bayley NATO Parliamentary Assembly UK Delegation

If it helps the Committee, I intend to hold a stand part debate with which we will also consider new clause 6.

Photo of Paul Holmes Paul Holmes Liberal Democrat, Chesterfield

In the consultation, before the Bill was in its final form, Rob Hayward, the chief executive of the British Beer and Pub Association, expressed a fear that a mandatory code would disadvantage already struggling pubs. He said:

“The Government has the weapons it needs to tackle irresponsible retailers by rigorously enforcing the Licensing Act”— the existing laws

“We don’t need new laws and regulations, just better enforcement of existing laws.”

I would not go the whole way along with him on that, but the general point is good. The vast majority of licensed premises are not a problem. With proposed new section 19A the Minister is creating a series of mandatory offences; and a blanket roll-out across every licensed premises, regardless of whether the measures are needed in nine out of 10 cases, is overkill. From working with the Local Government Association—I declare an interest as a former councillor for 12 years —I know that local authorities would rather not see blanket requirements produced from the centre, and would rather have the flexibility to act as they see fit. They know best because they are on the spot, are elected by and live in the local community, and know where the trouble spots are and what is needed to tackle them.

We have already debated the concept of decentralising power on police collaboration and direction from the centre, and the same principle applies here. We are one of the most centralised democracies in western Europe. If we really believe in decentralisation and localism, why not give democratically elected local authorities more flexibility and power to operate as they see fit in their localities?

Schedule 4 amends the Licensing Act 2003 to create the enabling power to impose mandatory licence conditions on all existing and new pubs through secondary legislation. Surely that is a retrograde step. Do we believe what all three parties have been saying recently, and the Liberal Democrats for a very long time, about decentralisation, devolution and localism? The Licensing Act 2003 introduced greater local flexibility and democratic influence in the licensing regime and this measure reverses that completely.

It would be interesting to hear from the Minister on the mandatory code and Conservative amendment 39. Out of interest, I should like to know how the Government have arrived at the figure nine in this measure. Why not five, six, a dozen, 10 or 20? It seems a strange figure to arrive at, but that is a side issue. Local authorities know which premises cause concern, and they can focus licence conditions on them, so why impose restrictions and requirements on staffing and so on that might be expensive and that will affect everyone, including many pubs that are struggling to survive in the present climate, with taxation and the economy?

Removing subsection (2) would remove a swathe of over-regulation that many well-run pubs and restaurants cannot really afford in the current climate. For example, the Licensing Act 2003 requires premises to have a designated premises supervisor, in the form of a personal licensee, in place whenever alcohol is sold. The unforeseen consequence of that blanket condition has been an  excessive burden on community groups when organising events at which alcohol is sold on a relatively ad hoc and irregular basis. As a result, only 30 per cent. of such groups have carried on applying for licences to sell alcohol at such events, and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has since undertaken a costly, retrospective legislative reform order to try to undo the damage done by that legislation. We are in danger of going down the same road and making a similar mistake that we might want to reverse in a few years’ time.

Local licensing authorities are best placed to know and recognise the diversity of premises, or groups of premises, in each community and the problems that do or do not arise from them, depending on the area. Surely, the Government’s licensing objectives could be better met through local conditions and flexibility for local authorities. Where regulations need to be consistent across the country, the Government should provide guidance to that effect, rather than having automatic, stifling legislation and a blanket, mandatory process.

Some people in the trade have said that the danger of letting local authorities have greater freedom and flexibility is that there will be different conditions in different local authority areas, but so what? We get that in varying degrees now in different areas of local authority activity, as there are different licensing regulations on taxis and minicabs in different parts of the country. That is why we have democratically elected local authorities. There are also different educational regimes in different parts of the country, in so far as the Government allow that, because that is what locally elected authorities want, but so what?

The Home Office has indicated that the mandatory conditions are likely to be totemic and concerning activities that no premises should be carrying out. In reality, they are likely to include many things that the vast majority of premises simply do not do, so why take a sledgehammer to crack a nut by imposing blanket regulations across the board? One example that comes to mind is an “all you can drink for x pounds” promotion. A mandatory list is likely to be a list of “do nots” rather than “dos”, and staff training would be affected when licensed premises moved from one category to another.

Elsewhere, the Government follow the logic that mandatory conditions apply to responsible retailers as well as to irresponsible ones, and that there should be some variation in local conditions. In defending the new cost of the code, the Government say in the impact assessment:

“Allowing local authorities the discretion to apply some of these conditions will ensure that, to a large extent, these costs will be targeted at those premises which pose a real threat to the four licensing objectives. This is in accordance with the principals of Better Regulation.”

If that logic applies to other provisions in the Bill involving local conditions, why does it not apply to this measure? Why not allow all nine mandatory conditions—I still do not understand why it is nine—to be within the gift and control of local authorities, which are locally elected and locally accountable, and know local circumstances far better than any Minister sitting here in London?

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

Amendment 244 would delete paragraph 2 of schedule 4, which sets out the main thrust of the mandatory code. In many ways I sympathise  with the hon. Member for Chesterfield, who tabled the amendment, because we are having to debate the issue in isolation—in a void—and we are second-guessing what the proposal is actually about. As he rightly identified, the provision in paragraph 2 is effectively only an enabling power—it enables the code to be created and the provisions to be adopted.

Although we have been given a hint and some suggestions, we do not know what the mandatory code will contain. The Government are saying, “Don’t worry. We cannot really do this until the Bill has been enacted and then we will tell you what we propose,” but that makes it extremely difficult to understand properly the likely impact of the schedule and the operation of the system.

To be fair to the Minister, there have been a few signposts, directions and hints, but we do not have the code, so we do not know whether the proposal is appropriate. I accept that we need to face up to the concept of irresponsible promotion. We can debate it in more detail during the stand part debate, along with the other procedures and steps that could be taken and the way in which they would interact with the good practice that already exist in some parts of the country to try to manage the night-time economy, deal with promotions and address other factors. I have some sympathy with that approach, and I am trying to understand the issue, but we struggle to do so without the code.

The amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds and I are testing and probing. The Government tabled a series of significant amendments last week to clarify their intention to create a new mandatory code for licensees, so for the Committee’s convenience, I will comment first on our amendments and then on those Government amendments.

Schedule 4 provides for detailed arrangements to establish the proposed code through the addition to the Licensing Act 2003 of new subsection (4) to section 19 and new sections 19A and 21A. Proposed new section 19A(1) states that the Secretary of State can impose mandatory conditions on

“all relevant premises licences or relevant premises licences of a particular description if the Secretary of State considers it appropriate to do so for the promotion of the licensing objectives.”

Those objectives are obviously the prevention of crime and disorder, the protection of children from harm, the prevention of public nuisance and public safety.

Amendment 37 would replace the word “appropriate” with the words “necessary and proportionate”. In part, this touches on issues of consistency. Under section 18(4) of the 2003 Act, a local authority, when considering applications for licenses, may grant the licence, subject to such conditions

“as the authority considers necessary for the promotion of the licensing objectives”.

I accept that defining what is necessary and appropriate might be a slightly legalistic point, but there is a distinction to be made. What one person considers to be appropriate might not be considered necessary by another. I am trying to drill down on the Government’s intentions.

Clearly, parliamentary counsel have opted for a different formulation in schedule 4, presumably to grant the Secretary of State wider discretion. I assume that that is why the different language is used here, but it would be useful to know whether I am picking up on a point that has not been contemplated. Will the Minister confirm  whether or not the use of the word “appropriate” is intended to grant the Secretary of State a much wider discretion on the setting of conditions than would otherwise be available to local authorities through the 2003 Act’s provisions? If that is the case, it seems somewhat odd. Can the Minister explain the rationale? In the light of that discretion, amendment 38 would make it clear that the provision could not be used to raise, through secondary legislation, the statutory age at which alcohol could be purchased.

As I said, we do not know what the mandatory code looks like, or what it may look like in the future. I am sure that the intention is not to put through something that could be considered a significant change to the law. We could debate at length, although not in this sitting, what the appropriate age might be, but it ought to be set out in primary legislation for the whole House to debate. It should not, in essence, be implied through a licensing condition so that the Government could seek to impose through the mandatory code a requirement that the age limit be higher than 18 as a term of the licence. In certain local circumstances, there might be individual factors for a local authority to consider within the context of a licensing review, such as whether there has been disorder. Although that could be appropriate individually, a blanket approach would not be right. Such a thing should be introduced through primary legislation to enable proper debate and scrutiny. The amendment would preserve that position and clarify what the situation ought to be.

As we have heard, proposed new section 19A(2) of the 2003 Act rather strangely provides that the maximum number of mandatory conditions in effect at any one time should not exceed nine—nine is the magic number, for some reason. The hon. Member for Chesterfield was curious about how that number had been alighted upon. My best guess—I am sure that the Minister will be able to give us a definitive answer—is that it relates to the alcohol social responsibility principles set out in the youth alcohol action plan, which number nine in total. Again, we do not know how that number was arrived at. It was slightly odd that the Government sought to make that requirement, even though the social responsibility principles talk about promoting

“responsible drinking and the ‘Sensible Drinking Message’...To avoid any actions that encourage or condone illegal, irresponsible or immoderate drinking such as drunkenness, drink driving or drinking in inappropriate circumstances” in addition to various other things.

Many aspects of that principle are understood and not contentious. I may have the wrong end of the stick, because we are slightly bemused as to how the number nine was arrived at, but perhaps the Minister can indicate why that particular aspect has been fastened upon. Does it relate to the alcohol social responsibility principles, or does it touch on something completely different? The Minister might be trying to reassure the industry that there would not be a huge shopping list of issues—I have some sympathy with that—but that there would be a focus on a small number of things. The Minister might be giving assurance to local authorities given that, as we have heard, almost all their discretion could be taken away in one sweep—if that is the case, why bother having local authorities at all? If all the mandatory  conditions are set out by the Secretary of State from the centre, it undermines the ability of local authorities to judge what is appropriate for their particular area.

We were told at the outset that the approach on licensing was about letting local communities decide which licences should be granted in their area and on what terms. I have concerns about rowing back from that, because circumstances—we have confronted them—where the national guidance did not necessarily give local authorities the discretion that they thought that they had meant restrictions on things such as saturation and various other aspects that needed to be addressed locally. Those issues were quite problematic when the legislation was introduced, because local authorities felt that their hands were tied, despite some of the promises made about the intention behind the Act in the first place. That is why what is hidden in the detail—the statutory instruments or the guidance—is quite important for how the provisions will operate.

We need to understand the Government’s approach to ensure that the Bill does not give some sort of carte blanche discretion to license from the centre. To be fair, from what the Government have said, that is not the intention. The question is not about the intention now, but that in the future, in x years’ time, once the powers have been granted. They appear to give wide-ranging discretion to make changes or proposals that could erode a lot of what was originally set out in the 2003 Act. Some aspects of the agenda seek, understandably, to ensure that local communities have the powers they need to control excessive consumption of alcohol and to regulate licensed premises in their area.

Amendment 40 would set out some statutory basis for consultation. Because everything is left somewhat up in the air, we are almost reliant on statutory instrument for a definition. The schedule seems to suggest that the issue of how this would operate in practice would be addressed and the guidance would come through in secondary legislation.

It is important that the Bill states the need for consultation on this matter with local authorities, local communities and bodies that might be affected. I know that a consultation on the mandatory code is ongoing, although we do not know what it looks like. However, for purposes of reassurance, it is necessary to have a statement in the Bill requiring consultation, instead of a reliance on secondary legislation.

We must ensure that there are rights of appeal, challenge and consideration. If the Secretary of State came up with a proposal that was wholly unreasonable, irrational and disproportionate, and somebody had an issue with something in the mandatory code, I assume that the only redress would be judicial review. Perhaps the Minister can confirm whether that is the intention, or whether there will be a way of ensuring the right to challenge or appeal through the process outlined in the Bill. We need some way of considering the Government’s approach to the mandatory code. That approach might be laudable. It might deal with some of the appalling promotions that we have seen, which are designed for and targeted at binge drinkers and young people in particular. There is merit in addressing marketing, but I am trying to understand better the structure and intention of the mandatory code in isolation. We must ensure that it does not erode the important local discretion that we need for communities properly to address problems of alcohol, alcohol-related crime and licensing.

Photo of Alan Campbell Alan Campbell Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Crime Reduction) 1:45 pm, 12th February 2009

I shall reply to some of those points and then explain why we feel unable to accept the amendments. The first issue raised by the hon. Member for Chesterfield goes to the heart of the debate: why have a mandatory code and not just a local code? I hope that he accepts that there is almost universal concern about some of these issues in every part of the country. It would not necessarily be appropriate to leave it up to local licensing authorities to ensure that that concern is addressed in their own areas. We could end up with a postcode lottery of conditions that a sufficient number of people felt were important.

There were 2,000 responses to the Department of Health consultation, 90 per cent. of which were in favour of a mandatory code. There is common ground across the country and across groups. Certainly, with the support of the Association of Chief Police Officers and Alcohol Concern, there is enough anxiety around issues such as “Drink as much as you can for £10”, to warrant the application of the code across the whole country. That does not mean that we ignore local considerations, which is why there will be conditions that can be applied locally as well as mandatory conditions.

The hon. Members for Chesterfield and for Hornchurch both asked why there were nine conditions. That is a good question—I asked it myself—but it has nothing to do with the reference made by the hon. Member for Hornchurch to the youth plan, and much more to do with what he called the “huge shopping list” in our desire to be reasonable. He asked why not have five or 20 conditions. There will be nine because five would probably be too few and 20 would be too many. That is not a scientific answer, but I am saying that we are trying to be proportionate and to ensure that there are sufficient conditions, while leaving headroom for a future Home Secretary who might, with public support, bring forward further proposals. The number nine has not simply been plucked from the air. The other effect of having that number in the Bill is that it puts a statutory limit on mandatory sanctions so that they are limited as well as being imposed.

Photo of Paul Holmes Paul Holmes Liberal Democrat, Chesterfield

If the Department has already done enough work to say that nine will be a reasonable figure giving some headroom for further expansion, it must have quite a clear idea about what people are suggesting and what it is likely to reject and accept. It is a shame that the Department has not published some of its thinking because, as is so often the case, we will not see much of the detail, which is the crucial part, until the Bill is passed. The detail then comes out in statutory instruments and all sorts of other backstairs methods that we cannot really discuss or reject.

Photo of Alan Campbell Alan Campbell Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Crime Reduction)

I shall return to that point shortly. The hon. Gentleman talked about expensive conditions. I assure him that we have gone to great lengths to ensure that the kind of burdens that the industry has said—quite rightly—that it is most concerned about are not in the mandatory conditions. I will come back to what might and might not be in there. The hon. Gentleman will see from Government amendments that defining locality better and being able to target is an important part of proportionality.

We heard about the cost of regulations, and it was rightly pointed out that it would be quite possible that many, if not all, of these mandatory regulations will be  “don’t dos”. Most of the “don’t dos” that I can think of will not cost the industry, or at least they will not cost the legitimate side of the industry. For example, if “Drink as much as you want for £10”, the purpose of which is to get people drunk, was not allowed, and if women were not allowed into pubs for free to attract men in to drink more, I fail to see how that would be an undue burden and where the financial cost would be. We will have to wait to see what the code looks like, but that is the principle upon which we are moving.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the number of pubs that had closed. I raised that point during the evidence sessions. I agree that we have to be very careful about burdens, but the evidence sessions showed that there was a whole range of reasons why pubs closed, not least the social changes that are taking place. I am trying to think of the last time that I was in a pub. It is probably easier for MPs not go to into pubs because we have work to do when we go in there—I do not mean bar work. There have been significant social changes, so while we need to be wary of burdens, we also need to put that into context. We will be providing guidance as part of the ongoing process, and there will be a mixture of national and local means through which to address the local issues that the hon. Gentleman is talking about.

We are working hard with a range of people about what should be in the mandatory code. I do not want to read everyone into the record, but we are talking—and have talked—to enforcement and local government agencies, the on-trade and off-trade, the third and health sectors, the Tourism Alliance, and the civic trust. We are also talking to the alcohol industry. The list is long, and I am happy to put it in writing for members of the Committee, or to put it in the Library, so that people can see who we have been talking to.

Photo of Sally Keeble Sally Keeble Labour, Northampton North

Is my hon. Friend talking to any community group organisations? The public who have to put up with the menace of alcohol-related crime are the people who, above all, want to see proportionate measures to manage it. That is not about the third sector, but specifically about tenants, residents, community groups and suchlike. It is not about local authorities either; it is about local people.

Photo of Alan Campbell Alan Campbell Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Crime Reduction) 2:00 pm, 12th February 2009

I understand the point well. We are consulting those groups about what might go into the code. The Home Secretary has made it clear that we shall have the most extensive consultation process possible, so we are looking at what further measures we can take. I am not willing to say to my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North that that process will be in a particular form, of a particular length on a particular day because issues will depend not only on our progress in Committee, but the progress of the Bill. We are keen for the code to be in place when the Bill receives Royal Assent. Our ambition in respect of consultation will be shaped to some extent by what progress has been made.

My hon. Friend the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing referred on Second Reading to extensive consultation. No one can accuse us of having been shy in that regard. We have talked to a lot of people and have taken many views into consideration. If my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North is saying that we need to go wider, I will certainly bear that in mind. I am not closing my door to that proposal.

When the draft code is in place, I will be happy to share it with the Committee and I give a commitment to do that as soon as possible. The hon. Member for Hornchurch talked about saying something about it before the Bill is enacted, and it is certainly my intention to do that. As he knows, however, the schedule is an enabling measure because the mandatory code will be enacted through a statutory instrument. I am not saying that there are, but if there were nine elements to the code we could enact it through nine statutory instruments—if we wanted to—or through one statutory instrument and treat it as a basket of measures. [Interruption.] Whips and Ministers are terrified at that prospect, but as members of the Committee know, statutory instruments cannot be amended. We therefore want to consult widely and have as much sign-up to the measure as possible, which includes considering how much the parliamentary process reflects it. I am happy to put the list of consultees in writing and to share the draft code with members of the Committee.

I wish to explain some of our problems with specific amendments. Amendment 37 tabled by the hon. Member for Hornchurch concerns “appropriate” versus “necessary and proportionate”. Any Government action must be necessary and proportionate, and we believe that “appropriate” captures that definition sufficiently. We are looking especially at the targeting of the measures. I understand the mandatory code argument about all pubs, but we must remember that a series of other measures can be applied locally to particular pubs. We are conscious of that, and believe that targeting is part of the appropriateness of such matters.

A licence could constitute a possession under article 1 of protocol 1 of the European convention on human rights, and we accept that human rights may be in play. The Secretary of State, as a public authority, is required to act compatibly with the rights of the convention and, in practice, conditions must be necessary and proportionate. When talking to amendment 38, the hon. Member for Hornchurch referred to the legal age for purchasing alcohol in light of the recent discussions in Scotland. I wish to place it on the record that we do not believe that that would be an appropriate way to deal with the matter. I agree entirely with him that such matters should be dealt with under primary legislation, if we decided to go down that route. However, it is entirely inappropriate that a young man or woman can fight for their country in Iraq and Afghanistan, yet not be able to buy a pint of beer or a bottle of wine to celebrate their being back home with their family, so I hope that the hon. Gentleman is reassured by the fact that we have no plans to increase or decrease the age at which alcohol can be purchased.

Amendment 40 would introduce a statutory requirement to consult before introducing or changing the mandatory licensing conditions. I have already talked about consultation, but the effect of that proposal would be that whenever a condition was changed, there would have to be a costly and lengthy consultation process. It would create an unnecessary situation, and I hope that it will not be pressed to a Division.

Amendment 244, which was moved by the hon. Member for Chesterfield, would prevent the Secretary of State from imposing any national mandatory licensing conditions on all licensed premises. It would, however, still allow  mandatory licensing conditions to be imposed on premises that hold a club premises certificate, so even if we went down that route, that would not be a suitable measure.

We believe that there is strong and widespread public support for a mandatory code. I have also given the Committee undertakings on sharing information and on consulting as widely as possible, so, in the spirit in which those undertakings were offered, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Paul Holmes Paul Holmes Liberal Democrat, Chesterfield

Clearly, we will have to continue to disagree with the Government about the degree to which local authorities, which are elected by, and represent and live in, their local communities, can be trusted and empowered to actually govern on behalf of those communities, as opposed to being told what to do and micro-managed from London.

Much of what the Minister said about the possible content of the mandatory code, as well as how it might be applied and the burdens it might place on licensed premises, was reassuring. However, as the Minister said, given the absolute lack of detail we will have to wait and see. I therefore beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Alan Campbell Alan Campbell Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Crime Reduction)

I beg to move amendment 130, in schedule 4, page 124, line 15, leave out ‘in particular localities’ and insert ‘for existing licences’.

Photo of Hugh Bayley Hugh Bayley NATO Parliamentary Assembly UK Delegation

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: amendment 245, in schedule 4, page 124, line 17, leave out ‘permitted’.

Amendment 41, in schedule 4, page 124, line 17, leave out ‘appropriate’ and insert ‘necessary and proportionate’.

Amendment 42, in schedule 4, page 124, line 17, after ‘on’, insert ‘all’.

Government amendment 131.

Amendment 43, in schedule 4, page 124, line 17, leave out ‘relevant’.

Amendment 44, in schedule 4, page 124, line 30, at end insert

‘provided always that no such condition shall impose a condition requiring specific financial payment’.

Government amendments 132 to 135

Amendment 45, in schedule 4, page 125, leave out lines 18 to 20.

Government amendments 136 to 149

Photo of Alan Campbell Alan Campbell Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Crime Reduction)

I want to speak to Government amendments 131 and 137 first. The Bill as drafted would require a licensing authority to define an area that is experiencing levels of alcohol-related crime and disorder. The Bill can also be read as requiring general licensing conditions to be applied to all premises, whether they are contributing to the problem or not, in such an area. That was not our intention when preparing the Bill.

Government amendment 131 therefore ensures that, when applying general licensing conditions to licensed premises, a licensing authority no longer needs to define a locality. That will allow the authority to impose  licensing conditions on two or more premises that are contributing to alcohol-related harm. By allowing licensing authorities to impose conditions on groups of premises, the amendment will make it easier for the authorities to deal with the problems that we see in town centres up and down the country every weekend. Such problems are not caused by single-problem premises, but are the cumulative result of several premises contributing to alcohol-related crime and disorder. While the Licensing Act 2003 deals effectively with individual premises, it can be difficult to take action against several premises because it is much harder to demonstrate which ones specifically contribute to a particular problem.

We are committed to ensuring that the action taken to tackle alcohol-related crime and disorder must be proportionate and targeted at businesses that sell alcohol irresponsibly. We recognise that the majority of businesses do sell alcohol responsibly, and we certainly do not want to impose unfair burdens upon them, particularly in the difficult economic climate.

Photo of Sally Keeble Sally Keeble Labour, Northampton North

Will my hon. Friend explain what he means by “responsible”? Some of the public will have a different opinion on what he regards as the responsible or irresponsible selling of alcohol.

Photo of Alan Campbell Alan Campbell Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Crime Reduction)

That is a wide-ranging area of discussion. By “responsible,” I am certainly referring to pubs and clubs that do not fall foul of the legislation or the conditions of the licensing committee. Of course, residents will always be concerned, especially when they live near pubs, but a large number of pubs and clubs do run respectable establishments. They do take precautions in order not to add to difficulties and dangers in either their establishment or their locality. I am not sure that I share my hon. Friend’s pessimism or, perhaps, scepticism about the majority of pubs and clubs. We need to ensure that, where we need to take further action and further conditions need to be applied to those pubs that are not respectable, the measures that we take are targeted and proportionate.

If a licensing authority wants to impose general licensing conditions, the Bill requires that it first identify a locality. Once a licensing authority has defined a locality, the Bill could be read as requiring it to impose general licensing conditions on every licensed premises within that locality, irrespective of whether each individual premises was contributing to the problem.

Amendment 42, tabled by my hon. Friend, would make that requirement even more explicit. Clearly, that could result in some businesses having disproportionate and, frankly, unfair burdens imposed on them just because they happen to be in an area that has experienced problems. The Government amendment allows the licensing authority to impose general licensing conditions on particular licensed premises, which are thought to be contributing to those problems.

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

The Minister made an interesting point, saying that it would be unfair to impose those conditions on other licensees in the area. Does that mean that the Government are now in full retreat over their alcohol disorder zones, because that was precisely what that regulation was intended to do?

Photo of Alan Campbell Alan Campbell Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Crime Reduction)

No, we are not in full retreat at all. Guidance was issued, as the hon. Gentleman knows, at the end of last year in order to make it easier for local authorities to bring forward proposals for alcohol disorder zones. He will know that they were always intended as a tool of last resort and there are many other measures that can be applied locally.

Let me tell him a difference between alcohol disorder zones and what we are proposing here. He will know that one of the reasons for setting up alcohol disorder zones was to allow a levy to be applied on licensed premises—all licensed premises—to go towards the cost of policing in an area where there was alcohol disorder. I am not sure whether he is suggesting that that is a better way of approaching the problem than the one that we are bringing forward now, because we would share his scepticism of that. A key difference is about raising money for enforcement. This is a much more targeted approach, but that does not mean that if a licensing authority went down that particular route and was unable to tackle a problem, they could not introduce an alcohol disorder zone. We would welcome local authorities bringing forward such proposals if they felt that it was necessary.

In addition, the amendment that we are proposing removes annoyance as a reason for imposing general licensing conditions on licensed premises. That is because annoyance is not defined in the Licensing Act and is not one of the four licensing objectives. Removing it therefore removes any possibility of potential confusion with nuisance. Licensing authorities can therefore impose general licensing conditions on a group of premises if there is an alcohol-related nuisance or disorder. Government amendment 137 is identical to Government amendment 131, except that it allows licensing authorities to impose general licensing conditions on just those particular club premises—for example, a members’ club that might be contributing to the problem—rather than a blanket provision for all clubs in a locality, and I invite hon. Members to accept both of those amendments.

Government amendments 130, 132, 133, 135, 142, 143 and 144, are consequential amendments as a result of Government amendment 131, which removes the reference to locality. If Government amendment 131 is accepted, the licensing authority would no longer need to define a locality. Again, I invite hon. Members to accept the amendments.

Government amendment 134 is a technical amendment to remove what is clearly an unnecessary subsection from the Bill. Under section 182 of the Licensing Act 2003, the Secretary of State must issue guidance to licensing authorities and under section 4 of that Act, licensing authorities must have regard to that guidance when carrying out all of their licensing functions. The Bill amends the Licensing Act so that that requirement will automatically extend to the new powers to impose general licensing conditions on a group of premises. The Bill inserts into the Licensing Act new section 21A(4), which states that

“licensing authorities must have regard to any guidance” when imposing general licensing conditions on licensed premises. Clearly, that section is unnecessary and the amendment will remove it to prevent any confusion.

Government amendment 140 is identical to amendment 134, except that it removes new section 74A(4), which relates to club premises, rather than licensed premises. Amendments 136, 138, 139, 141, 146, 147 and 149 are consequential amendments as a result of amendment 137 to remove references to locality and, again, if amendment 137 is accepted, the licensing authority will no longer need to define a locality.

Government amendment 145 will remove the provision requiring licensing premises to display on the premises a list of all mandatory and general conditions imposed upon them. Instead, it will require licensees to keep a list of those conditions on the premises and to make the list available to the police and other authorities. When inspecting premises, it is essential that the police and local authorities can find out exactly what licensing conditions a premises has to comply with in order to enforce them effectively. Currently, the Licensing Act requires licensees to keep a certified copy of their licence on the premises and to allow the authorities to view it if they so wish.

The Bill also requires licensees to display a list of all mandatory and generally locally applied conditions that have been imposed upon them. However, licensees currently have to display only a summary of their licence, which does not include any conditions. The requirement to do so could impose an additional burden on some licensees. The amendment removes that requirement and therefore removes the potential burden. As I have mentioned, it is important that local authorities can check easily what the licensing conditions are and therefore the amendment requires the licensee to keep a list of the mandatory and general licensing conditions. Again, amendment 148 is identical to amendment 145 except that it relates to club premises certificates. With that, I invite hon. Members to accept these conditions.

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 2:15 pm, 12th February 2009

I am grateful for some of the Minister’s explanation of the further changes being proposed through the amendments to the provisions of schedule 4. Certainly, the modification to existing licences rather than particular localities implies that there might be a widening of the scope, but from what the Minister has said, I think he is intending to narrow down the scope—particularly through Government amendment 131, which we will come on to—in terms of those licensed premises that might be contributing specifically to problems of disorder.

Obviously, I heard what the Minister said about the deletion of the word “annoyance” from the list of factors in respect of which the local authority can trigger the application of one of the localised conditions from the Secretary of State’s approved list. However, as the Minister has explained, Government amendment 131 in essence allows a local authority to impose one of those blessed conditions on to two or more existing licences if certain factors have been triggered—in other words, nuisance or disorder is the fundamental aspect. The condition is appropriate for the purposes of mitigating or preventing that nuisance from taking place.

The issue about which I am still not entirely sure is the relationship between the requirements that could be imposed through the localised conditions and the review process itself. Normally, if the local authority has to demonstrate that there has been a nuisance to members of the public in relation to an individual licence, there  would have to be a hearing, and the evidence would be presented by the police or the local authority—as the case may be—to justify that the licence should be reviewed and that potentially additional conditions be imposed or certain other changes be made in respect of that already-granted licence.

Does the Minister envisage, given this requirement to show that there has been nuisance to the public, that there would be some form of hearing in respect of that evidence? Or would it be accepted on the nod that this nuisance had occurred? It seems to take a different approach from that of the licence review—which I accept is only about individual licences—but equally it seems there is some overlap in that there could be conditions imposed and a licence review. Does the Minister consider that is appropriate, given that they touch upon similar themes and issues? He has made the point that it might be difficult to say whether disorder relates to particular licensed premises. Government amendment 131 states that the relevant activities need to have taken place

“on or near the premises”.

That does not necessarily mean that they have been caused by those premises. He will be aware of the relationship between on-sales and off-sales, with pre-loading before people go out, consumption of alcohol while they are out and post-loading when they get home. It is a complicated picture to work out where the responsibility lies. This was a topic of debate during consideration of the original construction of alcohol disorder zones. I welcome the fact that the Government’s amendments have rowed back from the alcohol disorder zone type of structure, which on its original drafting this schedule strongly echoed. I tabled amendment 42, not because I wanted to put all in there, but as a probing amendment, to clarify whether this was an alcohol disorder zone by another name. Amendment 44 was tabled on the basis that conditions should not impose a requirement of a specific financial payment. If local authorities wanted to go down that route the ADZ approach would be the way to do it, albeit that no local authority has in fact applied for an ADZ. I have described the ADZ as a policy disaster zone because of the complexity and nature of the issue and the fact that one does not know how to charge or cost it or which licensed premises would be caught by the ADZ regime. That is one for another day when a local authority does decide to dip its toe in the water and embark on an ADZ approach.

Will the Minister also clarify, even in that context, whether he considers this to be mutually exclusive of an ADZ application? When a nuisance or disorder has been experienced, could these additional conditions be levied as well an alcohol disorder zone applied for? In other words, there could be financial payment under an ADZ process plus additional conditions on certain licences under the localised mandatory conditions that could be imposed on two or more licences. It does not seem to suggest that they are mutually exclusive so I am assuming that one could go down that potentially triple-track approach of review, mandatory conditions and an ADZ. I am assuming that is the process and is in the toolbox for local authorities potentially to adapt and take. It would be useful to have clarification. The point of amendment 44 is important to understand properly—  whether financial payment could be obliged in pursuant to this. That would be inappropriate. If a financial condition is to be imposed it should be through an ADZ approach. This localised condition approach should not be seen as a back-door way of imposing additional licence fees.

The other, more general, point about the principle of the issue is how the arrangement might hamper the ability of local authorities to take a licence review approach, anyway. If the conditions are designed to address nuisance and disorder, which is one of the licensing principles and therefore relevant if a local authority decides to take a licensing review approach, why should the Secretary of State restrict and prescribe certain conditions when the authority sets a licence if they are necessary and appropriate to address nuisance and disorder? It will be a fetter on some of the conditions that the authority might otherwise be able to apply through a licence review if, at that stage, someone says, “This condition that a local authority is trying to invoke on a licence review is unreasonable and unnecessary, because it is not within the mandatory or prescribed list of conditions that the Secretary of State has imposed from the centre.”

I am concerned about the relationship between the two regimes, and anxious that there are no unintended consequences of the Government’s proposals to introduce mandatory conditions that local authorities may impose when nuisance and public disorder has been triggered. I recognise some of the issues that the Minister seeks to address, but the situation may be more complicated than it appears.

Photo of Paul Holmes Paul Holmes Liberal Democrat, Chesterfield

Amendment 245 would tackle the same issue to which the hon. Member for Hornchurch just referred: permitted conditions and the restrictions that they impose on the flexibility—the democratic, local accountability—of a local authority. Why should the Bill state that the only conditions applicable are those permitted by the Government in London, rather than those that the local authority believes to be appropriate? In the vast majority of cases, local licensing authorities will work from the same hymn sheet, from good practice nationally and from guidelines produced by the Government; but local circumstances and views could well differ. By removing “permitted,” the amendment would give local authorities the flexibility to represent their communities and to do what they think is best for their local areas.

Photo of Alan Campbell Alan Campbell Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Crime Reduction)

The hon. Member for Hornchurch asked how the proposals would fit with alcohol disorder zones, and, as I tried to point out earlier, they are significantly different from those zones. We do not rule out the possibility of an authority considering both measures, but I cannot understand why they would want to do so. They will want to choose one or the other or, indeed, one of the other powers that are available to target the problem. Alcohol disorder zones apply to a whole area, but that goes against the principle that we set out in the Government amendments that would target particular premises in a particular area by redefining locality. One of the main reasons to set up alcohol disorder zones is to raise money for enforcement in that area, and the Government do not believe that general licensing conditions should be a way of raising money  in an area, so we are talking about two different situations. I should be surprised if anyone found a way or, indeed, a reason for introducing alcohol disorder zones along with the measures under discussion.

The hon. Gentleman also raised the question of evidence of nuisance. Let me be honest with him: we will introduce in secondary legislation proposals setting out the process to which he referred, and we will consult on it. But, in any regard, a licensing authority would have to be convinced of the evidence that was put before it—whether it would allow the legislation to be enacted in that way; and we have already said that there will be an appeals procedure, so if the evidence does not exist it will become abundantly clear. Again, the procedure will be set out in legislation, and we are working on it.

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I accept what the Minister is saying about working through the detail, and I appreciate that his views may not be finalised, but would he envisage that in circumstances in which certain conditions would be imposed through this route, the matter would be referred to, for example, the licensing panel of the local authority? It would normally decide on licences, reviews and conditions, and it would be for it to judge, on the basis of evidence provided and any other representations, whether the imposition of such conditions would be appropriate.

Photo of Alan Campbell Alan Campbell Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Crime Reduction)

Those are precisely the issues that we will be considering, because we want the legislation to be used properly and effectively. I do not have answers to those questions for the hon. Gentleman today, but I assure him that we are looking at them and want to bring forward measures as soon as possible.

I hope that I have dealt with amendment 44, which concerns financial payments, by saying that this is not a revenue-generating measure. The hon. Member for Chesterfield spoke about the balance between the local and what looks like imposition from the centre. Yes, individual town centres may have particular premises that are causing problems, but we believe that there can be a cumulative effect in an area, and there is also concern across the whole country about such premises and town centres.

It is not unusual for particular towns to have these problems, so it is important that we allow premises and groups of premises to be targeted, but it is also important that we do not get variation across the country. That would be the danger if we left this purely to localities.

There are 377 licensing authorities. They operate significantly differently and allow local application, but that can be a weakness when tackling the issue across the country as a whole. There is a trade-off between the locality and what we want to achieve across the country, which is at the heart of the argument.

We are not allowing licensing authorities to have an entirely free hand in deciding which conditions they may impose on a group of premises. Instead, they should choose from a nationally set list which will focus on certain activities and help licensing authorities deal in a more consistent way than at present with the cumulative effect of a number of premises contributing to harm.

If there is a particular problem in an area that would benefit from a licensing condition that is not on the list that the Secretary of State prescribes, the licensing  authority can impose a condition on an individual premises under existing powers in the Licensing Act 2003.

To ensure that the licensing conditions that we allow licensing authorities to use will be effective in dealing with groups of premises, we are currently consulting with a wide range of stakeholders and will conduct a wider consultation later this year. I hope that in those brief and rushed remarks I have addressed the key parts of the amendments.

Photo of Sally Keeble Sally Keeble Labour, Northampton North

I assumed that it would be possible for a condition to be imposed on either a shop or a shopping centre, for example, bearing in mind that alcohol-related disorders do not have to occur in a big area. There can be a big nuisance in a small area, even a little shopping centre on an estate that has only a betting shop, an off-licence, a post office—well, no longer—and a newsagent.

Would a local authority be able to use the kind of powers that are set out here to impose conditions on that type of off-licence or on-licence to deal with alcohol-related disorders?

Photo of Alan Campbell Alan Campbell Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Crime Reduction)

My understanding is that they can already use the 2003 Act to deal with one premises. We need to introduce these measures to deal with groups of premises. Local authorities will be able to identify a group of premises—they might not be next to each other but in different parts of a locality, and contributing to a perceived problem in the area—and impose a condition on them. Currently, they are unable to impose a condition on a group basis under the Act.

Amendment 130 agreed to.

Amendments made: 131, in schedule 4, page 124, line 17, leave out from ‘on’ to ‘or disorder’ in line 29 and insert

‘two or more existing relevant premises licences in its area if, in the case of each of the premises concerned, it considers that—

(a) there has been nuisance to members of the public, or a section of the public, or disorder, on or near the premises,

(b) the nuisance or disorder is associated with the consumption of alcohol on the premises or with the consumption of alcohol supplied on the premises,

(c) there is likely to be a repetition of nuisance or disorder that is so associated, and

(d) it is appropriate to impose the conditions for the purposes of mitigating or preventing the nuisance’.

132, in schedule 4, page 124, line 33, leave out ‘in the locality concerned’ and insert

‘to which the resolution applies’.

133, in schedule 4, page 124, line 40, leave out ‘in a locality’.

134, in schedule 4, page 124, leave out lines 43 to 45.

135, in schedule 4, page 125, line 9, leave out the words from first ‘the’ to ‘resolution’ in line 11 and insert

‘holders of the relevant premises licences to which the resolution is to apply and the responsible authorities for the premises concerned are consulted before the’.

136, in schedule 4, page 126, line 31, leave out ‘in particular localities’ and insert ‘for existing certificates’.

137, in schedule 4, page 126, line 33, leave out from ‘on’ to ‘or disorder’ in line 45 and insert

‘two or more existing relevant club premises certificates in its area if, in the case of each of the premises concerned, it considers that—

(a) there has been nuisance to members of the public, or a section of the public, or disorder, on or near the premises,

(b) the nuisance or disorder is associated with the consumption of alcohol on the premises or with the consumption of alcohol supplied on the premises,

(c) there is likely to be a repetition of nuisance or disorder that is so associated, and

(d) it is appropriate to impose the conditions for the purposes of mitigating or preventing the nuisance’.

138, in schedule 4, page 127, line 3, leave out ‘in the locality concerned’ and insert

‘to which the resolution applies’.

139, in schedule 4, page 127, line 10, leave out ‘in a locality’.

140, in schedule 4, page 127, leave out lines 13 to 15.

141, in schedule 4, page 127, line 25, leave out the words from first ‘the’ to ‘resolution’ in line 27 and insert

‘holders of the relevant club premises certificates to which the resolution is to apply and the responsible authorities for the premises concerned are consulted before the’.—(Mr. Alan Campbell.)

Question proposed, That the schedule, as amended, be the Fourth schedule to the Bill.

Photo of Hugh Bayley Hugh Bayley NATO Parliamentary Assembly UK Delegation

With this it will be convenient to consider new clause 6—Premises licences: authorised persons, interested parties and responsible authorities—

‘(1) The Licensing Act 2003 (c. 17) is amended as follows.

(2) After section 13(3)(d), insert—

“(e) a member of—

(i) the licensing authority in whose area the premises are situated, or

(ii) any other licensing authority if there are persons living in the area of that authority or bodies in the area of that authority who fall within subsection (3).’.

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

Looking at the schedule in the round—the desire to move to a mandatory condition requirement, and the more localised conditions—the main issue that it seeks to address is irresponsible drinking linked to irresponsible promotions and certain other activities. I sympathise with the Government on the need to address that issue, but the question is whether these provisions are the most appropriate way to do that, and what alternatives the Government explored before deciding on this route. Before I get into that, I am interested to know how the proposals will interlink and interrelate with the interesting partnership-based approaches taking place around the country.

I will draw on two models that are being developed, which seem to be making some ground and are being effective in the communities where they are operating. They are dealing with irresponsible drinking and cutting sales to those under age, and certainly one of them is addressing the longer-term social and educational issues. The first is the community alcohol project, which I am  sure the Minister knows. It was first piloted in St. Neots and is now being piloted in other parts of the country, around Cambridgeshire and elsewhere. It draws together trading standards, the police, the education sector, and the on and off-trade to ensure consistent messages for young people, and consistent enforcement and a greater understanding of how the law should operate.

The second model being put forward on a partnership or voluntary basis is the use of business improvement districts in areas with many pubs, clubs and off-licences—night-time economy—Broad street in Birmingham, for example. I went to Kingston the other day to see the BID in operation there. That model is very much part of trying to draw together the responsible retailers—if I can put it like that—and using them to put greater pressure on those that do not act responsibly. It is not being developed in a rigid, regulatory framework, but it is being used constructively. Some of the funding that is being raised through the BID structure is being invested in safety and the night-time economy—wardens, for example.

I am interested to hear what the Minister thinks about his proposed provisions, in the context of that very good work and those very good ideas that are being developed around the country. I am concerned that a rigid approach to licensing conditions could upset or undo some of the good practice in certain parts of the country—I accept that some of my examples are localised. I am concerned that such an approach could undermine some of the good partnership working that has been established and which certainly appears from initial evidence to be making a difference by making some of those communities safer. It is also addressing responsibility among retailers and getting to young people and making them appreciate the volume of alcohol that they are consuming and starting to deal with some of the other issues that we touched on in previous debates. It would certainly be a retrograde step if those initiatives and approaches were dissipated as a result of the proposed change.

But why have a mandatory code? The Minister will be aware that an alternative proposal was set out which was the concept of co-regulation. In other words, there would be a code of practice which off-licences and on-licence holders would abide by and which would effectively become part of the licence conditions. The licence conditions would state that a licensee would undertake to abide by the terms of that code drawn up between the industry and Government. It is a variant of what is proposed here, but it certainly appears to give greater flexibility and that stronger partnership working between business, Government and local authorities by an alternative means.

Because it is not statutory, such a code has certain flexibilities of modification and involvement. Once we have certain statutory requirements in place they are set in stone: we have to come back with statutory instruments and changing it becomes quite formalistic. There are arguments about whether that is appropriate, but it is an alternative model that has been suggested as a means of setting the bar and the standards. Equally it would ensure that compliance is operated and maintained by local authorities, for example by way of licence review if the conditions or the relevant code of practice or code of conduct are not complied with.

That sense of flexibility is what one gets as a driving force behind the proposals before us today. The regulatory impact assessment states on page 10:

“The advantage of introducing a code of practice through this mechanism rather than as a standalone Act of Parliament is flexibility.”

Well, if flexibility is one of the driving forces behind one of the proposals in the schedule, it would be interesting to hear why the Government decided to reject the concept of co-regulation. It could be structured in a way to provide flexibility, while setting appropriate standards for the way that alcohol is marketed and promoted and the approach taken by licensees.

The other issue that I am still not certain about is why the conditions the Government are suggesting, and the conditions that the regulatory impact assessment seems to suggest may be introduced, are so focused on the on-trade. It is all about the size of glasses that may be used in a pub or a club. The provisions seem to be about the control of an on-licence, but as we recognised, many of the problems also come from the off-trade and the volume of alcohol that may be sold at one particular time or how it is marketed. When we say that licensees will comply with the terms of these conditions, is a balance being thought through about the conditions that should apply to off-licences as well as to on-licences?

We need to recognise that the problems of alcohol-related disorder and alcohol consumption are part of a more complex picture. We have this increasing mix of alcohol consumed at home and alcohol consumed on licensed premises such as a pub or a club. A lot of alcohol may be consumed even before people reach the pub—the concept of pre-loading, and increasingly post-loading when they get home. The Minister needs to be cognisant of the fact that this is not simply about licensed premises such as pubs and clubs. That may be where some of the problems exhibit themselves, but the problems may be a consequence of indirect activities linked to the off-trade rather than specifically the on-trade. How does he envisage that this code of practice will operate to ensure that an appropriate balance is struck?

Similarly, there has been some suggestion—I hinted at this during the evidence session when I put a question to the Minister—regarding what I think are good schemes: the Think 21 and, increasingly, the Think 25 that the industry are now adopting. To ensure compliance on under-age sales, businesses are saying that if someone looked younger than a certain age, that person would need to provide some sort of identification to assure that he or she was indeed over 18. That has been developed by the industry, and is being rolled out more widely. I support its adoption because it provides certain means, a safety net, of ensuring that the 18 age requirement is met.

If the Minister was tempted to mandate a condition on the industry to adopt a Think 25 or Think 21 strategy, it would probably be incumbent on trading standards departments to send people around who are 21 or 20—or look 20—to test that that approach is being taken. If he did that, he would almost be indirectly setting a further age verification requirement by the back door, so that if a business sold alcohol to somebody who was over the statutory age of 18, but looked under 21 or 25, it would be effectively breaking the law, the licensing conditions and everything that go with it.

That approach had been developed as a way of ensuring compliance with the 18 age requirement. By seeking to set the approach as a condition, there is more to it than appears at face value: whether mandating that age is setting a further regulatory hurdle that will have to be tested and complied with, and whether that is intended by virtue of putting good practice as best practice. Mandating the approach as a condition would bring some potential issues and problems.

Are we thinking of just micro-managing the size of glasses? Is that what it is all about? One gets a sense that that is the case when looking at the regulatory impact assessment. I am not sure about the extent to which a mandatory code would represent an intention to try to micro-manage operations in that way, and I am interested to hear the Minister’s view on that issue.

Equally, there is the issue of the application to licensees more generally. One concern that the Mayor of London has put forward in his briefing note for the clause is that

“the mandatory conditions will impose blanket regulations across the board, which will not take account of local conditions. Mandatory conditions (without exemption) that apply to village halls, or sports and members clubs could impose a significant burden on them.”

The Minister has introduced certain changes in other parts of the Bill to deal with private premises, as they may be described, but the possible unintended consequence of that is that he might set additional high hurdles or restrictions on those sorts of outlets that may not be appropriate. While I note that he is trying to reserve the approach of saying that the conditions may apply to a specific class of licensees, is that what he intends by that language, that certain places, such as community halls, might fall outside the mandatory conditions in certain circumstances? I do not know, and it will be interesting to hear from him whether the language that has been adopted addresses that.

Clearly, we have the potential regulatory burden, and one issue that was clearly highlighted in the regulatory impact assessment is the potential costs on businesses. I return to the statement in paragraph 19 of the assessment:

“However, we recognise that in the short run, there is the potential for significant transitional costs including job losses and the closure of small businesses.”

The Minister is absolutely right that the statement that we had from the British Beer and Pub Association during our evidence session was that they could not say that the regulatory impact would close down all the pubs, and that it was a more complex situation, but it is relevant that even the regulatory impact assessment contemplates that businesses will shut as a consequence of the legislation. That may not be about driving out bad businesses, but about the regulatory position that has been put in there. Good businesses that are complying with the law, being responsible, and trying to adhere to what might be regarded as good social responsibility practice, may be forced out because of the costs and burdens being applied.

What discussions has the Minister had with the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform on the proposals? Has it expressed any concerns about the application of the provisions? Equally, what discussions has he had on licensing more generally with the Department for—what is it called?—Communities and—[Hon. Members: “DCLG.”] Yes, DCLG—but in fact the Department for Culture, Media and Sport is  the Department I was looking for; there are so many different acronyms for Departments now. DCMS’s review of the Licensing Act noted concerns about the regulatory burdens and the flexibility within the licensing arrangements, and said that more flexibility within the existing licensing regime may be more appropriate. How is this consistent with that and how does it fit in?

We have touched in detail on the fettered discretion of local authorities regarding the nature of the conditions and how the licensing review fits into that. It is difficult to understand properly how it fits together until the code is published, so our comments have to be reserved until the final code is revealed and the consultation has been completed. I still feel that we are debating in a vacuum, notwithstanding the Minister’s assurance on the consultation, because we do not know the end result—so we can debate some of the principles, but as always the devil is in the detail.

I am genuinely sorry that the hon. Member for Stourbridge cannot be here this afternoon, and I understand why. Her proposal, new clause 6, has merit and I am happy to speak in support of it. My understanding of the new clause is that it would add councillors in local authorities to the list of interested parties pursuant to the licensing regime. One real frustration over the Licensing Act has been that local councillors have not been able to object or make representations directly, because they lived more than 100 m away from the relevant premises. The approach to who can make representations in relation to a licence is restrictive, which has been a problem.

Photo of Sally Keeble Sally Keeble Labour, Northampton North 2:45 pm, 12th February 2009

I agree with the issues about representations, but it is possible for elected representatives to make representations, provided they have the agreement of a local resident. Therefore, it is possible, but there is a process.

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I agree that, in essence, councillors, and indeed Members of Parliament, can do that. I have had to say that I was appointed by a particular resident to make representations on their behalf as their agent. It seems so perverse and peculiar that we have to go through that formal process of ensuring that we have someone who lives within 100 m of the licensed premises. It would be sensible, particularly for ward councillors, to be able to have an interest in applications and in making representations, given that they are supposed to be the representatives of the people living within that area. Therefore, I sympathise with the purpose of new clause 6, which appears to embody those points and add them into the Licensing Act. It avoids the formulaic and unnecessary process the local councillors need to go through to participate in something that directly affects their ward. After all, they would be able to get involved on issues such as planning.

I should be interested to hear the Minister’s response to new clause 6, because it touches on a relevant and serious point. I hope that it will be given some consideration and that this debate about the amendments and the new clause tabled by the hon. Member for Stourbridge will be reported to her.

Photo of Sally Keeble Sally Keeble Labour, Northampton North

On that last point, I must say that I was taken aback at having to produce a signed consent form from a local resident agreeing to my representing them in a licensing application. I, like the hon. Gentleman,  thought it a bit odd, given how it is normally accepted that when we, as elected representatives, speak on behalf of our constituents, we do just that. The only justification I can find for the provision is that the situation under discussion involves a quasi-legal process, so we also perform a function that has a direct financial bearing on local businesses. Although I agree that the measure goes strongly against a particular principle, it will add rigour to our thinking and representations. Like the hon. Gentleman, I shall be interested to hear my hon. Friend’s response.

Schedule 4 goes to the heart of the Bill, which is why it is infuriating that we will have so little information about the proposed code and so little access to the process until the code is published. It is also why I ask my hon. Friend the Minister for the definition of reasonableness. We all say that, by and large, drinking in pubs is reasonable. Indeed, many of us think it reasonable to go to the corner shop to buy some alcohol, and to do so outside our former licensing hours. We accept that, but we then end up with the current binge drinking problem among young people, and everyone says, “How did we get here?” I am concerned that, unless we are clear about what society considers to be the reasonable drinking and selling of alcohol, we will end up with a mandatory code that does either too much or too little.

I am concerned also because the opportunities to legislate on this matter are extremely rare. I first became interested in the happy hour issue when a constituent’s son died after following a happy hour promotion at a pub. He got very drunk and behaved in what was thought to be a threatening way to a man, who thumped him quite heftily. Unfortunately, the man was a doorkeeper at a pub in town, and my constituent’s son fell over, hit his head on a kerb and died a couple of days later. He was not remotely threatening, but his behaviour was read as such, and if he had not been drinking, he would not have behaved in that way. He was a student, did not have much money, was in a pub with a special promotion, and that is what happened. Moving from that day to this, we reach the point where regulations might have to be put in place. However, we must get them right, because, if it is another 10 years before such an opportunity comes along again, a lot of mischief will be done, the public will have to live with the consequences of it and it will be impossible for us to regulate.

I am not so concerned about the question, “Why nine?” There are fewer than 10 commandments, and that is the only significance I can see in the figure. I am, however, extremely concerned about what the nine conditions will be. It is important that they are seen, not just by the industry but by the public, as the nine key things that can be used to manage one of the public malaises of the present time—the chronic rise in binge drinking, particularly among young people. This is a Public Bill Committee, not a policy debate, so I will not go into all the statistics; those are on the record not only on crime but also on health consequences for young people.

It is extremely important that we know what the nine proposed conditions are. I agree with the hon. Member for Hornchurch; if they concern types of glasses and similar matters, people will think that we have taken  leave of our senses. Everybody will accept that there are much bigger fish to fry than the issue about glasses, important though that is.

I completely accept the point made by the hon. Member for Hornchurch, my hon. Friend the Minister and others that the bulk of the industry is perfectly reasonable, operates properly and wants to help people live and work in a decent society. There are many other ways in which local authorities, pubwatches and other bodies—I have a very good pubwatch in Northampton—can work to mitigate some of the downsides of the night-time economy and drinking generally. However, those are special interest groups; some are in industry, some in local government and some are law enforcement agencies. They are not generally collective upholders of the public interest and do not have powers to regulate within it. That power rests with the Government, and that is why this legislation is so important.

In the discussions so far, the lists and names that I have heard are all honourable organisations and I would not question their motives or integrity. Some, such as Alcohol Concern, are outstanding. I have deep respect for the retailers and know that some do outstanding work in managing their businesses properly. However, such groups have particular interests at heart. I am concerned that I have not heard the list of those representatives of the public interest with whom my hon. Friend has spoken. Secondly, I have not heard what might be in the code. It is clear that discussions have been going on and that people in industry know what the discussions are about. It is wrong that certain sectoral interests should have access to that information while MPs who are debating this matter and making decisions on it do not.

My hon. Friend is shaking his head. Maybe no one has seen a list, but there will have been discussions on different issues and points of concern for the industry. We are looking at a matter that is of great concern to our constituents, and MPs should know roughly the content of those discussions and which general areas are being considered. I hope that my hon. Friend will say what those areas are in his reply, but in case he does not, I have a few suggestions.

The first suggestion is about minimum pricing. That issue is deeply controversial—I introduced a ten-minute Bill on the subject. Whenever I ask about it people say, “Don’t worry; we are not doing that but we are doing something about happy hours.” I do not accept that doing something about happy hours is compensation for not doing something about minimum pricing or pricing more generally. The general consensus is that happy hours are not a good idea. It is accepted that they should be regulated against.

The hon. Member for Hornchurch has repeatedly mentioned a change in drinking patterns. I cannot conceive why anyone would want to stop people buying a pint of beer for 89p or 99p, as in some of the special pub promotions, when they are not being stopped from going to a supermarket and buying 3 litres of a much stronger cider—White Lightning, say—for something over £1. A Department of Health study reveals that price and availability are factors in leading to people drinking too much and causing antisocial behaviour. If price is a factor, then one has to hit both the happy hours and the White Lightnings, especially since White  Lightning benefits from the lower tax rates that apply to ciders. It seems the tax system rewards the drinks industry for producing a noxious drink that makes people very drunk very cheaply. I therefore want to know that there will be a level playing field between the on and off-licence. We have not had much discussion about the off-licence. On the pricing issues, the regulatory framework is roughly the same. One can take the same attitude to price, whether people are drinking in a pub, or going to the supermarket and then going to the pub, provided they are over 18, to get blind drunk there.

The second suggestion concerns labelling, which goes back to the issue of responsibility and what is reasonable in the sale of alcohol. Do people actually know what they are drinking? If I go to a pub or buy something from an off-licence, I normally have no idea how many units I am drinking. I very much hope that one of the mandatory conditions will stipulate that drinks are labelled or that people are told how many units they are drinking. Again, it would have to apply to an on and off-licence.

When I introduced my ten-minute Bill and I talked about this to the industry, they said, “Well, that’s very stupid. The kids would look at the strength of the drink and the price, and then work out how they could get really drunk cheaply.” But it is important for the ordinary, reasonable drinker to know how much they are drinking, so that they know whether they will get into trouble if they drive, or to limit their intake for health reasons. I wonder, therefore, whether the code will deal with labelling and whether that will include on and off-licences.

The third suggestion concerns alcohol displays and whether they will be in the code. We know that to protect children from the evil consequences of smoking, cigarettes must be hidden under the counter and not even displayed behind the counter. But the same child going into the corner shop can trip over a whole shedload of super-strength lager right in the middle of the shop on their way to buy the bread for tea. If we think that exposure to something that is damaging to health should be managed, we ought to look at the issue of alcohol displays.

In the case of convenience store displays, the store is also the place where people buy alcohol. In Scotland, they have taken quite an extreme approach. I understand that parts of Australia have adopted a similar approach and I personally think that they are rather severe given the size of some corner shops. I would want the code to cover such aspects as what is thought to be appropriate for a corner shop whose primary purpose is to sell food, or for a supermarket, where there are issues about whether the alcohol is in one place or pepperminted around the shop. How does that relate to displays of drinks in pubs and clubs? It is really important, again, that the code deals with off-licence as well as on-licence.

One reason why it is important to know what the thinking is and what the possibilities are for the code is that consultation with the public, who are concerned about the issues, takes much longer than Departments give credit for. Three months, which is the usual time given, is just about enough to get through the cycle of local community meetings. If there is to be a proper consultation, there needs to be the opportunity to take the issues out and look at them carefully. Being given a list of nine and asked, “This is a proposal, what do you  think of it?” is not quite the same as having real discussions to identify the public’s priorities and looking to codify them in an organised fashion. I hope that my hon. Friend will say what timetable he is proposing. If the list of nine is to be drawn up, or if the draft code is to be ready by the time of Royal Assent, what will be the options for change? At what point will we as Members, or the public, get to see it?

One reason why it is of such concern is that some of the decisions that have to be made might seem small to the people drawing up the code or to the industry, but are massive to the people out there living with the consequences. I shall provide my hon. Friend with one example. Convenience stores—corner shops—rely on alcohol sales for 14 per cent. of their turnover. Anything that affects their viability—such as a code that set the wrong standards for in-store promotions or the amount of space devoted to alcohol sales—could put a corner shop out of business. The impact on some estates—we all know them: the post office is gone, the newsagent is struggling—would be profound indeed. There needs to be a discussion with the public about their concerns and priorities. Do they want to see the sale of alcohol managed to prevent the antisocial behaviour that sometimes occurs after youths have been out buying tins of alcohol in the local shop? Or would they prefer to find some other way to manage drinking? There may be a risk to the future of the shop. There are some major issues, which it is important for the public to be in a position to discuss. As I said, the schedule is probably the only chance that we have to deal with the issues, and may well be the only chance for a long time.

As others have said, the pattern of drinking is shifting. It has shifted from going down to the pub, having a few drinks and going home, to getting cheap alcohol from off-licences, going home to drink it, then going out and drinking again afterwards. Another issue is access to different types of drinks. I am concerned that we might end up with a code that is driven by yesterday’s agenda and which does not catch up, anticipate and deal properly with the current patterns of drinking and their impact on the well-being of our constituents and their community.

Everything that I have seen, and the input from my constituents, shows that this is a major area of concern. I receive much fewer complaints about pubs and clubs than about the drunken antisocial behaviour of people who have had drink elsewhere. I would hate it if we had a code that was toothless, or had the wrong teeth, and we then had to wait another 10 years for another real opportunity to deal with the problem again. It is important that we get this code and I ask my hon. Friend to tell us in exactly which areas thinking is going on that will lead to the choice of the nine items.

Can my hon. Friend also bring forward the publication of the draft? I am hoping to do an online consultation—I have already written to ask if he will come to launch it. I want to be absolutely sure that all the different interest groups that have expressed concern—the police, doctors, head teachers, the National Union of Students—get a really good chance to have their input as to how they want to see drink managed and regulated in our society so that it can be a source of pleasure and we can reduce the incidence of antisocial behaviour and health and other problems linked with it.

Photo of Paul Holmes Paul Holmes Liberal Democrat, Chesterfield 3:15 pm, 12th February 2009

I will address my points mainly to new clause 6. It was tabled by the hon. Member for Stourbridge. Unfortunately she cannot be here today, so I have added my name to it so that I can also speak to it. The initial arguments for the new clause could be taken as part of all the issues we have been repeating throughout these debates about the need for devolution and decentralisation, but let us park all that on one side on this occasion, because it is a new clause that has been submitted by a Labour Member. Those on the Conservative Front Bench have also expressed their support for it and we also support it, so it has a remarkable degree of cross-party support.

The clause is not asking the Government to reverse the whole thrust of central direction and give local government more power; it is asking for a simple, logical amendment or extension of a power that is already in the Licensing Act 2003. The issue is that, at the moment, a ward councillor can only make objections to the licensing authority if they are acting directly on behalf of a resident of the ward. The hon. Member for Northampton, North said that that is not a problem because members of the ward can approach the ward councillor and take the issue up. It seems strange that the councillor cannot do so directly and it raises particular problems if they can act only on the open public instruction of one of their ward members. There is the basic, democratic principle that an elected ward councillor should surely be able to make representations about something that happens in their ward, but particular problems can arise.

I want to give an example, from a London councillor whom I know personally. In 2007 a nightclub in inner London was raided by the police. As a result, a premises licence review was instigated. Local residents who were concerned about the club and had sensitive, confidential information about drug dealing on the premises went to their ward councillor and asked if the councillor would raise their concerns in the licence committee hearing. However, under the present licensing regime from the 2003 Act that can only be done if the residents will publicly declare who they are. As we were dealing with local residents living near a club, where drug dealing was taking place, the residents were too frightened and were not prepared to go public. The council would have done so but could not, because the provisions of the Licensing Act 2003 state that council can do only so when acting in the name of publicly declared local residents. The licence holder’s lawyers were therefore able to effectively gag the elected representative, thus requiring the councillor to leave the committee hearing without putting forward the concerns about drug dealing on the premises.

It seems strange that although the 2003 Act makes provision for licence reviews and for local voters to make objections, it does not automatically allow an elected local councillor to do exactly the same. As a general democratic principle, I urge the Government to look at new clause 6, since it has obvious cross-party support in most cases. It is not only a democratic principle, however, but a practical issue of residents who live above premises that cause problems being simply too scared to go public and give evidence, whereas their ward council could do so.

A temporary events notice works on the same principle, in that the police can object, but local councillors, the local council as a whole, and the environmental health  authority cannot, so they have to lobby the police to raise an objection. A new schedule that I tabled on the matter was not selected for debate, but the subject follows the same principle as the issue of a ward councillor on a licence review. Why not simply allow a local authority’s ward councillors to make objections, rather than have them follow a circuitous route that does not always lead anywhere? The argument can be seen as being about devolving power, but if we leave that to one side, it is actually about making a simple change to legislation introduced by the Government in 2003 that would allow it to work much more effectively and allow local elected representatives to do their job properly.

The Bill and the schedule aim to deal with the problem of sales of alcohol to under-age people from on-premises as well as off-premises. The Bill also aims to deal with the issue of premises selling cheap alcohol in happy hour deals and all you can drink deals. However, it misses the opportunity to deal with the much greater problem of the sale of cheap alcohol from off-premises. While some pubs and clubs have happy hours, all you can drink deals and so on, the vast majority of supermarkets take part in loss-leader sales of alcohol at very cheap prices, and some of the larger off-licence chains do so, too, on a regular basis. In my experience, the majority of complaints that I receive from my constituents relate to the problem of cheap alcohol getting into the hands of people, both under and over age, who then drink it in public places. I obviously receive complaints about Chesterfield town centre, where the central pubs and clubs are located, and some complaints about Brimington and Staveley town centre, but the vast majority of complaints that come to me, and as far as I can see from talking to the police, that go to them, concern young people, some over age, many under age, drinking cheap alcohol that they bought from off-licence premises, in the parks, children’s play areas, cemeteries, bus shelters, and all the other public areas where they can gather. They pose much the greater problem, yet the Bill, despite have some welcome measures, seems to sidestep that.

In some countries, supermarket customers who wish to buy alcohol must go into a separate, sectioned-off part of the store rather than finding it while walking through the aisles containing food, sweets and frozen goods. The alcohol is not just placed in two or three separate aisles on the premises: the customers actually have to go through a door into a separate section. Why can such simple measures not be considered? When will the next Bill in which we could take those steps come along and how big a missed opportunity will this be if the Government do not respond to that?

Photo of Alan Campbell Alan Campbell Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Crime Reduction)

We have had a wide-ranging and useful debate. I will begin with the comments made by the hon. Member for Hornchurch on community alcohol projects and the work done by St. Neots, and business improvement districts. I welcome both projects, which play an important part in helping to address the issue, and hope that they do well. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the importance of putting pressure on bad premises, particularly in business improvement districts. That is in the interests of not only the wider community, but good premises. He also made a point about problems in parts of the country, as he described it, but unfortunately few parts of the country are not touched by the issues we  are talking about, and we believe that we need to do more about the bad premises to which he referred, using a combined mandatory and local approach.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether we have had discussions with the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform and other Departments, and the answer is yes, there have been wide-ranging discussions and sign-up by the Departments, which bring a slightly different perspective to the issue, but we share a view across Government and acknowledge the importance of flexibility in what we are doing. There ought to be and is concern across Government about the impact of regulation. We believe that the Bill’s measures allow flexibility but are not over-burdensome.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned village halls. Proposed new section 19A(1) states:

“The Secretary of State may by order specify conditions relating to the supply of alcohol and applicable to all relevant premises licences or relevant premises licences of a particular description if the Secretary of State considers it appropriate to do so”.

That gives us an opportunity to look at how wide ranging the mandatory part of that should be. Of course, that will depend on what the code will look like. My hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North has been a stout campaigner on that issue and raised some important points. I refer again to the commitments I made earlier to send her and other members of the Committee a list of all the bodies we have talked to and to send a copy of the draft code as soon as possible, although I cannot give a firm date. I remind my hon. Friend that we are looking at wider, extensive consultation, to use the Home Secretary’s word, and that there is a further parliamentary process before those measures can be brought in and at each stage they will be open to influence.

My hon. Friend asked what will be in the code, but I cannot give her specifics because we are trying to determine the extent of and obtain sign-up to what will be in the code. The number of conditions will not have to be nine, because the Bill stipulates nine as a maximum figure. We would not want to start with a blank sheet of paper in any consultation. There has already been wide discussion of many of the issues. Committee members could already agree on areas that are commonly of concern, such as irresponsible promotions, whether on or off-sales. She said, and to some extent I agree with her, that if it is just about matters such as glass size it will not be enough. Of course it will not be enough, but nevertheless there is concern about consumer choice and the size of glasses or whether free tap water is available in pubs. We do not have to consume alcohol in a pub, so why do pubs not supply free tap water?

The licensing provisions are not concerned primarily with reducing consumption, as my hon. Friend acknowledged in her remarks, but with reducing crime and disorder. It is important, of course, that we discuss widely and look at matters such as labelling, units and all of those health-related issues. That is not the specific focus of this legislation.

A number of hon. Members have talked about pricing. The price in pubs has never been the same as in supermarkets. There has always been that difference and we can argue about how great a one it is. I take seriously the comments made by my hon. Friend about  White Lightning. She also talked about displays and loss-leaders, and I acknowledge that those are areas of concern. Whether they are addressed through this particular measure or others, they are nevertheless areas of concern and include the issue around units.

The hon. Member for Hornchurch asked why we need to go down this route if one has the community alcohol project, the good work with industry and all of those things. The simple answer is that when we asked KPMG to conduct an independent review into how standards were operating based on the voluntary sign-up to the social responsibility standards, it concluded that there was not widespread recognition of those among alcohol retailers, and that they had little or no effect on reducing crime and disorder. We welcome the work being done by industry and the voluntary sector but that voluntary approach has not worked sufficiently, and in some cases it simply has not worked. Therefore, we need to go further by introducing a mandatory code to make people step up to the mark in those areas where there is considerable concern.

I keep going back to the enabling power, which is what we are discussing here. It is an enabling power and the mandatory conditions will come later. The whole point is to attack the binge drinking culture, not to attack responsible drinkers. Pre-loading has been mentioned on a number of occasions. The off-sales sector needs to take that issue very seriously. Whether it could be addressed by the approach we are talking about is difficult. How could that be put into the legislation? If, having pre-loaded, a person then goes out, drinks more and gets into trouble in a pub or club, that is an enforcement matter. We have to be careful about what we can or cannot do. We are aiming at the binge drinking culture and its effects. We are not aiming at the people who go out day after day, work hard, come home and go to the supermarket at the weekend to buy something for a decent meal and a bottle of wine. They are not the people this legislation is meant to focus on. Of course, they need to drink their wine with knowledge about the possible health effects, but they are not the ones who by and large cause the trouble. It is the ones who do cause trouble that we need to get at.

Photo of Paul Holmes Paul Holmes Liberal Democrat, Chesterfield 3:30 pm, 12th February 2009

Does the Minister accept that the same principle applies to people who go to pubs? Most people go to pubs and drink responsibly but the legislation is looking to impose a sort of minimum pricing system by apparently preventing happy hours and all you can drink offers. We do not want to penalise responsible drinkers in pubs—I would judge myself as one—but with the off-licence trade, why not look at applying minimum pricing, without penalising the sensible drinkers?

Photo of Alan Campbell Alan Campbell Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Crime Reduction)

The minimum pricing argument is very interesting. We have ruled out, as far as the mandatory code is concerned, minimum pricing, partly because of the reasons we discussed earlier. The evidence we have suggests there would have to be a dramatic increase in pricing in order to have a significant effect on people’s drinking habits. That is a clear message. Rather than the one or two pence in tax on alcohol having an effect, to be honest if someone is going out and spending £50 or £60 in an evening a small increase in price will not make much difference.

Photo of Sally Keeble Sally Keeble Labour, Northampton North

The awful killing of the young goth girl was by a young man who had drunk so much. To get drunk cost him only a fiver, not £50. If it cost £50 to get drunk, I would say, well fine, not many people get drunk. However, it is a fact that you can get plastered for a fiver on very cheap alcohol that has had a tax concession or is a loss-leader. Very cheap alcohol is lethal, relates directly to crime and needs to be tackled.

Photo of Alan Campbell Alan Campbell Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Crime Reduction)

I do not disagree with my hon. Friend that there is an issue around loss-leaders, nor do I disagree with her when she says that there is an issue about the level of taxation. For example, it is true to say that in the Scotch whisky industry the levels of taxation have been varied in the past predominately to protect the jobs of that industry. Someone could make the argument, with the price of a bottle of Scotch whisky now compared with what it was, and compare it with the price of beer or wine, and there may well be an issue there. However, what we are talking about here is whether we have minimum pricing. The Government have taken the decision, particularly at this time, not to make it a mandatory condition. If, however, anyone wants to take it up as a local condition, the same difficulties with minimum pricing would actually apply. Minimum pricing in one local area and not in another area would presumably breach competition law. Minimum pricing—I am not saying that we are not prepared to look at minimum pricing and I am not saying that there is still not a discussion to be had—is a complex issue and our present position is that we do not want it to be a mandatory condition.

With regard to new clause 6, I am slightly bemused by the idea that, by virtue of the Licensing Act, a local councillor has been prevented from doing the job that we want that councillor to do. There are two ways, of course, in which a councillor can act. They can act if they are a resident in that particular area. Reference was made to a club that was associated with drugs. There is an issue far beyond licensing if there is a drug problem that needs to be addressed, but if the councillor is a resident in that area, why can he or she not, even if all the other residents are scared, begin to take up that issue themselves, not as a councillor but as a resident? They can do that.

Photo of Paul Holmes Paul Holmes Liberal Democrat, Chesterfield

Obviously, where the ward councillor lives in the ward, they can do that, but of course not all live in their ward. Sometimes they live a yard over the boundary, sometimes they live quite a way away, especially in urban and city areas. It is an issue and the Local Government Association, which obviously deals with many such issues, feels strongly that this is an obstacle, and I gave one particular example from the inner London borough.

Photo of Alan Campbell Alan Campbell Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Crime Reduction)

It is a long-running argument and I understand that. I sometimes believe that there is some misinformation or misunderstanding about the true powers that a councillor would have as a resident in an area. But of course, they also have influence in an area provided someone brings that issue to them. I would—this is my reply on new clause 6—be very careful about putting a councillor in a position where for example they became an interested party themselves. If they are part of the licensing authority, there is the issue of them wearing two hats. We have to be conscious of that.

Photo of Paul Holmes Paul Holmes Liberal Democrat, Chesterfield

I had thought about raising that issue, but perhaps we should not go down that track because there is the whole issue of the restrictions on councillors and how, if they are part of the planning authority and the licensing authority as well, they are hamstrung. They cannot represent their ward because they cannot speak out on something in their ward because they are then banned from voting when it comes to planning committee or licensing. That is a different area and not specifically for us, but the Government need to look at the issue. It seems strange that a councillor is elected to represent an area but then banned from actually saying anything on planning or licensing issues that are really getting local people wound up.

To return to the intimidation point in the example that was given, local residents who live next to a club or pub, or wherever the problems might be, are scared, whereas an elected representative might still be scared but is less likely to be. They took on the job of being the elected representative so that they could take up such issues, but they are not allowed to under the 2004 Act in those circumstances.

Photo of Hugh Bayley Hugh Bayley NATO Parliamentary Assembly UK Delegation

We will have to leave planning issues out of the discussion.

Photo of Alan Campbell Alan Campbell Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Crime Reduction)

Thank you, Mr. Bayley. We are defining circumstances in which an individual might believe that they are not able to do the job that they thought they were being elected to do. In the example described, I am not sure that it is only the residents who are concerned about that club. The police will have concerns and they can play their full part in that process too. I am not quite sure that I would agree with the hon. Gentleman on that.

The hon. Gentleman could say that one of the reasons why councillors need to be seen in a particular way in the light of the legislation is the fact that any attempt to change a licence would be the basis, heaven forbid, for a “Focus” leaflet and a campaign. We need to make sure that it is part of the political process but we need to make sure that there is not a party political knockabout every time that anyone wants to change their licence in a particular area.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned temporary event notices. We have discussed that before in the context of lap dancing, and I told him that we are concerned about this. Officials in my Department are looking into the matter. It has been drawn to the attention of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and it has agreed to consider it too, not just in the context of lap dancing but in the context to which the hon. Gentleman referred. If we are talking about community empowerment, whether it is for licensing or lap dancing, we have to make sure that as far as possible that extends not just to the police.

There are issues about members of licensing authorities and licensing authorities and what role they would play if they were in a different scenario. At the end of the day the licensing authority must be the adjudicator between a responsible authority and an interested party. We have to maintain that gap between the role of the authority, the interested parties and the licensee. Our fear is that if the new clause was accepted, that distinction would be blurred. One of the effects might be that the impartiality of the authority could be called into question.  It is not about weakening the powers of licensing committees. To be honest, I wish that they would make more use of their powers. They need to be more robust. People need to have more confidence in licensing committees. I am not absolutely sure that his proposal would do very much to address that impartiality.

I understand that the Local Government Association supports the new clause. I hope that I have not given the impression that we are not sympathetic to it. We are. My officials met recently with representatives from the LGA and other stakeholders to discuss mandatory and general licensing conditions, and we will continue to work with them both in both this regard and to consider the issues raised by the new clause. I hope that the new clause will not be pressed to a vote.

Question put and agreed to.

Schedule 4, as amended, agreed to.