Our amendment would extend the Government’s proposed deregulation—if that is what it is—to allow an applicant a maximum of 15 temporary event notices by increasing the number to 18.
Clause 38 is under the heading “Alcohol and entertainment”, so this is a reasonable moment to reflect on the Government’s alcohol strategy. Before coming to power, the Prime Minister promised to get to grips with the root cause of alcohol problems, with a strategy to attack alcohol harm from every angle. However, we have had a U-turn on minimum unit pricing, which was once the key to the Government’s approach; a U-turn on multi-buy discounts, which is one of the causes of binge drinking, pre-loading and the resulting social problems; a failure to bring in significant licensing reforms, despite much talk about their likelihood; a late-night levy that is bringing in a fraction of what was promised. We have had little on education and nothing on advertising aimed at children. What is left is a ban on below-cost sales, which was announced four times and is expected to reduce alcohol sales by less than a 20th of 1%.
This week, we heard the news that only six people have completed the Government’s much-trumpeted sobriety scheme. We are approaching Lent, during which many people make the apparently attractive but rather tedious choice of giving up alcohol—I have done it myself before now. They will no doubt have a sober and mirthless laugh at the fact that only six people have taken up the Government’s sobriety scheme.
Does my hon. Friend agree that, given the Government’s action on minimum alcohol pricing and on plain packaging, it would be helpful if they gave up U-turning to big business for Lent?
That is an interesting way of putting it. We could also say that we wish they would give up U-turning to Lynton Crosby for Lent. Where exactly the motivation for some of the policies comes from, or why the Liberal Democrats feel the need to get behind them at every turn, I leave to people to consider.
It is a large Bill that achieves small things. Our amendment is perfectly sensible. The thing that hon. Members should be conscious of before supporting it is the context of the consultation and of what it is about.
A temporary event notice is a form sent to the licensing authority, police or environmental health officer when the organiser of an event wishes to serve or sell alcohol, provide late-night refreshment or put on regulated entertainment for fewer than 500 people over a prescribed period. Any individual premises may be used for 12 temporary events per year, up to a maximum of 21 days. Once the TEN has been received, the police or environmental health officers have three working days to make any objections to it. If there are objections, the council may organise a hearing to review them.
The measure in itself is a deregulatory one that is designed to support the alcohol and licensed pub industry, which is vital to our economy and our society, and others who wish to have specific temporary events to enable them better to celebrate great occasions. It might be the royal wedding that people want to celebrate and get behind, or the glorious performance of England in the World cup—or even Scotland qualifying. It could be anything. People might wish to have a party to celebrate the latest Labour election victory—rightly predicted by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central in her intervention. Whatever the cause or happy occasion, the TEN is there to support the general bonhomie and happiness of the area. We need to recognise, however, that there are two sides to that equation. There are neighbours who live next door to some of these establishments, so it is entirely sensible for there to be a limit somewhere. Where the correct limit is will probably be the key part of our debate today.
The existing policy states that there are 12 temporary event notices a year, which is about one a month—that seems reasonably sensible. I noticed that when the Government went out to consultation, of those who responded to the question of what any new limit should be, 66% supported going up to 18, which is what our amendment says, and only 14% an increase from 12 to 15. It is confusing of the Government, having taken the step of allowing more, to consult and get support for the general principle, only to support what the 14%, rather than the 66%, think should happen.
The Minister will get an opportunity to say whether the Government think, on reflection, that 18 would be a better number or whether they will stick to 15, but I am interested in his response on the Government decision. Given that there was a consultation—with cross-party agreement that there should be an increase—and the majority went for 18 rather than 15, why did the Minister choose to go for 15?
The change extends the possible provisions for one venue—there are still personal limits—and that is likely to be a help for small community venues and others. Labour believes that our night-time economies are vital to providing jobs and building growth and prosperity. We recognise the huge contribution to both our economy and our society that pubs make. The average pub or bar employs 10 people, often from those groups in society, such as young people and women, that are finding it most difficult to access employment at the moment. Anything that we can do, within the realms of ensuring that they are good neighbours, to support pubs, we should be looking to do. The Labour party supports any moves that help to grow this sector, while being conscious of the potential impact on the neighbourhood.
In many ways, the clause loosens restrictions on councils, which often want to promote evening entertainment events in certain areas. This minor amendment is a probing amendment. We are interested in what the Government have to say about why they decided to go for 15 rather than 18. It also provides an opportunity for Labour to say that sometimes we think that the Government have not gone far enough on deregulation, rather than too far.
It is important that we have a balance and recognise that it is horses for courses. We are not a party that is always in favour of regulation or always against regulation. We take each case on its merits. We think that in this case the Government could have been a little bolder, so we would like to push them on whether they think, on reflection, that going to 18, which would be one and a half a month or three every two months, is a sensible balance between the needs of the community, the demands on the local authority and supporting pubs. That is particularly relevant as we head towards an exciting summer of sport in 2014. We want places to play their rightful role in our society, community and, of course, economy.
I shall be brief. I acquiesce in the amendment without enthusiasm. I have to say that my one appearance in a court of law was in a magistrates court to apply for the extension of a licence. My hon. Friend talks about celebrating; that was to commemorate or to commiserate with comrades when we had lost an election. It was very sad. I happened to be a candidate in 1983. We have had many celebrations since then, but 1983 was not a good year.
I am happy with increasing the number, but I strongly opposed the liberalisation of the licensing laws and really believe that we should go back to the restrictions that we had in the past. I like to think that both hospitals and police forces would agree with that, because of the appalling Saturday-night behaviour of drunken people at accident and emergency departments and the problems that the police have in dealing with drunks in the street late at night.
All that would be reduced if we went back to the more sensible licensing hours that we had before. This is not about responsible organisations having extensions and having special events and so on, which is fine—especially if it is the Labour party. I think that licensing laws have become far too liberal and we should go back to where we were before. I made it clear to my colleagues in the previous Government that I felt like this, so it is not something new.
Let me start by commenting on what the hon. Member for Chesterfield said. He accused the Government of U-turning in relation to big business. It is a pity that under the previous Government there were not fewer U-turns in relation to the big banks back in 2008, when they performed so many pirouettes. That has left us in the position that we are in. I think that it was the shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, who was the Minister for the City at the time, who was responsible for that calamity.
The focus has been partly on why the Government settled on 15 as opposed to 18 temporary event notices. I will deal with that issue. There was a suggestion that the Government’s alcohol strategy has failed. I refute that. I could start by asking the hon. Gentleman why his Government did not introduce any pricing measures.
Toby Perkins rose—
I will come back on that point at the end; I have a lot to say about it.
The right hon. Gentleman misquotes me. He said that I thought the Government’s alcohol strategy had failed, but I do not detect an alcohol strategy. I am not accusing him of having one; I am saying that there is not one. If they had had one that failed, that would be an improvement on where we are right now.
I will set out for the hon. Gentleman what the Government’s alcohol strategy is. We will be the first Government to introduce measures to ban the sale of alcohol below cost, which the hon. Gentleman’s Government did not do. That will tackle the worst excesses.
We are seeing the level of drinking and binge drinking on a downward, rather than an upward, trend. The Government have radically reformed the previous Government’s Licensing Act 2003 and we are introducing new local tools and powers. The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central may be aware that the late-night levy has already been adopted by Newcastle, Cheltenham and Islington and that other places are consulting. Far from not having an alcohol strategy, we have one that is effective and clearly streets ahead—sober streets ahead—of what was done by the previous Government.
Minimum unit pricing is still under consideration. We do not yet have enough concrete evidence that it would be effective in reducing the harms associated with problem drinking without penalising people who drink responsibly, but we will continue to monitor the situation, particularly as it pertains to Scotland.
There was a question about why we settled on 15 rather than 18 temporary event notices. The hon. Member for Chesterfield suggested that he might be a little confused about why the Government did that. Well, I am confused about something that the hon. Gentleman has done, which I will come to shortly. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that in the consultation, of the 40% who wanted an increase—usually people from the licensed trade and community organisation—two thirds wanted the increase to be at 18, not 15. However, the hon. Gentleman will know that if 40% wanted an increase, 60% did not. He extrapolates from that that the Government should go for 18, which is what he is advocating, so clearly he needs to talk to his hon. Friends and perhaps get an update on some basic maths: the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central is in a position to give him that.
On the subject of basic maths, the right hon. Gentleman was wrong to say that if 40% were in favour 60% were against. I think that 52% were against. He seems to be saying that the majority thought that the policy was a bad idea and, of those who thought it was a good idea, the majority thought that what they were doing was a bad idea and, therefore, using a double negative, it must be a good policy.
We will settle the difference and stick to that.
The Government, having considered the consultation and looked at the responses, decided to propose an increase from 12 to 15. The clause amends the 2003 Act, as the hon. Gentleman knows, to increase the number of TENs that may be given to the same premises in each calendar year from 12 to 15. The hon. Gentleman’s amendment 16 would go further, by increasing the annual limit from 12 to 18 per year.
The Government are keen to reduce burdens and increase flexibility for businesses and communities wherever they can. However, they are also keen to ensure that appropriate safeguards are in place, alongside the reduction of these burdens. Safeguards are needed in this instance, so that increasing flexibility can be balanced against ensuring the promotion of the licensing objectives, including the prevention of crime and disorder and public nuisance.
In 2012, the Government carried out their first reforms of the TENs regime. As part of that, we noted calls to increase TENs limits. The Government then consulted on the option of increasing TENs limits. In response to the public consultation in 2013, a slight majority of respondents did not think that the number should be increased at all.
The Government’s planned increase to 15 rather than 18 reflects the concerns raised in the consultation responses and takes into account previous reforms to reduce burdens. Increasing the annual number of the TENs allowed per year to 18—half their current total—is likely to cause concern to those who worry about noise nuisance from TENs. Local residents point out that noise from late-night events can cause public nuisance. There may occasionally be issues of crime and disorder. We believe that the higher increase proposed by the amendment goes beyond the purpose of the TENs regime, which is for occasional events only. Accordingly, there is a limit to the number of TENs that can be held annually at the same premises.
The hon. Gentleman is right. The measure is also about ensuring that events are properly policed, I agree and may come to that later in the discussion about the clause.
By way of safeguarding, we are also retaining the limit of 21 days for the total number of days under which events can be held under TENs in a calendar year. On the subject of Opposition U-turns, I also remind the Committee that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) was previously critical of our plans to increase the number of TENs when they were first announced last summer. Seeking this amendment suggests a lack of purpose and an inconsistency of thinking; at least the Labour party is consistent on that.
We believe that we have taken a measured decision. We feel we have got the balance right. I urge the hon. Member for Chesterfield to withdraw his amendment.
First, I would like to come back on a couple of points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Luton North. I recognise his concerns and understand where they come from. We should remember that the policies started from the sense that everyone came out of the pubs at the same time and there was a huge number of problems as a result.
Over the past 14 or 15 months, I have had the opportunity to go back in time. I was in Eastleigh during the by-election. It is not a night I will forget, because I ended up in conversation with Mr Nigel Farage of the UK Independence party. After that I certainly could have done with a drink. It was interesting that Eastleigh had exactly the licensing rules that we used to have in the past—all the pubs in the town centre shut at 11 o’clock. I went into a pub at about 10 o’clock and it was absolutely packed, just as pubs used to be. Frankly, people were a lot drunker than they normally are in Chesterfield.
I left just after 11 o’clock and got in the taxi queue. People were shoving around and I thought, “Yes, this is exactly what it used to be like.” We were trying to solve one problem. There may be some sympathy with the idea that it led to another problem, but I do not think it is true to say that all that has happened with alcohol binge drinking is related to licensing changes.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He perhaps made a mistake in mentioning Eastleigh. I wonder if he or his hon. Friends applied for a temporary event notice to celebrate that occasion.
A Liberal Democrat victory is so rare that you want more than a temporary event notice. You could call it the Haley’s comet clause. I do not blame the right hon. Gentleman for celebrating that victory. I recently witnessed the spectacle of Liberal Democrat officers attempting to find 15 more votes in Wythenshawe. I know that they have had some rough times over the past few years, so they should rightly celebrate only a 14% loss in their vote.
Although I believe that we should return to the previous licensing laws, I realise I am not going to win that argument—at least not in the short term. It is only one component of an overall alcohol strategy which I think is a matter of great urgency. Britain has a growing alcohol problem, which the Government are not facing up to.
We are entirely in agreement. That was precisely where I was heading. One of the key problems is now the huge discrepancy between the cost of alcohol in supermarkets and its cost in pubs. I am a firm believer that the pub is, on balance, by far the best place for people to be drinking. The people serving can see how much someone has had to drink and when people have gone too far, there is an element of self-regulation, as their friends say, “I think you’ve had enough.” If their friends do not say that, the publican often does. Pubs often suffer because of people who drink at home and arrive in the town centre drunk.
It should be a priority for a future Government to try to ensure that a bigger percentage of all the alcohol that is drunk is bought in pubs rather than supermarkets. If that happened, we would see the overall amount that we drink going down. When somebody goes into a supermarket and buys three three-litre bottles of very strong cider, there is no regulation of how much of that they will drink at what time—they simply go home and drink it.
Just a week and a half ago, I was with a publican in Chesterfield who was reflecting on exactly that fact. He said that there was someone who used to come into his pub regularly who he suddenly realised he had not seen for a couple of months. He saw him out on the street and said, “You’ve not been in the pub recently.” The person said, “I can’t afford it no more—I go across to Morrisons.” He was going across to Morrisons and buying his cheap cider. In three months he was dead, because suddenly the amount he was drinking went up and up, and no one was regulating that.
I was, precisely—it is very wise of you to notice, Mr Hood. The point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Luton North is valid but is for another day.
I was interested in what the Minister said. He appeared, frankly, to be balancing on the head of a pin somewhat in saying that the policy might be unpopular but at least those who disagree with it think that we should have done more. I thought a move to 18 might have been sensible. However, I recognise that there are impacts on communities and that there is a real need for balance, and on that basis I will be withdrawing the amendment.
The hon. Gentleman is about to conclude without explaining why, given that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North was critical of our plans to increase the number of TENs when they were first announced last summer, he is now proposing increasing it further to 18.
The right hon. Gentleman was in the Chamber a few days ago when a colleague of his argued strongly in favour of something that everyone was e-mailing me to support, yet that colleague of his ended up not voting for it. We have such discussions within parties. We tabled a probing amendment. We have probed the Minister on the topic, and have decided that we are willing to withdraw the amendment and leave it there. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.