Currently, all providers of late night refreshment must have a licence. The clause will give new powers to licensing authorities to exempt certain activities from those requirements. The new powers are in line with the Government’s aim to free up businesses from unnecessary costs and bureaucratic burdens. The clause will also give licensing authorities greater flexibility to target their resources and enforcement efforts.
Under the Licensing Act 2003, late night refreshment means the supply of hot food or hot drink to the public between 11 pm and 5 am. The provision of late night refreshment is regulated because it is often linked to alcohol-fuelled crime and disorder in the night-time economy—for example, fast-food shops where late night drinkers congregate.
The Government agree that, where there are risks of crime, disorder and public nuisance, it is quite right that we have the safeguards that licensing gives us. The police, the public and others should have a say on whether and how such late night refreshment businesses in their communities should operate and what conditions should be imposed on them. However, in some areas and for some types of late night refreshment businesses, there is no need for such safeguards.
Does a service station on a motorway or busy A road with no pubs or clubs near it, or an all-night café on an industrial estate, really need a late night refreshment licence? The Government believe that decisions to exempt such cases are best made with local knowledge. Therefore the clause gives licensing authorities powers to introduce three types of exemption from the regulation of the provision of late night refreshment in their areas: first by designating a particular area where there is no need for businesses to obtain a licence; and/or, secondly, choosing to exclude a particular type of business or premises, such as all-night bakeries; and/or, thirdly, changing the times when the regulation of the provision of late night refreshment applies in the licensing authority’s area.
The package of local powers in the clause provides for greater local flexibility and potential savings for many late night refreshment businesses, which would otherwise have to pay application fees of £100 to £635 and annual renewal fees of between £70 and £350 a year, as well as administrative costs.
I commend the clause to the Committee.
I am reminded of a close friend of mine whose first sale, when working previously in advertising sales at a newspaper called the Sheffield Star, was to Fat Tom’s Kebab Ambulance. I was thinking about late night refreshment and wondering whether Fat Tom’s Kebab Ambulance would be covered by the clause. I consider that Fat Tom, or Tom, as I shall call him from now on, would probably not be covered, due to his mobility, given that the definition relates to premises being in a specific area. A kebab ambulance could be in various areas, so that would probably mean that it would not be covered. I should be interested to hear the Minister clarify that.
No, my hon. Friend is right, although customers of Fat Tom’s Kebab Ambulance believed that some of his wares were only a good vet away from being back on their feet. However, we will not dwell on that; we will move on.
This is a sensible new piece of deregulation. One reason why we support the clause is that it does not compel councils to use the power. Councils are able to choose to apply the power only to limited areas where they think it will work best.
We must recognise that late night refreshment sellers play an important part in the night-time economy, but there can be significant antisocial behaviour and disorder in those places, such as can be seen in “Police, Camera, Action!”-type programmes, which seem to be on Pick TV at 11 pm every night. If people get home on a Monday night, for example, they can watch people fighting in the kebab shop. Such places can be a source of antisocial behaviour, so it is important that local authorities have that freedom. It fits in entirely with Labour’s principle of devolving powers to local government and communities. Councils, which know their areas best, will be able to decide where the power will be useful, where it will be genuinely deregulatory and, indeed, where it will be problematic.
Late night refreshment has always been a licensable activity, because of its potential link with alcohol-related crime and disorder. Indeed, there is a responsibility on the providers of late night refreshment to do everything they can to protect their staff and make sure that theirs is a safe environment. Where there is a clear link with or a history of antisocial behaviour, there should still be licensing.
The definition of late night refreshment is fairly broad. It covers everything from a cup of tea in a garage to fast food late at night. We think that the clause strikes the right balance, and we look forward to hearing whether the Minister sees it as a first step or the full extent of deregulation. In that context, we offer our support.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his support for the clause. When he referred to Fat Tom’s Kebab Ambulance, I initially thought he was talking about an ambulance that took people to hospital after they had eaten one of Fat Tom’s kebabs. I am glad that he confirmed that that was not the case, and I am sure that his experience of eating kebabs has always been positive and uplifting.
The hon. Gentleman asked for more details regarding Fat Tom’s Kebab Ambulance. Although we already know quite a lot about the kebab ambulance, I would need to know a little more about the specifics before I could tell him whether it would be exempted. That is exactly the sort of issue that the Government will properly address in regulations. If he wants to send me more information about Fat Tom’s Kebab Ambulance and how it operates, I will be happy to confirm the circumstances in which it would fall under the legislation.
There is a serious point here about the licensing of mobile refreshment vans, which may operate in different places. Would Tom need to have a licence depending on where he was going to drive the kebab ambulance, or would the very fact that it was mobile mean that it definitely needed a licence?
As I said, I will clarify for the hon. Gentleman precisely whether the kebab ambulance would fall under the legislation, because he made a very valid point, albeit with an amusing little anecdote about Fat Tom’s Kebab Ambulance. There are many such establishments; one might be on an industrial estate in the middle of nowhere while another might choose to locate itself in a town centre at 11 o’clock on a Friday night. We will need to provide the hon. Gentleman, and indeed the Committee, with some clarity about how the rules would apply in those circumstances. Subject to my ensuring that he receives that information fairly promptly, I commend the clause to the Committee and welcome his support.