It is nice to be under your chairmanship, Mr. Gale. I congratulate my hon. Friend Mr. Evans on his perceptive and well-informed speech. I am sure that he speaks for many of the publicans from St. Albans who came to me because they were frustrated with the tied pub, the 24-hour licensing, the smoking ban and all the other things that have been piled on them.
Some people dispute this, but St. Albans apparently has the most pubs per square mile of any place in England, and pubs are part of the historic street scene. Anybody who has been to St. Albans will have seen the historic pubs, and there can even be two or three in one short road. Those pubs traditionally supported people on the many pilgrimages to St. Albans, so they go back a long way.
The smaller pubs are finding life hard. The bigger pubs, which can bring in the clubbers and people interested in the dance scene, are not struggling so much and they have benefited from extended licensing. However, the smaller pubs, where people go for a quiet drink and to chew the fat or to debate the issues that my hon. Friend raised, have been struggling.
CAMRA, which is based in my constituency, has a beer festival every year, and I go along to help open it, but I also have my ear pressed very much to the ground so that I can hear about all the issues facing pubs. I am not a beer drinker, which is a shame, but a shandy drinker, which is a heinous crime according to CAMRA. None the less, CAMRA raises some valuable points.
I have been out all night with the police in St. Albans, and one sees young girls and young men going out to the pub. They will be raucous, lively and enjoying themselves. They will already have consumed a significant amount of budget-price alcohol, possibly while they were getting ready to go out. There has been a shift in the way we behave: some people have two, three or four glasses of wine, several pints of beer or half a bottle of vodka before they go out, so they are well oiled before they ever hit the pub.
When I am out with the police late at night, I see that the pubs are picking up the damage from this change in behaviour. They get blamed for people urinating in gardens. I am not saying that people who do not use the toilet before leaving the pub are blameless, but there are no toilet facilities easily available to people going down Fishpool street, Pageant road or some of the other historic streets in the city centre. If people see someone who has come out of The White Hart Tap or The Goat urinating in the street, they may assume that those pubs served them far too much alcohol, and the pubs may be penalised and robustly criticised. I am not saying that there is an issue with those particular pubs, but just giving an example.
Part of the problem is the alcohol that is consumed before people go to pubs. The Waterend Barn in St. Albans is synonymous with some unfortunate incidents, and I have seen people sitting outside it vomiting into the bushes late at night. I have also seen the ambulance crews picking them up. However, the prices that many of our pubs have to charge mean that those people would have to be pretty wealthy to get that drunk in such a pub.