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4.44 pm

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): Initially, I thought that I could wholeheartedly support the Bill proposed by the hon. Member for Dartford (Dr. Stoate). However, having listened to his speech, I have been dissuaded. I frequently argue that there should be staggered licensing laws. We see a huge number of people turned on to our village streets, town streets and city streets, in the case of Lichfield, at 11 o'clock at night. They often cause disturbance on a Friday and Saturday night. However, I do not think that the hon. Gentleman's tone is completely right. What put me off what was not the hon. Gentleman's excellent preamble, in which he stated the reasons for having staggered licensing hours, but his subsequent proposal that the burden of proof should be shifted. He argued that it should be shifted to those who oppose staggered licensing hours, not to pubs applying for licensing hours to be extended.

The hon. Gentleman then used a series of phrases that are anathema to me. He said that an objection should be valid if it relates to a proposal not within the development criteria. He said that there should be better management and regulation, and talked about needs, rights and responsibilities in a town centre strategy. That sounded rather like new Labour speak. I support anything that would reduce the burden on town centre policing. Heaven knows, the Minister of State, Home Office, the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), who is listening patiently on the Front Bench has heard me speak about that on several occasions, and knows that I think

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that it is wrong that there are only three or four police officers available in the city of Lichfield on a Friday or Saturday night.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Charles Clarke) rose--

Mr. Fabricant: Although the Minister wishes to intervene now, there will be many opportunities for him to do so in a later debate on this very subject. I promise him that I will raise this issue again and give way to him then.

The sort of regulation that proposes controls and states that businesses should not be free to decide for themselves whether or not they should be open after 11 o'clock is patently wrong. If a pub were next door to housing and might cause a disturbance to elderly people late at night, of course it would be right for a local authority to say that it would be inappropriate for it to remain open. That is right and proper. However, the idea that there should be a town centre strategy has great dangers. For example, what if Dartford took one view and Sevenoaks a different one? What would be the result? Far from there being drift into a town centre--which, at least, would be a pedestrian drift--people might get into their cars at 11 o'clock at night and drive from Sevenoaks to Dartford, if Dartford took a liberal view, or vice versa, if Sevenoaks took a liberal view. That could lead to situations in which there was more drink-driving, which the whole House and every Member would deplore.

The Bill is well intentioned--as much new Labour legislation is well intentioned. However, when we get into the detail and start to read the fine print, we realise that it is impractical and destroys that which it is our main cause to preserve, namely the tranquillity and safety of our streets and cities late on Friday and Saturday nights. For that reason, I oppose the Bill.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 23 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of public business), and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Dr. Howard Stoate, Mr. Gordon Marsden, Dr. Phyllis Starkey, Ms Karen Buck, Mrs. Diana Organ and Dr. Desmond Turner.

Licensed Victualling (Regulation of Hours)

Dr. Howard Stoate accordingly presented a Bill to permit licensing authorities to regulate the sale of alcohol from licensed premises after 11 o'clock at night in prescribed circumstances, in prescribed locations and on prescribed days: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 16 March, and to be printed [Bill 35].

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Vehicles (Crime) Bill (Programme) (No. 2)

4.55 pm

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Charles Clarke): I beg to move,

The motion proposes that the remaining stages of the Bill should be completed this evening. The programme is supplemental to the one approved for the Committee stage, which finished, as planned, on 23 January.

In Committee, we generally had a serious debate. There was a good deal of constructive comment from the official Opposition and the Liberal Democrats. It is true that there were some contributions that I would regard as entirely self-indulgent, but it was a good Committee stage none the less. There was full discussion of all the relevant matters and the debates were completed within the time set by the previous programme motion.

There was only one occasion in Committee when time presented some difficulty. That arose from a filibuster by the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) and his hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant), which led to the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Russell) being kept out of his debate.

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I seek clarification from you. If my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) or I had been filibustering, would not that have been out of order, and would not the Chairman of the Committee have ruled it so?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): I think that I can help the hon. Gentleman. It is perfectly possible for hon. Members to seek to take extra time in dealing with a particular matter, and provided that what they say is not in breach of the Standing Orders of the House, they

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are entitled to do so. Only when hon. Members stray out of order will they be corrected by the occupant of the Chair.

Mr. Clarke: I am grateful for that ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I withdraw the word "filibuster" if it is offensive to you.

A large number of contributions from the hon. Members for Buckingham, for Lichfield and for Eastleigh (Mr. Chidgey) and others were constructive and to the point, and helped to clarify matters in Committee. I observed that there were other contributions, particularly from the hon. Members for Buckingham and for Lichfield, that were less constructive and more time-passing in their approach. The effect of such exchanges was that, after one of our Committee sittings, the hon. Member for Colchester was full of ire, because he felt that he had not been able to make the points of substance that he had wanted to make in the debate.

With that one exception, it is fair to note that the debate in Committee took place within the time set by the programme motion; that in general it was positive; and that there were no divisions on issues of substance, although there were divisions on matters of process and procedure.

That has reinforced the view that programming is a good idea and has benefits for both Government and Opposition. For Bills of this size, with 45 clauses, it is particularly suitable. However, I acknowledge that there is an issue of principle across the House about whether programming is desirable.

If we had been confident that all hon. Members would honour the conventions and move the Bill forward, the programme motion might not have been necessary today. There are no outstanding matters of great substance. It is important that the new clauses, some tabled by the Opposition and some by the Government, should be debated. Those debates could be conducted in a positive spirit if we could rely on all hon. Members behaving as the House would expect, but we cannot. That is why the programme motion has been tabled.

In Committee, we focused on the clauses of greatest interest, which related to the substantial parts of the Bill and ensured that there was thorough scrutiny. That applied to the parts relating to regulation of the motor salvage industry and control of the supply of number plates, and also to the clauses that had already raised questions on Second Reading and in the media, such as the hypothecation of magistrates courts receipts to fund an increased number of safety cameras, and police access to motor insurance information.

I am delighted to say that although no amendments were passed in Committee, the Government have tried to address the Opposition's concerns by tabling a number of amendments to insert additional offence provisions in the Bill. Those concern the supplying of false information when a person applies to be registered as a motor salvage operator or number plate supplier. We have tabled those amendments in response to the debate in Committee. That demonstrates the consensual spirit that informed our debate there.

There are a number of drafting amendments as well, and some lesser amendments, mainly of a technical nature, but we are not introducing by way of Government amendment any major new issue of principle. One day

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should therefore give us ample time to debate the remaining stages of the Bill. For those reasons, I commend the motion to the House.

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