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House of Commons

Monday 10 November 2003

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—


1. Mr. John Denham (Southampton, Itchen): What further licensing measures she proposes to take to tackle drunken behaviour in town and city centres. [137023]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Tessa Jowell): The prevention of crime and disorder is a key objective of the Licensing Act, which received Royal Assent this summer. Its provisions include expanded police powers to close premises that are disorderly or noisy; the ability to review licences when problems arise, backed by an extended range of sanctions; and new powers to allow local authorities to address problems when the number of licensed premises reaches saturation point—an issue raised by many hon. Members. It also includes new offences to deal with

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drunk and disorderly behaviour in licensed premises and the introduction of flexible opening hours to reduce binge drinking and avoid flash points at closing time.

Mr. Denham: I thank my right hon. Friend for her response and for the positive moves that the Government have taken, but does she accept that the problem in many town and city centres is not one of individually badly run premises, but the cumulative effect of so many people who have had too much to drink coming out on to the streets? Will she keep an open mind about the possibility of making it a licence condition that in designated entertainment areas those premises should be required to co-operate with the local police through radiocommunications systems or to make a modest contribution towards the cost of policing town and city centres?

Tessa Jowell: I thank my right hon. Friend for asking that question. Yes, there is indeed provision in the Licensing Act 2003 for local authorities, on the basis of representations from the police, to add conditions to the premises licence—for example, the need to have radio pagers, toughened glass and CCTV—on evidence of drunk and disorderly behaviour. As my right hon. Friend will be aware, those conditions were directly negotiated and supported by the Home Secretary. The provisions do not, however, include a levy of the kind that my right hon. Friend requests.

Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire): Drunken misbehaviour is a major problem in Oswestry and Market Drayton. What consideration has the Secretary of State given to giving local citizens greater opportunities to appeal against local authorities that issue licences in the teeth of police advice?

Tessa Jowell: The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Licensing Act 2003 provides, for the first time ever, the opportunity for individual residents to make representations about licensing decisions. There will be an appeal mechanism, but the key change that has been

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achieved through the modernised licensing law is the power that it gives to citizens and local communities, and the new powers it gives to the police.

Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead): I know that the Secretary of State was in Liverpool on Friday, but I do not know whether she had time to come under the tunnel into Birkenhead. If she had, she would have seen that there, as in many other city centres, there are several pubs and clubs whose main aim, especially on Friday and Saturday nights, is to get as many people as possible drunk as quickly as possible. The cost of policing the inner parts of Birkenhead is £140,000 a year. Will my right hon. Friend speak with her colleagues in the Home Office to see whether that charge would not better be borne by those who run the trade than by ratepayers who wish to see more police on the beat, but do not want them to be used to herd together drunk and disorderly citizens?

Tessa Jowell: I thank my right hon. Friend for that contribution. Sadly, on this occasion, I did not have the opportunity to visit Birkenhead. I visited Toxteth and Wavertree and also went to the town hall for a briefing on capital of culture events. I hope to visit Birkenhead on another occasion.

I would like to deal with the point implicit in my right hon. Friend's question. In dealing, as we fully intend to do, with crime, disorder and drunkenness in city centres where there are a lot of licensed premises, it is important to recognise that the licensing regime is but one instrument available to local authorities and the police. The Licensing Act 2003 has provided new powers for both the police and local authorities to tackle the problem. My right hon. Friend will also be aware of the further powers in the Anti-Social Behaviour Bill, currently before the House. It is also important to remember that licensed premises, which contribute in many ways to the life and economy of our big cities and towns, do pay taxes, including council tax, and in return are entitled to receive services.

Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire): We are grateful to the Secretary of State for confirming our understanding of the position—that the new licensing regime will provide great opportunities for complaints to be made when licensed premises are responsible for drunken or loutish behaviour. That being so, why will the Government apparently allow the costly brewster sessions to go ahead next year? That archaic triennial event is likely to cost applicants in excess of £11 million. Why cannot that money be put to better use in tackling the problems of drunkenness, rather than in paying legal support costs?

Tessa Jowell: I am happy to write to the right hon. Gentleman on that point—

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): Copy it to us.

Tessa Jowell: I will copy it to all those hon. Members who have an interest in the matter on behalf of their constituents. The purpose of the new licensing regime is

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to protect children and reduce the levels of antisocial behaviour associated with drunkenness. The measures are adequate to that task.

Tony Wright (Cannock Chase): We all know that in much of Europe towns are taken over by families in the evenings, but in this country families are driven out of towns in the evenings. We must get a grip of that problem. Might not that involve making town centres alcohol-free zones?

Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West): Steady on!

Tessa Jowell: The short answer is no. We would not receive popular support for making city centres alcohol-free zones, but my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Tony Wright) makes an important point that the new licensing regime reflects. Local authorities will have much greater discretion to set conditions to promote family-friendly pubs. Many more pubs now serve food, and people want to take their children to them. It is a question of balance between liberalisation and protecting children from drunkenness and antisocial behaviour. Some local authorities will be clear that children should never be allowed in some pubs, but in country areas and smaller towns, a family-friendly atmosphere is to be encouraged. That is why we have a flexible licensing regime.

Libraries, Museums and Archives

3. Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington): If she will make a statement on the funding of (a) libraries, (b) museums and (c) archives. [137025]

The Minister for the Arts (Estelle Morris): Libraries, museums and archives receive funding from a number of sources, with the principal funder being local government. My Department's aim is to ensure that its support for those three sectors is complementary and strategic, and focused on the areas of greatest need and greatest potential to deliver Government priorities.

Tom Brake : I thank the Minister for her response. Are there any plans to slash funding for London's greatest art collections, as reported by someone who was apparently speaking on her behalf, to pay for regional galleries? If those reports are correct, does the Minister agree that we need some blue-sky thinking and should give the regional development agencies a role in filling the funding gap of £180 million that was identified by the regional museums task force in 2001?

Estelle Morris: I am grateful for the opportunity to set the record straight. I usually speak for myself and not through someone speaking on my behalf. The Evening Standard, The Sunday Times and other papers were plain wrong about it. The hon. Gentleman may have read the letter I wrote to the Evening Standard, which made that absolutely clear. The Government have an excellent record as the first Government to fund regional museums through the renaissance in the regions programme. I want that to flourish and grow, and I hope that it will be supported. At the same time, we have also

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increased funding for national museums and galleries. That is our record and that will continue to be our practice.

Diana Organ (Forest of Dean): My hon. Friend is no doubt well aware of the important role that local and independent museums such as the Dean Heritage Museum in the Forest of Dean play in the culture of our country. What plans does she have for strategic funding for local, independent museums?

Estelle Morris: Those museums play an important role, and I hope that they can become partners in strategic funding and can work with hub museums. There are 4,000-plus museums throughout the United Kingdom, and the sector is one that the Government neither do nor should control. People have the right to set up museums, and they do so every year. It would be inappropriate ever to have a grand strategic plan to cover every museum, but I want to do all that we can to make sure that local people have a coherent and cohesive service. More importantly, I want museums to be encouraged to work together, which has not, historically, been the practice of the sector.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): Is the Minister satisfied with the acquisition budgets of our great national museums and galleries, and when will she be able to make an announcement on the Raphael that the National Gallery is so anxious to acquire?

Estelle Morris: The hon. Gentleman asks two questions in one. On the Raphael, the tax matters are very complex. I am eager to make an announcement as quickly as I can, and I have pushed our advisers to come up with that advice. I could not act without necessary and specialist advice from tax officials, but I have just received it and hope to make an announcement in due course.

I always wish that the acquisition budget was greater, but it has been significantly increased from several sources—not just Government sources—in recent years. I should say that neither the Government nor anyone else can control the escalation in price of works of art as they come on to the market. No Government—this or any other—could ever pledge to make available whatever sum any gallery chose. The situation is difficult, but acquisition is an important part of the sector's work.

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