|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Pickles : I agree with the hon. Gentleman on that point, but I want to go back to his previous point. A number of local authorities have attempted to strike a balance between licensees and the local population. Does he appreciate that those agreements will now mean nothing unless the Government remove the "must" obligation to grant permission unless there is an objection?
Mr. Foster: I was about to come to that point. I am sure that the hon. Gentlemanperhaps he will have an opportunity to develop his argument later, if he catches your eye, Madam Deputy Speakerwill be well aware that, because of the problems that he mentions, the magistrates courts may become clogged up with all sorts of applications and we may have difficulty in implementing the measures anyway. I was going to make that point in a minute, but I am grateful to him for giving me the chance to do so now.
Earlier, the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras asked the Secretary of State whether it would be possible for a local authority to say no to any increases. The problem is that local authorities are required to have a licensing policy saying that they recognise that increasing licensing hours is a good idea. That makes it very difficult for them to follow the line that he might want to suggest. To add insult to injury, the guidance on the special saturation policy areas that local authorities might wish to introduce states specifically that no rule can be introduced in those areas saying that all the pubs must close at the same time. The guidance forbids local authorities from doing that. When he asked the Secretary of State about that issue, she should have said that such an approach was not possible.
There are also concerns about the role of local councillors. How can it be right for a local councillor who represents a particular area of a town or city where there is a serious problem to be told that he or she cannot serve on the licensing committee considering licences in that area? Frankly, that is complete madness.
25 Jan 2005 : Column 187
The fees themselves are another problem. The Secretary of State has introduced a new set of fees. Many people will welcome them, but it is worth pointing out that the fees on which she consulted extensively and those that were introduced are significantly different. The new fees have come as a huge shock to the pubs and breweries, and various other related organisations. I am not arguing about whether they are right or wrong, but the publication of the fees within days of the first named day, 7 February, makes it hugely difficult for those involved to decide what action to take. At the same time, many bodiesnot least small sports clubsare deeply worried that the fee levels are far too high. All those arrangements have been introduced at very short notice.
Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West) (Con): On small clubs, my constituent, Mr. John Crosthwaite-Eyre, who is treasurer of Dunwood Manor golf club, has informed me that the price of the club's licence will increase from £16 to £1,145, which is simply outrageous.
Mr. Foster: The hon. Gentleman's example is one of many that will undoubtedly be cited. I will give him advance notice of how the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport will respond to his point: she will say that the Government have given local amateur sports clubs new powers to obtain additional money and that only 2,000 clubs have taken up the offer, although many thousands of them could do so. When the Government introduced that concession on rates, however, it was intended to provide additional support to sports clubs to help them carry out sporting activities. The tune seems to have changed, and sports clubs must use that benefit, if they take it up, to pay the increased fees to which the hon. Gentleman has alluded, which cannot be right.
The Government have recently introduced a set of new sticking-plaster measures. Stung by the criticisms, they have brought in proposals, which are only proposals, for alcohol disorder zones, a "three strikes and you're out" scheme and charges, which might or might not be made, to certain pubs and clubs to help pay for policing, which would be similar to the situation with football clubs. If the package of measures is going to work, we need to know where the new measures, which may or may not be sensible, are going and how they fit into the overall picture.
The motion calls for further time, which makes a great deal of sense: time to consider the new proposals; time to consider how we can improve education about alcohol misuse; time to consider how we can provide more financial support for those working to combat alcohol misuse; time to consider unit labelling on all drinks; time for the Government and the industry to consider how they can tackle unacceptable promotions, which many companies used to run and which many companies are, I am delighted to stay, stopping under the voluntary code; time for more training for health workers; time for the Government to introduce their promise to make pubs a single use classwe have still not had the detailsunder our planning legislation; and, perhaps crucially, time to gather benchmarking statistics, which my noble Friend Lord Avebury proposed in another place, to allow us to assess the Bill
25 Jan 2005 : Column 188
at a future date. I genuinely believe that the public in this country do not want to see the immediate implementation of the legislation. At the least, they want to see a delay while we get some of the other measures sorted out, increase support for the police and local councils and provide local councils with greater flexibility.
I hope that the Secretary of State will comment on this final point. This House has welcomed the concept of pre-legislative scrutiny, which has been tried on a number of occasions. There is growing talk about post-legislative scrutiny being carried out by both Houses, and I hope that the Government will be willing to introduce the concept of post-legislative scrutiny whenever the Bill is implemented.
Jim Knight (South Dorset) (Lab): I refer hon. Members to my entry in the Register of Members' Interests in relation to my chairing the all-party leisure group. It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster), who made some good points about sports clubs and the presumption in the guidance, which I have discussed privately with the Secretary of State. He sat on the fence on some other matters and I would have liked more detail on what he wants the Government to do. I was startled by his party's policy on extending the legal age at which one can buy alcohol to 16.
The hon. Member for Bath was less confused than the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis), who wants to suspend implementation of the Licensing Act 2003, but who intervened on the Home Secretary to say that he thinks that we should liberalise the licensing laws once we have implemented measures to stop binge drinking, which is the approach adopted by the Government and in the 2003 Act.
Mr. Don Foster: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman and I can join in recommending to the Government that full-blown implementation should not go ahead and that those areas that are interested should be given the opportunity to pilot some of the measures.
Jim Knight: I shall resist the temptation to join the hon. Gentleman in advocating that suggestion. The problems with binge drinking are severe and we should act now. The Licensing Act 2003 provides a balanced range of measures that we should get on with. I agree with Rick Naylor of the Police Superintendents Association, who told Radio 4's "PM" programme on 29 April last year that
"The Superintendents' Association have always been in favour of relaxing licensing laws and bringing them into the twenty-first century, and it is slightly disappointing we can't get this piece of legislation implemented sooner, because I think it will have an effect on violence in the streets."
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|