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Mr. John Grogan (Selby) (Lab):
It is a great pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young), who clearly had a couple of informative nights out in Southampton and Andover. I learned a great deal from listening to his account of good practice in his area.
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I support the Government. My Whip would probably say, "About time, too." I support them on this occasion for several reasons. First, although I share views with the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) on a range of issues, such as gambling and broadcasting, I was surprised that he committed himself to drinking in pubs by 16-year-olds. Whatever the differences between the parties, I believed that there was a fair consensus that the law on under-age drinking had not been properly enforced, as the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) said at the beginning of the debate.
It was announced last week that, for the first time, it may become an offence for someone who is under 18 to try to purchase alcohol at a bar. Many people in the industry and in government have put much effort into the pass scheme, which will permit the use of a commonly recognised proof-of-age card throughout the country. That will be popular with many 18-year-olds who experience social embarrassment if they have to prove their age. As a friendly gesture towards the hon. Member for Bath, I ask him to reflect on his view because I have seen what some of my Whips and perhaps less scrupulous friends have done with Liberal promises in the past. I fear that the hon. Gentleman has given a hostage to fortune on 16-year-olds drinking.
I want to put the subject of the debate in context. At the weekend, I looked at a picture the like of which we have all become familiar with in recent weeks on television and in newspapers. It depicts several young men fighting in the background, an older man falling over with a drink still in his hand and some young women who are clearly inebriated. It was an engraving by Hogarth in 1761 entitled "Gin Lane". I do not say that to diminish the current problemwe clearly have a problem with binge drinking, which has been graphically describedbut to illustrate the fact that the problem has occupied the House many times over the years.
I contend that we have had a century-long experiment in fixed opening hours and closing times for pubs, ever since Lloyd George proclaimed when he introduced the liquor licensing laws that we were fighting three enemies: the Hun, the Austrians and the drink, and that the greatest was the drink. Since then, our licensing laws have been framed in that context. I believe that they encourage binge drinking. The various early-day motions that support the Government were not generally inspired by big pub companies or civil servants with links to such companies. I shall not embarrass hon. Members by reading out the names of some who signed the early-day motions in the previous Session and the previous Parliament.
The early-day motions were largely inspired by CAMRA, the Campaign for Real Ale. It is unfair to characterise its members as middle-aged men with beards. Its current president is a woman and it represents beer drinkers of all ages. However, it does not represent the cutting-edge youth drinking market yet it supports more flexible opening hours. The right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire mentioned the phrase "the night-time economy." He is probably right that it is a bit of a new Labour phrase but the words have tripped off my lips occasionally.
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The problem with the night-time economy is, as many hon. Members have pointed out, that it is often the province of the young. The only places that can stay open after 11 pm are those with entertainment licences. A bar or a club can stay open after 11 pm only if it makes noise. An ordinary pub cannot stay open except in special circumstances. That is nonsense and distorts the evening economy. It stops people who come out of cinemas and theatres going for that last drink.
Some chief constables have latterly said that they are against the new measures and my chief constable in North Yorkshire has made such signals. However, when I asked her local police whether that means that they will clamp down on all the lock-ins in villages and suburban areas about which they know, they say that they will not because they do not cause problems. The situation should be regularised, because the law should not be flouted in that way. If a well managed pub in a village or suburb is not causing a nuisance to anyone, why should it not stay open later if that meets a demand? Such regularisation would have a civilising effect, as it has in Scotland and in the Isle of Man. The Isle of Man is perhaps not the most socially liberal part of Europe, but it reformed its licensing hours two or three years ago in much the same way as we are doing. That resulted in a decrease in violent crime in the capital, Douglas, which had been having problems until then.
Mr. Andrew Turner: I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way, although I am not intervening on him because of his reference to another offshore island. Will he go back for a moment to his recollections of the views expressed by CAMRA during the passage of the Licensing Bill, and compare them with those of the Association of Chief Police Officers? Hon. Members across the House know that the problem is not that we did not want reform, but that we wanted reform that was well thought through and would achieve the objectives that the Government said that it would. In Committee, we were told that licensing authorities could not reject licences unless to do so was in line with the licensing objectives in the Bill. Those objectives, narrow as they were on Second Reading, were even narrower when the Bill came out of Committee, because Labour Members, and the Minister in particular, rejected our amendments to widen them.
Mr. Grogan: In regard to the licensing objectives, why else would a licensing authority reject an application for a late licence if a pub was not causing disorder, nuisance or harm to children? Some of the powers to do with saturation were, in fact, widened. My right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) made progress in those areas. A pub has to pass quite a tough test to get later opening hours and I think that many will apply for them and not get them, because they will not pass that tough test. The hon. Gentleman also mentioned ACPO. The presence of its representative, Chris Fox, at the press conference last week was illustrative.
There has been creative tension between the Home Office and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in recent months, but the package that was announced last week has great merit. I urge the industry
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not to mount blanket opposition to it, but to examine it carefully. Most small village pubs, for example, will not pay higher fees than was originally intended. They will not pay for extra policing. The pubs that will pay extra fees as a result of last week's announcement will tend to be the larger pubs and clubs, and they will probably end up paying much the same as they did under the old regime, if they take into account the effect of public entertainment licences.
The alcohol disorder zones will probably be used only as a last resort, because town and city councils will want to try to solve any problem with the industry before declaring such a zone. Obviously, it would not do much for the image of a town to admit that creating such a zone was the only way of solving the problem, but it is nevertheless a useful power of last resort for councils.
I also urge Ministers to look carefully at some of the existing powers. Exclusion orders exist under the present law, for example. They allow anyone convicted of a violent offence in a pub to be excluded not only from the pub in question but from others within a certain distance, if the magistrates so wish. I and others have urged Home Office Ministers for some time to ask magistrates to consider automatically imposing an exclusion order in such circumstances. That move is backed by publicans and the trade unions that represent people working in pubs.
I want to return to the fundamental point about whether we should postpone the introduction of more flexible hours or experiment with them, as the hon. Member for Bath and others have suggested. I am against experiments or pilots because I cannot imagine anything worse than having just six or seven towns or cities being given the authority for much later licensing. Some young British people behave badly on holidays abroad because they regard drinking after 11 pm as exceptional and different. Pilot schemes here could have the same effect.
We suffer from a similar effect in parts of central London, where people think that they can behave badly because late night drinking is outside the norm. It should be very much the norm to be able to have a drink after 11 pm in civilised circumstances if people are behaving well. There should be nothing wrong with that. It will take a while to change our drinking culture, which goes back a long way, but that principle is an important one. I am anxious, as is the Police Superintendents Association, to give councilswhich are much better placed than magistrates to deal with these mattersthese powers urgently, so that we can regulate our night-time economy.
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