Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Turner: The hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for South Dorset referred to the role of councillors. Does he accept that it is unreasonable that, if a resident who lives next door to a pub speaks to their councillor about that pub—or even if they do not—that councillor is disbarred from being involved in any decision relating to the licensing of the pub, even if he represents a ward as big as some of those in Birmingham, which have 20,000 voters?

Mr. Grogan: My understanding is that nothing can prevent a councillor, or an MP, from making representations to a licensing committee on behalf of
25 Jan 2005 : Column 197
their constituents. However, just as we would not expect a representative of a particular ward to take part in certain planning decisions, equally we must ask whether the councillor in the hon. Gentleman's example would be the best placed person to take such a decision. On the whole, I do not think that they would be.

Mr. Pickles: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Grogan: No, I want to bring my remarks to a close.

In confessional mode, I agree that the text message was not a product of Millbank's finest hour. It gave entirely the wrong signals at the last election, because it implied that the main beneficiaries of licensing reform would be the young. I would argue that that is not the case. Whatever happens with licensing reform, young people will be out and about on the town at midnight or 1 am. The main beneficiaries of the new Licensing Act will be those in the more mature market—which is well represented in the Chamber today—who will, for the first time, be able to find somewhere conducive to having a drink after 11 pm. Their very presence in our town and city centres will have a civilising influence. The other main beneficiaries will be residents who, for the first time in a long while, will be able to make representations to their local councillors about their immediate situation, instead of having to go to a rather remote magistrates court.

I want to end with the perspective not of the big brewers, CAMRA or the consumer, but of a barmaid who wrote to me some time ago to describe what happens when she calls last orders. She said:

I honestly cannot believe that the English and the Welsh are alone among the civilised peoples of Europe. Are we the only people who cannot cope with having a drink in the right environment and not annoying their neighbours after 11 o'clock at night? I enthusiastically support the Government's amendment.

2.39 pm

Mr. Eric Pickles (Brentwood and Ongar) (Con): It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Selby (Mr. Grogan), who suggested that some of us in the Chamber are mature. I suppose that many of us are approaching maturity, but sadly from the wrong direction. He took us on a tour of Hogarth's London and the gin joints, and mentioned the great thundering voice of David Lloyd George, who may be starting to rotate at the thought that his once great party now advocates the extension of drinking to 16-year-olds.
25 Jan 2005 : Column 198

I want to make a relatively narrow point—putting aside the rights and wrongs of 24-hour drinking—on implementation and the effect on local authorities, on which several Members have touched briefly. I was very much in favour of the transfer of powers from magistrates to local authorities. Councils have a responsibility for crime reduction partnerships, with specific responsibilities for tackling youth disorder. Licensing in many ways has some commonality with planning, and most importantly, councils are democratically accountable to the population. It was therefore a brave decision, as it was in the face of opposition from many in the drinks industry.

I cannot understand, however, what the point was of giving all those powers if they were to be made worthless once the guidance was produced. Under the regulations, unless an objection is made to a licence application, it will automatically be approved in full without amendment. The point that the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) made about raves is a good one. Local ward councillors are considered to be biased in favour of local residents and will be prevented from voting on late licences within their ward. They can object only if they live in the vicinity, in which case they must declare a prejudicial interest, which prevents them from attending any licensing application hearing. Therefore, it is somehow bad for democratically elected people to be biased in favour of their populations.

I confess that I am biased in favour of the electors of Brentwood and Ongar. I doubt whether many Members of Parliament are not biased in favour of their electorate. That does not blind me to individual justice or the merits of an individual case. A balance must be struck—it happens in decisions made in this Chamber and in council chambers across the country—between individual rights and democratic accountability. The guidelines remove the one person who probably knows the local ward better than anyone, and to whom local residents look for guidance and leadership. That person is not only removed from voting, but cannot give evidence at any hearing. The representative nature of democracy, to which the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) referred, is wholly pushed to one side because of the new guidelines.

Councils are being advised that under the Human Rights Act 1998 they should not allow local ward councillors to sit and consider applications for their own wards, because of bias against pubs and clubs. That prejudice will lead to some strange circumstances. For example, Councillor Smith lives in Applegate ward, but two miles from the public house subject to the application. Councillor Black lives in the adjoining Mayflower ward, but one mile from the pub. Councillor Black can vote, but Councillor Smith cannot. There is no logic to that. Only in the never-never land of the Human Rights Act or the guidance would electoral divisions be regarded as natural catchment areas for licensed premises.

Parish councils will not be recognised as objectors, but residents associations will. The guidance specifically defines interested parties as

25 Jan 2005 : Column 199

It is unlikely that many residents associations are coterminous with parish councils—I am not aware of any. Again, that marginalises councillors. Councillors will not be able to object to the saturation of pubs and clubs if existing premises apply to extend their licensing hours. They will not even be able to introduce a staggering of opening hours. The guidance says:

It continues:

That was supposed to be the great advantage of the new licensing laws.

My belief is that local councils should be free to decide that there are already enough bars and pubs in a neighbourhood. Clusters of pubs and bars can create disorder and disorder hotspots. Local councils should be able to take into account the proximity of existing licensed premises when considering a new application. Such decisions would not be taken in isolation—there are examples from other parts of the world. In New York, for example, a bar would not be licensed were it within 500 yd of another bar. I see my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field) in his place, and I look forward to his contribution. He represents a council that is a shining example of deciding on a set of policies that balance the rights of consumers and publicans and ensure that visiting those parts of Westminster is an enjoyable experience. All that hard work counts for nothing because of these new regulations.

Next Section IndexHome Page