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Mr. Andrew Turner: Would my hon. Friend be surprised to hear that when the Bill came from another place, one of the requirements for local authorities to take into account when deciding whether to grant licences was
"the prevention of unreasonable diminution of the living and working amenity and environment of interested parties in the vicinity of the premises balancing those matters against the benefits to be derived from the leisure amenity of such premises"?
But the Government, with their amendment No. 8, removed the whole of that, and merely put in some words along the lines of a public nuisance provision. Public nuisance is a narrowly defined legal concept, however, and their lordships were sensible to bring forward their provision. I cannot for the life of me understand why the Government wanted to remove it.
Mr. Pickles: I agree with my hon. Friend, who makes an extremely good point. In preparation for the debate, I spent many hours going through the new regulations, which are beautifully reproduced on the Department's website. It seems to me that the points that the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras was making, and the concessions, have been whittled away stealthily by the guidelines. That seems fundamentally wrong, and if the House will forgive me for saying so, fundamentally deceitful.
It seems to me that the way in which pubs and clubs are managed is a key factor in explaining why some venues generate disorder and others do not. Local
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councils should be able to attach conditions to licences, for example, on drinks promotion. All those things are denied, however, by the guidelines.
I want to make another point on the question of fees. Much has been said about the fees, and the hon. Member for South Dorset (Jim Knight) mentioned the idea that they would perhaps cover the costs of councils. The new multiplier for town and city pubs will have little impact, however, as most such premises are in rateable value bands of A and B. It will have only a limited effect in London. Most high-band premises are likely to be town halls, hotels, supermarkets and schools. In most local authority areas, only 5 to 10 per cent. of licensed premises are in bands D and E. I represent a prosperous part of Essex with high levels of council tax in terms of capital value, but although one would expect that to be reflected in the rates, in the Brentwood borough council area just 6.7 per cent. of premises are in bands D and E, and 80 per cent. are in bands A and B. In hard numbers, there are seven premises in band D and 11 in band E. Those 18 are Brentwood leisure centre, a number of supermarkets and the secondary schools. No public houses are involved.
Given that revaluation is about to occur, any licensee with an eye to cost will put in for a new licence immediately to benefit from what are currently relatively low rateable values. Revaluation will mean dramatic changes in the figures. Licensees will put their applications in early to save money, and from February onwards authorities will be smothered in sacks upon sacks of applications. That is why the figures given by the Home Secretary and the Minister are so far off the mark.
There has been a move towards a concession in the review. I am glad that the Home Secretary committed himself today to a review that will examine local authorities' transition costs, the level of fees and the size of committees, for all those things are important.
An important transfer of responsibilities to local authorities has been seriously undermined by the diminution of the role of councillors in speaking up for their local populations and the people whom they represent. What was sold to us as local democracy and local people working things out together has deteriorated into what is simply local management of a licensing system that is devoid of democratic accountability.
Charles Hendry (Wealden) (Con): It is a pleasure to take part in this important debate. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young): the debate is not remotely concerned with how the overwhelming majority of law-abiding citizens, especially young people, live their lives. We know that they often live in a night-time culture, that they like going out at night and that drink is part of that culture, but the vast majority behave in an extremely responsible way. The debate is really about delaying the change in the laws to take account of growing public concern about the antisocial behaviour that already exists.
Perhaps the most surprising thing that has emerged from the debate so far is the Liberal Democrats' commitment to reducing to 16 the age at which people
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will be allowed to buy drink. That is very irresponsible. It may be welcomed by 16 and 17-year-olds, but it will cause profound concern to parents, the medical profession, charities working with addiction, the police and many others. I hope that the Liberal Democrats will be prepared to reconsider.
Mr. Don Foster: I am slightly perplexed by the juxtaposition of the hon. Gentleman's opening remarks, in which he praised the vast majority of young people for behaving responsibly, with his later comments. Does he not believe that 16 to 18-year-olds can behave responsibly? If he does, does he not believe that they can therefore treat drink responsibly?
Charles Hendry: I certainly believe that the overwhelming majority behave responsibly, and would behave responsibly; but if the hon. Gentleman consults the charities working in the sector, the medical profession and the police, he will learn that they have serious misgivings about the extension that he proposes.
Today, however, we are obviously focusing on the Government's position. I am afraid that I thought the Home Secretary's speech was characterised primarily by a sense of complacency, which did not seem to take account of the depth of the crisis that we already face. This issue does not just affect big cities; it has spread to small towns. My constituency contains four medium-sized towns containing between 10,000 and 20,000 people, and antisocial behaviour linked to alcohol and the crime that accompanies such behaviour are an increasingly regular problem in those communities. Even the smaller villages containing 3,000 or 4,000 people are experiencing alcohol-related problems, including crime, which were unknown just a few years ago.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis), the shadow Home Secretary, said that the cost of alcohol-related crime was £7 billion a year. That is an horrific and frightening figure. Perhaps we should set it against the amount that the Government will make from the change in the licensing hours. They will gain extra money from income tax and national insurance, extra money from VAT on the extra alcohol that is served, and extra money from corporation tax on the extra profits that are made. Yet they say that they should bear no responsibility for the associated costs of disruption and crime that will follow the change, which I consider very irresponsible.
It goes further than that, however. The Government cannot claim to be the party to solve the current problems when they must bear responsibility for the growth of those problems in the first place. Reference has been made to their campaign at the time of the last election:
I am encouraged by the recognition on the part of the hon. Member for Selby (Mr. Grogan) that that was an ill-thought-through campaign. It was not targeted at the majority who will drink responsibly; it was deliberately designed to say to young people "Vote Labour. Get a Labour Government, and go out and get hammered at night." It was an irresponsible campaign, and the
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Government should take responsibility for it. They must take the blame for the fact that alcohol-related crime and binge drinking are at their worst ever levels. They worked to encourage that culturethey thought it would be cool to be the champions of late night drinkingand now they face the consequences as the majority who do not want that kind of society rise up in anger.
The Government have also shown shocking naiveté. The Home Secretary must be the only person who believes that longer opening hours will not lead to more drunkenness. We must ask ourselves why the publicans would want the longer hours. Do we honestly believe that if they thought the same people would be drinking the same amount of alcohol, but over a longer period, they would be keen to stay open for longer? Their staffing costs would rise, their takings would stay the same and their profits would go down. The publicans only want to stay open because they know that people will drink more. We must be in no doubt that, as a result of these changes, some people will become more drunk, and the consequences will be more serious. The Home Secretary also seems to make no distinction between all-day drinking and all-night drinking. The culture that goes with night-time drinking is very different.
It is clear that the Government simply do not recognise the misery that drunken behaviour causes. It is not just the violence; it is the noise, the rowdiness, the rudeness and the threatening behaviour that so often accompany drunkenness. Nor do the Government take account of the consequences. They take no account of those who must clear up the broken glass, those who must dodge the sick left on the pavement the following day, and those who must put up with the smell of urine that is left behind. Those are things that have blighted communities and made living in too many of our town centres a misery for peoplepeople on whom the Government have turned their back. People want a Government who will deal with the root causes, and not just bandage the problems that they have allowed, even encouraged, to get worse.
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