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London Eye

3. Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead) (Lab): If she will make a statement on the progress of her discussions with the South Bank Centre on the London Eye.[2993]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Tessa Jowell): Negotiations between the London Eye and the South Bank Centre continue, but the London Eye is here to stay. It will continue to give millions of tourists and Londoners pleasure every year, and to enhance London's bid for 2012. I have no doubt that an agreement will be reached on a new lease for the Eye. The clock has stopped while the negotiations continue, and it is of course important that both parties—the South Bank Centre and the London Eye—get it right.

Harry Cohen: I am pleased with that answer. Will the Secretary of State acknowledge that the Eye is a landmark of huge importance to London, and that it
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cannot be jeopardised by unrestrained capitalism? Will she keep a close watching brief on the current lease negotiations for a satisfactory outcome for the Eye, and consider listing it in recognition of its importance? [Interruption.]

Tessa Jowell: The Minister for Sport and Tourism, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Central (Mr. Caborn), says from a seated position that the Eye will stay as long as the rebate; that is probably a fair prediction. I agree with everything that my hon. Friend said, short of listing the Eye, but I expect the assurances that I have given to be confirmed in negotiations between both sides.

Mr. Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): The London Eye is undoubtedly one of the United Kingdom's most prominent tourist attractions. Given that the London area attracts the vast majority of overseas tourists and visitors to the south-east of England, can the Secretary of State reassure the House and constituents in Northern Ireland that those who visit the London Eye will also be encouraged to visit other parts of the UK that are far from the London Eye?

Tessa Jowell: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. All the regional development agencies, which have tourism responsibilities, are focused on precisely that objective: encouraging people who visit London also to sample the tourist delights of the rest of the United Kingdom.

Angela Eagle (Wallasey) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the London Eye is a great tourist attraction and that from the top of it, it will be possible to see spread out before us all the sites relating to the London 2012 bid? Will she pass on my best wishes, from either the bottom or the top of the London Eye, for the bid's progress?

Mr. Speaker: The hon. Lady should try another time. I call Mr. Philip Dunne.

Alcohol Licence Applications

4. Mr. Philip Dunne (Ludlow) (Con): If she will put back the 6 August deadline for licensing applications from premises selling alcohol.[2994]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (James Purnell): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has no plans to put back the deadline; delaying it would delay the problem and cause confusion. A change would require primary legislation, and there is no guarantee that it could be completed by 6 August.

Mr. Dunne: The two local authorities in the Ludlow constituency have issued between 50 and 77 pages of application form and guidance notes for the conversion of existing licences. As of this morning, however, only 27 out of 350 licensed premises in South Shropshire and approximately 10 per cent. of those in Bridgnorth district council have submitted application forms. Does the Minister agree that the cost and intensely
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complicated bureaucracy resulting from the new regime should give reason for delay in order to allow more licensees to submit their applications?

James Purnell: This Act reduces bureaucracy. It takes six existing regimes and collapses them into one, and it will mean a saving of about £2 billion over 10 years. The danger of delaying the deadline is that if the legislation fails to get through both Houses, we would have the worst of both worlds. We would have made people expect a delay and failed to deliver it. It is much better to do what the industry wants—to provide certainty for the trade.

Ms Barbara Keeley (Worsley) (Lab): Does the Minister agree that the best solution for licensing applications is not to alter deadlines, but to take a proactive approach? I know that Salford council is running surgeries to support applicants in completing their forms and it is currently sending out reminder letters to existing licence holders just to get them moving on their applications.

James Purnell: I commend the work of Salford council and, indeed, the many councils across the country that have put on events to help people with their applications. However, it is key to say that people must apply by 6 August and the responsibility of the Department is to do all we can to ensure that people know that they have to apply, which is why we have launched a national communication campaign to achieve that.

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con): The Minister really gets more like King Canute by the day. Today he said that the forms actually reduce bureaucracy, whereas last week in the fine newspaper, the Yorkshire Post, he was quoted as saying that the forms were "not complicated" and just a matter of "ticking a few boxes". My hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. Dunne) has set out the problems faced by licensees in Shropshire, with forms as long as 21 pages with 60 pages of explanatory notes, costing some licensees more than £1,000 in securing help to fill them in. Does the Minister still stand by his statement of last week?

James Purnell: Previously, people had to apply under six different regimes and had to go before a magistrate every time that they wanted to change their conditions. When the new law comes into place and people have acquired their licence, they will never have to apply again. Typically, the fees under the new regime for the sort of organisations that the right hon. Lady mentions will be between £100 and £180. Overall, I believe that the legislation will save the industry a significant amount of money and bureaucracy.

Mrs. May: I am sorry, but the Minister really is digging his head into the sand and failing to appreciate what is happening out there—not just for pubs, clubs, restaurants and night clubs, but for village halls, sports clubs and community centres, a fee of £180 is a significant sum eating into the money that they raise for local people. Will he not accept and come to realise that, with 54 days before the August deadline and, on his own
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admission, fewer than 10 per cent. of applications in so far, and in the light of all the burdens caused to local authorities and councillors, not to mention the problems of licensees many of whom will not get their applications in, he must take his head out of the sand, accept the obvious and extend the August deadline?

James Purnell: That is just playing politics. The right hon. Lady well knows that if we tried to delay the deadline, we could not guarantee getting the legislation through by 23 July. If we failed to get it through and people had stopped applying, the deadline would go ahead, so they would then be forced to get their applications in during the two weeks after Parliament rises. That would be the worst of both worlds. Rather, we should concentrate on doing what the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Local Government Association and the industry have asked for: to provide the certainty that people need. That is exactly what we are doing.

Mr. David Crausby (Bolton, North-East) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that the introduction of personal licences for those in charge of the sale of alcohol in licensed premises is long overdue? With the increasing pressures of crime and disorder associated with the sale of alcohol, does he accept that the introduction of such licences should have been sooner rather than later? If some individuals are unable to get their act together in applying for a licence, does he agree that they are unfit to run those premises?

James Purnell: My hon. Friend makes a very good point. If we delayed the introduction of the legislation, as the Opposition want, we would be delaying the introduction of the powers, which would deprive us of having extra fines for selling alcohol to under-age drinkers and frustrate our ability to change the management. We would also be unable to bring in new conditions to deal with the minority of problem pubs. Delaying the deadline would not only confuse the industry, but remove the important powers under the Act to deal with alcohol-fuelled violence. That is why we will not delay.

Hywel Williams (Caernarfon) (PC): Application forms were made available in English at the end of February, but despite representations they are still not available in Welsh. Does the Minister not accept that that is a serious disadvantage to businesses in my area working through the medium of Welsh—and also contrary to the intention of the Welsh Language Act 1993 to treat Welsh and English on an equal basis?

James Purnell: I would be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss that issue with him. The decision was taken that as most of the applications would be processed in English, it would be better for them to be submitted in English—but if that does not satisfy the hon. Gentleman, I shall be happy to meet him.

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