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That this House notes with concern that with only 25 days to go before the 6th August deadline set in the Licensing Act 2003, only 20 per cent. of licence applications have been received; further notes the chaos that this is creating both for the licensing trade and for local authorities; is concerned by the problems of extra cost that the legislation is creating for village halls, sports clubs and community centres; regrets the effect that this will have upon local communities; condemns the Government for its lack of action in dealing with the problem; and calls upon the Government to extend the deadlines for the receipt of applications and re-examine the impact upon village halls and sports clubs.
I do not think that the Government will be surprised that we have tabled this motion. We have raised the issue in departmental questions, tabled early-day motions and debated the matter in Westminster Hall. Moreover, the Conservative party opposed the Bill when it was first debated in the House, and we did so because we thought that it was ill thought out and badly targeted, that it failed to address the real problems and that it would be impossible to implement. I pay tribute to the work done by my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Moss), who, during the passage of the Bill, consistently pointed out to the Government the practical problems that they would face with this badly drafted and ill-thought-out legislation. I hate to say this to the Minister, but "We told you so".
At every stage of the implementation of the Licensing Act 2003, we have attempted to make constructive and positive suggestions about how it could be delivered. We have raised concerns from the brewing industry, village halls, voluntary groups, musicians and sporting clubs. At every stage, sadly, the Government have ignored our pleas, denied that there was a problem and buried their head in the sand. Their response has beento paraphrase a former Prime Ministercrisis, what crisis?
We can talk to all sorts of bodiesthe licensing trade, Action with Communities in Rural England, the Musicians Union, the Central Council of Physical Recreation, which is dear to the heart of the Minister for Sport and Tourism, or the Local Government Associationand they will all tell us that the Government are presiding over the biggest chaos in implementation since the last big chaos in Government implementation. Indeed, I was at a dinner in Harrogate only last Tuesdaya mere week agowhen the leader of Westminster city council made a key point in telling me and the others there that it was high time that the Government listened to the issues that were being raised by local authorities about the problems of implementing the Act.
Meg Hillier: Would the right hon. Lady like to visit my constituency, where the local authority in Hackney has done an excellent job in working with the community and local people to bring in locally controlled licensing hours? Local people are delighted that they can go to their elected representatives to tackle problems, rather than experiencing the chaos that we had before.
Mrs. May: I am always very happy to visit Hackney and talk to people about the implications of what the Government are doing in the hon. Lady's constituency. I suggest that she visits other constituencies throughout the country in which village halls and many publicans are experiencing chaos and local authorities face the prospect of having to deal with large numbers of licence applications in the next couple of weeks.
Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire) (Con): For the third time in her speech, my right hon. Friend has correctly cited a list of organisations that are deeply and seriously affected by the Act as implemented. I have a sheaf of letters from village halls and parish councils in my constituency that endorse everything that she said[Interruption.] I shall happily take the Minister for Sport and Tourism through the letters one by one if he doubts me, because he would be shocked by what he found in them. Can my right hon. Friend assure me[Interruption.]
Peter Luff: I am grateful, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Can my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) assure me that the omission of travelling circuses from her litany is simply an oversight and that she understands the serious impact that the Act is having on them?
I can certainly assure my hon. Friend of that fact. Indeed, I have so far failed to mention farmers' markets, take-away food stores, off-licences and corner shops, all of which are deeply affected by the Act. He mentions the sheaf of letters that he has received from
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his constituents. My hon. Friends have sent me copies of the correspondence that they have received from village halls, sports clubs and other organisations in their constituencies, all of which are complaints about the implications of the Act.
Rob Marris: The right hon. Lady might not know that the third largest pub chain in the United Kingdom is headquartered in my constituency and run by the excellent Wolverhampton and Dudley breweries. I spent last Wednesday evening at a dinner in the company of some of its representatives, and although they said that there were some teething problems, they were entirely happy with the Licensing Act 2003, as far as I could gather. The industry is certainly not entirely against the legislation.
Mrs. May: The whole point is that the big chains have the personnel, resources and funding to provide support to their pubs. The hon. Gentleman should perhaps talk to smaller brewery chains such as Brakspear, which is an excellent local brewery in Henley. Only last week I met a representative of the company who told me about the real problems that its pubs are having in dealing with the extra cost and additional bureaucracy and time involved in the licence applications.
Mr. Heath: Just so that the right hon. Lady's list becomes ever longer, another group of voluntary organisations that is deeply affected by the Act is the carnival circuit in Somerset. She might not know that that massive affair attracts up to 150,000 people a night, but it could be decimated as a result of the Act.
Mrs. May: The hon. Gentleman makes an extremely valid point. The Government have completely failed to understand the number of organisations and activities that are affected by the Act and will find matters involving licensing applications rather more difficult than they did in the past.
I am not sure what I find most galling: the inability and incompetence of the Government, or the arrogance of Ministers about the matter. During Culture, Media and Sport questions yesterday, the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (James Purnell), told us that 33 per cent. of expected applications had been received. He said:
With 25 days to go, for 190,000 premisesI am setting apart personal licencesan outstanding total of 133,000 applications are yet to be made. As a result of the Government's deadline of 6 August, local authorities will have 18 working days in which they will be expected to receive and process applications, so they will have to deal with 7,400 a day. That shows the chaos
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out there at the moment. Why do not the Government just admit that they got things wrong and work with us to come up with a solution?
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