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That is the reality of what is happening as a result of the Act. When the Minister says that it will not affect community groups, perhaps he has not heard of organisations like Sonning working men's club or the Italian Circle in Welwyn Garden City. The committee of the Italian Circle has written to us. It was established a few years ago to provide talks about Italian subjects to members and visitors. It has slide shows, videos and so forth, and offers members and visitors the opportunity to have a glass of wine. The consumption of wine averages four to five bottles a meeting, yet it has been informed that it has to make an application under the Act for temporary event notices. According to the chairman, however, the way in which the Act is drafted has presented it
The Government have failed to grasp the way in which this ill-thought-out and heavy-handed law is impacting not just on community groups, village halls and working men's clubs, but on small businesses. I have a letter from Wines Unlimited in Worcester Park, which says:
"I do understand the hon. Gentleman's concerns. We tried to introduce a licensing regime that puts more power in the hands of local people. I understand the problems of village hallsI have heard about them myselfand we look further into them to see if anything can be done. Obviously, in the end, we need a licensing regime that pays its way."[Official Report, 22 June 2005; Vol. 435, c. 798.]
Perhaps the Minister can tell us what can be done or what he intends to do as a result of the Prime Minister's commitment to the House that this matter would be looked into. What will the Minister be doing for Richard Slater of the Village Halls Advisory Service, who says that the new Act seems very unfair. He adds:
"For halls to be limited to 12 temporary event notices means that small money-raising activities for, say, a playgroup holding a cheese and wine event will either be driven to private houses for a few or penalise an essential facility in a village."
The right hon. Lady has talked much about chaos, disorder and complication. However, she would deprive the police, local authorities and local residents of important new powers to deal with problems created by alcohol-fuelled disorder and violence. Does she have an alternative for dealing with such problems? Does she agree that the problems exist?
Mrs. May: I suggest that the hon. Lady thinks seriously before making such an intervention. When have there been problems of social disorder in village halls as a result of cheese-and-wine fundraising events for play groups? There have not been any. The Government have used an Act that introduced various other facilities as a sledgehammer to crack a nut in relation to village halls and sports clubs.
There are other complications. The honorary treasurer of Roydon village hall has said that before it can have a designated premises supervisor it must undergo a Criminal Records Bureau check. He added:
I have merely touched the surface in my remarks about what is a bad piece of legislation. Sadly, there is little time left for us to make it better. If the Minister had decided to work with us when we first raised these issues, he would have extended the deadlines, and we would have given him our support. However, we are now faced with just a few working days in the House, and no chance of bringing forward primary legislation to extend the 6 August deadline. Will the Minister at the very least now accept the mess that he has created and that he now finds himself in and work with us to find a solution for the many organisations that are struggling with the implementation of the Act?
The Minister has not yet laid the statutory instrument setting the second deadline of 24 November. Will he agree to extend that deadline, at least until after the Christmas and new year period, so that seasonal trade and the enjoyment of the public are not interrupted?
The Minister has set up the licensing fees review panelI repeat the questions that I put to the Minister for Sport and Tourism yesterday, which he singularly failed to answer or even attempt to address in his responseswhich will not report until autumn 2006. Will he now bring forward the review, tell it to report by the November deadline this year and agree to backdate any proposed reduction in fees, particularly to sports clubs and village halls? Will he agree also to review the way in which charges are apportioned to clubs, particularly sports clubs, so that they are based on the rateable value of only the area that is serving alcohol, rather than the club premises and grounds as a whole? Will he review the preposterous issue of temporary events notices, and increase them from 12 to at least to 24, and preferably to an even higher number?
We are discussing the implications that this bad Act will have for the licensing regime. I have not mentioned many other organisations and businesses that are affected by the legislation, such as travelling circuses. The hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) mentioned carnivals. There are also farmers' markets, fast food outlets and corner shops, some of which are finding things very difficult and may go under. All of those organisations, businesses and community activities are being affected by the Act.
The Minister should now face the truth and accept the reality of what is happening. He need not accept my word, but he should accept the word of village halls, community centres, clubs and sports clubs throughout the country. He must face the truth, accept the chaos that the Act is causing and do something about it now.
12 Jul 2005 : Column 768
"commends the Government on its effective publicity campaign that has significantly increased the rate of applications to convert existing licences under the Licensing Act 2003 before 6th August; encourages remaining licensees to fulfil their responsibilities and get their applications in before that date; considers that failure to implement the Act without delay would deny local communities increased powers of intervention and improved democratic accountability with regard to licensing and deny the police the expanded powers that are vital to their efforts to tackle alcohol-related crime and anti-social behaviour; welcomes the powers in the Act to prevent crime and disorder and public nuisance, and protect children from harm; believes that the Act will benefit local communities, local economies and tourism and generate savings for business of almost £2 billion over 10 years; and furthermore, believes that the Act will be successfully implemented by 24th November 2005 and will be welcomed by industry and non-commercial organisations, including village halls and sports clubs, alike.".
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State regrets that she cannot be here for this important debate. As the House will be aware, she has been asked to take on a role working with the families of the victims of last week. I think that it will be understood why she is not able to be in the Chamber.
I listened carefully to the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May). After 28 minutes of her speech, I am still not clear whether she is in favour of more flexible hours or against them. There was no mention of her view on that or of the alternative policy that she was putting forward. We have some sympathy with her in that her quandary is really her predecessor's fault. As has been said, the Tories have flip-flopped all over the place on the Licensing Act 2003. They started by being in favour. When the Bill was passing through the House, the right hon. Lady's predecessor said that the Conservatives agreed with the need for greater flexibility on opening hours, and that they accepted the argument for doing away with universal chucking-out time. Then, just before the election, when the political editor of the Daily Mail telephoned and said that it was launching a campaign against 24-hour drinking, the Tories decided that they were wrong after all, that they would come into line with the Daily Mail and would oppose the extension of the opening hours that they had supported in the first place.
Today, the problem for the right hon. Lady is that she cannot say what she thinks about flexible hours. I suspect that she agrees with them, but she cannot say so because in another part of the forest the shadow Home Secretary is still busily campaigning against 24-hour drinking, even though no one has applied for 24-hour licences.
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