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Mr. Walker : Will my hon. Friend tell the House how many times the police have been called to Swineshead village hall to deal with disturbances over the past decade?

Alistair Burt: My postbag is remarkably silent about that. Scratching my head, I suspect that the answer is between nil and one, but I shall let the House know if that turns out to be wrong. My hon. Friend makes a fair point.

Mr. Tate was recently required to adhere to special conditions of the public entertainment licence that is now required at Swineshead village hall. Condition 3 said that by 31 March 2006, the village hall had to

Mr. Tate does not have any members of staff—

That seems to be rather unnecessary, as Mr. Tate pointed out in his letter to the local authority.

Another special condition has caused even greater concern in Swineshead. Bedford borough council's special condition 8 told the people of Swineshead:

Mr. Tate was proper enough to respond to the borough council. He wrote:

I merely point out to the House the nonsense of such a condition even being suggested to a village hall, notwithstanding the fact that now that I have publicised it, I might be inundated with letters from the good people from Swineshead who perhaps do not agree with their chairman's quick approach on such a condition.

I shall rest my case. Conservative Members have tried to suggest that elements of the Act are nonsense for village halls. Despite the humour that some objections have caused, the serious point is exactly that raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley. The people who run village halls are volunteers, so the burden of their paperwork will be onerous. The money taken out of village halls due to bureaucracy will be lost to communities.

People genuinely fear that damage will be caused. This is not scaremongering; it is real for those who have been campaigning on the matter for a long time. If the Minister and his colleagues can encourage Sir Les to conduct a rapid review of the circumstances and make some concessions for village halls, perhaps the Bill's good aspects will not be swept away with concerns about the bad.
 
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9.20 pm

Mr. John Grogan (Selby) (Lab): It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), who put his case in his usual measured way. I feel I now know everything there is to know about Swineshead, and am all the better for it. I can boast more villages in my constituency than he can. I have 88, many with pubs and village halls, and I am doing my bit to publicise the licensing laws by going around as many of them as I can.

I look forward immensely to 24 November. It will be a great day in our history when we finally sweep away the licensing laws, dating from Lloyd George and the first world war. At last, we will be able to go out and have a drink after going to the theatre or cinema and will not have to pay large amounts to go into a club environment. At last, when I am wandering around some of the 88 villages in my constituency and happen on a pub near to closing time that has its curtains drawn and is staying open after 11 o'clock, I will not have to leave as the Member of Parliament because it will be legal for well-run premises to stay open that late. As chairman of the all-party group on beer, it is almost worth throwing a party to celebrate that day when it comes.

I noticed two different approaches from the Opposition parties. The Liberal Democrats took a fundamental approach. Unlike some of my colleagues, I like Liberal Democrats. [Hon. Members: "Oh!"] I do. Progressives are few and far between in North Yorkshire. It was once a completely blue county and we had many alliances. It is a cause of particular disappointment to me that the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) has gone back to the original Lloyd George position. The logic of his argument is that there should be no flexibility in opening hours. What would that do for binge drinking? People who go out under our current restrictive licensing laws are younger people. Our towns and city centres would remain dominated by them and they would have the same incentives to drink far too much far too quickly.

According to an incomplete survey by the all-party beer group, more than 2,000 licensed premises have applied for extended hours. They do not want 24-hour opening, but an extra hour or two on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday. Those premises have had no objections and the applications have gone through on the nod. The only controversial application that I have been involved in was for the Charles pub in Heslington village. It is a student pub with a long record of complaints of noise and nuisance, and the application was rejected.

I worry about the change in the Liberal Democrats' position. The hon. Gentleman said—I am sorry he is not in the Chamber to hear my little critique—that it is a pity that only a fifth of local councils have adopted the saturation clauses. Many rural districts do not have the problems of saturation of licensed premises that might be found in urban areas. It is not surprising that only a few of them have taken up that option.

I advise the hon. Gentleman to be careful in his choice of quotes. He called in aid the Institute of Alcohol Studies as part of his criticism. One of its main funding bodies is the UK Temperance Alliance, which approaches the debate in a certain way.
 
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On village halls and sports clubs, the Minister has not done at all badly in recent weeks in grasping the issues quickly. Perhaps village hall and sports club secretaries are made of sterner stuff in Selby than they are in Surrey, but I have had only one letter on the subject. I do not mean to decry the seriousness of the subject. The one sports group that wrote to me is having to pay a £300 fee. On the other hand, it is getting £17,000 in rate relief from the Government. It is a large sports club. I worry more about the smaller sports clubs and some of the smaller village halls.

Some interesting ideas have been put to the Minister, such as basing rateable value on the size of the bar and extending somewhat the number of temporary event notices. However, until Sir Les Elton undertakes his study and takes his evidence, it will be difficult to judge the impact of raising the number of temporary event notices from 12 to 15. What difference would that make to village halls? How many village halls would that help? By bringing forward the initial study and the initial review by 12 months so that we have the report by November, I think that my hon. Friend the Minister is responding to criticisms that are real but can be exaggerated.

In the week that we won the Olympics, I hope that some of the London councils will now adopt a less churlish approach to the Act. The leader of Westminster city council has been quoted in a positive way. I am glad that he is beginning to recognise the potential for the development of London's entertainment sector in a safe way but also in an innovative way, now that councils have a say in licensing. We do not need a great structure of bureaucracy to implement the provisions in the Act in Westminster or in any of the London authorities, as health and safety and environment provisions are already very much in place. The fire authority is also in place, so those provisions do not need to be replicated.

We need, however, to get a night life in London that is fit for the Olympic games. One of the first meetings that I went to about licensing laws was held by an organisation called London First. It said that we would never get a great sporting event unless we had a safe and varied night life of which we could be proud. We have six or seven years to get that right.

The hon. Member for Bath has missed most of my critique, but as someone who went to Singapore and argued the case strongly for Britain, can he imagine having the Olympic games in London in 2012 without having some form of flexible opening hours? Will all the many visitors to London and all the many athletes, unlike in Athens last summer, have to go home at 11 pm? What a laughing stock we would be if that were the case.

9.27 pm

Hywel Williams (Caernarfon) (PC): I have a long-standing interest in the subject of the debate. My constituency was one of the very last in Wales to put an end to Sunday closing, which was one of the last gasps of specifically Welsh 19th century liberalism. As we used to say in my constituency, "If you want to drink on Sunday, you will have to wait until Monday."
 
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I share with other Members serious concern about the hard-drinking culture that seems to be prevalent, particularly among young people. I represent a tourist area, and there are concerns about the effects of the Act on small bed-and-breakfast businesses. My particular concern, which I have taken up with the Minister before, relates to the unavailability of Welsh language application forms so close to the deadline of 6 August. This might be a small matter in the grand scheme of things but it is particularly important to my constituency and to other constituencies in Wales.

As I have said, I have discussed the matter with the Minister previously. I had a useful meeting with him, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) and others. I am glad that the Minister has moved from his initial position with reference to the non-production of Welsh language forms when he said:

That is decidedly not the case.

I raised a further question with him yesterday because the situation has moved on in that Conwy county borough council in north Wales has now produced Welsh versions of the prescribed English forms. These Welsh versions are not prescribed, and I take the point that the Minister has made that it will not now be possible to prescribe Welsh language forms for another three months or so. However, the Minister has indicated that the Government are willing for local authorities in Wales to use the Conwy translation for now. That is all right as far as it goes, but some local authorities worry that a precedent might be established. If central Government have not provided the appropriate Welsh language documents, those authorities fear that they may be expected to step in. I hope that the current circumstances are unique and that no such precedent has been set.

There are, however, further problems. Some local authorities may take the prudent view that they should not use forms that are not officially prescribed. Would they be liable if there were a dispute with an unsuccessful applicant, who could cite the fact that the Welsh forms that they used were not prescribed? More straightforwardly, who would be liable if there was a mistake in translation? Licensees might reasonably expect to use officially prescribed Welsh language forms and could be wary about using locally produced versions. Hon. Members may wonder how the situation has arisen and how the Government have got into a fix so close to the 6 August deadline. Essentially, the problems arise from a deficiency in the Welsh Language Act 1993, which provides for the publication of Welsh language schemes that provide guidance on the production of Welsh language material. It is surprising that, 12 years after the passage of the Act, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has not prepared a Welsh language scheme. It has not been asked to do so, but I understand that it will now prepare such a scheme, which is most welcome.

Finally, on a positive note, the Minister will be glad to hear that subsequent to our discussions, my own local authority, Gwynedd county council will adopt and adapt the Conwy forms. Those forms may be used in
 
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only a small number of cases, but I hope that they will solve the problem. The council will also take steps to publicise the availability of the Welsh language forms, and will target information at applicants who may wish to use them. I do not know whether all local authorities in Wales will take such action, but the positive steps taken by Gwynedd county council are welcome. It has pointed out, however, that Conwy county borough council has translated only five of the 100 or so forms available in English. The sooner that all prescribed forms are available in Welsh the better.

As I said, the problem has arisen because of a weakness in the 1993 Act. DCMS was not asked to produce a Welsh language scheme, so it was not prompted to produce Welsh language forms. In Wales, that is interpreted as a reason for a further review of the Act and, indeed, as proof that it needs to be replaced. That is certainly my position, and it is the position of my party.

9.33 pm


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