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House of Commons

Monday 24 October 2005

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Licensing Act

1. Michael Gove (Surrey Heath) (Con): What recent representations she has received on the Licensing Act 2003. [20214]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Tessa Jowell): My Department continues to receive a number of representations about the Licensing Act, mainly relating to the fees review, the consultation on temporary event notices and the timing of the second appointed day. On the issue of whether the Government should press ahead with full implementation of the Licensing Act on 24 November—the second appointed day—the key stakeholders are supportive, and that is what the Government intend to do.
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Michael Gove: I am sure that the Secretary of State will be aware of the widespread concern that many of my constituents feel about the legislation. In particular, they are deeply concerned about the rise of alcohol-fuelled antisocial behaviour. Many establishments in Camberley town centre have been pressing for extensions to their licences, but unfortunately local residents who do not live in the immediate vicinity are barred from making representations. Local councillors who are deeply concerned about preserving the character and tranquillity of that town centre are also gagged from making their representations heard when deliberations are made on the extension of licences. What can the Secretary of State say to reassure my constituents that she takes seriously the threat of alcohol-fuelled antisocial behaviour and that she will show respect for those local people who cannot have their voices heard in the debate because of her legislation?

Tessa Jowell: On the first point, on alcohol-fuelled antisocial behaviour, it is precisely because of the new police powers in the legislation that we intend to press ahead and secure its implementation as quickly as possible, so that those powers are at their disposal. On the second point, in looking at the performance of local authorities around the country, to which I pay tribute for setting up the new regime, I am pleased that in 95 per cent. of the cases in which residents make representations against variation in hours, their concerns have been met and a satisfactory conclusion reached.

Mr. David Crausby (Bolton, North-East) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the problems of binge drinking and antisocial behaviour have grown as a result not of the licensing laws, but as a by-product of an increasingly selfish society, nurtured in the early 1980s? Does she also agree that a more civilised regime is essential to reform the existing drinking culture?
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Tessa Jowell: I certainly agree that a regime that combines tough law enforcement and powers to crack down on antisocial behaviour and alcohol-related crime, linked to the end of the curfew for the law-abiding majority, is the right way to go, and that is the way in which the Government intend to proceed.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): Will the Secretary of State comment on a contradiction at the heart of Government policy with regard to alcohol disorder zones as proposed in forthcoming legislation and the 2003 Act? Is there not a contradiction between rising antisocial behaviour as a result of excess alcohol consumption and, at the same time, the introduction of alcohol disorder zones?

Tessa Jowell: No, I certainly do not accept that there is any inconsistency. We have a big problem with alcohol-fuelled violence and binge drinking. The 2003 Act makes a necessary, but not complete, contribution to solving that problem. The Violent Crime Reduction Bill, which is legislating for the introduction of alcohol disorder zones, is a second very important stage. Put together, the powers of the Violent Crime Reduction Bill and the powers of the 2003 Act give the police unprecedented powers to crack down on alcohol-fuelled disorder. That is why getting the legislation enacted is so pressing.

Mrs. Joan Humble (Blackpool, North and Fleetwood) (Lab): Is my right hon. Friend aware that 1,700 premises licences and 2,000 personal licences have been awarded in Blackpool? Will she congratulate seaside towns on getting the balance right between listening to the representations of the local community and taking account of the needs of visitors, to ensure that our seaside towns continue to prosper?

Tessa Jowell: I thank my hon. Friend for that. I certainly do pay tribute to those councillors who sat on local authority licensing panels in seaside towns and, indeed, across the country for their magnificent effort in getting us to the position in which 97 per cent. of licences are transferred to the new regime. We also have a new regime that gives power to local residents in a way that they have never had before.

Susan Kramer (Richmond Park) (LD): Does the Minister accept that in communities such as mine licensees are applying for exactly the same extended hours, thus defeating the Government's goal of staggering closing? Drunks will now come out onto the street at a time that is more disruptive to the community. They will have had even more to drink and police resources will be diminished.

Tessa Jowell: The pattern established by authorities around the country is different from the position in her constituency. We are indeed seeking to avoid replacing one fixed closing time with another for the reasons that she identified. I suggest that she make representations to her local council to address the problem.

Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): My right hon. Friend is right that the Licensing Act gives enormous power to local authorities, but there is
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confusion about how far they can push the boundaries, particularly with regard to the role of councillors who wish to make representations in the area where they live. Will she look at that and at whether, for example, councillors can make children's areas no-smoking areas?

Tessa Jowell: We have undertaken to review the implementation of the Act, and when we do so we will of course look at that. When Parliament considered that point it sought to ensure that councillors who raise concerns with the local authority—such concerns could result in a licensee losing their licence—do so in their representative capacity. I am happy on the strength of the experience to date to give the House an assurance that we will look at that issue in our longer-term review of the Act.

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con): Figures out last week showed violent crime up by 6 per cent. on the same period last year. The Secretary of State has already referred to the link between binge drinking and violent crime, so does she not accept that the new licensing hours will simply make the problem worse?

Tessa Jowell: No, I certainly do not. The Association of Chief Police Officers wants the Act to be implemented on time, as do local authorities. They recognise something that seems to have escaped the right hon. Lady for many weeks—the police need those new powers to tackle alcohol-related crime. In her constant opportunistic opposition she is in effect voting against the voices in the police and local government saying that we need those powers to make a serious attack on alcohol-related crime.

Mrs. May: I suggest that the Secretary of State listen more carefully to the question in future. I did not ask about the licensing law and the new powers; I asked about the new licensing hours. Senior police officers have made it clear that new powers are welcome but that extended licensing hours are not. A Scotland Yard report predicts an

The chief constable of North Yorkshire said that longer hours would lead to

The licensing spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers said:

Why are the Government ignoring them?

Tessa Jowell: Some of the crimes that people commit while under the influence of alcohol are hideous. There is no dispute in the House about that, but I would not want the right hon. Lady to think that this was a decision that was reached lightly. The Government are determined to push ahead with the implementation of the Licensing Act, because we can provide protection to innocent victims by giving the police powers to take effective action. She used a pick-and-mix strategy to find a chief constable who agrees with her, but the president
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of ACPO has made it quite clear that the police do not have any objection to flexible hours per se. We have worked closely with the police to meet their concerns. We are going to implement the legislation on 24 November and many people will be saved from attack, assault and injury as a result.

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