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Mrs. May: I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman thinks that the judiciary and the BMA have a political axe to grind. Those are people talking about their experience of what happens with drunkenness on our streets and the violent crime that results from it. They are not people who, as the Minister has accused me of doing in the past, are playing politics. They are concerned people who deal with the consequences of the Government's folly. We can add to that list the many people living near pubs and clubs whose lives will be made that little bit more of a misery when the pub closes not at 11 pm or midnight but 1 or 2 am or later. They are worried, if not frightened, residents who will have to live with the consequences of extended drinking hours.
It is not too late for the Government to listen to the police, the judiciary, doctors and voters up and down the country and say, "Yes, we got it wrong. Let's
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abandon these plans for extended licensing hours. Let's work together to get rid of the binge drinking culture that damages our society." The question is not whether the Government are wrong, but whether the Secretary of State will have the guts to admit that the Government are wrong, and take this last chance to do something about it.
"commends the Government on its effective publicity campaign that, together with the excellent work of licensing authorities, has resulted in 97 per cent. of those needing to make applications having done so, with the expectation that virtually all those who want a licence will have the necessary licence by 24th November; welcomes the involvement of more local residents than ever before in the licensing processes and their ability to influence the hours that premises open near their homes; notes that there is no presumption in favour of late night drinking in the Act and that it is for licensing authorities to decide appropriate hours of trading where any dispute arises; considers that the implementation of the powers to review premises licences after 24th November are a vital step in fighting anti-social behaviour; and believes that delaying the implementation of the Act would be contrary to the wishes of the police, licensing authorities, the Central Council of Physical Recreation, Action with Communities in Rural England and industry and would be an unacceptable waste of the resources and effort put in by those who have been preparing for full implementation since 7th February 2005."
It is the third time this year that Opposition Members have brought to the House the same old argument that the Licensing Act 2003 should not be implemented. As we have heard, they have put forward not a single constructive alternative, laying sins at the feet of a piece of legislation that has not yet been implemented. That argument is just about the most consistent thing about their position on the matter. For all their bluster, they failed to vote against the Bill's provision on extending opening hours when they had the chance to do so, and neither the Conservatives nor the Liberal Democrats tabled any amendments to the provisions about flexible hours in Committee or on Report. Nor did any of their Front Benchers speak against the provisions. Indeed, the predecessor of the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May), the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale), who is currently in the Chamber, said:
"As we made clear on Second Reading, we accept the need for reform of our licensing laws. We support some elements of the Bill. We agree, for instance, with the need for greater flexibility in opening hours, and we accept the argument for doing away with the universal chucking-out time."[Official Report, 16 June 2003; Vol. 407, c. 172.]
Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab):
My right hon. Friend will recall that, both in writing and in conversation with her, I expressed my deep reservations about the extension of licensing hours. I voted for the Licensing Bill in the end because she undertook to review the operation of the Act. If Britain's alcohol problems become worse, will the Government commit themselves to changing the law again in the future?
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Tessa Jowell: I have made clear, as has the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (James Purnell), that the guidance will be reviewed, as will the implementation of the Act. Of course, given that the Act's intentions are to tackle alcohol-related crime and disorder, reduce public nuisance, increase public safety and protect children from harm, when we review it we shall do so in the context of its success in those four licensing objectives. With great respect to my hon. Friend, I think that that goes without saying.
Mr. Don Foster (Bath) (LD): There may be some agreement on just one aspect. Does the Secretary of State agree that if she is to fulfil the promise that she just gave the hon. Member for Luton, North (Kelvin Hopkins), there is one crucial requirement? Before anyone can conduct an assessment of the impact of the law, there must be agreed benchmarks against which judgments are given, but so far the Secretary of State has refused to consent to the establishment of such benchmarks. Will she now at least do that?
Tessa Jowell: When the Act is implemented, we will set out the proposals for review, the terms of reference for review, and the way in which it will be conducted. I shall not be drawn into discussing the methodology at this stage, but we should be clear about one thing: it is this Government who have shown dedicated commitment to tackling alcohol-related violence, and the purpose of any review of the Act will be to ensure that if further improvements can be made, they are made so that the Act does that more effectively.
The right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) has failed to persuade the House before, and I believe that she will do the same today. The facts are simply not on her side; nor are the vast majority of experts in this business. The Association of Chief Police Officers, for instance, recently confirmed that it did not want implementation of the Act delayed. Local councils, as the new licensing authorities, have put enormous effort and good work into delivering the requirements of the transitional period, and I congratulate them on that. Only recently, the Local Government Association confirmed that it did not want that effort to be wasted.
Mr. Kevan Jones : People with direct interests include the hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), who, along with me and other Back Benchers, tended to make supportive noises about the Bill before it came into being. Although as company directors such people have a vested interest, they have supported the legislation nevertheless.
In recent weeks, the Central Council for Physical Recreation has also confirmed its opposition to delay. It represents sports clubs that have gone through the conversion and variation processes, and have paid their fees. Then there are the tens of thousands of small businesses that have paid for their new licences and expect to see the benefits on 24 November.
Mr. Marsden : What would my right hon. Friend say to the proprietors of the hundreds of small guest houses, clubs and other organisations in Blackpool that have already taken out licences if the advice offered to us by the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) were taken and commencement were delayed?
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. I understand the right hon. Lady's desire to respond to an intervention from her own Benches, but she should not turn her back on the Chair. More important from her own point of view is the fact that the microphone will not pick up her voice.
The right hon. Member for Maidenhead ignores local residents who have engaged in the process of licensing in greater numbers than ever before. Their time and effort in objecting to variations, where they have done so, would be wasted if she had her way.
We have already heard this evening about at least one Conservative Member with very strong views on the Act, who believes that it is rooted in common sense. He is such a keen proponent that he has been a director of the drinks company Urbium. His name has been mentioned a number of times this evening: he is, of course, the hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), and I believe that the right hon. Member for Maidenhead is backing him for the party leadership. Her position on the Licensing Act could just be a rather bad career move. The obvious conclusion is that the right hon. Lady and other Conservative Members would rather keep the status quo, which gives rise to all these problems, than come up with the practical solutions advocated by the police and others.
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