Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Stephen Hesford (Wirral, West) (Lab): I wish to bring the debate back to its roots in actuality—what is happening on the ground. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. David), at the last election, I faced the suggestion of 24-hour drinking. That seemed to be the only line taken by the Tory candidate standing against me—it was the only thing I heard her say. It came as no surprise to me that that late-in-the-day concern about the issue arose so near to the election.

I think that the whole House accepts that licensing laws in England and Wales are out of date and do not work as they were intended to. The licensing regime in its present form was introduced almost 100 years ago, during the first world war. We have heard nothing about the fact that the licensing laws were relaxed under the Conservative Government. Hon. Members will recall that pubs used to shut at 3 pm, but that was done away with under the Conservatives—I see Opposition Members nodding—because it was thought a reasonable measure, and so it was. I submit that the new regime is simply an extension of that policy. It was right then, and it is right now.

Kicking off the debate for the Opposition, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) said that she did not want licensing applications to extend opening hours to 1 or 2 am. I have asked my local council to send me a copy of every licensing application in my
24 Oct 2005 : Column 117
constituency and I have looked at all of them. I can think of only one that was for hours beyond the ones to which I have referred. One premises called Aurora made an application for 4 am. In the end, the licensing committee extended its licence to 12.30 am. Of all the other licensing applications that have gone through in my constituency, none has gone past 12.30 am. There is the idea, as the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) said, that this is a licensing free-for-all. It was a scaremongering exercise during the election. It is a misrepresentation of what is going on throughout the country.

My hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly said that he would find it difficult to believe that his constituency was unrepresentative. In the same way, I would find it incredible if my constituency were out of the ordinary. That opinion is rooted in what is happening and not in scaremongering. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State mentioned that there was a success rate of about 95 per cent. in negotiations between local residents, local councillors and those making decisions. Having taken special care to examine applications in my constituency, I know that, far from local residents having no voice, and given that I have come across no applications for a licence extension beyond 12.30 am, it is clear that the councillors on the sub-committee have taken into account the observations and objections that it said are not being taken into account in other parts of the country—something that I do not accept.

The borough in which my constituency is located has had a problem with a ward that was represented by three Tory councillors. I have no idea what they were doing because it does not come within my common experience.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that we are not talking of a one-off strategy and that it is not a be-all-and-end-all answer to binge drinking. I note that the motion does not even mention binge drinking as a specific item to be debated. The Violent Crime Reduction Bill will add to the powers to regulate the way in which licensed premises can conduct themselves. An alcohol reduction strategy is running in parallel with that to try to tackle the concept of binge drinking.

The hypocrisy—I am sorry to use such a stark word—is writ large in my constituency. I have already said that, having gone through the applications there, I was startled to see that Oxton Liberal club made just the sort of application about which crocodile tears have been shed. It is the headquarters of the Liberal party in my neck of the woods.

Mr. Dunne: As the hon. Gentleman has such a grip on the numbers of applications within his constituency, perhaps he could help us—perhaps the Minister will elaborate when he replies—by telling us how many applicants have not been able to have their applications submitted to enable them to continue trading. There are many in my constituency and I have been in extensive discussion with the Minister, in relation to much of which there has yet to be a response, to encourage applicants to submit their applications. They have been discouraged because the police were given no discretion within the 48-hour rule, whereby they had to receive copies of applications. Immense expense and trouble has been experienced by many existing licensees. If the Minister had given discretion to the police, the problem
24 Oct 2005 : Column 118
would not have arisen. For example, a publican who has been trading for 22 years has been treated like a new entrant.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman must keep his interventions short.

Stephen Hesford: I cannot help the hon. Gentleman. That problem has not revealed itself in my constituency.

The right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) came to Greasby in my constituency about seven weeks ago at the behest of the defeated Tory candidate, who seems to want to go at this issue like a dog with a bone. The right hon. Gentleman wanted the hours frozen, rejected the idea that pubs would be able to apply responsibly for an extension of just a few more hours and called the new licensing regime a huge social experiment that will make everyone's life a misery. Lastly, and presumptuously, he chose specifically to comment on the situation locally on the Wirral.

Having followed closely the licensing applications in my constituency, I knew that as the right hon. Gentleman spoke, the Oxton Conservative club was making the application that he said could not, in all conscience, be made. He rejected the idea that pubs could responsibly apply for a few more hours—just the type of thing that the local the Tory club was doing. It was a case of, "Do as I say, not as I do."

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): The hon. Gentleman is wearing a Tory tie.

Stephen Hesford: I am pleased that someone recognises the sartorial nature of my tie.

Let us put the hypocrisy aside and get back to the genuine debate about whether hon. Members on both sides of the House can deal with binge drinking. It is said, variously and misleadingly, that the police are against our proposal. Chief Superintendent Alan Jones, the area commander of my borough, is firmly in favour. He does not have a problem with having the numbers to police it. He does not seem to have a problem with the principle that, over time, it will change the culture, as my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly said. In fact, the chief superintendent welcomes the changes and does not want us to avoid events on 24 November.

The debate is serious. The right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden has not replied to the letter that I wrote as a result of his escapade in Greasby. His approach was rude, opportunistic and cowardly—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman must be careful with the words he uses about a right hon. Member of this House. He should withdraw that comment.

Stephen Hesford: I withdraw the comment, but I ask the House to wonder why, after six weeks, the right hon. Gentleman has not bothered to reply to my letter.

9.19 pm

Mr. Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con): The lifeblood of the economy in Scarborough and Whitby is the tourist trade. There can be no doubt that, if our town centres are full of rowdy drunks, it will
24 Oct 2005 : Column 119
be difficult to continue with the excellent progress that has been made in attracting families and the all-important conference trade to the east coast of Yorkshire. The changes to the licensing laws are all about making it easier for yobs to drink around the clock, while law-abiding small businesses and the people who use them are penalised and entangled in red tape.

Mr. David Kidney (Stafford) (Lab): Surely, the people who want to drink in Scarborough are tourists. The hon. Gentleman is not calling them yobs, is he?

Mr. Goodwill: That is puerile, and I shall deal with it later.

The Grosmont House hotel in Grosmont sleeps 10 and is situated next to the terminus of the North Yorkshire Moors railway, famous as the Hogwarts express in the Harry Potter films. Many people, having seen the film or Yorkshire Television's "Heartbeat" series, come to stay at that small family hotel, which is renowned for its local lobster. Some residents enjoy a bottle of wine with their evening meal, or have a glass of something before embarking on one of the railway's excellent dinner excursions. Others fancy a nightcap before turning in. Rosalind and George Andrews, the proprietors, faced with increased charges and a minefield of regulation, have decided reluctantly not to maintain their table licence. One of them would have to attend a training course, despite the fact that Mrs. Andrews completed a similar course before entering the trade and despite the fact that her husband has been a licensee for 38 years. The police have never been called to an incident in premises controlled by Mr. Andrews who, according to the Government definition, is untrained.

The requirement to provide detailed plans of the hotel is ridiculous. Mr. and Mrs. Andrews must submit plans not only of the bar, dining room and lounge but all the corridors and, surprisingly, the kitchen. Rosalind is not brewing moonshine in there as far as I know, nor is she manufacturing alcopops on the aga. Perhaps the Government know something that I do not, but I have not received reports of drunken youths prowling the North Yorkshire moors with jugs of Mrs. Andrews' rum sauce, gorging themselves with trifle or terrorising local people with brandy butter running down their chins—the only alcoholic products to emanate from her kitchen. The Andrews say:

If holiday makers decide to buy a bottle of plonk from the village shop they may well discover that it, too, has given up its licence. Other small shops, such as Sandsend stores, have spent days submitting and resubmitting forms despite the helpful assistance of Scarborough borough council. Village shops now face annual licensing costs that have leapt from £10 a year to £180—a stealth tax if ever I saw one.

To address the point made by the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney), many hotels and guest houses in Scarborough are dispensing with their licences for similar reasons. Those that have reapplied have burned
24 Oct 2005 : Column 120
the midnight oil filling in interminable forms. The proprietor of the Whitely hotel, Martin Smith, said that the total cost for his 10-bedroomed establishment is about £1,000. Similar businesses that have transferred their licences under grandfather rights may still have to reapply.

Next Section IndexHome Page