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If there were a delay, existing licences would continue, as they do at present under the transitional arrangements under the Licensing Act 1964. New licences could stand and fees paid would be held in abeyance. Parts of the 2003 Act could be implemented. A simple statutory instrument could be introduced to implement the parts of the measure on which there is common agreement, but the hours extension provisions could and should be delayed for a rethink because of the binge-drinking implications.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (James Purnell):
This has been a good debate. When we last debated the issue, the
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Opposition were worried about the fact that only 20 per cent. of premises had applied for their licence, so I start by paying tribute to the hard work of all local councillors and local officers who worked so hard over the summer to increase the figure to 97 per cent. I am sure that all parties will join me in thanking them for that.
David Lepper: In the light of what my hon. Friend has just said, I thank him for visiting the licensing unit of Brighton and Hove city council a few weeks ago to thank staff for their hard workit really boosted morale. What will be the impact on those local government officers if the House agrees with the Opposition motion not to proceed with implementation on 24 November?
James Purnell: That is an extremely good point. It would be utterly demoralising for people such as the staff in Brighton and Hove council. The council is one of the best in the country and reached 100 per cent. extremely early, and I pay tribute to the work of the staff.
I listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Moss). He takes a serious interest in the issues. I especially remember him saying during our last debate in July:
I agree with him. There are real issues, however, as the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) made clear in an excellent speech. He referred to the case reported in The Sun today of the young girl who is already an alcoholic. The paper published a picture of her in a beer garden drinking a pint of beer. That is legal under current law. That is exactly why we are changing the law. Such problems are occurring under the current law and they need to be fixed.
It is not acceptable for 11-year-olds to be getting drunk and falling over in the street. It is not acceptable for pubs to use irresponsible drinks promotions to boost profits and it should be shameful for people to get so drunk that they end up in accident and emergency departments or, worse, cause someone else to end up there. We recognise those problems, as the hon. Member for St. Albans (Anne Main) said. It is exactly because they are happening under the current law that we want to change it and fix them.
Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD): Will the Minister accept that longer hours will not make people drink less, so they will not address the problem of binge drinking? If he wants evidence, he should look at Scotland where alcohol consumption rose after relaxation of the drinking laws and where binge drinking is still a problem in my constituency and in the rest of the country.
I shall return to that point later, but if the current hours regime had actually been designed to
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encourage binge drinking the situation would not be dissimilar to the one that exists. There is a loophole in the current law whereby people can drink in pubs after 11 o'clock, but only in pubs that put on dancing and musicthe very ones about which we are most worried. There are 320 such pubs in the centre of Manchester alone, so the idea that people are not drinking after 11 o'clock at night is wrong, but they can do so only in the places that we would be most worried about if we were designing the law from scratch.
That is why we should be giving the powers to people at local level, so that they can make decisions based on local circumstances. My colleagues, my hon. Friends the Members for Wirral, West (Stephen Hesford) and for Caerphilly (Mr. David), made excellent speeches showing how local authorities are using their discretion to adapt their policies to local circumstances. A decision about the Dog and Duck in Leeds, for example, should be made on the basis of circumstances in Leeds, not by me in Whitehall deciding on a blanket closing time for the whole country.
Bob Russell : But does the Minister agree that local authorities and local councillors need clarification of what they can and cannot do? Legal counsel has given advice that ward councillors cannot speak on issues in their ward unless a resident has asked them to do so on their behalf.
Mr. Kevan Jones: Does my hon. Friend agree that, under the new law, not only do people have a say but, for the first time ever, they are informed when licensing applications come before councils? Under the previous system, they were neither consulted nor encouraged to complain to magistrates courts.
James Purnell: That is absolutely right. One of the key advantages of the Licensing Act 2003 is that it gives the power to local councillorsthe people who are accountable for the consequences of binge drinking in their areas and who will have the best incentive to take those decisions in the interests of their constituents.
The Opposition argue in their motion for delaying the Act's implementation, but those at the front line disagree. The LGA, ACPO and the Police Superintendents Association disagree, and the opposition case has fallen apart as those stakeholders and the representatives of those organisations
The police and some others are concerned about certain decisions. Of course, when they have those concerns, they have been successfully making representations to committees and getting some decisions overturned. ACPO has made it clear that it believes that
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the answer to the concerns about binge drinking is to change the behaviour of customers and proprietors, as well as introducing stronger licensing regulations. We agree with the police. If we delayed the Act's implementation, we would not get the powers that we need, contrary to what the hon. Member for Bath suggested in his speech. He is wrong to say that we would have those powers anyhow. For example, if we delayed implementation, we would lose the power for review, which will be central to changing the incentives open to landlords, so that they know that, if they misbehave or cause problems, they will face an immediate review by residents or the police.
The hon. Member for Bath said that we should just rely on the current powers, but ACPO says that those powers are broken, and it has told us that they want new powers. Frankly, it is not folly to implement the Act; it would be folly not to do so against the advice of the police.
If we delay the Act's implementation, we would not have the powers to deal with binge drinking and the costs placed on businesses would rise. Hon. Members made important points about the costs, and we will look at them in the review that Sir Les Elton is chairing.
I can assure the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale), who is the Chairman of the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, that we will seriously consider the point that he made about village halls and sports clubs. The representatives of the Central Council of Physical Recreation and of Action with Communities in Rural England, who represent village halls, have written to hon. Members to say that they do not want the Act's implementation to be delayed. If we delayed it, they would lose the £2 billion of savings that they will get over the next 10 years and all the work, which he described so eloquently, that has been going on over the summer would have been wasted, and the money would have been wasted. Hon. Members have championed that cause, and they would not be thanked by their constituents if we imposed greater costs on them.
The hon. Members for Bath and for North-East Cambridgeshire said that we did not have evidence for the Act. In fact, flexible hours have been introduced in New Zealand, Victoria and New South Wales, and they have reduced alcohol consumption in all those places. Today's argument about delay is not about serious politics; it is just about chasing headlines. I believe that this is good legislation, but even those who have had concerns about the specifics of the Act now say that they want it to be implemented. When politicians in the House look at the Act impartially, they agree with us. The deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats served on the independent Nicholson committee in Scotland that recommended following the path that we are following and he backed our proposals. Why are the Liberal Democrats not following the advice of their deputy leader?
The hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), whom many Conservative Members back to become their next leader, has also said that he backs the proposals and the intention behind the Act. He has made it clear
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