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Standing Committee Debates

Third Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation

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Third Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation

The Committee consisted of the following Members:


John Cummings

†Burstow, Mr. Paul (Sutton and Cheam) (LD)
†Follett, Barbara (Stevenage) (Lab)
†Foster, Mr. Don (Bath) (LD)
†Gilroy, Linda (Plymouth, Sutton) (Lab/Co-op)
†Gwynne, Andrew (Denton and Reddish) (Lab)
†Hall, Mr. Mike (Weaver Vale) (Lab)
†Irranca-Davies, Huw (Ogmore) (Lab)
†May, Mrs. Theresa (Maidenhead) (Con)
†Moss, Mr. Malcolm (North-East Cambridgeshire) (Con)
†Purnell, James (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport)
†Selous, Andrew (South-West Bedfordshire) (Con)
†Shapps, Grant (Welwyn Hatfield) (Con)
†Smith, Ms Angela C. (Sheffield, Hillsborough) (Lab)
†Streeter, Mr. Gary (South-West Devon) (Con)
†Ussher, Kitty (Burnley) (Lab)
†Ward, Claire (Watford) (Lab)
†Wright, David (Telford) (Lab)
Ian Cameron, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee

The following also attended, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(2):

Greening, Justine (Putney) (Con)
Turner, Mr. Andrew (Isle of Wight) (Con)

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Wednesday 26 October 2005

[Mr. John Cummings in the Chair]

Licensing Act 2003 (Second Appointed Day) Order 2005

2.30 pm

Mr. Malcolm Moss (North-East Cambridgeshire) (Con): I beg to move,

    That the Committee has considered the Licensing Act 2003 (Second Appointed Day) Order 2005 (S.I. 2005, No. 2091).

It seems like I have been debating this particular piece of legislation for ever. Some may think that today is the last throw of the dice, which it may well be, but we have laid orders in the other place and are not finished yet.

The order and our motion to annul the appointed day—or certainly to put it back—should be seen in the context of what is going on elsewhere. Things are going extremely badly for the Government at the moment, and the Prime Minister’s authority seems to be ebbing faster than the Thames tide. The Government cannot agree on anything: a headline in today’s The Daily Telegraph reads, “Warring ministers delay Bill to ban smoking in public”. Perhaps the Minister is one of those who, according to the article, are doing deals behind other people’s backs.

The Cabinet cannot agree a policy on schools, and the Minister’s Department cannot agree a policy on casinos. This is not a good time to press ahead with a policy that is likely to end up in chaos and confusion and to exacerbate an already serious problem. Given the record of ineptitude in recent months, I urge the Minister to take time out, pause and rethink. As spokesman for the official Opposition, I am here to help.

The Minister is already part way down the road of doing something about changing the legislation. The Financial Times of 17 September describes him as wanting to be “conciliatory”, which is a good word. I looked up “conciliatory” in the dictionary, and it means to reconcile, but it is only possible to reconcile two opposing views. The Government have introduced far-reaching legislation, which they do not want to reconcile with anybody—they want to vote it through. They are telling the world that this is what they believe and that this is what they will do. Why is the Minister talking about reconciliation before the policy has been implemented?

Reconciliation in this case involves the Local Government Association. According to the Financial Times:

    “The Local Government Association . . . has argued that the guidelines need to be tightened to prevent an explosion of binge drinking once the new laws come into force in November. Town hall chiefs have told . . . the culture secretary that the current
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    guidance is skewed in favour of pubs, clubs and restaurants that want to open late, and that the balance should be tilted back towards local residents who object to round-the-clock drinking.”

The Minister is quoted as saying that the Government want to be “conciliatory”. Accordingly

    “the guidelines—issued by two local authorities and to the police—would now be reviewed within three months of the new regime taking effect.”

The Minister knows that he is under attack from the LGA. In the debate the other night, he said that everyone is happy for the Act to be implemented, but that is not true. The LGA is seriously unhappy, and now the Minister has conceded that he will re-examine the matter in three months’ time.

It is surely unique in the history of legislation in this place for a major Act of Parliament to be reviewed within three months of implementation, and it certainly sets a precedent. It means that deep down within the Department for Culture, Media and Sport they know that this is a punt in the dark that could go seriously wrong, and the Minister knows that in his heart, too. The evidence is there for all to see.

I will not repeat the speech that I made on Monday night. [Hon. Members: “Why not?”] I want to take the Minister on a different tack this time. Can one imagine the Government reviewing the Terrorism Act 2000, their schools policy or any other Act within 90 days?

The core of the problem is that greater access to alcohol leads to greater consumption. In February, The Daily Telegraph quoted Mark Jones, chief executive of the high street pub operator Yates, who believes that 24-hour opening will fuel binge drinking:

    “If every pub opens for four hours extra a week, that is the equivalent of 3,000 new pubs in the country. The high street is already an over-supplied market and the increasing supply will mean prices will go down and consumption will go up. This will only lead to more disorder.”

As clearly stated by someone in the industry, greater access will mean greater consumption. If we were considering an Act to allow 3,000 extra pubs, we would say, “You’ve got to be joking. We are not going to issue 3,000 new licences”, but the Government’s proposal will have that effect.

The Government claim that they must implement the Act, and the second appointed day brings it to the starting gun. There is no reason why it should be implemented next month, because it has been delayed at every stage. Even when we discussed it in Committee, we did not have details of the guidance, the fee structure or the application process. It is no good Labour Members arguing, as they did on Monday, that we did not oppose it at every turn in Committee, because what would we have been opposing? We did not know what the Government would come up with in Committee, and neither did they. Since we have known the details, however, we have opposed the Act at every turn.

The Government say that they need to get the proposal through before Christmas, and they have made some wild claims. As the Secretary of State said on Monday, it will prevent the curfew at 11 o’clock, when all the bars and pubs suddenly empty at the same time and people queue for taxis and fast food, which is when violence and disorder occur. The Government
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say that they must introduce new licensing hours to make the curfew problem go away, but nothing could be further from the truth.

It is obvious when one examines the applications for the extension of hours that most pubs and clubs have gone for one or two-hour extensions—they have looked over their shoulders at what their competitors are doing and put in for the same hours. If I were a publican, I would do the same, because it would be stupid to close at 12 o’clock if my competitors were open until 1 o’clock or 2 o’clock in the morning. The extensions will simply move the curfew problem to the early hours of the morning, because the guidance explicitly states that councils cannot skew applications to stagger closing times.

The reasoning behind that decision is understandable: the order is deregulatory and liberalising; it is for publicans to decide when they want to open in a 24-hour period; and it is not in councils’ remit to say, “We would like you to close at two, and you to close at three”, in an attempt to manipulate closing to help town-centre policing.

Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon) (Con): My hon. Friend is making a compelling speech, and I hope that the Minister is listening.

In my part of the world, the council has granted—because of the Government guidance—every application from every pub and club to extend their opening hours to, on average, 1 o’clock in the morning, in the teeth of fierce opposition from local residents, whose lives will be disrupted. Because of the guidance, the council does not have the flexibility or scope to say anything other than, “Yes”. Is not that another major defect with the Licensing Act 2003 and another reason why the Government must think again? They are creating chaos, which is a great concern for many of our constituents.

Mr. Moss: My hon. Friend makes an important point. As I understand it, very few objections have been lodged to submitted applications to extend licensing hours. The police admit that they have never taken action against many of the pubs and clubs, so there is nothing that they can do to prevent the extension of hours. The situation may get worse as a result of the extended hours, but, as far as I am aware, few objections have been lodged, and that is certainly true of police objections.

The Government’s second assertion is that the order will allow the police to crack down on problem pubs and bars and on binge drinking, but the police already have huge powers to tackle those problems. It is already illegal to sell alcohol to someone who is drunk, but very few charges are brought against people for doing just that. The police openly say that they do not know whose glass is where when they go into a vertical drinking establishment. They must be on the spot to see whether someone is being sold alcohol while they are paralytic. The powers exist, but they are not being used.

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Other powers exist to close pubs, but the number people who are charged on that score is, again, extremely limited. The Minister and his Department are exercised about that problem. A report in The Guardian on 17 August stated:

    “Ministers have been privately frustrated at police failures to enforce existing laws to tackle Britain’s growing binge drinking problem, according to internal Whitehall documents obtained by the Guardian.”

Not only are the Minister and the Department wrong, but it seems that they are leaking like a sieve. The report continued:

    “A briefing document written for Tessa Jowell, the culture secretary responsible for implementing the act, ahead of a ministerial meeting says: ‘There are some fundamental questions to ask about police enforcement. Under present law it is illegal to allow drunkenness on licensed premises or to serve someone who is drunk. I recognise the resource issues for the police, but the law needs to be enforced. We would support the idea of some high-profile exemplar prosecutions.’ . . . A spokeswoman for Acpo said that powers to shut down a pub for 24 hours were little used because police often found it difficult to link a drunken disorder to a specific pub. ‘It’s very hard to pin down a premises,’ she said, pointing out that groups of drinkers often went to more than one pub.”

That is a surprise.

The Minister and his Department are embarrassed that more is not being done, but to claim that the Act contains a huge number of additional powers to clamp down on problems is misleading, because the powers are not there. The powers are tougher and more flexible in some respects than before, but the ability to close down a pub is still available to the police, as is the power to prosecute someone for serving a person who is drunk.

The Government argue that no one wants a delay and that chaos will occur if the legislation is delayed by a month, a week or even a day. That argument is nonsense, because we are currently under transitional arrangements. The Act allows for those transitional arrangements, so everyone has a legal licence until the appointed day is called. People have paid money thinking that it has gone towards their new licence, and they will not be best pleased if the start date is put back and their money sits in the local council’s coffers rather than earning them interest.

The Minister claims that ACPO, the police and the drinks industry want the measure to go through as quickly as possible and that any delay will cause upset and put people’s plans on hold for a certain time. Plenty of measures in the Act could be implemented without extending the hours on 24 November, however, and we are asking the Government to rethink the extension of hours provision. The evidence that I shall continue to put before the Minister is inescapable and overpowering.

The Minister claims that the Act will tackle the binge-drinking problem, but if hon. Members believe that, they will believe anything. Everyone agrees that greater access will lead to greater consumption. Some young people drink before they go to a pub or bar on a Saturday, and then they drink to excess when they are out. When they have had a complete fill, they do not stop like most people used to in my day—they get rid of what they have already drunk and start again. The idea that, by extending opening hours, people will
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say at 12 o’clock, instead of 11 o’clock, “I am full. I am going home.” is nonsense. There is a culture of drinking for drinking’s sake, and we will not change it by giving people greater access to alcohol.

Ms Angela C. Smith (Sheffield, Hillsborough) (Lab): Is the hon. Gentleman really saying that all young people behave in that manner? Surely he recognises that the majority of young people behave responsibly, whether drinking or not.

Mr. Moss: I was not referring to all young people. I said that such behaviour applies mainly to the younger generation. My generation does not go to down-town bars, drink for hours on end and get paralytic—not every day, anyway. The hon. Lady must know from talking to her local police that some down-town areas in our towns and cities—this also applies to some large villages—are no-go areas on a Friday and Saturday night, especially at closing time. The police are overstretched, and I shall cover some of their arguments later, but we will not solve the problem by extending opening hours.

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con): Will my hon. Friend suggest to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Ms Smith) that, if she does not believe that there is a binge-drinking problem in this country, she should obtain a copy of last night’s ITV television programme, “Britain’s Youngest Boozers”? It set out graphically the real problems that are experienced by too many young people in this country. It showed a 14 or 15-year-old youngster who had been off alcohol for three weeks, which was the longest period that she had been off alcohol since the age of 12.

Mr. Moss: My right hon. Friend has made an important point. I did not see the programme, but we do not need to watch programmes on ITV to know about the serious problems caused by under-age drinking and the behaviour of young people at weekends.

An article in Monday’s Daily Mail quoted Mr. Dave Daley, who is president of the National Association of Licensed House Managers. I wonder whether he is still in the country, given what he said.

Mr. Streeter: Arthur Daley?

Mr. Moss: Not Arthur Daley, but his cousin, I suspect.

According to the article:

    “Dave Daley . . . called the Government’s licensing reforms ‘an absolute cock-up’ and accused major pub companies of being fixated on making fat profits at the expense of social responsibility. He said managers of large drinking venues could expect to earn extra bonuses of £20,000 or more per year, often linked directly to their success in boosting sales over the bar during extended opening hours.

    In a devastating admission, he declared that the licensed industry itself had ‘created’ binge drinking in recent years as a result of managers’ success in maximising sales.”

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Mr. Daley represents some 3,000 managers of large chain-owned pubs. He said:

    “How we make our money is to make people binge-drink. The more people drink , the more I get as a bonus.”

Just as we did not argue that all young people drink to excess at weekends, we do not think that every bar manager, publican and person who serves drink in a bar or establishment is as fixated as the Daleys of this world on ensuring that people drink as much as they can get down their throats, but such practices do go on. Extending opening hours will not deal with that problem, which the Government have not sought to address. If the Government had come to the House with proposals to tackle binge drinking in parallel to their reforms on licensing, they might have had a point and we would have listened, but they have not done so. The Minister is going to fire the starting gun in a few weeks’ time, and in my estimation it will exacerbate the problem.

What have the judiciary said? In June 2005, the Council of Her Majesty’s Circuit Judges made this submission to the Home Office consultation paper, “Drinking Responsibly: The Government’s Proposals”:

    “Those who routinely see the consequences of drink-fuelled violence in offences of rape, grievous bodily harm and worse on a daily basis, are in no doubt that an escalation of offences of this nature will inevitably be caused by the relaxation of liquor licensing which the Government has now authorised. We regard it as simply wishful thinking to suppose that the introduction of the Licensing Act will bring about the cultural change which Government envisages”.

Mr. Streeter: My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech. Is not the most important point that drinking is connected to antisocial behaviour, which is on the increase in most of our constituencies? The police have told us that there is a strong connection between antisocial behaviour and drink and drugs, which is a cause of increasing concern among the majority of our constituents. Is it not the case that the proposals that the Government are introducing on 24 November will make matters worse, which is another reason why they should think again?

Mr. Moss: I agree with my hon. Friend entirely.

The other issue is how the police will cope with the difficulties. Why should we assume that police resources, which are already under great pressure and which are finite, can deal with extended hours and the problems that will arise early on Saturday and Sunday mornings in our town and city centres?

I have two quotes, one from the Nottinghamshire police and one from the Derbyshire police. Nottinghamshire police has said:

    “The ODPM Select Committee stated: ‘We are concerned that the extension of Licensing Hours under the licensing Act 2003 could stretch police resources to an extent where anti social behaviour tools will be ineffective’ . . . It is this stretching of resources which concerns us, since we are already experiencing it: new powers to enable us to police city centres with problems relating to alcohol fuelled violence are to be commended, but these powers can only be used to their maximum effect if properly resourced. This means we require more Officers to exercise the powers and more money to pay for those Officers”.

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Derbyshire constabulary has said:

    “All night opening will have significant implications for both the police service and peace in the community. Policing resources will be stretched more thinly through the night. At present we can end officers’ tours of duty at 03.00 at the weekend in the knowledge that pubs and clubs have closers and the users have gone home. These officers can then be brought back”—

I have lost the rest of my quote. Oh well; I assume that it is somewhere in my pile of papers. The constabulary go on to say that those officers can come back early the next day to start their new shift, whereas if they are retained on duty into the early hours, they need a rest day, which has an operational effect on the police in some of our major cities.

Mr. Mike Hall (Weaver Vale) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Moss: I want to make some progress. I will conclude in the next few minutes, because we must give the Minister plenty of time.

The Minister claims that the section 161 powers will enable police to make closure orders, which relate to two types of problem—disorder and public nuisance. We agree with closure orders, but they probably do not go far enough. I shall quote the Act:

    “A senior police officer may make a closure order . . . if he reasonably believes that . . . there is, or is likely imminently to be, disorder on, or in the vicinity of and related to, the premises”.

The disorder has to be not only in the vicinity of a pub, club or bar, but related to it. It will be incredibly difficult for the police to pin such an order on a premises, particularly in town or city centres where people mill around and move from establishment to establishment.

The creation of a public nuisance can also lead to a closure order. A closure notice on the grounds of noise may be issued only where the noise emanates from a premises, so section 166 does not catch noise in the street. Although closure orders can be made, they do not go far enough, and it is likely that the police will bring fewer prosecutions, because the provisions do not have enough teeth.

The Minister claims that he needs to bring the Act into force because he wants to give more power to local people and local councils. He has argued that the new licensing law gives greater powers and discretion to local councils, but we know that pretty well all applications are granted automatically unless an objection is made, and we know that only certain people are allowed to object. Residents can object only if they live in the vicinity, the definition of which has been left hanging in the air, because it is in neither the Act nor the guidance. “Vicinity” could mean 50 m, 100 m or 200 m from a premises, so the situation is not clear.

Our other problem is that although councillors are seemingly allowed to make objections, when it comes down to the nitty-gritty, they cannot take part in the process if they represent the ward in which objections have been raised. They have also been advised that if the matter affects their area, they cannot sit on the committee that considers such issues, because it could be prejudicial. Although an attempt was made to achieve wider consultation and more powers to object,
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very little has happened in practice. I could go on, because I have hours of stuff, but we have only an hour and a half and lots of hon. Members want to speak, so I shall wind up my remarks.

If the Government were to delay the implementation date—the appointed day—the world would not cave in. I think that all licences that are currently in place will last until 2007, and if people want extensions for Christmas, they can go to the magistrates in the usual way. There is a depth and wealth of feeling about this extension of hours, and I ask the Minister to think again.

I do not demur from the view that the Minister has a promising career and is a bright young politician who is well connected with No. 10. So far, he has had a fairly sure touch on the legislation, but in his quieter moments he must think that he has received a hospital pass. I do not know whether he has played rugby, but if a player is about to receive a hospital pass, he does not keep running in the same direction—he either feints or stops. If the Minister is not prepared to do either of those things, his meteoric career might end in tears for somebody.

3.1 pm

Mr. Don Foster (Bath) (LD): I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Cummings. For the sake of convenience, I refer you and Committee members to the speech that I gave on this issue on Monday, the vast majority of which I shall not attempt to repeat today.

Nevertheless, I want it put firmly on the record that the Liberal Democrats are absolutely clear that we want to see a delay in longer licensing hours until binge drinking is under control. We know that that is a real problem, and that it is getting worse. Alcohol-related health problems are rising. Alcohol-fuelled violence is rising. The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport has been honest enough to admit that there is a problem. In the debate on Monday, she said:

    “We have a big problem with alcohol-fuelled violence and binge drinking . . . Some of the crimes that people commit while under the influence of alcohol are hideous.”—[Official Report, 24 October 2005; Vol. 438, c. 3-4.]

I entirely agree. The issue before us is whether we are going to help to solve the problem of binge drinking by going ahead with the implementation of the Licensing Act 2003 on 24 November, or whether we would do better to delay its implementation.

I argue that clear, international research evidence demonstrates that the sensible course of action is to delay implementation. That evidence is in the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology report and in the study by the Alcohol and Health Research Trust that was published only a couple of months ago in the International Journal of Drug Policy. All that research shows clearly that longer licensing hours will make binge drinking worse.

That research comes from Iceland, western Australia, Tasmania and Ireland—even from England, if we consider the changes in 1921. Lest the Minister be tempted to repeat comments he made in his speech on Monday, I should say that even research on the changes made in Scotland in 1976 supports me.
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There is also clear research evidence from countries that have addressed the problem by reducing the availability of alcohol and reducing hours. That action has helped to solve the problem in Norway, Finland and Sweden.

Very good international research evidence shows that what the Government want us to do is wrong and will make the problem worse.

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