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Local authorities, licensing authorities and the police express an interest in using a full range of powers. The hon. Member for Hornchurch criticises the work that Home Office officials and the police do, day in day out, throughout the country in the areas worst affected by alcohol-related disorder, to decide which powers are most applicable and how to use them better. That may involve explaining that the last resort is an alcohol disorder zone, and if that is something that local authorities should be considering, I am sure that it forms part of the discussions. The hon. Gentleman calls the measure a waste of time, but I can assure him that a number of local authorities, including my own, which at the moment is led by his party, welcome the opportunity to have support from the Home Office and the police in making better use of the powers that are available. I do not accept that it would help us in any way to remove
the power to create alcohol disorder zones from the statute book, particularly to go down the route suggested by the hon. Gentleman.
The hon. Gentleman talked about the stigma of having an alcohol disorder zone. What about the stigma of an area shown in the newspapers and on the television, and seen by the residents themselves, that has the kind of evening economy that does a disservice to our town and city centres? That has a stigma too, and that is why local authorities should be looking to use every power available.
I turn now to amendment 23. Clause 55 allows local authorities to introduce an order to limit the opening times in their area between 3 am and 6 am. The hon. Gentleman knows that when the Licensing Act 2003 was introduced, the commitment was given to keep the situation under review and, if necessary, to take further action. For the very reasons given by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South, there is an issue with what happens between 3 am and 6 am. We are taking this measure so that if the emergency services are stretched, or the police are saying that further action should be taken, there is a power to close not one but a number of premises.
Mr. Campbell: It is entirely up to local authorities. If they want to hold it in abeyance while they consider other powers and discuss them with licensed premises, that is entirely a matter for them. I should have thought, from the comments that the hon. Gentleman has made in these debates and elsewhere, that he would see some benefit in giving local authorities discretion. However, the point of amendment 23 is not to give local authorities discretion; it aims to change the nature of the debate. It would lower the threshold that must be met before a licensing authority may decide to make an order. If the amendment were accepted, the discretion of the licensing authority would be broadened and the test would be more subjective and less evidence-based.
Clause 55 was drafted in accordance with the better regulation principles that are central to our policy on regulation. I remind the House that they are: proportionality, which means that regulators should intervene only when necessary, that remedies should be appropriate to the risks posed and that costs should be identified and minimised; accountability, which means that regulators must be able to justify their decisions and be subject to public scrutiny; consistency, which means that rules and standards must be joined up and implemented fairly; transparency, which means that regulators must be open and must keep regulations simple and user-friendly; and targeted, which means that regulations must be focused on an identified problem and minimise side-effects.
Amendment 23 moves us away from those principles in a way that the House would, I believe, find totally unacceptable. The first principle is proportionality. I emphasise the words "only intervene when necessary", because it is the word "necessary" that the hon. Member for Hornchurch asks us to remove from clause 55. I find
that surprising, given that as recently as October last year, his party published, with great fanfare, a policy paper outlining the approach to regulation that a Conservative Government would adopt, if elected. The paper was snappily entitled "Regulation in the Post-Bureaucratic Age". It cites the better regulation principles, which I outlined, as the starting point for the policy of Conservative Members. It includes the words:
"Regulators should only intervene when necessary."
I ask the hon. Member for Hornchurch, who seeks to take the word "necessary" out of clause 55, whether that policy no longer applies. Did he not discuss the amendment with the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), who promoted the policy as recently as October, or is this another example of muddle at the heart of Conservative policy making?
Mr. Gummer: I am sorry to intervene again, but I am trying to avoid the temptation to make a speech. What the Minister is saying is that if a local authority thinks that the measure is desirable for its community, it is unreasonable to say that it should be allowed to make so limited a change. That is a very odd view of locality, and of local people being able to make their own decisions.
Mr. Campbell: The right hon. Gentleman should talk to his Front-Bench team about that, because that is precisely what they are seeking to do-to introduce subjectivity, whereas currently, if one seeks to introduce a measure that has such an effect in an area, the need for it must be demonstrated in the evidence that prevails. Let me tell him why that is. The measure is about controlling the problems in an area, but it is also about taking a balanced approach to the night-time economy, because better regulation is important.
Clause 55 is important not just for businesses trading between the hours of 3 am and 6 am, but for the jobs that depend on those businesses. It is important that a licensing authority that goes down the route advocated by the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) discusses with the police and other enforcement agencies what the situation actually is between 3 am and 6 am. The decision ought to be necessary, evidence-based, focused on an identified problem, and therefore targeted. It should not be taken lightly, particularly in an area where there are businesses in which, in many cases, hundreds of thousands of pounds have been invested.
Substituting the word "desirable" lowers the threshold. That offends against the principles of better regulation, to which I thought the party of the hon. Member for Hornchurch was committed, as mine is. I therefore hope that he will withdraw the amendment.
Well, we have certainly got the Minister excited on this point. I do not know whether that is the pent-up frustration of not having been involved in some of the previous debates. A lot of better regulation is about giving power back to communities. When the Licensing Act 2003 was introduced, it was supposed to be all about giving power back to local communities,
but the Minister has made it very clear that it is actually all about central control, and that local accountability is a lie, because it has to be fettered very firmly by the dead hand of central Government, with the Home Office controlling what happens.
The Minister's comments have highlighted how unworkable the provisions are. In many ways, he has made my case for me, having shown the unlikelihood of local authorities being able to use the powers set out in the Bill because they have been fettered by so much central control.
Mr. Gummer: Can my hon. Friend imagine what the citizens of Tynemouth might think if they were told that it was unsuitable for them to make a change regarding what happens in the early hours of the morning, when they thought it desirable, because the Minister had decided that they had to prove the need for the change objectively? They would say, "If we in our community think it's desirable, we ought to be able to make that decision."
James Brokenshire: That is the point. I was genuinely trying to make the point sensibly, and not in a partisan way, so that we could try to make the legislation more workable in the spirit of positive opposition. It is interesting that the Government have turned their face against the proposal, and indeed against the very local communities that they claim to represent. It has been a fascinating debate, in terms of the Minister's response. He very much seems to want centralising control over local authorities, which would make the scheme unworkable and ensure that local councils did not have the powers that his Bill seeks to set out. It has been interesting to see how he responded to amendment 23.
The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Flello), highlighted his experiences in his constituency and rightly identified the problems with alcohol that affect not just his community but many others. The hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne) supported what we said about alcohol disorder zones. We have highlighted the fact that the measure was designed to create a soundbite, rather than a sound basis for dealing with the alcohol-fuelled disorder that affects far too many of our communities across the country.
The Minister accepted that there are problems, but the number of accident and emergency department admissions related to the problems of alcohol has continued to grow over the past few years. It seems clear that the Government's policies have made the situation worse, not better. We believe that there is a much more elegant way of achieving the end of ensuring that contributions are made to the cost of dealing with the late-night economy and late-night drinking: a late-night levy. By contrast, alcohol disorder zones have been a policy disaster zone from start to finish. We believe that there is a better way of dealing with the problem. That is why we would introduce a late-night levy and abolish ADZs, and why we would like to test the opinion of the House on this issue.
James Brokenshire: The measures concern the separate issue of gang injunctions. The Conservatives certainly recognise the need to examine measures to deal with the problems of gang-related violence and young people being drawn into gangs. In some parts of the country there are gang rivalries, whether they are based on postcode territories or on the use or wearing of colours by rival gangs, which can mean that serious violence occurs between young people-often the most vulnerable members of our society. We must therefore consider this issue extremely carefully. The question is whether the measures in the Bill to extend gang injunctions to include young people will be effective or workable given that antisocial behaviour orders and other potential tools are already available to the police and to local communities when dealing with gang-related matters. Some such measures can be used to prevent young people from getting involved with gangs and getting caught up in some of the appalling violence that can occur. Certainly when we hear about gangs and serious violence, such as some of the shootings that have taken place, it underlines the need for preventive measures to protect young people from being sucked into that sort of gang existence, which can be extremely difficult to escape once they are in.
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