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Business of the House

12.28 pm

The Leader of the House of Commons (Sir George Young): With permission, I should like to make a statement about the business for next week. The business for the week commencing 4 April will be:

Monday 4 April—Opposition Day (14th allotted day). There will be a debate entitled “Police Cuts” followed by a debate entitled “The Government’s Green Policy”. Both debates will arise on an Opposition motion.

Tuesday 5 April—General debate on Britain’s contribution to humanitarian relief and Libya, followed by a general debate on matters to be raised before the forthcoming Adjournment as nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

Colleagues will wish to be reminded that the House will meet at 11.30 am on this day.

The business for the week commencing 25 April will include:

Monday 25 April—The House will not be sitting.

Tuesday 26 April—Second Reading of the Finance (No.3) Bill.

Wednesday 27 April—Opposition Day (15th allotted day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion, subject to be announced, followed by a motion on section 5 of the European Communities (Amendment) Act 1993.

Thursday 28 April—Second Reading of the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games (Amendment) Bill.

The provisional business for the week commencing 2 May will include:

Monday 2 May—The House will not be sitting.

Tuesday 3 May—Consideration in Committee of the Finance (No.3) Bill (day 1).

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 28 April 2011 will be:

Thursday 28 April 2011—A debate on Sudan.

Hilary Benn (Leeds Central) (Lab): I am grateful to the Leader of the House for that statement. First, may I join the House in offering our condolences to the hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray) on her tragic loss? We are all thinking of her.

The House has welcomed the two statements this week on Libya, and we saw the news overnight that the former Foreign Minister has fled to the United Kingdom. Will the Leader of the House tell us what plans he has to keep Members informed during the recess, and whether he will consider seeking the recall of Parliament should circumstances warrant it? May I also welcome the changes he has made in response to my request to extend topical questions to the Department for International Development and the Cabinet Office? After the failure of Ministers from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to clarify matters in oral questions, may we have a full debate on the spectacular incompetence that is the Government’s policy on higher education? The White Paper has still not appeared, and most of today’s students will probably graduate before it does so. What was clearly promised as the exception—universities charging students fees of £9,000 a year—has become the norm, because the Government are simply incapable of getting their policy and their sums right.

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May I say how much we are looking forward to Monday’s debate, so that we have the chance to discuss the Government’s complete mishandling of police cuts? Local communities will be astonished to discover that police officers are to be taken off the streets to be put into offices so that they can cover the work of civilian staff who are losing their jobs, and will be surprised by the news that special constables could be offered Nectar points to boost recruitment. Yesterday, the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice was completely unable to answer a very simple question: will front-line police numbers fall? Perhaps his boss will be able to do so on Monday.

As for the greatest disaster of all—the NHS reforms—may we have a statement from the Prime Minister, now that we read in The Times that he is cutting the Health Secretary loose and taking personal control because he is worried that the plans will backfire. A Government source is quoted as saying:

“Are we doing this in one step or a number of steps? There’s no settled course.”

In other words, they do not have a clue.

May we have a debate on personal privacy and the serious and persistent problem of open microphones being attached to members of the Cabinet? Is it not unfair that at a time at which the Deputy Prime Minister is desperately trying to distance himself from the policies of his own Government, we should discover by those underhand means that in fact he agrees with the Prime Minister on everything? So concerned is he that we read that he has asked for good news initiatives with which he could be associated. Does that sound familiar? Perhaps he could be frogmarched to the nearest cashpoint to pay back the young people who will still lose their education maintenance allowance despite this week’s U-turn?

We also learn that, as the Lib Dems face catastrophe at the polls, there are plans for a total rethink of their image which, according to insiders, could

“even include changing the name and logo”.

What a stroke of genius, so may we have a statement from the Deputy Prime Minister on whether he has any plans to change the law on party names and symbols to permit that? It would be a great pity to lose the bird completely. What about a dodo or an albatross, although I am not entirely sure that it would fit on the ballot paper? As for that embarrassing party name, I can quite understand why some Lib Dems want to get rid of it, so why not change it to, say, “the Conservative party” and just get on with it ?

Finally, has the Leader of the House seen the Private Member’s Bill that is due to be debated tomorrow that would abolish our much-loved national park authorities? Having seen off the Bill to cut the minimum wage, and after helping me to overturn Westminster’s barmy byelaw, the right hon. Gentleman is now on a hat-trick, so will he assure the House that he will oppose that measure too, and will he write about it in his blog? The House will have noticed with great sadness that he has not blogged since I began to read it. He once modestly wrote that he is just the B movie after Prime Minister’s questions, so may I assure him that if he begins again we will try to make a star of him yet? On that note, I wish the right hon. Gentleman, the Deputy Leader of the House, you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and all Members a very happy Easter.

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Sir George Young: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his kind words about my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray) which were appreciated by Members from all parts of the House. It was a tragedy that took place after she had taken part in a debate on coastguards and marine safety. On recall, as I have said previously, we will keep the position under active consideration. The right hon. Gentleman will know that at the request of a Minister, Mr Speaker can recall Parliament. We will do so if circumstances require it.

On the defection of the Libyan Foreign Minister, there will be an opportunity on Tuesday morning in the debate on humanitarian aid and Libya to update the House. We want to encourage those around Gaddafi to abandon him, and we welcome the further defection, which we hope will allow political transition and real reform to take place. Moussa Koussa is one of the most senior members of the Gaddafi regime, and the Foreign Secretary has regularly been in touch with him, most recently last Friday.

On policing, we welcome the fact that there is a debate on that subject next Monday in Opposition time. It remains our view that the police can make the necessary savings while protecting front-line services and prioritising the visibility and availability of policing. On health, the one change that the Government will not make is the change advocated by the right hon. Gentleman’s party to reduce resources for the NHS—cuts that would plunge the NHS into crisis, put at risk cancer drug funds, thousands more health visitors and better support for carers, to which we are all committed.

The right hon. Gentleman took a sideswipe at the two previous Prime Ministers. I am surprised that he wanted to refresh our memory of the Gillian Duffy incident, and the embarrassment of the previous Prime Minister. He then took a side swipe at Tony Blair and his cashpoint policy. The distancing of the Labour party from its history is well under way.

I am happy to say that the Deputy Prime Minister will answer questions at the Dispatch Box on Tuesday. We have extended the length of time for questions to the Deputy Prime Minister to 40 minutes, which will give him ample time to sweep away the somewhat frivolous suggestions that we have just heard from the right hon. Gentleman. Finally, may I reassure the right hon. Gentleman that we will block the Bill to which he referred? We will all miss during the month of April the refreshing contributions that he makes every Thursday morning.

David Tredinnick (Bosworth) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend update the House on the situation in Parliament square before an event at the end of April?

Sir George Young: I welcome my hon. Friend’s interest. There may be an opportunity later today in the remaining stages of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill to raise the issue. As he knows, we are changing the law so that in future police will have powers to remove those encampments. In the meantime, we welcome what the Greater London authority has done to remove the encampments on the green. We welcome the enforcement action taken by Westminster city council to deal with the encampments on the pavement, and further discussions are under way between the police and the relevant authorities to make sure that Parliament square is in a fit and proper condition for the royal wedding.

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Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): The House will be shocked to learn that yesterday, during an evidence hearing held by the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs told the Committee that she planned to restart the sale of Forestry Commission land. Will the Leader of the House update us as to why we have had yet another U-turn by the most hapless Secretary of State in Cabinet?

Sir George Young: We inherited an ongoing programme of sales of Forestry Commission land from the previous Government. All new sales of forestry land were halted on 17 February. We will decide on the level of any future sales and the conditions to be attached, but only once we have received advice from the independent panel that we recently set up.

Sarah Newton (Truro and Falmouth) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend find time to allow the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning), who has responsibility for shipping, to make an oral statement in the Chamber at the conclusion of the current consultation on plans to modernise the coastguard service? My right hon. Friend will understand that the future of the UK coastguard is of great concern to Members from all nine parties represented in this House and across the UK. During two debates in Westminster Hall, 33 Members were able to speak, but many more were unable to do so because of a shortage of allotted time.

Sir George Young: I welcome my hon. Friend’s interest in this important subject. She will know that we have extended the consultation period. The Minister responsible has said that the Government will not give their response to the consultation until the Transport Committee, which is looking at the matter, has reported on it. She will know that this is a genuine consultation. We have already received 1,200 responses and look forward to getting more. The proposals will hopefully deliver a better joined-up and more resilient search and rescue co-ordination service.

Angela Smith (Penistone and Stocksbridge) (Lab): The regeneration of Barnsley town centre depends on Barnsley council being able to access the assets currently owned by Yorkshire Forward, the now defunct regional development agency, and yet the Government are determined to flog them off. May we have a debate on this crucial issue, which is important to communities up and down the country?

Sir George Young: I understand the hon. Lady’s concern. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills is aware of the issue and is looking at the individual assets concerned to see whether he can come to a speedy decision. I will pass on her renewed concern to him and ask him to write to her.

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): On the subject of distancing by parties, has the Leader of the House had any request to debate the implications of a party dropping the word “New” from its full e-mail addresses?

Sir George Young: I had not caught up with that piece of information. We look forward to seeing whether there are any further transformations as the Labour party tries to regain popularity with the public outside.

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Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab): The Government were required by law to publish the child poverty strategy and appoint a commission to scrutinise it by midnight tonight. Will the Leader of the House explain the delay, when the strategy will be published and how it feels to be a law-breaker?

Sir George Young: I am grateful to the hon. Lady. This subject has been raised in previous business questions. The answer is that the Government will launch the child poverty strategy before the House rises for the Easter recess. That statement will address the specific point, which she raised, of how the Government intend to proceed on the issue of legality on which she has just touched.

Mrs Anne Main (St Albans) (Con): When asked, the majority of people in this country apparently describe themselves as middle class, yet there are concerns that they are being discriminated against positively. May we have a debate on the hard-pressed, squeezed middle class?

Sir George Young: I hope that I can identify myself with that part of the population. There will be an opportunity to look at that issue during the Second Reading of the Finance Bill. My hon. Friend will know that a wide range of measures have been introduced that I think will be welcomed by the middle class, and indeed by all classes, particularly some of the steps we have taken to promote growth. The freeze on council tax will be welcomed by upper, middle and lower classes, and indeed by every member of this society.

Mr Elfyn Llwyd (Dwyfor Meirionnydd) (PC): Earlier this month there was a very disappointing announcement that the Cardiff to Swansea rail line would not be electrified by the Government, a decision that was predicated on what was called an unfavourable business case. In a written answer on 7 March, the Minister of State, Department for Transport, the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs Villiers) said that she would deposit the business case in the Library. It is yet to be deposited. May we have a debate in Government time on the need for observance of the ministerial code and timely responses from the Government?

Sir George Young: I was in the House when my right hon. Friend the Minister made that statement, which was warmly received. I recall that no extra time would be saved by the further electrification to which the hon. Gentleman refers, but I will of course pass on his request for more information to my right hon. Friend and see that it is promptly delivered.

Karl McCartney (Lincoln) (Con): My right hon. Friend will be well aware of my view, which is shared by many Members across the House, that the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority is an overly expensive and bureaucratic organisation. Will he confirm that I am right to be dismayed, having heard last week that in the near future it will preside over not only our salaries, but our pensions, with the inherent and astronomical costs that that will entail?

Sir George Young: My hon. Friend may know that under the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010, IPSA will assume responsibility not only for

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allowances, but for pay and pensions. That is enshrined in statute. We believe that it makes sense to have one body responsible for allowances, pay and pensions, rather than divided responsibilities, which we have at the moment.

John Cryer (Leyton and Wanstead) (Lab): The Leader of the House may be aware that the funding axe is hovering over certain long-standing national health service surveys that provide us all with information about public perceptions. That might not be unconnected with the fact that they show public satisfaction levels to be at an all-time high, roughly double or triple what they were in 1997. I had an Adjournment debate about that yesterday in Westminster Hall, but the answers were not forthcoming, so may we have a statement from the Dispatch Box from the Secretary of State for Health?

Sir George Young: As the hon. Gentleman has said, he has just had an Adjournment debate, and I am not sure that it would make sense immediately after that to repeat it at the Dispatch Box. I will pass on his concern to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and see if there is any way he can add to the information he was asked for in the debate.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Yesterday, I made some comments in the House for which I must unreservedly apologise to the Leader of the House, because I gave the impression that he had done a good job and I understand that that has affected his career prospects. To make up for that, would he make a statement next week about having another question time in the House? Would it not be a good idea to have the second most powerful Minister here to answer questions: the Chief Whip?

Sir George Young: I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s earlier comments. I think that my career has peaked, so he need not be too worried about jeopardising my future. I am not sure that there is time in the congested programme for ministerial questions to squeeze in my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip, but his door is ever open, as my hon. Friend knows, and he is always particularly pleased to see him.

Luciana Berger (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab/Co-op): Last week’s Budget did little to help hard-working people up and down the country. More than 55,000 families in Liverpool will pay on average an extra £450 in VAT this year. With inflation at 4.4%, food and energy bills rising rapidly, but wages staying flat, household budgets are really being squeezed. May we please have an urgent debate on falling standards of living and the Government’s lamentable response to the problem?

Sir George Young: The short answer is no. We have just had a four-day debate on the Budget, during which there was ample opportunity to make those points. Nonetheless, there will be the Second Reading of the Finance Bill when we return after Easter, during which the hon. Lady will have an opportunity to share her concerns and have them addressed by one of my hon. Friends.

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): Given the news that the banks in the Republic of Ireland are likely to need yet another €30 billion bail-out, may we please have a statement on the impact this will have on this

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country and, in particular, confirmation that we will not be adding to our existing liability under the Loans to Ireland Act 2010?

Sir George Young: As my hon. Friend knows, the Chancellor of the Exchequer made a statement earlier this year outlining the assistance we are giving to Ireland. Ireland is carrying out stress tests on its major banks. As I know from my time as a Treasury Minister, it is not always helpful to comment from the Dispatch Box on the stability or otherwise of other countries. He will understand if I do not comment any further.

Mr John Spellar (Warley) (Lab): Last week I asked the Leader of the House how we could get an apology from his Cabinet colleague, Baroness Warsi, over the claim she made last year that the Conservatives failed to win an overall majority at the general election because of electoral fraud, predominantly in the Asian community. That accusation was completely refuted last month by the Electoral Commission, which reported that there had been only two prosecutions and one conviction. The Leader of the House generously replied last week that

“I am sure she will have heard what the right hon. Gentleman has said and will want to respond to it in the appropriate way.”—[Official Report, 24 March 2011; Vol. 525, c. 1103.]

I am sure that he will be shocked to hear that I have heard nothing from her. Will he persuade his colleague to provide an answer?

Sir George Young: I repeat what I said last week: I am sure that my noble Friend will have heard what the right hon. Gentleman has just said. I will make renewed attempts to ensure that he gets a reply to the issues he has raised.

James Morris (Halesowen and Rowley Regis) (Con): May we have a debate about the continued problem of antisocial behaviour in many of our communities? In particular, may we have a debate about the interesting proposals put forward by Baroness Newlove, which outline how communities in places like my constituency can take more control over the problem of combating antisocial behaviour?

Sir George Young: I welcome the Newlove report, which was published yesterday. My hon. Friend might have an opportunity later today in proceedings on the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill—perhaps on Third Reading—to develop his points, but we look to act upon Baroness Newlove’s imaginative recommendations to encourage local agencies and central Government to change and make a real difference to local communities.

Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): Yesterday, Members from all parts of the House received an e-mail from the Financial Secretary to the Treasury with some helpful information about the financial services compensation scheme. The covering note, however, states:

“I hope you will find this helpful in replying to queries…. Please use this letter in responding to any constituent correspondence”

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on the subject. Does this mean that specific queries will be ignored by the Treasury? Will the Leader of the House ensure that specific queries on that very important subject are responded to?

Sir George Young: My hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury was genuinely trying to assist the House, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman recognises, by letting Members have a response to a question that is asked quite frequently. Of course, it remains the case that any specific requests for more details or information will get prompt consideration from my hon. Friend.

Julian Smith (Skipton and Ripon) (Con): May we have a debate about the daft decision by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to force the PAYE system on to town and parish councils?

Sir George Young: I was not aware that that was in the pipeline. There will be an opportunity on Second Reading of the Finance Bill to raise the matter, but in the meantime I will do so with my hon. Friends at the Treasury in order to find out what is going on.

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): The Read it Together scheme in Hull, which has 200 volunteers working with six or seven children each in 69 schools in the city, has been going for 35 years and is a great success story. All its funding has been cut, however, because of the cut in funding from national Government to Hull city council. May we have a debate about why voluntary sector groups in some of the poorest areas in the country are being let down by the funding from councils and from the coalition Government, especially in areas where there is no private sector involvement?

Sir George Young: I welcome the resources of those who run the Read it Together scheme. We had a debate in February about local government finance, and it is up to Hull city council to decide how best to allocate resources to the scheme. I hope that the council will take those decisions sensibly and sensitively and do what other local authorities have done by protecting worthwhile schemes such as the one that the hon. Lady mentions.

Gavin Barwell (Croydon Central) (Con): I am sure that my right hon. Friend will have seen the article in the Daily Express yesterday about the large proportion of the year when the House does not sit. May we have a debate about the parliamentary timetable and the ability of Members to hold the Government to account?

Sir George Young: I did indeed see the article, and of course my hon. Friend will know that when the House is not sitting it does not mean that MPs are not working; there is work to be done in the constituencies. We have made some significant changes to the way in which we organise the parliamentary calendar, and yesterday we actually added four days to the sitting calendar. This year we are going to sit longer than last year and, indeed, the year before, so any implication that we are working less hard is wholly unfounded.

Mr Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): Given the opaque answer on coastguards provided to the hon. Member for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah

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Newton), may we have a debate about the coastguards, either in Government time or Backbench Business Committee time, before the relevant consultation ends? That would allow the Government to show how seriously they take our maritime insurance policy, namely the coastguards, especially as the two debates in Westminster Hall were inadequate in both time and structure.

Sir George Young: I am not sure that those two debates in Westminster Hall were inadequate; they enabled a large number of people to speak. I have no plans to hold another debate in Government time, but as I said earlier the Transport Committee is conducting an inquiry into the matter, and that might be an opportunity for the hon. Gentleman to make any points that he feels have not already been made.

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): As no nuclear power station has ever been built on time or on budget, is there not an urgent need to extend the review of nuclear power in this country to include the cost, the timetable and the danger of an attack from a terrorist group—and in order to give the Deputy Prime Minister the opportunity to explain to the House his view that the fallout from Fukushima, both radioactive and political, may make our nuclear plans unaffordable?

Sir George Young: It remains the Government’s policy that nuclear has a key role to play in future power supply. We are doing a review under Dr Weightman to see whether there any lessons to be learned from what has happened in Japan, but there was enough delay to the matter under the previous Government, and we do not propose to add to that any more.

Chris White (Warwick and Leamington) (Con): In south Leamington Spa, an employment club has been set up in the Brunswick healthy living centre, and it is proving successful at getting people back into work. It costs just £27 an hour to run and has so far helped more than 100 people, of whom 18 are now in employment again. Will the Leader of the House provide Government time for a debate about measures to boost employment and the use of such job clubs elsewhere?

Sir George Young: I welcome what my hon. Friend says about the work club in his constituency. He will know that, in the Budget the week before last, the Chancellor included additional funding for work clubs—for precisely the reason that my hon. Friend gives. They are effective ways of helping those who are out of work to find work; they give support to them in making contacts, finding opportunities and helping with CVs; and we very much want to continue our support for those worthwhile organisations.

Mr David Winnick (Walsall North) (Lab): Given the situation in Libya, it seems unlikely that the House will not be recalled during the three-week recess, and I hope that the Leader of the House will reaffirm what he said a few moments ago. Can the House be informed, however, about the position of Libya’s former Foreign Minister, who undoubtedly had a great deal of involvement with terrorism? Should not the House be told as much information as possible about Lockerbie? As the person who effected it first and foremost, he would have the maximum amount of information, which I hope he would be willing to reveal to the British authorities.

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Sir George Young: As I said in response to the shadow Leader of the House, we will keep under review the need to recall the House. We have kept the House in the picture on Libya, with regular statements and debates in Government time, and there will be another opportunity on Tuesday to address the situation there. I believe that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development, who will open that debate, will update the House on the position, and if the hon. Gentleman is here on Tuesday, he may have an opportunity to speak in the debate and to develop the point that he has just made.

Christopher Pincher (Tamworth) (Con): A number of small to medium-sized enterprises in my constituency, Alcon, Forensic Pathways and Aspire to name just three, have raised concerns about the excessive bureaucracy that they have faced in the past, so will my right hon. Friend arrange for a debate about the reduction of bureaucracy for SMEs, so that we can learn more about what the Government propose to do to help such businesses to do more business?

Sir George Young: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who will know that the issue was covered to some extent in our debate about the Budget. We want SMEs to be the drivers of growth in this country, and there was a deregulation package in the Budget. We have extended the small business rate relief holiday, increased the SME rate for research and development tax credits and created enterprise zones, so I think that the Government are doing a lot to encourage SMEs to grow and develop.

Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab): I declare my interest as a former college principal.

I was astounded to hear the Secretary of State for Education say on Monday that further education colleges, which the majority of post-16 students attend,

“do not have cafeterias or kitchens in place.”—[Official Report, 28 March 2011; Vol. 526, c. 59.]

Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Secretary of State to come to the House and put the record straight by apologising to students, staff and governors in colleges?

Sir George Young: I will relay those remarks to my right hon. Friend. I think he said “some” do not have those facilities, rather than “all”, but I will certainly relay the hon. Gentleman’s concern. As someone with an FE college in his constituency, I know that there was considerable confusion about the capital programme under the previous Government, and we are now busy trying to recover from that.

Brandon Lewis (Great Yarmouth) (Con): Businesses in my constituency and, indeed, the New Anglia local enterprise partnership are excited by the Chancellor’s announcement of enterprise zones, which my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has just mentioned. Will he arrange for a debate in the House about the effect that such zones will have on the local economies of the areas where they go and, indeed, on the national economy?

Sir George Young: I am slightly surprised that the Opposition have not chosen enterprise zones as the subject for a debate on Monday. In view of the large number of Labour MPs who want one in their constituency,

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it would have been a popular subject for the Opposition to have chosen, but my hon. Friends in the Treasury will have noted the substantive bid that my hon. Friend has just made.

Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): I gather that after last week’s business questions, when the issue of the child poverty strategy was raised, there was then a frantic ring-round of child poverty campaign groups telling them that the strategy would be launched next Tuesday—5 April. Can the Leader of the House tell us why he did not think it fit to tell MPs that that was going to happen, and why it is being left until the last day before the recess when we are on a one-line Whip and not many MPs will be around? What is he trying to hide?

Sir George Young: Next Tuesday is a sitting day, and it seems an appropriate day on which to make a statement. I hope that the hon. Lady is not implying that I misled the House in any way in last week’s business statement, when I announced the business that I knew was forthcoming, as I have done this week. In response to an earlier question from the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson), I indicated that before the Easter recess the Government would make a statement on the child poverty strategy and deal with the legal situation that she raised with me.

Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con): Can consideration be given to a debate on the criteria that mortgage lenders use to approve loans, particularly with respect to those who carry out community work? I have an example in my constituency of a foster carer whose legitimate income from community work is being denied by a major UK mortgage provider. I would very much welcome consideration of that.

Sir George Young: I am sorry to hear of the problems that confront my hon. Friend’s constituent. This might be an appropriate subject for an Adjournment debate, or he might like to raise it with Treasury Ministers to see whether they could pursue it with the mortgage lender to which he referred.

Mike Gapes (Ilford South) (Lab/Co-op): Can we have an early debate on the contradictions between Government Departments’ policies? In particular, can he get the Secretary of State for Education to come here to explain why his Department, in connivance with the free schools organisation, E-ACT, has conspired with the Conservative-Liberal leadership of Redbridge council to evict, without consultation, elderly groups, ethnic minority groups, young people’s groups and disabled groups from a community centre in my borough without any right of scrutiny or recall?

Sir George Young: I will share the hon. Gentleman's concerns with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I say to the hon. Gentleman, however, that there is a real appetite in many parts of London for a free school. The legislation has been warmly welcomed and a number of parents are very anxious that this initiative should be developed with great speed.

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Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): In my constituency, farmers and residents are struggling to make known their views about the plans for reviewing the Severn estuary flood arrangements through the Environment Agency. There is concern about the need to listen to local views. May we therefore have a debate about the accountability mechanism for the Environment Agency, to encourage it to embrace a localism agenda?

Sir George Young: I am sure that the Environment Agency will have heard what my hon. Friend has said. It very much wants to work with community groups. I do not know whether he has flood wardens or flood action groups in his constituency, but the Environment Agency would very much like to liaise with them as it develops its plans and orders its priorities. I will bring his remarks to the attention of the EA.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Given the bombshell in the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s Budget speech about sweeping away planning protections, our green spaces and green belt are now vulnerable to any developer. Can we have an urgent debate on this, because middle-class folk, and all classes, are very concerned about the threat to our green spaces and our green belt? We have the local elections on 5 May. Surely the Government should come clean on green belt and green space protection before people vote in those elections.

Sir George Young: Green belt is specifically protected, so the hon. Gentleman should not have any concern about that. The rest of this issue lies in the context of the Localism Bill and the national planning strategy, and the hon. Gentleman should wait and see how the policy is developed in July.

Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): Last year, we had the second highest recorded level of anti-Semitic incidents, and there is a strong feeling in the Jewish community that anti-Semitism is on the rise. Clearly, we as MPs have a right and a duty to set an example, but Cabinet Ministers have an even greater responsibility. Can the Leader of the House remind his right hon. Friends that it is unacceptable to accuse other colleagues of being Nazis or using Goebbels-type tactics in the media?

Sir George Young: Yes, I agree that not only Cabinet Ministers but every Member of the House should be very careful about the language that they use. I will certainly draw my hon. Friend’s remarks to the attention of my fellow Ministers. I am sure that you, Mr Deputy Speaker, will do all you can to ensure that no inappropriate remarks are made in this Chamber.

Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab): This week at the Ebbw Vale metallurgical society, I met the top brass from the Tata steel company. They are very concerned about the Chancellor’s carbon floor price proposals, which impose massive unilateral costs on the UK steel industry—costs that no other European country will enforce. Can we have a statement from the Energy Secretary and a debate on this issue?

Sir George Young: As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Administration are committed to moving towards a less carbon-intensive future. At Business, Innovation and

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Skills questions earlier—he may have been in his place—my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that he would have a good look at those who are intensive users of energy to see whether the problem that the hon. Gentleman has described might be overcome.

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Points of Order

1.15 pm

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Two worrying claims have been made about our troops in Afghanistan. One of those was today’s report from the National Audit Office, which suggests that two out of three deliveries of vital equipment are not arriving in time. Another claim made is that bullet-proof vests are not being supplied, in order to provide funds for the alternative vote referendum. Have you news of any statement to the House that can point out the seriousness of the first claim and the stupidity of the second?

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): There is no indication of such a statement being made. I know that the hon. Gentleman recognises that that is not a point of order, but it has certainly gone on the record, and I am sure that the Secretary of State for Defence will have taken notice.

Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. In September last year, the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority wrote to all honourable colleagues about employer liability insurance, telling us that it was going to expire today. Last week, it issued its new guidelines. Included in those guidelines was section 10.8, which tells us that we can claim for employer’s liability insurance and public liability insurance. Today, and in some cases yesterday, some Members but not all Members—I did not receive it—were sent an e-mail saying:

“Please find attached your Employer’s Liability Insurance certificate to be displayed”.

This is not only causing concern and additional work to our staff, who are rigorously ensuring that we are properly protected, but will waste public money. Will you, Mr Deputy Speaker, perhaps in liaison with the Leader of the House and his shadow, ensure that proper guidance is issued urgently to MPs so that what is actually the case is very clear?

Mr Deputy Speaker: That is not a point of order, but the hon. Gentleman has raised a very important point. Perhaps the Leader of the House would like to make a comment—it is up to him.

The Leader of the House of Commons (Sir George Young): I am sorry if the hon. Gentleman has not received the e-mail, which I certainly received yesterday, and which had attached the certificate to be pinned up in my office and all the relevant offices. I will find out from IPSA what has gone on.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. May I raise the fact that there seems to be no consultation with Members of Parliament on the closure of the Members’ services centre in Portcullis House? It came as a total surprise to me when a member of staff said that it is all to be closed down imminently. If that is the case, it is disgraceful that Members of this House have not been consulted properly.

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Mr Deputy Speaker: That is not a point of order, but it is a matter for the House of Commons Commission, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman’s voice will have been heard.

31 Mar 2011 : Column 552

Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill

[2nd Allocated Day]

Further consideration of Bill, as amended in the Public Bill Committee

New Clause 1

Power for licensing authorities to set fees

‘(1) The Licensing Act 2003 is amended as follows.

(2) After section 197 insert—

“197A Regulations about fees

(1) Subsection (2) applies where the Secretary of State makes regulations under this Act prescribing the amount of any fee.

(2) The Secretary of State may, in determining the amount of the fee, have regard, in particular, to—

(a) the costs of any licensing authority to whom the fee is to be payable which are referable to the discharge of the function to which the fee relates, and

(b) the general costs of any such licensing authority;

and may determine an amount by reference to fees payable to, and costs of, any such licensing authorities, taken together.

(3) A power under this Act to prescribe the amount of a fee includes power to provide that the amount of the fee is to be determined by the licensing authority to whom it is to be payable.

(4) Regulations which so provide may also specify constraints on the licensing authority’s power to determine the amount of the fee.

(5) Subsections (6) and (7)—

(a) apply where, by virtue of subsection (3), regulations provide that the amount of a fee is to be determined by a licensing authority, and

(b) are subject to any constraint imposed under subsection (4).

(6) The licensing authority—

(a) must determine the amount of the fee (and may from time to time determine a revised amount),

(b) may determine different amounts for different classes of case specified in the regulations (but may not otherwise determine different amounts for different cases), and

(c) must publish the amount of the fee as determined from time to time.

(7) In determining the amount of the fee, the licensing authority must seek to secure that the income from fees of that kind will equate, as nearly as possible, to the aggregate of—

(a) the licensing authority’s costs referable to the discharge of the function to which the fee relates, and

(b) a reasonable share of the licensing authority’s general costs;

and must assess income and costs for this purpose in such manner as it considers appropriate.

197B Regulations about fees: supplementary provision

‘(1) Subsections (2) and (3) apply for the purposes of section 197A.

(2) References to a licensing authority’s costs referable to the discharge of a function include, in particular—

(a) administrative costs of the licensing authority so far as they are referable to the discharge of the function, and

(b) costs in connection with the discharge of the function which are incurred by the licensing authority acting—

(i) under this Act, but

(ii) in a capacity other than that of licensing authority (whether that of local authority, local planning authority or any other authority).

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(3) References to the general costs of a licensing authority are to costs of the authority so far as they are referable to the discharge of functions under this Act in respect of which no fee is otherwise chargeable and include, in particular—

(a) costs referable to the authority’s functions under section 5;

(b) costs of or incurred in connection with the monitoring and enforcement of Parts 7 and 8 of this Act;

(c) costs incurred in exercising functions conferred by virtue of section 197A.

(4) To the extent that they prescribe the amount of a fee or include provision made by virtue of section 197A(3) or (4), regulations may—

(a) make provision which applies generally or only to specified authorities or descriptions of authority, and

(b) make different provision for different authorities or descriptions of authority.

(5) Subsection (4) is not to be taken to limit the generality of section 197.”.

(3) In section 10(4) (sub-delegation of functions by licensing committee etc)—

(a) omit “or” at the end of paragraph (c), and

(b) after paragraph (d) insert “or

(e) any function conferred by virtue of section 197A (regulations about fees).”.’—(James Brokenshire.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

1.8 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (James Brokenshire): I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The new clause addresses the point about the local setting of licensing fees that was debated in the Public Bill Committee. I welcome the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) to the Opposition Front Bench. She will recall the discussions that we had on this point in Committee. I welcome other Members who sat on the Committee, and other hon. Members who are present.

In my response to the consultation on the Bill, I said that we intended

“to enable licensing authorities to set licensing fees based on full cost recovery”.

Since then, as I confirmed in Committee, I have been working with colleagues across Government to ensure that we achieve that aim in a way that is fair to all sides. I know that fee payers will be concerned about a change that is likely to see fee income rise overall. However, the fact is that licensing fees have not been increased, even for inflation, since the Licensing Act 2003 came into force in 2005.

The new clause does not represent a change of principle. The current fees are supposed to cover the legitimate costs of licensing authorities in discharging their functions under the 2003 Act. However, there has been widespread agreement for some time that they do not achieve that. The previous Government recognised the problem, and promised an independent review of their proposed fees as early as 2004. The independent panel published its report, known as the Elton report, in December 2006. The recommendations included an increase in fees, but no action was taken. Therefore, the question for this Government is not whether the situation needs to be addressed, but how best to address it.

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We could set the fees centrally again, which would have the advantage of providing consistency for fee payers. However, I have chosen to move to set fees locally because I consider that it may be difficult to achieve a close approximation to full cost recovery with nationally set fees. Different areas do not have the same costs, and it is unavoidable that a blanket fee level would leave some councils with a deficit or provide an excessive income to others. No system is ideal, but as a matter of principle, council tax payers in areas with higher costs should not subsidise the administration of the licensing regime, and fee payers in lower-cost areas should not fund wider council activities.

Fee payers should be reassured that locally set fees will not mean that licensing authorities can set whatever fees they like. First, they will only set the level of the fee. They will not be permitted to design new fees or their own fee structure; nor will they be able to use licensing fees as an income stream. The only basis on which they will be able to set fees is to recover their costs in discharging their functions under the 2003 Act. I will issue guidance to local authorities on the setting of fees, including statutory guidance under section 182 of the 2003 Act. To ensure that costs are kept to appropriate levels, that will include guidance on the principles of good regulation, including risk-based and targeted inspection.

To provide further reassurance to fee payers, there will be a nationally set cap on fee levels. Under the new clause, that is provided for by the ability of the Secretary of State to apply constraints to the licensing authority’s ability to set fees. I intend that the level of the cap will be set in regulations after consultation. The consultation will contain a detailed impact assessment of the proposal.

In short, this measure is an important step towards ensuring that the Licensing Act 2003 works as it was intended to work, with fees fully funding licensing authorities’ administration of the Act.

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): As the Minister pointed out, we debated this issue in the Public Bill Committee on the basis of an Opposition amendment. I am pleased, because he has obviously listened carefully to the arguments that we made. The Opposition were clearly championing the localism agenda, which I know is close to the heart of the coalition Government, so I am pleased that they have decided, at this late stage, to bring forward an amendment of their own on the issue.

We have heard from local government that since 2005, when the regulations of the Licensing Act 2003 were implemented, the licensing system has cost council tax payers more than £100 million more than was anticipated because of the centrally set fee structure. As the Minister said, that structure does not allowing licensing authorities to set cost-neutral local charges.

As the Minister pointed out, the Government had indicated that they were considering giving licensing authorities the power to set licensing fees based on full cost recovery. I am sure that there has been considerable interdepartmental wrangling on this issue, and that that is why the new clause has been brought forward rather late in the day on Report. A number of trade organisations, the Local Government Association and others were concerned to see the original clause in the Bill, so no doubt they will be pleased to see this new clause. However, I wish to raise a number issues with the Minister.

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1.15 pm

In the current economic climate, with local authority budgets being squeezed, it needs to be clear to local authorities what funding will be available to them and what charges they will be able to set. It would be helpful if the Minister said when he believes the new fees structure will be implemented so that local authorities can begin to amend their budgets accordingly.

We also discussed at length in Committee the new fees framework for the late-night levy. It is the view of a number of organisations that a new fees structure is far preferable to the bureaucratic and complicated late-night levy scheme that is to be introduced by the Government. Only a minority of authorities would be able to utilise the late-night levy, and it clearly does not address any of the pre-midnight alcohol-related issues that we talked about at length in Committee. The LGA feels that including the new fees framework in the Bill is the quickest and simplest way to remedy the problem, rather than using the late-night levy solution.

Businesses have raised concerns about the new scheme. As I have set out, there is concern about the current economic climate. A number of small businesses are concerned that they may have to pay considerably more for licence applications and in fees to their local authority. It was clear in the amendment that we tabled in Committee, just as it is in the new clause, that fee levels would be restricted.

In Committee, I referred to what has happened under the Gambling Act 2005, which gives a discretion to set fee levels within nationally set bands. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport undertook a three-stage high-level review of the premises licence fees set by licensing authorities in 2007-08 under that scheme. The overall conclusions of the review were that there was no justifiable concern about the level of the fee maximums set by DCMS from either an industry or a licensing authority perspective, and that the introduction of the new system appeared to be working well and had produced a good spread of premises licence fees among licensing authorities, with no obvious systematic setting of fees at the maximum level. Clearly, the matter has to be kept under review. Will the Minister carry out a similar review after a short period to check what is happening up and down the country?

In Business, Innovation and Skills questions earlier today, the Secretary of State reiterated the one-in, one- out policy for regulation. Under the Bill, a number of new burdens are being placed on business, such as the vicinity test, which will have an impact on the costs of the applications process for businesses. We know from the Home Office impact assessment that the annual cost of reform to the industry will be between £21.5 million and £52.1 million, with the best estimate being £36.8 million. The Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers estimates that the average cost per pub will be from £1,842 to £5,280, but could double with reform of the annual fees. I am interested to know whether the Minister feels that the Bill will take any regulatory burden away from businesses in relation to fees.

Proposed subsection (6)(a) of the new clause sets out that there will be an opportunity for local authorities to change the fees from time to time. Can the Minister give any indication of what he thinks the time scale for such changes will be? For instance, does he think that fees would be set for a minimum of three years, or

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longer? Businesses have to plan their budgets and need to be clear about any additional costs that they will have to meet.

Will businesses in the late-night economy that already contribute time and money to schemes such as Best Bar None and community alcohol partnerships be credited with a reduction in the licence fee? Is there any opportunity for local authorities to provide such credit?

Although the Bill sets out a sufficiently flexible and clear framework, the amendment that the Opposition tabled in Committee would have provided licensing authorities with an opportunity to exercise discretion to reduce or waive fees for individual premises or events for organisations such as charities or voluntary sector groups, or for those benefiting from small business rate relief. Can the Minister confirm whether that discretion will be available to local authorities under the new clause? We need to see the details of how the fees will operate, and we look forward to seeing the draft regulations as soon as possible.

The Elton report on fees, which the Minister mentioned, made it very clear that local authorities could benefit from sharing best practice about how licence fee applications were dealt with. It made recommendations about using staff involved in related activities in local government and using good communication and mediation to avoid expensive appeals. What thought has he given to those specific recommendations, which could enable local authorities up and down the land to share best practice?

Will the Minister be clear about what local authorities will be allowed to charge for under the new clause? They clearly incur costs in dealing with licence applications, but what about the costs of the work that responsible authorities do in examining applications? I refer in particular to the involvement of the police, but the Minister will know that under clause 105, primary care trusts are also to become responsible authorities. Could any costs of their work in providing information to a licensing committee be charged for? Will the Minister also confirm whether the local authority will be able to include the costs of the work of trading standards under its enforcement powers in deciding on the level of fees?

Costings will need to be provided in a clear and transparent way, so that businesses understand exactly what they are paying for. I hope that that will be set out clearly in the guidance that the Minister referred to. Finally, when does he think the new fees regime will come in?

Dr Julian Huppert (Cambridge) (LD): It is a great pleasure to continue this reunion event of the Public Bill Committee into a second day, and to follow the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson), particularly as I had the great pleasure of being able to read some of her words in the briefings that I, too, received. That helped me to follow some of the details. I do not wish to detain the House for long in speaking to the new clause.

First, I should put it on record that I am a vice-president of the Local Government Association, and in that capacity I am delighted to be able to welcome this change, for which the LGA has pressed for a very long time. Not for the first time, I extend my thanks to the Minister for taking this and many other issues seriously,

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and for the time that he has taken to have meetings outside the Bill Committee structure on a range of issues.

It is right that the system should not impose a cost on councils. The fundamental problem with the current system is that it has been a huge drain on council resources at a time when councils have many other things to do and many other calls on the public purse. Rather unusually, I am not going to blame the previous Government and say that they got it wrong on purpose. I believe that the fees were simply wrongly set, and that the required updates have not been made. I do not think the intention was to make councils pay, but that was how it evolved.

It is important that we move from the previous Government’s approach of having things set centrally to a more localist agenda. Councils should be free and have more power. For example, it should be open to a council to set fees below the cost-recovery level if, for some reason, it felt that an important thing to do. I am not entirely sure why taxpayers might feel that that was the right thing to do, but then councils should be allowed to do things for which I do not understand the reasoning. Indeed, on many occasions they do so.

I will not go through all the details of the new clause, as the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North mentioned them. However, I have one concern to put to the Minister. He talked about the Secretary of State’s powers and used the word “cap”. He will be aware that we had discussions yesterday on concerns about the Secretary of State’s capping powers over the police precept. I understand where the Minister is heading and why he wants such a power in this case, but can he assure me that he wants the Secretary of State’s capping power to be used rarely, and that, ideally, it should not be the driving force as it has been in other cases in local government, such as police precepts?

I am delighted to see the new clause, and I thank the Minister again on behalf of the Liberal Democrats, and on behalf of the LGA as one of its vice-presidents.

Justin Tomlinson (North Swindon) (Con): Although I was not a member of the Committee, I declare an interest as the vice-chair of the all-party leisure group and a former nightclub manager. I spent a number of years in the late-night economy, and I stress that 99.9% of people who go out and enjoy their time in the evenings are good, responsible people out for an office party, leaving do or birthday party. The problems are all about dealing with the small minority.

One reason why I wished to speak was to make a point about transparency. It is in the interests of venues to have a safe environment, and the licensing authority can ensure that. I wish to make a few points about the late-night levy. I have met a number of representatives of venues, and of course nobody likes paying extra money, but it is very much in their interests that the money from the levy is used to create a safe environment. I should like the venues to have a greater opportunity to help to shape how the money is spent. My understanding is that local authorities will receive 30% of it and 70% will go to the police. The venues, which pay that money, should help to shape that decision. Ultimately, the final decision should be for the police or the local authority, because they are the ones who are accountable, but the venue owners see the situation at first hand.

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In the areas where I worked, I saw that when people were enjoying themselves, they were generally well behaved, but when they wanted to go home, they found themselves unable to do so. I would therefore have suggested that the money from the levy be spent on a taxi rank co-ordinator in my area, so that people could get home swiftly and efficiently. In other areas, the venues might suggest that there should be better lighting, because generally, where there is good visible access there is a lot less trouble than in areas with only a handful of people around, which are not so well policed. My plea is that the Government ensure that there is transparency, and that venues that contribute to the late-night levy have a say.

Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole) (Con): I come at the matter from a different viewpoint from my hon. Friend’s, because I used to be the chairman of the licensing authority in the city of Hull. Transparency is important on the late-night levy, and on fees in general, but do we not have to ensure that we get the split right, too? When I was the licensing chairman, many of the solutions to problems in the late-night economy came from the council rather than from the police. We should therefore keep the percentage split under review at all times.

Justin Tomlinson: That is a valid point, and my hon. Friend speaks with first-hand experience and authority. The layout of the night-time economy is different in every town, which means that each town creates unique challenges that either the local authority or the local police must challenge. That is why I keep coming back to the need to ensure that venues feed into the system. The people who run them will know where the minority of people are generating problems.

Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): I very much agree with the hon. Gentleman. Does he think it is important that nothing in the proposals detracts from existing models of good practice in arrangements involving the police, the local authority and the business community, such as the one in Broad street in Birmingham?

1.30 pm

Justin Tomlinson: I absolutely agree, and I am familiar with Broad street—I have seen how it has been transformed into a relatively safe place over the years. There will always be a minority who cause problems, but if local late-night economy establishments, the local authority and the police work together proactively, they can transform an area. Although it is a burden to pay additional fees through the late-night levy, the venues will be paid back, because if more customers can see that the levy has created a safe environment, they will have the confidence to go to the venues and spend money.

Nigel Mills (Amber Valley) (Con): My hon. Friend said that every town is different, and I am interested in his experience of running a late-night venue. The Bill would apply the provision to a whole council area, and not just to one town in it. As a nightclub owner, would he have been happy to pay for problems in a different town, and for none of his money to be spent in his town?

Justin Tomlinson: My understanding is that that is why picking areas has been delegated to local authorities. I would extend it so that the measure is venue-specific.

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There are some proactive, good venues and there should be an incentive to encourage that; the opposite should apply to establishments that are perhaps less proactive and more responsible for the minority of problems.

Penny Mordaunt (Portsmouth North) (Con): I agree absolutely with my hon. Friend’s last point. The measure would be very effective in creating a safe environment in some areas of Portsmouth such as Guildhall walk, but in the north of the city, which I represent, many venues have no problems at all, and yet they would be severely penalised by such fees.

Justin Tomlinson: To sum up on that point, my plea is for common sense to be applied to each local area. I would go one step further. The Best Bar None and various Pubwatch schemes are so essential that they ought to be compulsory. It should be part of the licensing arrangement that somebody who is responsible for a venue attends those meetings. Clearly, the best examples are when local authorities, the local police and local venues work together. It is unacceptable if a late-night economy venue does not proactively participate in such schemes, so I would include such participation as a condition of the licence.

James Brokenshire: This has been a useful debate, and I welcome the contributions from the hon. Members for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) and for Cambridge (Dr Huppert)—I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s kind comments and thank him for his support and participation in Committee—and my hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson).

Obviously, new clause 1 relates to the general setting of licensing fees and the administration of the Licensing Act 2003 locally, rather than to the late-night levy. I recognise the points that my hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon has just raised, and perhaps we will debate the late-night levy in further detail when we debate another group of amendments in this part of our consideration of the Bill.

The late-night levy is a discretionary arrangement, so local authorities can decide whether one is appropriate in their area. The Government have indicated that there could be exemptions for establishments that make arrangements under schemes such as Best Bar None. Further detail will come forward in regulations and guidance, as I indicated in Committee, which I hope my hon. Friend accepts.

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe) mentioned in an intervention the business improvement district in Broad street, Birmingham, which I have had the pleasure to visit. I saw how that partnership-type approach of drawing together the relevant licensed premises and other businesses to provide funds to look after and manage the area. A sad and tragic occurrence led to the establishment of that business improvement district, but it is a good example of how partnership working involving the police, the local authority, licensed premises and other businesses can work.

The Government do not seek to prescribe one specific model of partnership or how partnerships operate, or to say how a local authority should approach its management of licensing-related issues. Those things

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can be done in various ways, including through a business improvement district, a late-night levy, an early morning restriction order or voluntary arrangements such as community alcohol projects. I went to see the St Neots project when that started, and it is now being rolled forward. We support many such consensual voluntary arrangements whereby various parts of business work with local councils to come up with innovative, practical solutions to address problems on the ground.

The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North and others highlighted a number of specific points in relation to new clause 1. As she said, the previous Government tasked the independent fees review panel with consideration of the deficit between the costs and income of licensing authorities. In 2006, it estimated that a 7% increase in fee income was necessary for full cost recovery. Obviously, important points were made in the course of that review and, as I indicated, it was first and foremost in our considerations in introducing the new clause. The Government did not suddenly alight on the new clause at the last moment. Indeed, the original consultation document, which we published last summer, clearly refers to fees. In addition, full cost recovery was very much part and parcel of the consultation, to which we are therefore responding.

We will issue statutory guidance under section 182 of the 2003 Act on the application of good regulation, including risk assessment and targeted inspection, to which licensing authorities must have regard. That will be important as a further framework to the structure of the new arrangements.

Hon. Members mentioned burdens on business. We are obviously cognisant of statements in the recent Budget and the intention to introduce a moratorium to exempt micro and start-up businesses from new domestic regulation. There will be exemptions from the moratorium, and we will obviously need to consider the new licensing legislation, including locally set fees, within that framework. However, I say to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North that there is a clear need to address the gap highlighted in the Elton report. It does not seem right for local authorities effectively to subsidise the processing and activities of the 2003 Act when dealing with licensing arrangements, and I shall say more about that.

Diana Johnson: Will the Minister therefore confirm that the one-in, one-out principle will not apply in relation to the Bill, which certainly places a range of regulatory burdens on business?

James Brokenshire: The hon. Lady actually made that point in Committee. The Government take one-in, one-out seriously. Regulatory burden was considered closely and carefully during the approvals that led up to the Bill, as part of our broader consideration of the wider arrangements concerning burdens on business. We want to strip away things that are not needed, bureaucratic and unnecessary, but we will come to that in due course when we consider the next group of amendments, which relate to alcohol disorder zones, which clearly have not worked, because no one has taken them up. We obviously consider the new clause to be an important step towards getting the right balance.

The hon. Lady mentioned periodically reviewing the maximum fee level. That is certainly something that we will do. As I said in my opening comments, we also

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intend to consult properly on the details of the proposals, so that we can take on board the different opinions. There will, therefore, be an opportunity for a number of these matters to be considered further. The hon. Lady asked about the time scale for that. We anticipate that the necessary regulations will be laid in October 2012 to allow that detailed consultation to take place. That is the time scale we are working to in the laying of the relevant regulations. She also asked about guidance. There will be guidance on how locally set fees will operate and on how to set the fees. It is important that there is transparency on how this is undertaken—in many ways, that reflects the comment from my hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon—and clarity on how the fees will be set locally.

A question was asked about what the assessment for setting fees locally will include and what full cost recovery will encapsulate. The new clause makes it clear that the costs that a licensing authority may recover in its fees include those of other responsible authorities and other relevant parts of the licensing authority. That means that marginal costs that relate to duties arising from the Licensing Act can be included. However, policing costs would not be included. In other words, we are looking at the administration of the Act by the relevant local authority. That is how the new clause has been framed. Obviously, however, further consideration of the details can take place as part of the consultation as we move towards introducing the regulations that will sit behind this provision. That also applies to the necessary guidance that will help to inform the framing of the arrangements. Obviously, fees must not represent a blank cheque for local authorities, and fee payers need to be reassured of that. As I have said, a maximum level for each fee will be set in regulations. We will consult formally on the level before we introduce it, and will take evidence from a variety of authorities and fee payers to ascertain the satisfactory maximum sum for each fee.

I hope that I have addressed hon. Members’ comments made during the debate. I also hope that all hon. Members will recognise that this is a sensible proposal, that we have listened to representations made from different quarters and that this provision will deal with the shortfall for local authorities. We are introducing the measure in a considered way, recognising the pressures on local authorities and businesses, and we believe that it is appropriate. We consulted on the new clause last August, and I hope that hon. Members will be minded to support it.

Question put and agreed to .

New clause 1 accordingly read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

New Clause 2

Alcohol disorder zones: repeal

‘Sections 15 to 20 of the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 (alcohol disorder zones) are repealed.’.—(James Brokenshire.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

James Brokenshire: I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): With this 56.

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James Brokenshire: New clause 2 will repeal the previous Administration’s alcohol disorder zones. This optional power for local authorities was so well considered and useful that it has been completely unused by local licensing authorities to date. Alcohol disorder zones were heavy on bureaucracy and potentially expensive to introduce and administer. I am genuinely sorry that the hon. Member for Bradford South (Mr Sutcliffe) is in his place to hear me say this, because he was involved in the consideration of these zones. I recognise some of the challenges that he probably faced at the time in trying to introduce the policy, but we believe that it is time to call time on alcohol disorder zones. The Government do not believe that they are the right approach to tackling alcohol-related nuisance, annoyance or crime and disorder, and as such we seek their repeal.

Alcohol disorder zones were designed to tackle areas with a specific problem with alcohol-related nuisance, annoyance or disorder. To apply a zone, a licensing authority was required first to gather evidence that a specific area was responsible for causing alcohol-related nuisance, annoyance or disorder. Adoption of a zone further required that all premises subscribed to an action plan. If there was evidence that the action plan had failed, local authorities could impose a charge on local businesses to pay for additional enforcement, but had to provide a calculation of the cost of enforcement in order to levy the charge. That was a prohibitive bureaucratic process.

1.45 pm

Michael Ellis (Northampton North) (Con): Does the Minister agree that one of the unattractive features of the disorder zone plan was that it required areas to be described, or to describe themselves, as places of disorder? In itself, that was a most unattractive prospect.

James Brokenshire: It would be fair to say that it probably was not the biggest selling point of the policy to have that tag attached to a local area. It was probably, therefore, one of the disincentives. However, the problem had more to do with the levels of bureaucracy, including the impact of making some of the extremely challenging calculations necessary. I do not think that any local authority has felt brave enough to come forward. The Government are committed, therefore, to reducing the burden. The tools and powers available to local authorities must be simple to adopt and proportionate to the problem. Early morning restriction orders, for example, will, by stopping the sale of alcohol, be a simple way for local authorities to tackle specific problems at specific times and on specific days. That is something that we recognise and have taken forward in the Bill. We have sought to apply a more flexible approach through early morning restriction orders.

The late-night levy will be an optional power for local authorities to raise a contribution to the large policing costs incurred in the late-night economy, as well as supporting costs of local authorities in managing the late-night economy. The levy has been specifically designed to be simple for licensing authorities to adopt. We considered the repeal of alcohol disorder zones in our public consultation last year. The responses overwhelmingly supported repeal. Local authorities and the police spoke of the evidential burden, while businesses identified the policy as ineffective. I am sure that hon. Members will

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agree that alcohol disorder zones should no longer be on the statute book. I therefore ask that the new clause be incorporated in the Bill so that we can finally put this failed policy to rest.

Diana Johnson: Clearly, the new clause is a housekeeping matter for the Government in tidying up licensing legislation. I listened carefully to the Minister’s comments on the need for simplicity and a proportionate response to alcohol problems late at night. However, I do not think that the blanket approach being adopted under the late-night levy is proportionate. I would caution the Minister. Let us consider a large area of the country such as the East Riding of Yorkshire. If the local authority was minded to apply a late-night levy to the whole of the East Riding, small country pubs with no problems would have to pay the levy as well as places in more built-up areas, such as Bridlington, that do have problems late at night. The Government’s approach through the late-night levy might almost be described as the son of the alcohol disorder zones.

Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend also accept that the club that people end up in will sometimes not be where they start consuming alcohol? In fact, they might not even have a drink there, but that can be where the problem occurs.

Diana Johnson: My hon. Friend makes an important point. Indeed, when it comes to licensing, one disappointing aspect of the Bill is the failure to deal with pre-loading and the low cost of alcohol in supermarkets. This Bill would have been an opportunity for the Government to legislate to deal with those issues, and there is concern that they seem to have missed it.

I am concerned that businesses that already contribute to voluntary arrangements—they include Pubwatch and Best Bar None, to which hon. Members have referred—may feel penalised if they are then asked to make contributions to the late-night levy as well. There is also concern that because the provision will affect only licensed premises that sell alcohol, it will not deal with, say, problems with late-night takeaways. If the Minister is minded to do so, it would be worth considering whether the late-night licence should include all parts of the late-night economy. That would seem to be the fairest way of dealing with the issue.

Dr Huppert: I am delighted to support new clause 2. It would remove sections 15 to 20 of the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006, which were totally ineffective and did not work. I suggest that those provisions were also slightly tokenistic. Indeed, the previous Government fell into the trap of doing a lot of things that were token demonstrations. It is an easy trap to fall into, and I do not think that doing things for tokenistic reasons was unique to the last Government. I hope that this Government will learn the lesson of not doing things because they look good, but will continue to make great efforts to ensure that whoever forms the next Government will not have the same things to say about us.

One of the lessons learned about why those provisions were ineffective is set out in clause 125(4), which deals with the late-night levy requirement. That lesson, which

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has just been discussed, is how we draw the boundaries of an area. We cannot take the model of the past, which involved drawing boundaries very roughly. Therefore, the Minister decided that an area must be an entire council area, as has been said, although that causes problems in Cornwall, which is a large council area. Perhaps we should learn a slightly different lesson, which is that although we should not have complete flexibility of boundaries, we could have some flexibility. Perhaps the rule should be that we can combine entire ward areas, which would avoid the problems of the provisions that we are getting rid of, but make their replacement work a little better.

Mark Tami: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that wherever we draw the line, there will be one premises one side of it and another premises on the other, which could literally be next door to one another? Wherever we draw the line, there will still be a problem.

Dr Huppert: That is obviously the case, but unless the hon. Gentleman has a fantastic suggestion for solving that problem—a problem that applies to waste collection and everything else, and in every other country—I do not see how we can address it. The same problem would apply with council boundaries, which are not always in the perfect location for all purposes.

Penny Mordaunt: My hon. Friend mentions large council boundaries. Portsmouth, which I think is the most densely populated city in Europe apart from London, has a small council boundary, yet we have the same problem. There are areas with no problems where, if a fee was applied, it would be problematic for businesses to keep running.

Dr Huppert: I agree, and I think that my hon. Friend and I share the same objective. We do not want to return to the alcohol disorder zone approach, which clearly did not work and involved having to draw a complex wiggly line that would have exacerbated the problems. That is why I am suggesting ward-sized boundaries, which, while never being perfect, would take us a lot further and allow the various areas of Portsmouth to be separated—I do not know the city as well as she does, and I am sure that she could say which wards were more of an issue than others.

Steve McCabe: If we accept that alcohol disorder zones were not a success—perhaps it is right to repeal them at this stage—is it not also fair to say that what we are hearing today are legitimate concerns about the unintended consequences of the new approach? Given the hon. Gentleman’s desire not to have ineffective legislation, does he feel that it would be in the Government’s interests for the Minister to promise an early review of the proposal?

Dr Huppert: It is hard to argue that alcohol disorder zones were effective, given that nobody used them, so I hope that the hon. Gentleman was not trying to make that case. I am not calling for an early review, because we have to give things a certain amount of time. I would not necessarily have said, for example, that getting rid of alcohol disorder zones at the beginning of 2007 would have been the right thing to do either. It takes time to realise that something simply has not worked. I

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am not calling for an early review, but I am sure that the Minister will comment on my suggestion of using ward boundaries. We did not discuss it in detail in Committee, either here or in the other place, but it might provide a way of making the scheme a bit easier for councils to use, because we want to ensure that what the Minister intends is, in fact, what we see in the end.

Andrew Percy: I had not intended to speak in this debate, but it is about an issue in which I am quite interested, given my former role as chairman of the licensing authority in Hull, one of the two councils in East Yorkshire. My coalition colleague, the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert), stole some of my thunder, proving that on this issue we are a happy coalition.

I chaired the licensing authority in Hull for a number of years, at the time when powers were transferred to us from the justices, so I was involved in writing the city’s licensing policy. It was clear from the beginning that the powers that we had been given were insufficient. In some ways, I understood why the Government had come up with a solution, given the national outcry at the time and the problems that we had all read about. However, when I sat down with our council officers and said, “Alcohol disorder zones—what’s your advice?”, they said, “We’re not going to go anywhere near them, and we doubt anyone else will.” It would have taken some time for alcohol disorder zones to become effective, but it was clear from the beginning that they were incredibly bureaucratic and would not be introduced in any part of England. Indeed, we have had similar problems with cumulative impact zones, which the local authority in Hull has twice rejected, and on very much the same grounds—the unfairness that could be meted out to premises with no problems at all, but which could none the less be drawn into such zones.

I take the point made by the shadow Minister—my near neighbour, the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson)—about the late-night levy. In many ways, I understand the Government’s intentions. Indeed, when I was a licensing chairman, all we wanted was a little more power—as all councillors and politicians always do—to do something about the premises with which we knew we had repeated problems. At the time, we could not always rely on the police to make review applications, and we could do little with the review applications that we received from residents, because the weight of evidence that they put was insufficient, so we do need something.

I have concerns, however, particularly—as the shadow Minister said—in areas such as the East Riding of Yorkshire, or in the other part of my constituency, in north Lincolnshire. A late-night levy could draw in the Percy Arms—the pub four doors from my house, in a small, quiet, East Riding village—at the same time as nightclubs in Bridlington and Withernsea, which seems a little unfair.

Indeed, that would be unfair in a city as well. In Hull, as well as in Scunthorpe and other towns in our area, the problems are generally in the town or city centre, yet pubs in the suburbs or outside the city could also be drawn into the levy. I therefore support the suggestion made by Members in all parts of the House, including by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge, that we should think carefully about how to apply the levy. I

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understand the Government’s intention, and I agree with the early-hours orders, which could be particularly effective. However, we need to ensure flexibility in the system. In my time as a licensing chairman, we wanted a bit more power to do something against certain premises. However, as with all legislation, we need to ensure that we do not draw in premises that are innocent of any trouble. Like the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe), I would urge the Government to give an assurance that the provisions will be reviewed at some time in the future.

Justin Tomlinson: Obviously I have already covered some of this issue with my earlier comments on the late-night levy, but the buzz word that is coming across is greater flexibility. A number of Members have highlighted possible solutions to the problems of setting boundaries, but I think that the only way to set a boundary is to be venue-specific. Venues that conduct themselves in the right manner need an incentive. It has been suggested that venues in the East Riding with no history of problems, which do everything by the rule book and are nowhere near the problem areas, could be caught by the provisions. If we adopted more specific boundaries, we might have a ward boundary between two different establishments, with the well-behaved one on the wrong side of the boundary.

2 pm

The measure should be venue-specific and should be reviewed on a 12-month basis. A venue might be perfectly well behaved, but have a change of manager or a change in its cycle. In my experience, a new venue has novelty value and people queue to enter it, so it can afford to be picky and choosy, but when it gets towards the end of its natural life before being refurbished or simply closed it might cut corners to try to keep people coming in. This can result in a prevalence of under-age drinking, and its associated problems, so the measure should be venue-specific and reviewed regularly. The venues should also help to shape the way in which the late-night levy is paid.

I welcome local authorities having greater powers to deal with problem venues because we have a duty to protect the vast majority of people who go out on a Friday and Saturday night to enjoy themselves. If a venue is causing problems and encouraging a small minority to ruin things for the vast majority, the local authority should have the power to deal with that. Again, such measures should be venue-specific, and time-specific in relation to the venue. Generally, when people are out enjoying themselves, they are well behaved, but if they are trying to get home having not had a very good night problems can arise. People might try to jump the queue for a taxi, for example, which is why I have mentioned the need for a taxi co-ordinator. If all the venues in an area close at the same time, everyone will be spilling on to the streets at once. Closing times should therefore be staggered throughout the night. We should allow the responsible venues that have all the checks in place to stay open until 3 o’clock in the morning, if that is what the area wants, and close a problem venue at a different time to allow the limited police resources to deal with any associated problems. My plea is therefore for greater flexibility and for measures to be venue-specific and reviewed regularly.

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Diana Johnson: It has been interesting to listen to the practical experiences of the hon. Members for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy) and for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson). Given his practical business experience, what does the hon. Member for North Swindon think about the possibility of having a late-night levy and an early morning restriction order operating at the same time?

Justin Tomlinson: There would be obvious challenges. For example, if a local authority decided to charge any venue open after midnight a late-night levy but made it close at 12.15, that would not give it an opportunity to generate enough additional income to pay for the late-night levy. My proposal would be to bring the local authority, the police and the late-night venues together to discuss the matter. No venue will openly say that it wants to pay a late-night levy, because it adds an extra cost to its bottom line, but if that money were seen to be spent on improving the safety and enjoyment of the vast majority of people, allowing them to get home safely and quickly after a night out, they would be more likely to go out again and spend money.

I am trying to strike a balance between being proactively supportive of people going out and enjoying themselves and considering those who have to deal with the minority who cause problems. To ensure that this works, I would make it compulsory for those responsible for running venues—the managers, the keyholders, the licence holders—to sit round the table with the local authority, the licensing people and the police. This practice can encompass schemes such as Best Bar None and Pubwatch, and approaches that bar troublemakers from all the venues in an area if they cause trouble in just one. In that way, the vast majority who go out to enjoy themselves on Friday and Saturday nights will have their experience enhanced, and the industry will benefit because its perception and reputation will be greatly improved.

Steve McCabe: I agree with the comments made by the hon. Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson); his experience has been of benefit to all of us. This is not a party political issue. We all want to see successful pubs and licensed premises where people can enjoy themselves and the businesses can make money and provide the jobs that are very much needed in some places. Perhaps I did not make myself clear to the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert): I am happy to accept that alcohol disorder zones were not a success. I think that they were genuinely conceived as an attempt to deal with a problem that we all recognised, but they were not a success. I am not in any sense troubled to see the Government scrapping them and trying a different approach. I honestly hope that that approach will work, and I wish it well.

There are some obvious concerns, however, and several of them have been mentioned today. Problems could arise when a rural area is adjacent to an intensively developed town, for example. The application of the rules in such a situation could be problematic. The west midlands has several local authorities in close proximity, and there is a risk that the application of certain levy arrangements in, say, Solihull could have a knock-on effect in neighbouring Birmingham. It is reasonable to say that we are concerned about how this will work in practice.

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I urge the Minister to review the provisions, not because I want to be able to come back here in 12 or 18 months to have a bit of fun at his expense. On many occasions, I would quite enjoy that, but in this context it probably would not be terribly useful. As I have said, this problem does not involve any party politics. We are all grappling with the same issue, and want to get to the same end point. I therefore urge the Minister to have a review, perhaps even a rolling review, so that we can see what problems are developing, what solutions are being tried, and whether there is a way of developing best practice. Instead of reaching a point at which we have to say, “Oh well, that didn’t work either. We’ll repeal it and start all over again,” I would much rather see the approach being modified as we go along. It might be in the Minister’s interest to agree to report regularly to us on the lessons that have been learned from the application of the measure, so that we can call on the experience of people such as the hon. Member for North Swindon, who could suggest adjustments that might make a difference.

I wish the measure well, and I hope that it will work, but I urge the Minister to think about introducing a regular review process that will allow us to learn lessons and ensure that we tackle the problem.

James Brokenshire: I am grateful to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe) for his contribution. He talked about not wanting to have fun at my expense, but I genuinely take his point on board.

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) was in the Chamber only fleetingly. Perhaps he did not want to be present at the denouement. I remember him, when he was a Minister, grappling to try to make the alcohol disorder zone policy work. I was an Opposition spokesman at the time, and I used to pick holes in it, saying that parts of it would not work and that it was too complicated. I asked how areas would be defined and which businesses would be part of the scheme. I also asked how the costs and charges would be calculated, and what steps would have to be taken to set the scheme up. I could almost see the beads of sweat forming on the hon. Gentleman’s brow, because those were all fair questions that many people were asking. I do not claim any great credit in that sense, because many outside agencies, including the Local Government Association, shared the view that it was a nice idea but that it really would not work. It is now right and proper to accept that, to move on and to learn the lessons from that time.

I respect the comments of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson), who I know probably wants to gloss over the alcohol disorder zone episode, as does everybody nowadays, and move on to a new chapter. The ADZ episode taught us that in seeking to apply a charge in that way, defining the area can seem quite straightforward initially but prove devilishly difficult. That was one of the issues behind the ADZ problem.

We have sought to take a different approach by looking at the issue on a time basis rather than at a specific area and by dealing with the problems of managing the late-night economy. Research showed that there were pressures on the police and increases in crime in the early hours of the morning, suggesting the importance of the time at which this was happening. That is why clause 126 makes it clear that the late-night levy must

“begin at or after midnight, and… end at or before 6 am.”

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I hear the points made about rural areas, for example, where there might not be a problem. I note the question about whether, if the levy were applied more generally across the whole local council area, it would capture the well-run community pubs in the locality. If this were set to start only at midnight, I would suggest that those well-run community pubs are most likely to have shut by that time—before the levy comes into operation. If this is a problem, there is flexibility in the setting of the time at which the levy starts; it could begin from 1 am, for example. That flexibility is built into the measure.

Nigel Mills: It would help us and the industry if we understood how we are going to deal with the problem of events accidentally going beyond midnight or 1 am. Although there might not be any problems, a licence might be sought to cover a wedding or other event. At times such as new year’s eve places are open for a long time, which might technically tip them into the levy, although that is not the Government’s intention.

James Brokenshire: I think I made it clear in Committee that in those circumstances we would allow people to change their licence conditions to avoid the levy. Temporary event notices for specific issues would be considered under the TENs regime.

Diana Johnson: Will the Minister confirm that if a pub or venue operates just once in a year for which the late-night licence after midnight or 1 am applies, it will be subject to a late-night levy? Will the Government consider allowing, say, five or 10 opportunities for a pub to open during the year before the late-night levy kicks in?

James Brokenshire: Again, I think I said in Committee that we would want to look at such issues in the detail of the regulations. There are some specific points, as I said in Committee, that it would be appropriate to examine further. As part of that, we would want to give flexibility to encapsulate the schemes we have debated this afternoon—the Best Bar None and other voluntary schemes—so that some credit could be applied. I stress that the provisions are intended to be flexible, but if it became clear that the levy was not effective, at that stage—once implementation has taken place and an appropriate period had elapsed—it would be appropriate, as with any measure, to review it. We believe, however, that the provisions already have the required flexibility and are workable, and that they will not have the same bureaucratic problems as alcohol disorder zones. We believe that they are an important means of aiding the management and control of the late-night economy, many areas of which have been badly affected by the introduction of the Licensing Act 2003, without necessarily taking account of the consequences that have occurred.

2.15 pm

Justin Tomlinson: I welcome the suggestion that there is greater flexibility in the provision, but setting the levy according to time is still likely to capture venues that conduct themselves appropriately but just happen to be operating beyond a certain time. There is an analogy with football policing. A big local football club will contribute to policing costs because it attracts all the supporters, but no one would dream of charging the part-time or amateur football clubs that play on the local recreation grounds. It should be venue-specific

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and it should take into account the need to be proactive in working with the local authority and the police authority.

James Brokenshire: On the venue-specific point, if there are problems, a review of licensed premises can be conducted. That is also why we included provisions to strengthen the enforcement of the laws against under-age sales.

Can problems with pre-loading, post-loading and so forth be pinned down to one specific area or not? We think that setting the levy on a time basis is fair and equitable, involving the provision of funding for local authorities to look at taxi marshals and manage the late-night economy in its broadest sense. By narrowing it down, the provision might start to lose some of the intent behind it, which is to help the police and local authorities to manage the late-night economy—if that is what they choose to do. I remind hon. Members that this is a discretionary power for local authorities to determine.

Diana Johnson: The Minister has made it clear again that this is a discretionary power that local authorities can exercise, but he has also made it clear that there were no alcohol disorder zones, so I wonder how many local authorities he expects to apply the late-night levy. That knowledge will help us to gauge its success in the future.

James Brokenshire: Strangely enough, this Government do not believe in central targets. The hon. Lady tempts me down that path, but I have to say that I have no specific target. I refer her to the regulatory impact assessment, which she will have read assiduously, as it sets out the level of fees forecast. The regulatory impact assessment sought to examine possible options and estimate what might be recovered by the late-night levy. Rather than count up the number of local authorities, however, I point her to that assessment. We hope it will be successful.

Andrew Percy: The Minister is generous with his time and in being willing to take some of our points into account. I welcome the suggestion that we might be able to find a way, by means of regulation, of excluding village pubs such as the ones in my area. The problem with the alcohol disorder zones was not necessarily the setting of the boundaries, but the paperwork and bureaucracy that went with them. I commend to the Minister one area of law that seems to have worked very well—the designated alcohol zones. These are no-drinking zones, which have a set boundary and were quite easy to set up in comparison with ADZs. Having boundaries or setting boundaries around problem areas is not necessarily that complicated if we ensure that the process is simplified.

James Brokenshire: There might be a distinction to be drawn between seeking to calculate costs and charges as with the ADZs, and local byelaws drawn up by some local authorities. As I have already said, the early morning alcohol restriction orders are relevant, along with cumulative impact zones. They show that there are ways of seeking to control the behaviour of individuals within a particular area. Calculating costs and levying charges and fees for licences appropriately has to be done in a broader way to make it effective so that we do not get drawn down into the bureaucratic mechanism that we are seeking to put to bed in respect of the alcohol disorder zone.

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Michael Ellis: The Minister has been urged to make the Bill location-specific, but would that not confer a stigma on certain locations? Would it not also create excessive bureaucracy, as local authorities would have to do far more work? Moreover, would it not depart from the principle that the Bill seeks to implement, namely the establishment of a balance that will assist the police and allay public concern about such problems as disorder?

James Brokenshire: My hon. Friend makes some powerful points, which bring us neatly back to the subject of alcohol disorder zones. I do not think that they met the tests that my hon. Friend has just identified. For that reason, we think it right to end a policy that sadly became an alcohol disarray zone, given the challenges that stood in the way of its being brought to fruition. We believe that there is merit in providing local authorities and the police with funds enabling them to manage the late-night economy; we believe that the right way in which to do that is through the late-night levy; and we believe that it is time to end the ADZ episode, which has clearly been a failure.

Question put and agreed to.

New clause 2 accordingly read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

New Clause 3

General duties of licensing authorities

‘(1) The Licensing Act 2003 is amended as follows.

(2) In section 4 (General duties of licensing authorities) insert—

(a) protecting and improving public health.”.’.—(Diana Johnson.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

Diana Johnson: I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The Licensing Act 2003 sets out the four licensing objectives that must currently be taken into account when a local authority carries out its licensing functions: the prevention of crime and disorder, public safety, the prevention of public nuisance, and the protection of children from harm. The new clause would introduce a fifth objective: to protect and improve public health. We tabled it to deal with three key issues. First, there is the fact that public health is far more prominent and talked about than ever before. Secondly, there is the role of primary care trusts and, in future, local authorities, which is relevant to clause 104. Thirdly, there is the current position in Scotland.

Let me explain first why we think the issue of public health is so important. As an Opposition spokesman, the Secretary of State for Health made clear his strong commitment to it. So committed was he that he planned to rename the Department of Health “the Department of Public Health” if the Conservatives came to power. Obviously that has not happened, but the Secretary of State is very busy with his Health and Social Care Bill, and we know that he is trying to rename the NHS “the HS”—to get rid of the “national”.

The widespread view is that there is a proper role for Government in the promotion of good public health. We know from the provisions of the Health and Social Care Bill that one of the few budgets that will be

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ring-fenced in future is the public health money that will pass from the PCTs to local authorities in 2013. However, the Government have experienced big problems in their approach to public health. This month we have seen the fall-out from their stance on self-regulation by the drinks industry through the responsibility deal. A number of health groups have walked away from the discussions and the agreement, including the British Heart Foundation.

Don Shenker, the chief executive of Alcohol Concern, made clear his view that the Government’s approach to public health will not work. He said that the responsibility deal was

“the worst possible deal for everyone who wants to see alcohol harm reduced”,

and that it had no sanctions to impose if the industry failed to fulfil its pledges. He described those pledges as “half-hearted”,

and that the

“government has clearly shown that when it comes to public health its first priority is to side with big business and protect private profit.”

Let us consider what has already been said about this issue, and the action that the Government have taken so far. Yesterday the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) presented a ten-minute rule Bill to restrict the marketing of alcohol to children and young people. She made a telling point in expressing concern about the fact that the Government were putting the fox in charge of the chickens. They have, for instance, set their face against the idea of making personal, social and health education compulsory. That would have provided an excellent opportunity for young people to be taught about the effects of alcohol and the long-term health consequences of drinking too much.

In January, the Minister set out the coalition Government’s plans in relation to minimum pricing. He said that they wanted alcohol to be sold at the level of duty plus VAT. Many people, including representatives of many health organisations, have pointed out that that will have little effect on the price of alcohol in supermarkets, many of which will continue to sell alcohol that is cheaper than bottled water. It also contradicts the view of Liam Donaldson, the former chief medical officer, that there should be a minimum price of 50p per unit.

Dr Huppert: I wonder whether the hon. Lady can help me, given that I am a new Member, by reminding me what the minimum price was under the last Government.

Diana Johnson: As I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows, because he pays close attention to these issues, there has been a continuing debate for some time about the need to reach a conclusion that everyone considers appropriate. The problem with the announcement from the coalition Government is that it is causing most people to think that it will have no effect at all.

I know that the hon. Gentleman sets great store by academic research and evidence. According to research carried out by Sheffield university, pricing measures will only be significantly effective from around the 40p per unit mark. It is feared that the coalition Government’s preferred level will be not 40p but much lower, and that they have missed the opportunity to make significant strides in dealing with the problem of alcohol abuse.

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As I pointed out during a previous debate, the Bill contains no provisions dealing with minimum pricing, and I think most people would consider that a great shame. We were looking forward to legislation shortly after the announcement in January. The Government are clearly in some disarray when it comes to public health and alcohol, but the new clause offers them a real opportunity to reassert their commitment to improving public health and dealing with some of the public health problems associated with alcohol. We believe that we are helping them to achieve what I am sure all Members agree is the very proper aim of ensuring that alcohol-related problems are dealt with properly by the House. Therefore, if the Government were to add in health and this further objective in respect of licensing, it would show that they are serious about the problem of public health, and it would also deal with the problems they have faced since taking office last May.

2.30 pm

My next point is about primary care trusts. The Minister will recall that we had a debate in Committee about primary care trusts becoming responsible authorities under clause 104. In that debate, I raised a number of issues about how the primary care trust, which is a health body, would effectively be able to make representations to the licensing committee on the four objectives of licensing, none of which currently includes the issue of health, and there was an exchange of views between the Minister and me about how this would work. It would clearly make sense for health to be one of the objectives, as the PCT would therefore be able to deal specifically with the health implications for the community concerned. I believe this fifth condition would make sense within the terms of the Bill and clause 104.

I would also like the Minister to comment on another issue. Under the Health and Social Care Bill provisions, the primary care trust will be removed and the public health function will be taken up by the local authority. The local authority would therefore be exercising its responsibilities as a licensing authority and would also have a public health promotion and high-level strategic role. If health is not one of the conditions of licensing, might not local authorities be facing both ways at the same time? That is an important issue.

Under the Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005, the Scottish Government have introduced a fifth condition into their licensing objectives: to protect and improve public health. In Scotland, there has been genuine concern for some time about the levels of alcohol consumption and the effect on the health of the nation. The Nicholson Committee deliberated at length on whether health should be included as one of the conditions under the Act. When that idea went out to public consultation, there was widespread support for it, and I think that that would also be the case in the rest of the UK if the Government were to put it forward.

In Scotland, there has been no final evaluation of the impact of adding health as one of the conditions, and it is still quite early days. However, West Dunbartonshire council has used the local alcohol and drug partnership information and guidance as a tool for the licensing boards to address health objectives, and that has proved a very positive step. That council is certainly considered to be at the forefront of local authorities in Scotland in

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dealing with this issue in a sensible way. This measure is breaking new ground however, and there is great concern about how licensing boards implement it and the information they take into account. Whenever we break new ground, there will always be lawyers in the background examining whether there is an opportunity to appeal, and, unfortunately, that has happened a great deal in Scotland, but that is no excuse for not taking the step and addressing the issue of health.

Under the Scottish model, the main way the measure is being assessed is by looking at the over-provision of pubs and other licensed premises within an area to give some indication as to the impact on the health of the community. The statistics that are available through the alcohol and drug partnership should also be considered, as that has been effective.

The Government have an opportunity to lead the way in introducing this provision, and to join Scotland at the forefront of taking public health and alcohol concerns seriously and shaping the debate in the rest of the world. Many countries are already looking at what happens in Scotland, and thinking that they may want to join in. It would be a great pity if England and Wales did not consider the matter properly and fully, and did not take some positive steps to deal with this issue, which many of our constituents feel has been ignored for too long.

James Brokenshire: That was an interesting contribution from the hon. Lady. She said that she felt public health had been ignored for a long time, but she made a slight mistake by highlighting that. That is why I am delighted that my colleagues in the Department of Health are taking this matter seriously in their approach to Public Health England, which is giving proper attention to public health. It is a shame that the hon. Lady made those comments because we have had a reasonable debate and she unfortunately decided to make more partisan attacks during that contribution. Perhaps it is worth reminding ourselves of how we reached this point on the accident and emergency issues and of all the pressures that are brought to bear on our health service and on the police. The vibrant café culture had been promised and written up as part of the reforms introduced by the Licensing Act 2003, but it failed to materialise. That is why we are taking steps in this Bill to address licensing issues.

I agree with the hon. Lady that public health issues are involved here and that there is merit in making health a material consideration in the 2003 Act. The Government stated that in their response to the “Rebalancing the Licensing Act” consultation, which contained a specific consultation point on the matter, and we committed to considering the best way to take this issue forward. However, my view is that the issue requires further consideration, alongside wider Government work, to address the harm alcohol causes to health.

It is important to highlight the fact that the Bill has sought to bring certain changes into effect, such as enabling primary care trusts, as health bodies, to make representations. Health bodies have a clear interest in the existing 2003 Act objectives of “public safety” and “crime reduction”, as illustrated in: alcohol-related accident and emergency attendances; ambulance journeys following road traffic accidents and other accidents; glassing and other injuries; alcohol poisoning cases and so on. That

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directly relates to how those health bodies are able to make representations under the Bill. Drunken accidents and injuries comprise a high proportion of accident and emergency attendances—the estimate is up to 70% on Saturday nights. When added to ambulance costs, they cost the NHS about £1.1 billion a year, so this is a legitimate focus for licensing.

Diana Johnson: Members on both sides of the House want to ensure that we get the best possible policy on alcohol and public health—we all have an interest in doing that—but can the Minister explain to me what he expects the PCT to provide on an individual licence application? A lot of bureaucracy will be involved if the individual licence application has to involve accident and emergency statistics. Are they what he expects the PCT to provide?

James Brokenshire: In some areas, NHS organisations already share anonymised A and E data with the police. Such intelligence can highlight where violent incidents occur and any hot-spot premises, thus supporting police representations at licensing hearings and wider law enforcement. Making local health bodies responsible authorities will encourage the effective collection and sharing of anonymised A and E data and other robust and targeted evidence for licensing authorities to consider.

The hon. Lady specifically asked how the role of local authorities will be managed in the context of Public Health England. She will be well aware that licensing authorities become responsible authorities under the Bill and are therefore able, in essence, to make their own representations. Obviously, different functions are carried out by different parts of the local authority, as happens in planning. The licensing committee is able to consider applications and relevant legislative issues, so there is a broad read-across in how a local authority is able not only to make representations but to determine things. A local licensing panel will have an almost quasi-judicial role in that situation, as does a planning authority.

I want to return to some of the hon. Lady’s other points.

Steve McCabe rose—

James Brokenshire: Before I do so, I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Steve McCabe: Whether or not the Minister accepts the new clause, does he accept the central point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson)? As the Bill stands, a local authority could license a supermarket to sell cheap alcohol, creating a problem. If that local authority then imposed a levy that applied to other premises in the near vicinity but not to the supermarket, the health sector would not necessarily benefit from any of the levy, but it might suffer some of the worst cost effects of the problem. Does he accept that he must do something about the central health issue?

James Brokenshire: I will come to that. If the late-night levy is effective in managing the night-time economy and in supporting the police, it will have an impact. For

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example, it might affect the accident and emergency attendances that might otherwise arise in an area. Indirect benefits could accrue from the operation of the levy in that way. Different points need to be discussed, but I will come on to the issue of price, which is a fair point and was raised by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson).

Protecting public health is a complex issue, and that was reflected in the mixed nature of the responses the Government received when, in our “Rebalancing the Licensing Act” consultation, we asked about adding the prevention of health harm as a fifth licensing objective. Although those who supported the proposal acknowledged the benefits of improving public health, reducing the burden on the NHS and increasing responsibility among licensees, those who opposed it were concerned that it would be onerous and unworkable.

Adding protecting and improving public health as a licensing objective, as the new clause proposes, would mark a fundamental change to the Licensing Act. The four existing licensing objectives underpin the Act and, as the hon. Lady highlighted, the licensing authority is required to carry out its functions with a view to promoting these objectives. We believe that before we make such a fundamental change, it is essential that full consideration is given to the potential impact to ensure that any changes are workable and do not have any unintended consequences. We should undertake such considerations alongside wider Government work to address the harm done by alcohol to health. For example, if we were to introduce the objective now, we would need to consider carefully—as we are—what the knock-on consequences might be.

If an area has public health challenges caused by deprivation, does that mean, strictly applying such a rule, that it should automatically have no licensed premises and is that acceptable? We need to consider such detailed factors carefully in the context of the consequences of making such a radical change. That is why we need to consider the question carefully and cautiously, albeit that I have sympathy with the points about public health. That was why we raised the issue in our consultation last August but felt, on the basis of the representations we received, that it was important to reflect on the matter and to consider it further in that context and in the context of the wider work that is taking place.

The hon. Lady made a good point about the Scottish licensing laws, which have an objective to protect and improve public health. We are keen to learn any lessons from the Scottish experience. The Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005 only came into force in September 2009, it will be evaluated and we look forward to learning from it. There are other differences in the Scottish framework, such as the powers to control density of premises, which raise their own issues and would need to be taken into account.

As announced in the “Healthy lives, healthy people” document, we want to improve alcohol treatment services through a greater focus on outcomes and payment by results. We also want to improve the commissioning of preventive services, including brief interventions by health professionals, so there is a broader focus that we wish to take on board. The hon. Lady mentioned the responsibility deal, but this is only a first step. The initial pledges will form an important platform for future work. Networks are already developing the next

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tranche of pledges, which we expect to go much further and to demand much greater commitment and action on the industry’s part.

2.45 pm

On pricing, which has been raised by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North and the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe), we have announced that we intend to ban below-cost sales, setting at the level of duty plus VAT. That is an important first step in setting out a framework that we can evaluate and work from, so I see it as an important first step in dealing with the impact of alcohol prices on public health and on crime and disorder. These are complex issues, which is why it is important to do things in a measured way.

Diana Johnson: The Minister announced in January his intention to legislate on minimum pricing. Can he update us on when those measures will come before the House?

James Brokenshire: We are considering this matter very carefully so that it is introduced in a less bureaucratic and a straightforward way. We will put further proposals before the House in due course because this is something we are committed to. Having made the announcement, we will be following through on this. It is important to ban below-cost sales and introduce the duty-plus-VAT measure that we announced at the start of the year. The Government are committed to following through on that.

The Government have already made provision in the Bill to make primary care trusts and local health bodies responsible authorities. That will ensure that local health bodies can influence licensing determinations by making representations based on local health evidence such as accident and emergency statistics. Those representations will need to be linked to existing licensing objectives to be relevant. Health bodies have a clear interest in the existing Licensing Act objectives, as I have mentioned, so we think it is an important step to recognise their role in that way.

For the reasons I have given, I ask the Opposition not to press the new clause and to allow the Government to examine this issue further and learn from the evidence and experience that is emerging from elsewhere. We can then consider what is the best way of legislating to make public health a material consideration within the licensing process, thereby recognising the points that have been made this afternoon and, equally, that this is a complex area. Doing things effectively and in the right way is the best course of action.

Diana Johnson: I am grateful to the Minister for his warm words about looking at public health and alcohol and I hope that we will see some more action on this. On minimum pricing, I am concerned that the announcement was back in January but I think there is genuine willingness to move forward on this. I have set out my concerns that the minimum pricing level that the coalition has announced is not high enough, but if we are going to do this, let us get on and do it. I do not quite understand why there is delay, because the coalition has made its announcement and stated its position. I listened to the Minister’s comments about the time

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frame, but “in due course” can mean quite a few things in the House of Commons, so I will certainly be looking to see what progress is made, because it is time to get on with this.

It is disappointing that the Bill does not address the issues of pre-loading and the concerns that people are expressing up and down the land about the low cost of alcohol in supermarkets. I am keen to work positively with the coalition on this important issue and I strongly hope that there will be real progress in the coming months. I hope also that the health organisations that have walked away from the responsibility deal negotiations can be brought back in and reassured that there is genuine commitment on the part of the coalition to deal with health and alcohol issues. On the basis of what the Minister has said, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

James Brokenshire: I beg to move amendment 22,  page 87, line 26, leave out ‘authorisations’ and insert

‘premises licences and club premises certificates’.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendments 23 to 30.

James Brokenshire: These are minor amendments to the late-night levy clauses in part 2 that clarify the effect of the provisions. To avoid possible misinterpretation, the Bill should use consistent terminology. Amendments 22 and 30 intend to achieve that end. Amendments 26 and 27 amend clause 133 merely by making it clear that if licensing authorities amend the categories of premises in their area that benefit from an exemption or reduction in their levy liability for a subsequent year there may already be none as well as one or more premises in those categories for the existing year.

Amendments 28 and 29 remove a drafting error in clause 133 and clarify the basis on which licensing authorities must ensure that any exemption or reduction categories that apply in their areas in a subsequent year accord with the categories prescribed in regulations. Amendments 23, 24 and 25 ensure that local authorities do not suffer a burden in introducing the late-night levy. They do not change the intention underlying the levy, nor do they change the burden on business.