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Baroness Blackstone: Yes, indeed, I have more than enough to answer. In response to a previous group of amendments, which I thought focused on issues of saturation, I laid out the Government's policy position in detail. I do not believe that it would be helpful for me to repeat everything I said. I gave examples of how Manchester is dealing successfully with these issues. I also explained at length the way in which the Bill provides for a number of remedies to deal with the problems that concern Members of the Committee. However, I shall do my best to answer some of the questions that have been put.

It is always helpful and important to look at international evidence. Officials visited a number of European countries when they were conducting the review of licensing laws in 1998–99, prior to publication of the White Paper. So did the All Party Parliamentary Beer Group. That may not be a particularly popular group with Members participating in the debate. It produced a report which may be of interest to those who want to know what happens among our European neighbours.

First, late licences are all issued to fixed times. It is usually 2 a.m. but 3 a.m. in the West End of London. The point made by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, is therefore a little spurious. The problems relate to the fixed nature of the times resulting in everyone hitting the street at the same time. It is already possible to apply for, and receive, a late alcohol licence.

The Government's position is that fixed closing times are not only the cause of disorder; there is also considerable noise disturbance when large numbers of people leave premises at the same time. I know that I have already expressed that view. I apologise for repeating it, but it is important to the debate. The purpose of having later licences but not having them at fixed times is to allow a slower and more orderly—and, therefore, we hope, quieter—dispersal of people. But if problems arise, licences can be reviewed under the legislation. There is nothing to prevent that happening.

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, asked about anti-social behaviour and alcohol statistics. The statistics on alcohol-related crime are freely available. They show that arrests from drunkenness fell from 54,475 in 1997 to 45,234 in 2000, which is the latest year for which we have these statistics. We need to be sensible in looking at the evidence. Although, obviously, there are far too many arrests for drunkenness, the statistics show that the situation is not getting worse. It is important to note that.

Lord Avebury: Perhaps I did not explain myself properly. I asked the Minister for the statistics for violent crime in the particular areas concerned so that we can compare them with other areas where late night drinking does not take place. For example, she said

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that in Westminster the drinking establishments are allowed to remain open until 3 a.m. I was asking whether there are statistics comparing violent crime in the Westminster police districts of Charing Cross and West End Central, and how those compared with the averages for the country as a whole. If following the introduction of the late night economy in Westminster there was a huge growth in violent crime, then the two things are obviously connected with one another.

Baroness Blackstone: All my training as a social scientist would lead me to be extremely cautious about making such a deduction. There are many causes of violent crime and you cannot necessarily assume that because there is a late night entertainment culture, and the drinking associated with it, that is the cause of violent crime.

I do not know the answer to the noble Lord's question—I do not have research studies or statistics to hand—but if there are such research studies which suggest the kind of causation suggested by the noble Lord, I shall write and send them to him. But I have not been shown studies of that kind.

Lord Avebury: I am sorry to interrupt the Minister again, but it is for others to look at the figures and to interpret them as they see fit. It is not for the Government to say, "We do not believe that the figures allow these deductions to be drawn". If the figures are available, let the Government produce them and let everyone—whether sociologists or lay people—interpret them as best they can.

Baroness Blackstone: I am perfectly happy for anyone to interpret them as best they can. All I am saying is that I do not have such figures to hand. If they are available I shall be happy to provide them for the noble Lord and to put a copy of the studies and any letter I may send to him in the Library of the House. But I suspect that the nature of causation is infinitely more complex than the noble Lord implies.

The noble Lord asked about the closure of a night club in Leicester Square. There are special powers for the police to ask for the closure of night clubs where there are drug problems—this is the issue to which the noble Lord referred—and they do so by seeking the revocation of the public entertainments licence. This will still be possible under the Bill. There is nothing in the Bill that changes the current situation.

The Earl of Onslow: I thank the Minister for giving way. Would you have to go to the magistrates to get that ban—thereby making it a judicial process and, consequently, a criminal offence—or would you go to the licensing authority? Surely it is difficult to take away someone's livelihood—which this procedure could involve—without some form of due process.

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12.45 p.m.

Baroness Blackstone: As far as criminal offences are concerned, such cases would go to the courts. Where there is also a licensing issue, the case would go to the local authority for the revocation of the licence.

As to planning, an issued raised by the noble Earl, the noble Lord, Lord Tope, the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, and several other noble Lords, as I said in responding to a previous group of amendments, the Government see the planning law as being of great significance in relation to decisions about how many licensed premises there may be in any one particular area. I said in a previous debate that we need to look more closely at ways in which we can integrate planning law with licensing law.

All premises have to have planning permission before they can become licensed premises, but there is a problem with the question of the change of use of premises, an issue referred to by several noble Lords. The Government readily concede that. We are examining the issue and undertaking consultations. The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister will report on this in the new year and that report will be available before the Bill leaves this House.

My noble friend Lord Borrie made a good point about the importance of monitoring the impact of this legislation—and, indeed, of any legislation—and I am sure that that will happen. As regards Scotland, however, I should say to my noble friend that he should not anticipate the findings of the Nicholson committee, which is reviewing the licensing laws in Scotland. It will report in the new year but our present understanding is that its findings on hours is very similar to ours at this stage. We shall of course take into account the findings of that inquiry.

I should say to my noble friend Lord Brooke that I have not seen the research to which he refers. I understand that it was paid for by the night club industry, which has a vested interest in preventing the pub industry from breaking into the late night market, and so we must be aware of what perhaps lies behind that particular piece of research.

The noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, referred to the transfer of costs from the Lord Chancellor's Department to local authorities. I remind her that local authorities will recover all costs from the fees that are charged.

As to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, towards the end of the debate, the Licensing Bill, with its provisions for flexible conditions, including opening hours, will support the development of entertainment centres away from the West End. This will help with the problem that he perceives in his former constituency of Westminster. I remind him that Westminster Council is responsible for administering the public entertainment licensing system. So the system operating in the West End at present is one to which Westminster Council has been very much a party and for which it has considerable responsibility.

As to the question of current numbers, the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, and other noble Lords referred to the fact that there has been a reduction in the

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numbers of on-licensed premises in central London. He is right; they fell by 11 per cent between 1998 and 2001. That is a result of shifts in the market, but the number of premises does not significantly impact on the number of people who are drawn to a vibrant city centre for entertainment purposes, especially on Friday and Saturday nights. Many young people—I have seen them myself—come into London on a Friday night to go to pubs and clubs. There is no easy solution.

The noble Lord, Lord Tope, mentioned outer London. He is absolutely right, as he nearly always is, in saying that there has been an increase in the number of licensed premises in outer London. The number rose from approximately 5,700 in 1998 to approximately 6,050 last year. Outer London has one of the lowest densities of licensed premises by head of population in the country. So perhaps it is merely making up for a relatively small number of such premises in the past, compared with the rest of the country.

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