Skip to main content

Licensing Act

Volume 447: debated on Monday 5 June 2006

The new licensing laws have been in place for six months, and it is still too soon to draw any conclusions about their success. What does seem clear is that there has been no discernible increase in alcohol-related crime, and there have been many reports of better working relationships between the police, local authorities and other relevant local partners. Monitoring and evaluation, particularly through the work of the scrutiny councils, will give us a clearer picture of the impact in the longer term, and will guide us in respect of any changes that may be necessary.

I thank my right hon. Friend for her reply. I share her view that giving local communities more control over licensing has been an important step forward. However, coming up is the combination of light nights and World cup fever, which could be the supreme test of the new licensing laws. What special measures are being taken to improve coordination between the industry, police and local authorities to ensure that everyone has an enjoyable World cup?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question and pay tribute to his local authority for its implementation of the Licensing Act 2003. There will be a nationwide programme of policing and enforcement during the World cup, but it is important to note and to take some reassurance from the fact that most World cup matches will be played during the daytime or the early evening. It is not as if the World cup is being played on the other side of the world, which would mean that people were up long after what has become the more normal closing time. However, the police will operate under gold command, co-ordinating across the UK with local forces. Individual establishments are carrying out risk assessments. Licence conditions such as not taking glasses out of the pub are being employed and CCTV is being used. I am encouraged not only by the focus of the police and the seriousness with which they are taking the matter, but by the new spirit of collaboration with local authorities.

Is the Secretary of State aware of the latest research by the Central Council of Physical Recreation, which shows that, contrary to the claim by the Minister for Sport, over 75 per cent. of amateur sports clubs fall outside band A and therefore face significant extra bills as a result of the Act? Is she aware that many village halls, including that in Maldon in my constituency, used up their entire entitlement to temporary event notices by the end of January? Will she ask Sir Les Elton’s committee to address those problems as a matter of urgency and act on its recommendations?

The hon. Gentleman has made it clear that he understands the process by which these questions will be settled. An independent panel sitting under Sir Les Elton is examining fee levels and their impact. He will report later this year.

On the hon. Gentleman's second point, which was about temporary event notices, we have just concluded a consultation on whether there should be any change, but he should remember the importance of getting a proper balance between the interests of local residents, who have greater powers of redress under the Licensing Act, and the wish of village halls and other organisations to be able to put on events with the minimum of bureaucracy. We will address those issues and publish the conclusions later this year.

As my right hon. Friend knows, there is a section within the Licensing Act that states that every sale of alcohol has to be under the supervision of the licence holder. In south Yorkshire, the police have taken that to mean that the licence holder cannot be absent from the premises even for one day and, despite the advice from the Crown Prosecution Service, they have pursued a prosecution of a licence holder who took a few days holiday. In a letter to me that arrived this morning, South Yorkshire police are standing by that interpretation of the legislation and are looking to bring the matter before the courts to try to clarify whether, under the law, which I think is section 19, every sale of alcohol has to be supervised. Will she look at that matter with some urgency because, with the law as it stands, South Yorkshire police will not allow licence holders to take any form of holiday?

I am obviously concerned by my hon. Friend’s point and will be delighted to write to him about it.

While the Secretary of State is absolutely right to say that it is far too soon to judge the impact of the Licensing Act on binge drinking, does she nevertheless agree that one impact has been to create a bureaucratic nightmare for many people? Only today we have heard reports that up to one in six public houses may be trading illegally because they are still awaiting the licence for their premises.

The Secretary of State has just told us, on village halls, amateur sports clubs and so on, that the Government are to consider the matters raised earlier and report on them later. Yet only today I have discovered that the carrying out of the initial part of the Elton report is many months late.

Is the Secretary of State also aware that we have discovered today that the Government are miles behind in their work and consultation on temporary events notices? What is she going to do about that?

With great respect to the hon. Gentleman, I have to say that that is the kind of diatribe I have come to expect of him. I do not accept all his charges. I am extremely circumspect about making any prediction at this stage on the impact of the Licensing Act, but it will be judged in terms of the objectives set out within it: does it reduce alcohol-related crime and disorder; and does it protect the vulnerable and keep children safe from harm? Those are the tests against which the Act will be judged, and the House will be able in due course to pass its own judgment.

Will my right hon. Friend work closely with her colleagues at the Department of Health to monitor the impact of relaxed licensing laws on consumption and on the implications for the country’s long-term health? Is she, like me, concerned about rising levels of alcohol-related disease, particularly deaths from cirrhosis of the liver?

Yes, of course I am, and yes we are working closely with colleagues at both the Home Office and at the Department of Health for the very reasons that my hon. Friend has outlined.

Will not the public think it completely barmy, if typical of this incompetent Government, that a pub needs a licence for one or two musicians in the bar but does not need one to show World cup matches on big screens to hundreds of inebriated supporters? Will the Secretary of State tell us just how much taxpayers’ money is being used on extra policing, under the alcohol misuse enforcement campaign, in order to massage the crime and disorder figures associated with showing World cup matches?

I shall certainly provide the hon. Gentleman with the figures for spending on the AMEC campaign, which is just concluding. Even he, I think, will judge that spending on past campaigns, which have seen a reduction in alcohol-related violence, has represented excellent value for money.

As for two-in-a-bar versus big screens, the hon. Gentleman knows that the arguments were well ventilated when the Act was debated. Parliament reached its conclusions, and we are getting on with implementing them in a way that reduces alcohol-related crime and disorder, keeps children safe from harm and gives responsible adults a better time than they would otherwise have.