It is too early to determine the full impact of the Licensing Act 2003 on different stakeholders. However, we know that local people are engaged in the licensing process to an unprecedented level and are confident that the interests of the public, as well as of pubs, clubs, bars, restaurants, theatres, cinemas and other establishments, are better protected by the new regime.
Stourbridge police recommend the introduction of the cumulative impact policy in the centre of my constituency. That will enable local people to have a say in local licensing decisions. There is a committee meeting tonight to discuss the recommendation. If the decision is taken to introduce it, it will be the most wide-ranging in the United Kingdom. Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating local police for their work so far in dealing with what has been a doubling of the number of bars and pubs in my town centre, and also for their foresight and vision in taking full advantage of this consultative process?
I agree with my hon. Friend. In fact, this morning I had the pleasure of reading through the notes on the special meeting of the licensing and safety committee in preparation for this question, which were fully available on the web as part of the open, transparent government that we, of course, now operate. The serious point is that what is most interesting is the way that this provides the opportunity for the police and the council to consider together and in detail evidence to ascertain whether proposals to introduce a special policy should go forward.
That is exactly the kind of discussion that we wanted to happen as a result of the Act. We wanted a balance between the interests of the public who are affected by disorder, nuisance and other problems and those of legitimate businesses and people who enjoy themselves by having a drink, while leaving at the right time and not indulging in binge drinking. The combination of those interests and decisions being made by local communities is what this Act was properly for, and the matter raised demonstrates quintessentially why the Act is working.
What does the Minister suggest that I say to the Punch and Judy man on Southwold beach who now has to pay £300 in order to entertain the public? What should I say to the parish councils that run the annual church fête that took place yesterday, given that people now have to fill in a form several inches thick to run a perfectly reasonable charitable operation? Is this not in fact a metropolitan operation dreamt up by a Government who have never run anything in their lives?
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would extend his normal courtesies to whomever he met on a beach, or in any other place that he happened to wander around. The fact is that we are conducting a review of the 2003 Act’s implementation, and, as he will be aware, we are consulting widely. But at the moment, the overwhelming evidence is that—subject to marginal changes that need to be made, and which we have committed ourselves to being prepared to make, if the evidence is there to support making them—the changes brought in by this Act have improved the regulatory regime for those in business and for the consumer.
I have seen the benefits that sensible implementation of the 2003 Act can bring in the north-east. Is my hon. Friend aware that Newcastle-Gateshead has recently topped an influential list of the best nights out in Britain? That is no surprise, given that visitors to the area have a choice of such cultural gems as the Baltic centre for contemporary art and the Sage live music centre. Will my hon. Friend join me in welcoming the success of the Newcastle-Gateshead initiative in helping to establish the north-east as an arena at the forefront of British culture?