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Licensing Act

Volume 450: debated on Monday 9 October 2006

It is still too early to draw firm conclusions, but indications are that the new licensing regime has been successfully implemented and is working well.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his answer. Why do certain activities on the Isle of Wight, such as the Chale show, the county show, the garlic festival and other very attractive festivals, find themselves regulated both under the Licensing Act and under the Isle of Wight County Council Act 1971, despite my having been told by the Minister’s predecessor—the present Minister for the Middle East, the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells)—before the Licensing Bill became law that it would impliedly repeal parts of the Isle of Wight Act? Which sections have been repealed?

I am happy to answer the hon. Gentleman’s questions. I am glad that the Chale show, notwithstanding the difficulties that were faced, was a success. None the less, I recognise the problems faced as a result of the Isle of Wight Act and the Licensing Act both having to be navigated by those putting on the show. As the hon. Gentleman knows, my predecessor wrote to him in 2002, setting out the Department’s view that there would be implied repeal of elements of the Isle of Wight Act as a result of the new legislation. I have asked my officials to look into the matter and I am happy to meet him to discuss it because, as he knows, the intention behind the 2003 Act was to simplify the procedures, not to make things more difficult.

I therefore remind the hon. Gentleman that, as part of the new Licensing Act, we were able to reduce from 174 to 20 the number of forms, licences, notices, certificates and declarations. We managed wholly to repeal 23 Acts of Parliament relating to licensing and all associated regulations, and 69 Acts in England and Wales were reduced. Nine licensing regimes were reduced to a single regime. However, there was clearly a problem in the Isle of Wight and I am happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to see what we can do so that the problems faced by the Chale horticultural show can, if possible, be avoided in future.

My hon. Friend will remember the dire warnings about the implementation of the new Licensing Act leading to an increase in drunken violence. Can he confirm the figures given to me by West Midlands police, who say that more arrests were made this summer in one day at Ascot than during the whole World cup period in the centre of Birmingham nightlife, Broad street?

It is always difficult to account for particular behaviour at major events such as Ascot. I am sure that my hon. Friend will be able to inform me of any individuals from the House who may have taken part in those events. The overall evidence on the implementation of the Act is being collated at the moment—it is important to look not at a particular moment or day but at a long period—but early anecdotal evidence from the police and the local licensing authorities is that, by and large, it is successful and is having a positive effect on crime and disorder. Of course, there will always be exceptions.

The Brecon access group in my constituency, whose purpose is to promote access for disabled people to public buildings and private businesses, complains that when licensed premises undertake substantial refurbishment the opportunity is not often taken to make reasonable adjustment, as in the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, to allow disabled people to use their facilities. Will the Minister see whether anything can be done through the advice notes to local authorities or by changing the legislation to make sure that licensed premises are available to disabled people and that they can enjoy them in the same way as more able people?

Of course. I hope we have reached a point in our society in 2006 when it does not require regulation and licensing to encourage responsible people out there to make sure that access is available to all, regardless of disability.

Is my hon. Friend aware that in Newport city centre, robbery, assault and violence are down this year by 40 per cent., which Gwent police attribute to the new licensing laws and the staggered opening hours? Will he join me in congratulating the police, the council and the licence holders on their teamwork, which has cut city centre crime?

Absolutely. I welcome my hon. Friend’s comments, but the picture is not always so rosy. As we know, there have been problems with young people, particularly. The new licensing regime has enabled the police to deal more effectively with those. Police can issue £80 fines to those who act in a drunk and disorderly manner, and they have not been afraid to use them, with 8,000 fixed penalty notices being issued during the enforcement campaign last Christmas alone.

Is the Minister aware that many tourists on the north Yorkshire coast this summer have been disappointed at not being able to have a drink in small hotels and guesthouses because the owners of those premises have been put off by the cost and the bureaucracy involved, so the tourists have to go into seaside towns to other institutions where there may have been a lot of trouble in the past, which have longer opening hours and more problems?

I am not aware of the specific venues to which the hon. Gentleman refers. By and large, however, the effect of the Licensing Act has been to simplify procedures, although there are problems in relation to the forms. We have been considering the length and complexity of the forms that have had to be filled in. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to write to me about the establishments of which he speaks, I will be more than happy to look into the specifics.

I welcome the new measures under the licensing law. Will my hon. Friend review the level of fines for convenience stores that have alcohol licences and which are found guilty of selling alcohol to people under the age of 16? There is growing concern about the matter in my constituency. The minimum fine is too low. If it were raised to £2,000, so that a store could opt to go to a magistrates court and risk a higher fine, the measure would become more self-policing and we would be more effective in stopping young people gaining access to alcohol.

As my hon. Friend knows, the Licensing Act has already increased fines for selling alcohol to under-18s from £1,000 to £5,000. That is welcome. However, he rightly draws attention to another aspect. He may wish to know that, as well as the review that will take place after 12 months, I and the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Coaker), are meeting the trade this afternoon to discuss those matters. We will continue to keep them under review, because under-age drinking and the problems associated with it are a menace in our society, and it is the job of Government and all parties in the House to deal with it.