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Volume 488: debated on Monday 2 March 2009

8. What assessment he has made of the effect of the administrative burden of the licensing applications procedures under the Licensing Act 2003 on small businesses applying for such licences. (259234)

The Licensing Act has resulted in a considerable reduction in red tape. Administrative savings are estimated at £99 million per annum, with benefits not just for business but for the third sector and non-profit-making clubs. Although we do not have specific data on the impact on small businesses, they represent the majority of applicants and will thus be major beneficiaries of these savings.

I recently met licensees from my constituency and, almost to a man and woman, they complained about the amount of bureaucracy that the Act has introduced. Does the Minister have any plans to review the whole licensing process in order to reduce the amount of bureaucracy that small business people are facing?

We are always looking at what we can do to reduce bureaucracy, and the DCMS has a proud record of reducing it across the piece. There is an issue for pubs, however, and I know the hon. Gentleman cares about that as he is a member of the all-party beer group and signed an early-day motion on the issues raised. He will be pleased to learn that the Government are providing real help for businesses, and particularly for pubs that are tied houses. We have made sure that the enterprise finance guarantee scheme, whereby 75 per cent. of the loan is met by the Government, will be applied to tied houses so that such pubs can benefit from real help from the Government and banks. There are a number of other measures: we are supporting organisations such as CAMRA—the Campaign for Real Ale—and making sure we take steps to ensure that pubs are an integral part of our communities.

The hon. Gentleman mentions the Licensing Act. Mr. Speaker, I do not know whether your drinking habits have changed over the past 10 years, but that is certainly the case for a growing minority of younger Britons. A decade ago, the Government promised a renaissance in the approach to licensing and responsible drinking: town centres would be tamed, binge drinkers would be brought to heel, and councils would be empowered to create the so-called new café culture of Britain. The reality could not be further from that. Does the Minister agree with the Opposition and with recent reports which show that since 1997 teenage lawlessness has increased by 300 per cent., one in three girls now admits to binge drinking and there is a 30 per cent. increase in alcohol-related obesity? All this proves that, under this Government, binge drinking is slowly becoming the norm. Labour is giving Britain a beer belly and a worrying taste for alcohol-fuelled antisocial behaviour.

It would help if the hon. Gentleman did his research, as we all know that Mr. Speaker is, in fact, a teetotaller. I certainly do not recognise the picture the hon. Gentleman paints. The Licensing Act gives people the opportunity to have a drink at the time they choose, with local government and the police being able to make sure that is properly monitored. Also, most of the licensee trade supported the principles of the Act.