[Mr Gary Streeter in the Chair]
It is a real pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Streeter. Earlier this year, the Government held a consultation on licensing notices. In essence, Ministers are considering scrapping the statutory requirement for those applying for an alcohol licence to advertise that application in their local newspaper. In this debate, I intend not only to raise the concerns of my local newspapers and of those in the constituencies of many right hon. and hon. Members, but more importantly to speak up on behalf of the thousands of people in my constituency who rely for much of their local news on our local newspapers.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Streeter. I thank my hon. Friend for securing this debate. May I emphasise that he is speaking on behalf of not only thousands of his constituents, but certainly mine in Lincoln, and thousands of my colleagues’ constituents across Lincolnshire who are served by the Lincolnshire Echo, and who obviously have the same concerns?
I welcome the intervention of my hon. Friend—a corridor friend—and I note how subtly he plugged his local newspaper. As it happens, I was about to say that my local newspapers include the Kent Messenger, Kent on Sunday, the Sheerness Times Guardian and the Sittingbourne News Extra. I have many local newspapers in my patch.
One of the most important sections in a local newspaper is the page set aside for statutory notices. To many people, that section is second only to the obituaries column, which is always the first to which they turn. The publication of statutory notices, such as for planning and alcohol licence applications, is an important revenue stream for hard-pressed local newspapers, all of which face increased competition from the internet.
An applicant for an alcohol licence is required to publish a notice in the local newspaper. From the same date, the applicant must also display a notice prominently on the premises for 28 days. Those requirements were designed to ensure that local communities were fully informed about, and given the opportunity to object to, alcohol licence applications, or to a pub, club, restaurant or off-licence applying to change the hours of its licence.
I welcome the comment from my hon. Friend, whose constituency in Kent is also covered by the Kent Messenger, which he forgot to mention. He is right and, as I shall say later, newspapers not only carry the notices, but articles or editorials on the subject as well.
In the Home Office document, “A consultation on delivering the Government’s policies to cut alcohol fuelled crime and anti-social behaviour”, the section on reducing the burden of regulation on responsible businesses has a proposal to remove the requirement to advertise in local newspapers. Paragraph 9.21 asserts:
“The way people consume news locally is changing, both in its frequency and form. Local residents have opportunities to learn about applications online or by notices on the premises themselves.”
I have some sympathy with that view: there is no doubt that an increasing number of people have access to the internet, and people can read notices posted in a shop window, but I have some deep reservations.
To take the latter point first, reading a notice posted on the premises depends on the person wishing to read the notice knowing that it is there in the first place. It is of course possible that somebody might spot the notice by chance, and I suppose that the immediate neighbours of a proposed venue might notice one, but they would have to be pretty observant. New alcohol outlets or changes in licensing hours can frequently have an effect on the character or amenity of a wider area than the proposed site, but those who do not live in the vicinity are unlikely ever to see a public notice and will have no knowledge of an application.
On the suggestion that people can view applications online, I accept that for many people it is true that we live in a digital age. Indeed, in 10 or 20 years’ time, every home in the land might be connected to the internet, all local newspapers might deliver online editions and everybody might have access to the public notice section of their local authority website, but we do not live in the future. This is not 10 or 20 years’ time; it is now. Today, research shows that there is a real digital divide, in that 11% of adults in Britain still do not have access to the internet. More importantly, that figure is far higher among some income groups, geographic areas and age groups, particularly the elderly. For some elderly people, the digital divide means only the space between their fingers. Ironically, they take an interest in what goes on in their community, are likely to oppose an application for yet another pub, club or off-licence, and are more likely to read their local newspaper.
I want to back up my hon. Friend’s point. Is he aware that national, representative, independent research by GfK National Opinion Polls has found that eight times as many people read a newspaper in the past week as had looked at their council’s website? In fact, 29% of adults had not accessed the internet at all in the past 12 months.
I thank my hon. Friend for drawing that to my attention. I was aware of it, but I am trying in my speech to push aside all the statistics and to deal with the issue on behalf of real people with real concerns.
Another important consideration is that communities would lose one of their greatest assets. Local newspapers
“perform an incredibly important function in our democratic system.”—[Official Report, 12 November 2012; Vol. 553, c. 575.]
Those are not my words; that is what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said in relation to the Leveson inquiry. Indeed, the Leveson report said that local newspapers’
“contribution to local life is truly without parallel.”
The Newspaper Society estimates that the proposal could cost the already struggling local press industry between £6.2 million and £7.9 million a year. The Leveson report recognised that many local newspapers are no longer financially viable, but local newspapers report on stories such as local politics, occurrences in local courts, local events, local sports and the like, all of which would be thought too parochial to be reported by national or even regional media. In fact, it is through local journalism that some important issues are picked up by the nationals and brought to the nation’s attention. Leveson went on to say, of the local press, that
“their demise would be a huge setback for communities and…would be a real loss for our democracy.”
My concern is about not only the effect that the proposal will have on my elderly constituents and the local newspapers that they love to read, but alcohol licensing. We must ask ourselves why we have such stringent rules about who is allowed to sell or serve alcohol. It is because alcohol is a drug, and a very dangerous drug at that. Alcohol abuse can lead to addiction and often contributes to crime and antisocial behaviour. That is why it is controlled.
The Government are determined to cut alcohol-fuelled crime and antisocial behaviour, which is a highly laudable aim that I support. However, I find it hard to understand how reducing the alcohol industry’s requirement to get licences meets the aims of the Home Office’s policy of reducing the harmful effect of alcohol abuse on society. How will scrapping the statutory requirement to advertise alcohol licence applications in our local newspapers help ensure that those who sell alcohol are right and proper people to do so? How will loosening the current regulations ensure that we clamp down on the sale of alcohol to minors? How can the community find out about new licensed premises in their area or, even more importantly, applications for longer licensing hours, if they do not have access to the internet? The answer to that last question is their local newspaper.
Research shows that people take time to browse a newspaper and that many adult regular readers read the public notices section of their local paper. Publishing applications in local papers does not require readers to institute an active search for information; it is there in front of their eyes when they open their local newspaper. Public notices in local newspapers are published in a context that no other medium can deliver—a lively and engaging marketplace, both in print and online, which offers up issues such as the licensing of pubs and clubs for regular attention and debate. As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Gareth Johnson), we should remember that as well as printing the advertisement, local newspapers often run feature articles about contentious applications.
Let us ask ourselves another question: does the proposal save taxpayers’ money? No, it does not, because it is businesses, not local authorities, that pay for the advertising.
As the cost of these notices is not picked up by the taxpayer, there is no downside for the taxpayer in having such notices. Quite clearly, though, there is a huge downside for the taxpayer and the whole local community if newspapers such as the Dartford Messenger are not supported and therefore go out of business.
I agree with my hon. Friend. The cost of those advertisements is not a great burden on the businesses. It might be argued that the proposal would save taxpayers’ money. Fewer people will object to the proposed nightclub because they will not know it is proposed, which will save councils’ time. However, that is a rather cynical view, and not what the Government are aiming for. Indeed, the Government profess to want the public to be more involved with local decisions.
The Home Office’s impact assessment focuses on the small cost savings to the alcohol industry that might be achieved by scrapping the requirement. That assessment puts the cost of a relevant advertisement in a local paper at £450 plus VAT. It is worth pointing out, though, that the figure is disputed by the newspaper industry, which says that the cost is much lower than that. As someone who has had an off-licence and a restaurant in the past, I can say that I would never have paid £450 plus VAT for an advert in my local newspaper. However, even if that is the cost, it is not a huge burden to a small business, and it would hardly make a dent in a larger business’s overall advertising budget.
At a newspaper conference in December 2012, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government repeated his intention of sticking to the commitment that he made when taking up office, which was not to remove statutory public planning notices from local papers during the lifetime of the Parliament. How is alcohol licence advertising any different from statutory planning advertising?
To conclude, removal of the notices from local papers will erode the public right to know, and will damage local democracy. It will lead to licensing matters being decided without local knowledge and debate, and to the death of many local newspapers. I hope that the Minister will take into account my points when considering the results of the consultation and drop this proposal.
I am pleased, Mr Streeter, to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon. I am speaking slightly sooner than I anticipated, but that is to the good.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Gordon Henderson) on securing this important debate. He made a compelling case for the continuation of statutory notices in local newspapers to inform local communities about applications for and variations to alcohol licences. I was particularly struck by his comments that came from his own experience. I think he said that he ran an off-licence and a restaurant and had experience of making applications for alcohol licences and paying for advertisements in local newspapers.
I was also pleased that the hon. Member for Lincoln (Karl MᶜCartney) was able to get in a mention for his local paper, and that the hon. Member for Dartford (Gareth Johnson) managed a mention in his second intervention. It is all to the good that we mention our local papers, and I will certainly be doing that in a moment.
On the current requirements, any premises looking to be granted an initial licence or to make a major variation needs to display a notice prominently on the premises and publish a notice in a local newspaper or, where a newspaper does not exist, newsletter. As we have heard, the cost of an advert is borne by the applicant, and such adverts are estimated to bring in between £6.2 million and £7.9 million for local newspapers each year.
As has already been said clearly and compellingly, the purpose of the requirements is to inform a community about licence applications to enable local people to have a say. It is important to remember that the Licensing Act 2003 gives the local community extensive grounds to object to a licence. There are four explicit grounds for objection: the prevention of crime and disorder, issues of public safety, the prevention of nuisance and the protection of children from harm. The right to object is fundamental to our licensing system, and anything that undermines that right is a regressive step.
The requirement to advertise is a significant cost to the licensed trade, but it is a cost only when a venue is looking to open up or make a major variation, which would normally be a licence extension. It is not a charge that is levied on long-standing community pubs unless they are looking to vary their licence. It is much more likely to be a fee encountered by a new venue in city centres, nightclubs, off-licences and supermarkets. That is important because a number of Members are, quite rightly, concerned to protect their local community pubs and not to impose further burdens on them. It is also important to note that the effect of ending that requirement is not a net benefit to industry. Rather it is a switch in resources from the local newspaper industry to the alcohol sector.
The Government propose to scrap the requirement to advertise in local newspapers. In future, people will have either to view the proposal on the premises or to actively seek out the information online, although unless they had seen the notice on the premises they would have no idea that they needed to check out the council website, as the hon. Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey pointed out so effectively.
Research by GfK conducted on behalf of the Newspaper Society showed that the weekly reach of local newspapers was 67% of the population, compared with just 8% for local council websites, and, as has already been pointed out, many parts of communities do not have access to the internet. I was struck by the hon. Gentleman’s comment that for some people the digital divide means only the space between their fingers: they do not have access to the internet and would not know where to start to look on a council website. Could the Minister comment on that issue and say how the public will be informed about what is going on in their local area? Do the Government genuinely think that this change can be introduced without reducing the number of people who are made aware of new licences or variations to licences?
It is important that the Government recognise the unique role that local newspapers play in keeping a local community informed. In my own city of Hull, our local newspaper, the Hull Daily Mail, forms the basis of the local political discourse and is a well trusted source of news. The Hull Daily Mail is also very well read. It has lots of important local information, including licence applications.
I want to draw the Minister’s attention to two recent applications for lap dancing clubs in Hull. Although they were applications for clubs in the city centre, because of the nature of the establishments, people across the city may well have wished to object for a range of valid reasons. One was the proximity of the clubs to a boys school that is due to open in September. Because the school has a city-wide catchment area, those licences were of interest to many more people than would walk past the venue. Because the notification had to be advertised in the local paper, the whole community in the city could know about the application and so were in a position to object. Indeed, many people chose to object. What is more, the local paper followed up the story with an article after the hearing, to keep the community updated about what had happened. That was a proper dialogue, which informed local people and demonstrated the value of local papers.
I will now consider the measure that we are discussing today in the context of the Government’s alcohol strategy. I am delighted that the Minister is in Westminster Hall today, because he and I have debated the strategy over many months. In recent Public Bill Committees, we have spent a long time looking at the Government’s approach to dealing with alcohol.
The aims of the Government’s alcohol strategy are to reduce the social and individual harms caused by alcohol consumption, particularly health issues and anti-social behaviour. One of the features of the strategy is a general promise to rebalance the Licensing Act 2003 in favour of local communities. It does not appear obvious how preventing local communities from knowing about a proposed new licence will help to empower them. Perhaps the Minister can explain to me how it will do so, because it seems to fly in the face of that stated aim. It appears that the measure is much more about the “red tape challenge”—the Government’s desire to boast about reducing bureaucracy. In this case, they want to boast about reducing bureaucracy on the alcohol industry.
As I understand it, the measure has already been the subject of two consultations. The first consultation, which was launched in 2010, asked for suggestions as to how the Licensing Act could be deregulated. That consultation led to an impact assessment, which revealed the Government’s preference to end the requirement to advertise in local newspapers. However, nothing seemed to happen afterwards. In the second consultation, which was launched in November 2012, it was set out that one of the consultation’s four aims was to
“introduce stronger powers for local areas to control the density of licensed premises”.
However, the proposal that we are discussing today seems to limit the access of communities to information about new licence applications. Again, perhaps the Minister could comment on that issue.
One of the Government’s recent changes to the licensing system removed the vicinity requirement. That change, which was introduced in the Police and Social Responsibility Act 2011, means that someone can object to a licence application without having to prove a connection to a particular area. However, that measure is undermined by the removal of the requirement to advertise in a local newspaper, which prevents the wider community from finding out about a proposal.
Of course, it is important to look at the particular measure that we are discussing in the context of the wider alcohol strategy. We have to consider the change not only in the context of other changes to licensing but in the context of the local media market. I am unclear as to exactly what the Government are trying to achieve with this particular proposal. They have introduced a raft of changes to licensing. They have introduced both the late night levy and the early morning restriction order to try to increase the contribution of licensed premises to their local communities. The problem is that they expected local authorities to impose the levy and then give the money to the police. However, there is no guarantee that the money that has been raised will benefit the local community. Hence, as I understand it, no area has introduced a late night levy or an EMRO, and the £17 million that the Government promised would be made available for local communities has not yet materialised. Perhaps the Minister can update us on that issue.
The Government have also made a commitment to introduce full recovery of the costs of licence applications. An independent review conducted by Lord Elton found that the current shortfall in licensing revenue was approximately £17 million a year. So the Government have again committed to raising extra revenue from the licensed trade for the benefit of the wider community. Again, however, we are unclear as to what has happened to those plans.
Finally, there is the central plank of the Government’s alcohol strategy—minimum alcohol pricing. The Home Secretary came to the House to announce that policy; I think that she did so on a Friday, because it was so important. She then launched a consultation on the level of minimum unit pricing. Then she briefed the press that she had actually blocked the policy, which was her own policy. I am sure that the Minister will be able to tell us where the Government are in terms of introducing minimum alcohol pricing.
As we understand them, the Government’s stated aims are twofold: first, to empower the community to have a greater say in licence applications; and, secondly, to increase the contribution of the licensed trade to the wider community. However, the measures designed to achieve those aims have all collapsed, and today we are discussing the Government’s plans to do something that limits a community’s access to information about licensing and restricts the contribution of the licensed trade to the wider community.
It is important to consider the effect that this measure will have on local newspapers. The Government’s own impact assessment estimates that it will cost the industry up to £8 million in lost revenue. That is a big blow for an industry that is already struggling. A number of regional newspapers have had to close and many more are seeing their circulation fall to the point where they are on the verge of being unsustainable.
That situation creates several problems. The closure of local newspapers has resulted in significant news gaps, leaving areas without an adequate source of local news. The decline of regional newspapers is bad for communities, because it erodes the important role that newspapers have at the heart of local areas. The decline of regional newspapers is also bad for local democracy, as papers are no longer willing to challenge vested interests and hold people to account for financial reasons.
The decline of local newspapers is not because there is no appetite for local news or for the particular role that local newspapers play in their communities. Despite the decrease in circulation for paid-for regional newspapers, free local titles have seen significant increases. The latest circulation figures, for July to December 2011, show that 18% of free local newspapers increased their circulation. There is also huge growth in the number of online visitors to local newspaper websites. Those developments show us two things: first, local newspapers are under threat and need to find new sources of funding; and secondly, there remains a huge demand for local newspapers and the unique role that they play in serving our communities. Given those facts, the Minister should rethink implementing a policy that will seriously damage an already struggling industry and that appears to go against everything else that the Government’s alcohol strategy is meant to achieve.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship on this occasion, Mr Streeter. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) and I had the pleasure of serving under your chairmanship during the Public Bill Committee stage of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012. It is good to see you in the Chair again today.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Gordon Henderson) on securing this debate today, and on providing an opportunity to debate the important issues relating to the advertising requirements that pertain to alcohol licensing. My hon. Friend is a strong supporter of local media. He is proud to be a true man of Kent. I welcome his using the opportunity to champion the Kent Messenger and other local Kent titles, whose influence even reaches across the borders to my constituency. I hope that the Bexley Times and the Bexley News Shopper provide some local competition to his titles, too.
I also thank my hon. Friends the Members for Lincoln (Karl MᶜCartney) and for Dartford (Gareth Johnson) for their interventions. The strength of support for the local press and local media comes through clearly in our debate, and I will deal with those comments later, feeding back on a number of points during my response this afternoon.
I welcome the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North to her place. As she highlighted, we had many happy hours together, debating the detail of alcohol licensing policy during the Public Bill Committee stage of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011, when we highlighted a number of important points and added to the scrutiny of the Bill. Although I no longer hold the policy lead on alcohol, which is with my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Mr Browne), the crime prevention Minister—he is not able to respond to this debate because he is in Committee—I welcome the opportunity to revisit some of the ground that we debated at that time. I had not appreciated that the hon. Lady was a Daily Mail reader, albeit the Hull Daily Mail.
Local newspapers have more than 30 million readers in the UK, through their print titles alone each week—some 61% of all UK adults—as well as 62 million web users a month. My hon. Friend talked about the immense value and importance of local newspapers and that was emphasised by additional contributions by my hon. Friends the Members for Lincoln and for Dartford, particularly on the benefit that they provide to people who do not have internet access.
Like my hon. Friend, I am also committed to a strong, local, independent media. I reassure him that this Government regard the independent local press as essential for local democracy, as it helps local people to hold their local council and other agencies to account. The Government have recently introduced measures in the Local Audit and Accountability Bill to protect the independent press from unfair competition from council newspapers—the so-called “town hall Pravdas” that disregard the code of recommended practice on local authority publicity. The code restricts the publication of council newspapers and news sheets to once a quarter, but some local authorities are disregarding it by publishing their newspapers as frequently as weekly, taking paid advertising revenue away from the independent local press. The new legislation will enable the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to direct authorities to comply with the code.
The Government are committed to tackling alcohol-related harm and developing a licensing regime in which the public have a strong voice. At the same time, we want to lift the burden of bureaucratic processes from licensing authorities and responsible businesses. The proposal to remove the relevant requirement on licensing applicants, many of whom are small businesses, was introduced to remove what some see as an unnecessary burden. I should like to be clear and say to my hon. Friend that there is no desire to prevent local people getting information about new licensing applications or playing an active role in the licensing process. This Government have done more than any other to increase the ways in which local communities and local people have a say in whether pubs and clubs should be open in their areas, and for how long. Ensuring access to local information about licensing is key to that.
As the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North said, I led on much of the Government’s legislation in the 2011 Act, to overhaul Labour’s Licensing Act 2003 and rebalance it in favour of local communities. We gave local people a stronger voice by scrapping the old vicinity test that the hon. Lady mentioned, so that, now, anyone can make representations and object to licensing applications regardless of where they live in relation to the premises. In addition, we made it easier for licensing authorities to respond to local concerns about irresponsible businesses selling alcohol and close problem premises down. We have lowered the evidence threshold for decision making and the burden of proof to show that a premises is causing public nuisance or crime and disorder, for example. That is helping to ensure that the appropriate balance is given to local communities to make those decisions.
We have also given responsible authority status to licensing authorities, ensuring that those are better able to respond to the concerns of local residents by taking swift action to tackle irresponsible premises, without having to wait for representations from the police or other responsible authorities. At the same time, we have given local health bodies a greater say in licensing and increased the availability of information about alcohol licensing online.
More than 40% of violent crime is alcohol related. In October last year, new powers were introduced and made available to help local communities tackle the problems of crime and disorder caused by late-night drinking. The late-night levy allows local councils to charge pubs and clubs opening late at night for a contribution to policing costs. The early morning alcohol restriction order allows for alcohol sales to be banned between midnight and 6 am, if there are local grounds to do so. The powers commenced on 31 October 2010. Many licensing authorities, including the London borough of Islington, and Newcastle, are considering carefully whether the late-night levy could benefit their area. They must also consult publicly before introducing the levy. I hope that hon. Members will note that Newcastle has already begun to do so. Early morning restriction orders, as I said, were introduced at the same time and allow councils to prohibit the late-night sale of alcohol. A number of licensing authorities, including West Lancashire and Northampton, are considering such orders for their areas.
The hon. Lady asked me about minimum unit price. She will know that my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane responded to an urgent question in relation to this matter and highlighted that the Government are carefully considering responses to the alcohol strategy consultation. We will publish a response to that in due course, taking into account all the representations.
As well as measures to tackle alcohol harms, the public consultation recognised the contribution that the responsible alcohol trade makes to our economy and society. The Government sought views on ways to cut red tape in licensing for responsible businesses, while not, of course, undermining safeguards against the harms that alcohol can cause. The consultation sought views on a number of areas relating to proposals to cut red tape, including whether to give discretion for licensing authorities to develop their own simplified processes for temporary event notices and reducing the burden of alcohol licensing for certain types of premises that provide minimal alcohol sales as part of a wider service.
It is important, as hon. Members have said, to recognise that the vast majority of our pubs are vital community assets, contributing to the economy and providing local jobs, in many ways at the heart of communities, fostering strong social values and encouraging responsible drinking. The alcohol strategy reflects that. It is also notable that each pub contributes an estimated £100,000 annually to its local community. The Government are helping pubs through a wide range of measures. In the last Budget, we scrapped the beer escalator and cut alcohol duty, resulting in a pint of beer being 4p cheaper than if we had done nothing. We have also extended the business rates holiday for a further year, until the end of March 2014, and got rid of much of the red tape that frustrated landlords and kept them from focusing on what they are best at: running a business and managing drinking in a safe environment. Most recently, on 15 June, we announced that new CCTV guidelines will mean that pub landlords no longer have to pay for intrusive and costly surveillance cameras where they are not needed.
One proposal to cut red tape that the alcohol consultation considered—it has obviously been mentioned in the debate—related to whether to remove the requirement for applicants to place advertisements in local newspapers or circulars when applying for a premises licence, provisional statement or club premises certificate or for a full variation of a premises licence or club premises certificate. Some in the licensed trade found that burdensome and pointed to other mechanisms whereby local people could find out about new licensing applications.
I understand hon. Members’ concerns. Similarly, I understand the specific issues raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey, as well as his motives in calling for the debate. Adverts in local newspapers are one way in which local communities can find out about premises licence applications, and I note the contributions that have been made about the importance of that and the reach it provides.
I should highlight that there is a requirement for applicants to advertise information about a premises licence application by displaying a notice at the premises. That, too, can be a way of alerting a community to the fact that a licence may be being sought in respect of the premises. Alongside that obligation, the Government have added a new requirement, from April last year, for licensing authorities to publish details of such licence applications on their websites. Some licensing authorities have gone further than the strict legal requirements, and they proactively provide e-mail alerts to those interested in licensing applications. The Government’s guidance to licensing authorities encourages them to ensure they comply with legal requirements. We will look to ensure that licensing authorities consistently publish the relevant information. I recognise the points made by my hon. Friend, but it is important to recognise the changing ways in which information is provided and the importance of online platforms in communicating information. We should look at innovative ways of strengthening that further.
The Government’s consultation received a large number of responses from business, the public and local government. A number of arguments have been made for and against the proposal, and the Government are grateful for how the public have engaged and for the information that has been provided, including by those in the newspaper industry and the licensed trade.
The arguments in favour of abolishing the advertising requirements include the burden it places on licensing applicants, who must pay for the cost of the advertisements. However, others have pointed out—this is reflected in the mood of the debate and the comments that have been made—that newspaper adverts provide a valuable source of information for those who might not see notices on premises or licensing authority websites.
Let me be absolutely clear: the Government do not wish to remove the say that local people and communities have in the licensing process. There is an important balance to strike, and we must consider whether there are already adequate ways for people to find out about premises licence applications. We also acknowledge the role newspapers have as a central point for local information. That, and the other points I have mentioned, need to be weighed up by the Government as we consider our response to the alcohol strategy consultation. As I said, we will publish our response in due course.
I am grateful for the contributions that have been made this afternoon, which amplify some of the representations that have been made as part of the consultation. We will reflect further on the clear points that have been made in the debate. We continue to listen to the points that are flagged up. I very much hope that that gives my hon. Friend some reassurance that we take this matter very seriously and that the proposal in the consultation document continues to be given detailed consideration. We will continue to reflect on the proposals, and we will publish our formal response in due course.