HC Deb 14 June 1999 vol 333 cc6-7
7. Mr. Brian Jenkins (Tamworth)

What discussions he has had with the parliamentary beer club about its research into licensing laws. [85570]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. George Howarth)

I met club representatives on 2 July 1998 and 27 January 1999 to discuss how they could contribute most helpfully to the Government's review of licensing laws. The club has been examining licensing systems abroad and is developing its own ideas for reform. I look forward to receiving the club's report, and I am grateful for the advice that it has provided so far about this important subject.

Mr. Jenkins

Does my hon. Friend realise that the extension of hours will benefit the trade in this country and that the change will cause no problems for many well-run organisations? However, is my hon. Friend aware of the term "fun pub"? For many residents who live near such places, they are not fun pubs but neighbours from hell. What extra regulations will my hon. Friend put in place to ensure that those residents' quality of life is not diminished further? How can they be sure that their normal life will continue?

Mr. Howarth

My hon. Friend raises a serious problem that deserves our proper attention. The aim of the current review is to balance residents' legitimate concerns—not only about fun pubs but about any licensed premises near their home where there may be disturbances at closing time or at other times—with other people's right to enjoy themselves at a time that is convenient and fits in with how they want to lead their lives. We want a licensing system that is robust enough to defend residents while allowing people to exercise their market choice as consumers.

Mrs. Jacqui Lait (Beckenham)

Is the Minister aware of the beer club's research into the smuggling and bootlegging of beer? Does he agree that the problem undermines the rule of law and is becoming increasingly costly to police forces throughout the country, particularly in big cities? Will he give the House an idea of what the Home Office is doing to combat that crime caused by the Treasury?

Mr. Howarth

The hon. Lady is right to say that the smuggling of beer and other products to evade duty is a serious problem, and we all probably have some constituency experience of that. Young people are often a target group for those smugglers, and we have a serious programme to try to make it harder for anyone to sell alcohol to young people. My Treasury colleagues are aware of the difficulties and of the amount of revenue that is lost, and they are working on ways to combat that serious problem. The hon. Lady is right to draw attention to it, and we have plans to tackle it in the near future.