HC Deb 20 November 2000 vol 357 cc18-20
13. Mr. John Grogan (Selby)

What assessment he has made of the responses to the liquor licensing reform White Paper. [137458]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Mike O'Brien)

We are considering responses to the White Paper. We hope to announce decisions on the way forward very soon. I am pleased by the level of support for the proposed modernisation of the system.

Mr. Grogan

Does my hon. Friend agree that the responses to the White Paper indicate a widespread acceptance of the principle that more flexible opening hours for licensed premises would improve public order because no longer at closing time would many people, including some who had been drinking against the clock, spill out on to the streets at exactly the same time chasing fast food or transport home? Will he note the response of a Scottish publican who recently observed, rather pityingly, of the English and Welsh, "Even Cinderella was allowed to stay up until midnight"?

Mr. O'Brien

My hon. Friend is right. There is strong support from the police for the way in which we are reforming our licensing system. The system that we inherited was out of date and bureaucratic. Our reforms will provide a streamlined and simplified system of licensing for the vast majority of premises that provide hospitality. We shall reduce the red tape that has constrained the industry and provide safeguards against drunkenness, other anti-social behaviour and under-age drinking. We want to ensure that the police are given powers to deal with problems of anti-social behaviour that are associated with drunkenness. We have had support from landlords and community groups for our proposals.

Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire)

Will the Minister confirm press reports saying that the Government do not now intend to introduce early legislation to reform licensing hours? If that is true, does he accept that many members of the public and many in the industry will feel extremely let down? When will he publish the consultation responses and explain the Government's change of heart? The Minister has told us for four months that he will do so shortly. Will he promise to make his announcement to the House before telling the outside world his conclusions? Does he agree that it would be monstrous if he made the announcement in his speech to the Local Government Association licensing conference tomorrow, without having told the House first?

Mr. O'Brien

I was not proposing to make a big announcement tomorrow, so the hon. Gentleman need not fear. The White Paper is long overdue. His party failed to deal seriously with licensing. The Government have introduced serious proposals which have received widespread support from the industry and from the police. We are giving serious consideration to the 1,200 responses to the White Paper. I shall ensure that those are available in the House of Commons Library when we have had the chance—[Interruption.] There were 1,200 responses. The White Paper provoked considerable comment, which we shall examine with great care. We want to ensure that we have a licensing system that works—something that we did not inherit from the hon. Gentleman's Government.