HC Deb 19 April 2004 vol 420 cc10-2
6. Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab)

What representations she has received on her draft guidelines to licensing authorities; and if she will make a statement. [166145]

The Minister for Sport and Tourism (Mr. Richard Caborn)

On 23 March, we publicised and laid before the House the guidance for consideration and approval. Since then, we have received two representations from local authorities about the content of the draft, seeking clarification about the relationship of the public safety licensing objectives to passive smoking and criminal record checks for applicants for personal licences. The draft guidance has been prepared in consultation with other Government Departments, Executive agencies, the police, local authorities, performers' representatives and trade associations, among others.

Chris Bryant

The Minister will know that many people are troubled by the irresponsible marketing practices of some pubs and clubs, which offer as much as people can drink for a fixed amount of money, although that is not available in the bars of the House. Does he believe that the licensing authorities and the police will use their powers robustly enough to deal with such irresponsible landlords?

Mr. Caborn

I hope so. Besides the provisions on the statute book, the guidance before Parliament and new regulations, the matter also dovetails with the Government's alcohol harm reduction strategy. I make it absolutely clear that the irresponsible licensee to whom my hon. Friend refers should be hounded out by the authorities that I mentioned and, indeed, by the industry itself. I commend the British Beer and Pub Association for its code of practice on irresponsible drinks promotions, to which it is attempting to commit all its members. What we are placing on the statute book will be proportionate to deal with the small minority of licensees who use such promotions to create irresponsible drinking. The police and other authorities now have the powers to move in and deal with the problem. It is furthermore illegal to serve drink to anyone who is intoxicated. I am sure that the action of the police and other authorities will help us to root out the small group of irresponsible licensees.

Mr. Don Foster (Bath) (LD)

In January, I accused the Minister of complacency over the timetable for the introduction of the Licensing Act 2003 and he told me that I was wrong, that the timetable was clear and that the first appointed day would be in July this year. Will not the delay in the publication of the guidance—we have still not seen the draft forms for operational plans or the agreement on the fee structure for licence applications—lead to considerable further delay in respect of the first appointed day, now likely to be in December? Indeed, is it not likely that the Act will not be fully implemented until after the next general election? Does not that delay give a whole new meaning to the text that the Labour party sent to thousands of young people before the last election—"Vote Labour on Thursday for extra time"?

Mr. Caborn

Not at all. [HON. MEMBERS: "You can do better than that, Don."] I shall not repeat that. Let me give the timetable, for the benefit of the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) and the rest of the House. Yes, there has been slippage, but if Parliament approves the guidance, which I hope it will by the end of April or the beginning of May—that is possible—the first appointed day will be towards the end of October or the beginning of November. [Interruption.]The timetable is laid out in the Act, so as soon as Parliament says that it agrees with the guidance, we can move towards the first appointed day. As I said, if that happens at the end of April or the beginning of May, six months later it will be the end of October or the beginning of November, and the second appointed day—the end of the total transition—will be in July 2005. The general election could take place in 2006, because we have five years, so we could still be on course for getting there before the next general election.

Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney) (Lab)

My right hon. Friend will remember that when the Licensing Bill was passing through Parliament, there was concern about the impact that it might have on live music in small venues that had been operating under the so-called two-in-a-bar rule. Is he now satisfied that the guidance makes it absolutely clear to local authorities that they should not impose unreasonable red tape burdens on such premises—and, indeed, that many small musical events are exempt from the legislation altogether, so long as they behave themselves?

Mr. Caborn

Yes. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made that perfectly clear, and so does the guidance. The Government are trying to liberalise gambling and licensing, and to ensure that industries, especially tourism, can respond to the challenges that they now face. The Government have been accused of presiding over a £15 billion trade deficit in tourism, and we are trying to give the industry the tools to get on and increase its competitiveness and productivity. That is very important to the British economy, and to the quality of life of our citizens, and unless we modernise areas such as gambling and licensing, it will not happen.

We believe that the balance that we have achieved in modernising the law to bring it into the 21st century, operating in a joined-up way with local authorities, will have a major impact on the economy and the quality of life of many of the citizens of this nation.

Mr. Malcolm Moss (North-East Cambridgeshire) (Con)

The Minister has already confirmed that the publication of the guidance is four months later than originally planned. Given the problems that that unacceptable and unnecessary delay is causing local authorities in planning ahead to implement the new licensing regime by the due date, are they right to ask if that delay has been caused by interdepartmental in-fighting between the Minister's Department and the Home Office?

Mr. Caborn

I do not know what the definition of interdepartmental fighting is. If it is about having a dialogue with colleagues in other Departments, that is probably how the Tories, too, operated in government. What I am saying, in answer to the reasonable question that has been asked, is that we are trying to modernise legislation so as to have an impact on the economy of this nation. Local authorities and many others are asking for that. If the hon. Gentleman wants to be pedantic and dance on the head of a pin about the four months, that is fine, but we are answering the serious questions that we are being asked by saying that we are giving local authorities and the industries the tools to make them more competitive and productive, thus bringing our people a better quality of life.

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