HC Deb 24 May 2004 vol 421 cc1294-5
6. Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West) (Con)

If she will make a statement about the implementation of the Licensing Act 2003. [174896]

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

The timetable for full implementation of the Licensing Act 2003 is dependent on parliamentary approval of the draft guidance to local authorities, which was laid before Parliament on 23 March. If Parliament is content, we expect to complete the implementation of the Act around late summer 2005.

Mr. Swayne

What will the fees be for licences under the new regime? If the Minister cannot tell us the fee level now, when will he be able to tell us?

Mr. Caborn

We are in discussion with the Local Government Association and others in the industry. I hope to be able to announce the fees in the not too distant future. We have already given an indication and I do not believe that it will prove to be far from the mark.

Mr. Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab)

My right hon. Friend is aware that several Labour Members are concerned that the new licensing law may not necessarily bring about a reduction in harmful alcohol consumption. Will he keep the new law under careful and close scrutiny with a view to reforming it yet again if it appears that it has brought about increased levels of harmful consumption rather than a reduction?

Mr. Caborn

All those consulted broadly agree with the 2003 Act. There is a misunderstanding about the extension of the flexibility of licensing. The police have said clearly on every occasion that they believe that the flexibility will bring alcohol-related crime down. All the indications to date within the UK—including Scotland, where the instance of such crimes has fallen—are clear. We have run three experiments. Over the new year period in the capital at the millennium, for example, we found that crime came down by 6 per cent. as a result of the 36-hour opening. I repeat that all the experience so far suggests that greater flexibility will reduce crime.

Mr. Adrian Sanders (Torbay) (LD)

One side effect of the Act for the professional football clubs—the Government have a good record of support for association football—is that stewards have to be trained, and the cost that has been cited is £500 a steward, which is an enormous amount for small second or third division clubs. Is the Minister aware of the problem?

Mr. Caborn

I am very aware of it. Several organisations representing the stewards have written to me, and I am seeking clarification from the Home Office. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we are pushing very hard and we will try to ensure that assurances given in the other place are adhered to.

Mr. Bill O'Brien (Normanton) (Lab)

I welcome the Act, but some social and sporting clubs believe that the interpretation is such that their associates and visitors will not be able to participate in the social well-being of the club or purchase or partake of any beverages there. Is my right hon. Friend aware of that, and what does he intend to do about it?

Mr. Caborn

Again, I am very aware of it, and I must have signed off something like three dozen letters this weekend on what is clearly a misinterpretation by the English Golf Union concerning membership of golf clubs. In fact, there is very little variation from the previous Act. It is basically status quo for the over-18s, although there is a tightening for under-18s in clubs. There should be no change for golf clubs or indeed any other sports clubs.

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

It is all very well the Minister saying that the problem seems to have gone away. The English Golf Union wrote to us only today saying that it is still not happy with his and his civil servants' so-called interpretation about why, under the guidance and under the Act as written, many golfers who are neither members of other qualifying clubs nor guests in the strict definition of that term will not be able to buy a drink on the 19th hole.

Mr. Caborn

The English Golf Union has not got back to me personally on that. Nothing has crossed my desk—if it does, I will hope to answer the point more fully. I reassure the hon. Gentleman that the position remains the same as under the previous Act, when the 19th hole was quite well watered—and I expect that it will continue to be quite well watered in the future.

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