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24 Mar 2003 : Column 60continued
Mr. Mark Field: Will the right hon. Lady clarify how many of the nine amendments made in the other place will be brought into play? I share the concerns of the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) on the proposals for the licensing objectives and I am sorry that she has not seen fit to ensure that those amendments, at least, will be reflected in the final Bill.
Tessa Jowell: We propose to uphold several of the amendments, and especially the amendment on the exemption of schools. We also intend to accept the amendment on incidental live music. In relation to the other amendments, we shall seek either to overturn or to amend them. In particular, I have said that, for no other reason than to meet the intentions of the Bill, we seek to overturn the amendment that proposed public amenity as an alternative to public nuisance.
The Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting and I are very grateful to the groups that have helped us to reach what I think is a good conclusion on the proposed policy on accompanied and unaccompanied children in licensed premises. Today, Liz Atkins, the head of the policy and public affairs unit at the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, said:
I turn now to another area of contention, which is music. At this point, I would like to pay tribute to the Musicians Union, which has certainly won the Oscar for the best spin on this matter. I say that with unbounded admiration, rather than acrimony. The union has misrepresented the position with great success, and, in doing so, greatly raised the profile of live music. In reality, amalgamating the licence systems will make it much easier and cheaper to get an entertainment licence in future. In addition, we propose a range of measures to promote live music, a number of which arose from the deliberations on the Bill in another place. Those measures include exempting places of public religious worship; amending the Bill to make it clear that entertainers who do no more than simply perform at what turns out to be an unlicensed venue will not themselves be committing an offence; and exempting church halls, village halls and other community buildings from fees. I can announce today that we will similarly exempt schools and sixth form colleges when they use their premises. That decision also follows the debate in another place.
Mr. David Cameron (Witney): I apologise to the right hon. Lady for missing the start of her speech, but she has now reached the part of the Bill about which I care a great deal. Is she aware that the morris dancers at Bampton in my constituency have been dancing in the pubs there for 600 yearswithout a break, as they tell me? The Secretary of State says that it will be easier to get an entertainment licence. Is she aware that, because the dancers have only two musicians accompanying them, they have never had to have a licence before, but that in future they will have to have one? That is going to cost the pubs a lot of money and time. Is it really necessary?
Andy King: The Bilton silver band brings a great deal of joy to people in and around the midlands, and twice a yearincluding at Christmasit has a street collection to pay for some of its instruments. Voluntary contributions meet just a fraction of its costs. Will it be
Tessa Jowell: From what my hon. Friend has just said, I think it unlikely that the band would need a licence. In exactly the same way, I would not expect the licensing requirement in relation to the Bampton morris dancers to be altered by the provisions of the Bill.
I give the House the assurance that we will use the accompanying guidance to ensure that only necessary and proportionate conditions are attached to licences. I can also announce that we will preserve the spirit of amendments made in another place that would exempt incidental live music. In addition to giving hon. Members reassurance on the future of morris dancing, let me assure them that, contrary to certain well-circulated myths, people will not be arrested for singing "Happy Birthday" in a restaurant, and that postmen will not need a licence to whistle on their rounds, although the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth)who is not in his place at the momentwill, I am afraid, continue to need a licence for his ties. The Bill will encourage live music and entertainment.
The thorough and invaluable examination of the Bill in another place has identified areas of concern where, frankly, we have had to think again. I am grateful for the degree of scrutiny that the Bill has already undergone. I know that hon. Members will give the Bill their full attention. The Bill is a balanced package. It will provide licensing authorities with effective tools that they currently lack, enabling them to come down hard on problems that cause disturbance, when they arise. For the first time, it gives communities a democratic voice in licensing, and expands police powers to close down premises that are the source of disorder, or are excessively noisy. It will also provide more choice for consumers, in terms of the time, place and range of entertainment on offer. The law should always keep pace with changing society and preserve the best of our national traditions. It should always protect the vulnerable and allow adults their harmless pleasures. This Bill will fulfil all those aspirations and I commend it to the House.
Mr. John Whittingdale (Maldon and East Chelmsford): Given the limited time available and the number of hon. Members who I know wish to speak, I will try to keep my remarks relatively brief. Let me make it clear that we welcome the Government's intention to reform our licensing laws. No one would disagree that the existing laws are arcane and badly in need of updating. In many cases, they now preserve restrictions, the need for which has long since gone, and which can act as a disincentive for the development of tourism and an unnecessary obstacle to people's enjoyment.
In some cases, that was due to a failure by the Government to consult properly with those who were going to be affected by the Bill or to them not properly understanding the full consequences of what they were proposing. That failure has led to the Government being defeated nine times in the House of Lords during the consideration of the Bill, and being forced to make a further seven major concessions. As a result of the work done in the other place, the Bill is now much improved. However, I have to say that I agree with the Secretary of State, who admitted that putting the Bill out for pre-legislative scrutiny, as the Government did with the Communications Bill, would have saved them an enormous amount of trouble.
Let me turn to the detailed provisions and, in particular, the changes to the licensing of alcohol sales. We agree with the greater flexibility in opening hours, which the Bill will allow. There is no doubt that the uniform pub closing hour can act as a barrier to tourism and may also contribute to public order problems as a result of large numbers of people being ejected on to the street at the same time, but the Government's claim that longer and more flexible opening hours may reduce binge drinking, crime, disorder and public nuisance is disputed by many. In particular, some international evidence does not support it, and it is not the view of a number of police officers or, indeed, local authorities.
Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham): I have experience not internationally, but in the city of Newcastle, as we held an experiment with 24-hour licensing on millennium eve and during Euro 96. Fewer people were arrested on those evenings than on the average Friday and Saturday night, and Northumbria constabulary recognises that a more flexible approach to licensing reduced the violence on the streets.