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Mr. John Leech (Manchester, Withington) (LD): My hon. Friend makes a valid point about staggered opening hours. When I speak to landlords in my constituency, they consistently tell me that the reason they are going for extended hours is that all the other pubs are going for exactly the same hours.
I turn to the important subject of police powers, which the Secretary of State mentioned. Does the Bill contain sufficient police powers, which would not take effect if the legislation did not go ahead? That is not the case. If it were, there would not be so many people in the police who are so deeply concerned about the Bill. The Secretary of State and the Minister have referred to the position of ACPO. Sir John Stevens, the former Metropolitan Commissioner, said:
"Most nights of the week our officers are overwhelmed by a sea of drunken, violent, vomiting yobs who when they're not fighting each other, are falling through shop windows . . . That's now. What's it going to be like when we have a licensing free for all?"
The Secretary of State has said that some additional powers will be helpful, but the Government have already introduced some of the powers in the 2003 Act, such as the powers in sections 155 and 199 that allow police officers to confiscate alcohol from young people. She has made great play of the police's ability to close
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pubs for 24 hours at very short notice, but she should check the existing legislationthe 1964 Act already gives the police those powers, which were further extended in 2001.
The Secretary of State should consider the police's existing powers and examine whether they are being enforced. For example, she has referred to drunken people on the streets, who must buy their alcohol from somewhere. As the right hon. Member for Maidenhead knows, an existing law forbids landlords to sell alcohol to people who are drunk. That law was amended in 2001 to ensure that anybody who sells alcohol to somebody who is drunk is breaking the law. The House may be surprised to know that on average there are 11 prosecutions a year under that legislation. The Secretary of State may be taking a few additional powers, but most of those powers already exist, so we should make sure that the existing legislation is being used.
All the evidence suggests that the 2003 Act will not resolve the problem of binge drinking, and I believe that it will make the problem worse. I do not accept that chaos will occur if we do not go ahead with the 2003 Act, because all the existing licences for pubs, clubs and off-licences will continue until February 2007. There will not be chaos if the 2003 Act is stopped, but there will be chaos if we go ahead with it. The public do not want it, and I hope that the whole House will support the motion. Let us end the nonsense that the Government are going to deal with binge drinking, which is something that the 2003 Act definitely fails to do.
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I remind the House that Mr. Speaker has placed a 10-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches, which comes into operation now. However, hon. Members will be doing their colleagues a favour if they manage with less than that.
Mr. Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): During the general election campaign, my Conservative opponent accused me and the Labour party of being in favour of 24-hour drinking. His slogan was, "Vote Conservative. Vote against 24-hour drinking". That slogan has nothing to do with the legislation. My constituency does not contain a single licensed establishment that has applied for a licence to allow 24-hour drinking. In my constituency, that Conservative campaign failed abysmally, which is one of the reasons why I increased my parliamentary majority.
Such misrepresentation continued after the general election campaign, with certain elements of the press suggesting that we will see a descent into chaos, the end of civilisation as we know it, confusion and anarchy. Having heard those prophecies of doom, it was not enough for me to take the Government's word for it, so I decided to go a step further and ask my local authority what is happening on the ground.
I therefore spoke to people at Caerphilly county borough council, and the first thing they said wassurprise, surprisethat not one single establishment
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had applied for 24-hour opening and none was likely to do so. Moreover, they said that far from confusion there is a great deal of orderliness in the new regime that has been introduced. Only this morning, they told me that 88 per cent. of previously licensed premises have already applied for a continuation of their licences and have been granted one. More are in the pipeline, and I anticipate that the figure will go up to the upper 90s before the process is completed.
So far, 483 pubs and clubs have made applications for licences in the Caerphilly borough, and it is interesting to note the detail of those applications. The breakdown is as follows: 218 are for conversions of existing licences, 249 are for varying existing licences, and 16 are for new premises. In other words, there is no uniformity whatsoever. In fact, nearly half the existing licensed premises want to continue as they are. That is what is happening in practice in one particular part of the country, and I would suggest that Caerphilly is fairly typical not only of many other parts of Wales but of many other parts of Britain.
Of the applications for varying existing licences, in many cases any objections from local residents were resolved at the hearing stage through mediation and agreement between the parties. That is a vital and central aspect of the Act, and in practice it is working very well. Of course, it is recognised that in some cases mediation has not led to an ideal situation so far as all parties are concerned. However, it is important also to recognise that, contrary to what some Opposition Members have said, there is no presumption in the Act in favour of longer hours over objections from local people. Let us be absolutely clear about that. Where there has not been agreement, all parties have been clear that the licences that were issued would be subject to strict monitoring and very careful review.
When I asked the chief executive of my local authority what he thinks about the suggestion that there could be an extension beyond the 24 November deadline, he told me in no uncertain terms that he and many of his colleagues in local government would be utterly against that. Caerphilly county borough council has worked extremely hard and effectively to meet the deadline, and we see no reason why it is not a reasonable deadline that we should continue to adhere to.
As a result of the hard work of Caerphilly council, 15 councillors have been properly briefed and trained to oversee the whole process. That is far more democratic than the former arrangement whereby determinations about licences were made by faceless magistrates whom nobody knew or had any contact with, and who often did not know or understand anything about the locality. The new arrangement is an important step forward for democracy, and the Government should be complimentedas should local authorities such as Caerphilly county borough council for introducing it so effectively.
Caerphilly council is taking two initiatives that add weight and importance to the legislation. First, the safer Caerphilly county borough community safety partnership has been established. As one of the first new licensing forums in Wales, it is bringing together, very effectively, all the stakeholders involved in the process, who meet monthly and produce their own newsletter. That has been very well received.
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Secondly, the local authority is introducing a drinkwise scheme for responsible licensed premises. Again, it is the first of its kind in Wales. It will give accreditation to licensed premises that are following good practice. That is warmly to be welcomed.
In addition to those two initiatives, the local authority has had the wherewithal to recognise that other policy areas are affected by the legislation. For example, it is mindful of the fact that there will be a greater demand for taxis when some premises have extended opening hours. It has therefore established a taxi association to liaise with local taxi operators, and is in the process of introducing additional taxi ranks. All those measures are to be welcomed and show why many of the fears that were whipped up in Caerphilly just a few months ago have no basis whatsoever.
At the end of the summer, I took part in the police secondment scheme. I spent the best part of two weeks with Gwent police, especially in Newport. I naturally asked the police with whom I worked what they thought of the new legislation. I shall be frank: some believed that the Act would cause more problems and others thought that it would make no difference. However, the majority of police officers to whom I spoke believed that it would lead to an improvement in many young people's behaviour. Policemen and women on the ground, who are in touch with their communities and engaged in neighbourhood policing, look forward to the implementation of the Act.
One Saturday night, I spent a couple of hours in the custody unit at Newport police station. It was quiet for most of the evening but, as expected, from 11.15 pm till midnight, all hell broke loose. It happened because, as we all know, that is when the pubs close, the binge drinking takes place and the trouble occurs on the streets. That is one of the main problems that the Act tries to tackle and I believe that it will succeed.
The new powers that are proposed for the police complement the central element of this legislation. Contrary to the comments of the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster), many aspects of the Act are brand new. It extends existing legislation and takes matters forward significantly.
I am mindful of the time limit that has been placed on Back Benchers and I shall therefore conclude. I do not want the implementation date of 24 November to be abandoned and I want the Government to ignore the scaremongering of Opposition Members. Above all, we should have the courage of our convictions and acknowledge that the Act will, slowly but surely, change attitudes and get to grips with the terrible problem of binge drinking.
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