§ 1. Mr. John Denham (Southampton, Itchen)
What further licensing measures she proposes to take to tackle drunken behaviour in town and city centres. 
§ The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Tessa Jowell)
The prevention of crime and disorder is a key objective of the Licensing Act, which received Royal Assent this summer. Its provisions include expanded police powers to close premises that are disorderly or noisy; the ability to review licences when problems arise, backed by an extended range of sanctions; and new powers to allow local authorities to address problems when the number of licensed premises reaches saturation point—an issue raised by many hon. Members. It also includes new offences to deal with 2 drunk and disorderly behaviour in licensed premises and the introduction of flexible opening hours to reduce binge drinking and avoid flash points at closing time.
§ Mr. Denham
I thank my right hon. Friend for her response and for the positive moves that the Government have taken, but does she accept that the problem in many town and city centres is not one of individually badly run premises, but the cumulative effect of so many people who have had too much to drink coming out on to the streets? Will she keep an open mind about the possibility of making it a licence condition that in designated entertainment areas those premises should be required to co-operate with the local police through radiocommunications systems or to make a modest contribution towards the cost of policing town and city centres?
§ Tessa Jowell
I thank my right hon. Friend for asking that question. Yes, there is indeed provision in the Licensing Act 2003 for local authorities, on the basis of representations from the police, to add conditions to the premises licence—for example, the need to have radio pagers, toughened glass and CCTV—on evidence of drunk and disorderly behaviour. As my right hon. Friend will be aware, those conditions were directly negotiated and supported by the Home Secretary. The provisions do not, however, include a levy of the kind that my right hon. Friend requests.
§ Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire)
Drunken misbehaviour is a major problem in Oswestry and Market Drayton. What consideration has the Secretary of State given to giving local citizens greater opportunities to appeal against local authorities that issue licences in the teeth of police advice?
§ Tessa Jowell
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Licensing Act 2003 provides, for the first time ever, the opportunity for individual residents to make representations about licensing decisions. There will be an appeal mechanism, but the key change that has been 3 achieved through the modernised licensing law is the power that it gives to citizens and local communities, and the new powers it gives to the police.
§ Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead)
I know that the Secretary of State was in Liverpool on Friday, but I do not know whether she had time to come under the tunnel into Birkenhead. If she had, she would have seen that there, as in many other city centres, there are several pubs and clubs whose main aim, especially on Friday and Saturday nights, is to get as many people as possible drunk as quickly as possible. The cost of policing the inner parts of Birkenhead is £140,000 a year. Will my right hon. Friend speak with her colleagues in the Home Office to see whether that charge would not better be borne by those who run the trade than by ratepayers who wish to see more police on the beat, but do not want them to be used to herd together drunk and disorderly citizens?
§ Tessa Jowell
I thank my right hon. Friend for that contribution. Sadly, on this occasion, I did not have the opportunity to visit Birkenhead. I visited Toxteth and Wavertree and also went to the town hall for a briefing on capital of culture events. I hope to visit Birkenhead on another occasion.
I would like to deal with the point implicit in my right hon. Friend's question. In dealing, as we fully intend to do, with crime, disorder and drunkenness in city centres where there are a lot of licensed premises, it is important to recognise that the licensing regime is but one instrument available to local authorities and the police. The Licensing Act 2003 has provided new powers for both the police and local authorities to tackle the problem. My right hon. Friend will also be aware of the further powers in the Anti-Social Behaviour Bill, currently before the House. It is also important to remember that licensed premises, which contribute in many ways to the life and economy of our big cities and towns, do pay taxes, including council tax, and in return are entitled to receive services.
§ Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire)
We are grateful to the Secretary of State for confirming our understanding of the position—that the new licensing regime will provide great opportunities for complaints to be made when licensed premises are responsible for drunken or loutish behaviour. That being so, why will the Government apparently allow the costly brewster sessions to go ahead next year? That archaic triennial event is likely to cost applicants in excess of £11 million. Why cannot that money be put to better use in tackling the problems of drunkenness, rather than in paying legal support costs?
§ Tessa Jowell
I will copy it to all those hon. Members who have an interest in the matter on behalf of their constituents. The purpose of the new licensing regime is 4 to protect children and reduce the levels of antisocial behaviour associated with drunkenness. The measures are adequate to that task.
§ Tony Wright (Cannock Chase)
We all know that in much of Europe towns are taken over by families in the evenings, but in this country families are driven out of towns in the evenings. We must get a grip of that problem. Might not that involve making town centres alcohol-free zones?
§ Tessa Jowell
The short answer is no. We would not receive popular support for making city centres alcohol-free zones, but my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Tony Wright) makes an important point that the new licensing regime reflects. Local authorities will have much greater discretion to set conditions to promote family-friendly pubs. Many more pubs now serve food, and people want to take their children to them. It is a question of balance between liberalisation and protecting children from drunkenness and antisocial behaviour. Some local authorities will be clear that children should never be allowed in some pubs, but in country areas and smaller towns, a family-friendly atmosphere is to be encouraged. That is why we have a flexible licensing regime.