» Tuesday, November 15, 2005

24 Hour Licensing

Asked if the Prime Minister agreed with Tessa Jowell that there may be a rise in alcohol-related crime as a result of the Licensing Bill, the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman (PMOS) said that the important point was what we had were the powers to deal with premises and individuals who did not live up to their obligations. Communities had more powers to deal with either problem premises, or problem individuals than they did before.

Asked if the Prime Minister thought there would be a rise, the PMOS replied that people should look at the facts. The important thing was that the powers were there for not only the police and local authorities, but also for individual communities.

Asked if the Prime Minister was confident there would not be a rise, the PMOS said he thought the journalist was simply trying another way of flipping the same question, and he was not going to fall for it! What was important was that the police were aware of the powers, and they had clearly signalled their intention to use them. Local authorities also had the powers, as did individual neighbourhoods, and that meant that any problem premises could be shut down for twenty four (24) hours, or for weekends, or for longer periods.

Asked if the Prime Minister or any other residents in Downing Street had raised any objections with Westminster Council about the Red Lion pub staying open later, the PMOS replied that as he had emphasised this morning, as far as he was aware, absolutely not, "I certainly did not, m’lud"!

Asked if the Prime Minister was confident about the vote this evening, the PMOS said that predictions were a mug’s game, but the Government hoped to win the vote.

Asked if on this, the Prime Minister thought it was better to lose and be right, the PMOS said it depended on the particular circumstances!

Asked if the Prime Minister saw any contradiction between the Licensing Bill and the anti-drink campaign that showed vomit on a pavement, the PMOS replied absolutely not. As he had said this morning, the crux of this matter was that the majority of people who behaved perfectly normally when out for a drink should not be penalised for the few people who did not behave normally. Therefore, the answer was to allow the majority the right to drink more freely, whilst at the same time, enforcing restrictions and responsibilities on those who did not. That was what the Licensing Act did. The PMOS reinforced that it was not simply about 24 hour drinking; the number of premises that had applied for a 24 hour license was 0.5 per cent compared to the prediction of 1-2 per cent. When compared to the number of pubs and clubs, it was a very small proportion of the overall total of premises that were entitled to serve alcohol.

Put to the PMOS that many people in the room were very able to understand the alcohol issue, and surely there was a contradiction between the 24 licensing and the anti-drinking campaign currently being introduced, the PMOS said if people looked at what happened in other countries, where there were more liberal licensing laws, it was equally the fact that they did not have the same binge drinking culture that we did in the UK. What we should not pretend was that binge drinking was something that was invented in November 2005, but rather, the problem of binge drinking should be tackled. That was therefore, what the powers contained in the Licensing Bill allowed the local authorities and the police and neighbourhoods to do.

Asked if there was any review process built into the legislation, the PMOS replied that both the Prime Minister and Tessa Jowell had said it was obvious that the operation of the Act would have to be studied. In terms of the powers etc, the PMOS stressed that ACPO and the police and welcomed the new powers.

Asked if ACPO had welcomed the entire Bill, the PMOS said he did not want to speak for ACPO, but they had said that they did not want the Act delayed.

Asked if ACPO said they did not like 24 hour drinking, what would the Government do to stop the Bill, the PMOS said the journalist was long enough in the tooth, and he was long enough in the chair for people to know he did not answer hypothetical questions!

Put to the PMOS that was it not the case that binge drinking had "got drastically worse" in the last five years, and had the Government actually adapted to the new situation, the PMOS replied that in terms of the Act, it did contain specific measures aimed at binge drinking. That was why it was now possible for neighbourhoods to get local authorities and police involved in shutting down premises. That power was not there before, so there were new powers which were directly aimed at countering the binge drinking culture. The question came back to: did you penalise the vast majority of people for the abuses of a minority.

Asked what happened after 24 hours, once a pub had been shut down, the PMOS said that people would be reminded of their license, and there was the power to revoke the license for longer periods, or permanently.

Briefing took place at 17:00 | Search for related news

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