Licensing Act

Mr. John Whittingdale (Maldon and East Chelmsford) (Con): I am grateful for the opportunity to debate the Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s report on the Licensing Act 2003. The Committee held a wide-ranging inquiry into the Act. We had four public evidence sessions and received a wide range of submissions, and I would like to put on record my thanks, and those of Committee members, to our staff and to our legal adviser, Sara John.

The principle of post-legislative scrutiny is a good one, and it would be helpful if more Acts could be looked at two or three years after their implementation to see whether the objectives set out when a Bill was first introduced have been achieved. No one could possibly argue with the objectives of the 2003 Act. The four licensing objectives clearly make common sense and the Act’s intention, which was to streamline the process and make it easier to reduce costs, is one we all supported.

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T5. [284365] Mr. John Whittingdale (Maldon and East Chelmsford) (Con): Does the Minister accept that the blanket requirement to find 3 per cent. a year efficiency savings is particularly difficult for smaller local authorities such as Maldon district council? Will he confirm that there may be some flexibility in the imposition of that target that takes account of the size of the authority, as well as of its record in having already achieved savings?

Mr. Denham: That is an interesting question coming from someone who advocates a 10 per cent. cut in local government expenditure, which would have cut my Department's budget by £1 billion this year. There is a responsibility right across local government, as in other areas of government, to achieve the maximum efficiency and the best possible value for money for our citizens. I believe that the targets we have set are achievable, but I have to say that the destruction that the hon. Gentleman would wreak on local government is something we do not want to see.

Mr. John Whittingdale (Maldon and East Chelmsford) (Con): The Minister will be aware that the fact that a private investigator had intercepted the telephone calls of a large number of people was well known at the time. He will also be aware that the chairman of News International gave a categoric assurance to my Select Committee that no other journalist, beyond Clive Goodman, had any involvement in or knowledge of that matter. Can the Minister say whether he is aware of any evidence to contradict that statement? When my Select Committee reopens its inquiry, as it has decided to do, will he ask the Metropolitan police to provide us with any information that they have that is relevant to this case?

Mr. Hanson: The allegations came to light today, we are examining them with the Metropolitan police and I obviously concur with what the hon. Gentleman has said.

3. Mr. John Whittingdale (Maldon and East Chelmsford) (Con): What plans he has to extend the availability of small business crime reduction grants; and if he will make a statement.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Alan Campbell): The £5 million small retailers capital grants fund will help secure small independent retail shops in areas that are at most risk of crime. There are no plans to extend the scheme, but other aspects of the retail crime action plan are helping to tackle retail crime in every area.

Mr. Whittingdale: Is the Minister aware of the Federation of Small Businesses survey that found that crime against businesses costs small firms about £13,500 each? Although I am sure that the businesses within the 50 priority areas have taken up the opportunity with enthusiasm, I think it curious that they bear a remarkable similarity to a list of Labour local authorities. Why do not businesses in areas such as my constituency in Essex have the same opportunity to apply for help?

Mr. Campbell: The criteria for the scheme were deprivation, crime rates and the proportion of the small retailers that we were most interested in helping. The criteria were agreed by the retail crime steering group, and the FSB is not only an active member, but it agreed with the criteria and the principle. I should point out that Chingford, which is part of the seat of the hon. Gentleman's right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith), is not a Labour area.