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The Minister for Sport and Tourism (Mr. Richard Caborn): The timetable for full implementation of the Licensing Act 2003 is dependent on parliamentary approval of the draft guidance to local authorities, which was laid before Parliament on 23 March. If Parliament is content, we expect to complete the implementation of the Act around late summer 2005.
Mr. Caborn: We are in discussion with the Local Government Association and others in the industry. I hope to be able to announce the fees in the not too distant future. We have already given an indication and I do not believe that it will prove to be far from the mark.
Mr. Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab): My right hon. Friend is aware that several Labour Members are concerned that the new licensing law may not necessarily bring about a reduction in harmful alcohol consumption. Will he keep the new law under careful and close scrutiny with a view to reforming it yet again if it appears that it has brought about increased levels of harmful consumption rather than a reduction?
All those consulted broadly agree with the 2003 Act. There is a misunderstanding about the extension of the flexibility of licensing. The police have said clearly on every occasion that they believe that the
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flexibility will bring alcohol-related crime down. All the indications to date within the UKincluding Scotland, where the instance of such crimes has fallenare clear. We have run three experiments. Over the new year period in the capital at the millennium, for example, we found that crime came down by 6 per cent. as a result of the 36-hour opening. I repeat that all the experience so far suggests that greater flexibility will reduce crime.
Mr. Adrian Sanders (Torbay) (LD): One side effect of the Act for the professional football clubsthe Government have a good record of support for association footballis that stewards have to be trained, and the cost that has been cited is £500 a steward, which is an enormous amount for small second or third division clubs. Is the Minister aware of the problem?
Mr. Caborn: I am very aware of it. Several organisations representing the stewards have written to me, and I am seeking clarification from the Home Office. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we are pushing very hard and we will try to ensure that assurances given in the other place are adhered to.
Mr. Bill O'Brien (Normanton) (Lab): I welcome the Act, but some social and sporting clubs believe that the interpretation is such that their associates and visitors will not be able to participate in the social well-being of the club or purchase or partake of any beverages there. Is my right hon. Friend aware of that, and what does he intend to do about it?
Mr. Caborn: Again, I am very aware of it, and I must have signed off something like three dozen letters this weekend on what is clearly a misinterpretation by the English Golf Union concerning membership of golf clubs. In fact, there is very little variation from the previous Act. It is basically status quo for the over-18s, although there is a tightening for under-18s in clubs. There should be no change for golf clubs or indeed any other sports clubs.
Mr. Malcolm Moss (North-East Cambridgeshire) (Con): It is all very well the Minister saying that the problem seems to have gone away. The English Golf Union wrote to us only today saying that it is still not happy with his and his civil servants' so-called interpretation about why, under the guidance and under the Act as written, many golfers who are neither members of other qualifying clubs nor guests in the strict definition of that term will not be able to buy a drink on the 19th hole.
Mr. Caborn: The English Golf Union has not got back to me personally on that. Nothing has crossed my deskif it does, I will hope to answer the point more fully. I reassure the hon. Gentleman that the position remains the same as under the previous Act, when the 19th hole was quite well wateredand I expect that it will continue to be quite well watered in the future.
The Minister for Sport and Tourism (Mr. Richard Caborn): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have met representatives from a number of organisations involved in football to discuss a range of issues, including, in broad terms, the recommendations of the all-party group's report on English football and its finances and the Independent Football Commission's annual report 2003. We will release the outcome of those discussions when we respond to both reports.
John Mann : Having left Bradford City at the knacker's yard, Geoffrey Richmond is now advising his son and others who are currently selling off the assets of Leeds United football club, and doubtless intending again to pay themselves handsome consultancy fees in the process. We have also seen Leicester City failing to pay 90p in the pound on its tax liability, yet still affording to go to La Manga for a week last season. The next time a football club goes into administration, will the Government take action to ensure that the taxpayer gets proper value for money by taking a slice of the club and handing it over to the supporters, allowing them to have some ownership of their team?
Mr. Caborn: My hon. Friend makes his points with some passion. It was this Government who set up Supporters Direct, which has given sound information to many fans and seeks good governance for football. Many of us believe that football is very important for our communities, so we will continue to work with Supporters Direct. When a club goes into administration, that is dealt with by the authorities, and it is for them to act as they see fit.
Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): I thank the Minister for his response. Does he agree that another area of professional football that needs examining is the parasitic behaviour of agents? Whenever football transfers are carried out and salaries are creamed off, should not the sum taken out of the game and given to those parasites be made clear, so that supporters know exactly where the money is going?
Mr. Caborn: The wake-up call for football was what happened with ITV Digital, and I believe that the nationwide league, with its chair, Mr. Brian Mawhinney[Hon. Members: "Sir Brian!"] Thank you for that correction. Sir Brian is looking into the whole question of corporate governance, and has brought forward a number of actions that would bring about better governance. I note that the premiership is also considering such questions. The two reports that I referred to earlier bring into focus many of the points that hon. Members have raised, and we shall respond to them in due course.
Ian Lucas (Wrexham)
(Lab): I am sure that the Minister is aware of the current difficulties of Wrexham football club, where the post of chairman is vacantI mentioned that in case it might interest him. He probably will not be aware, however, that this very evening, consumers, workers and supporters who are concerned about the position of the club are meeting to found an organisation called Wrexham First, to ensure that the future of the club lies within its community rather than in the hands of property developers. What
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are the Government doing to embed such organisations and clubs in their communities, rather than in the hands of those who seek to exploit football clubs for property motives, and for their own commercial ends?
Mr. Caborn: As I have already said, we set up, or rather funded, the organisation Supporters Direct, and my very strong advice to Wrexham and those trying to rescue the club is to take counsel from Supporters Direct. I have no doubt that it will give them information that they will be able to work on to ensure that the club continues to play a major role in its community.
The Minister for the Arts (Estelle Morris): Mr. Matsuura, director general of UNESCO, requested to see Stonehenge during his informal visit to the United Kingdom last week. He had a tour of the Stonehenge world heritage site with officials of English Heritage and the National Trust. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Media and Heritage, as the Minister responsible for world heritage sites, joined him to visit the stone circle itself.
Mr. Key : I am grateful for that information. All DCMS Ministers, whichever House they come from, are always welcome in my constituency, as is the director general of UNESCO. Can the Minister give an unequivocal commitment that, subject to planning conditions, the developments of the road in the world heritage site and the new visitors centre at Stonehenge are firmly in the Government's programme, that there will be no backsliding and no instructions from the Treasury, and that both will be completed?
Estelle Morris: I understand the hon. Gentleman's eagerness to ensure that firm commitments are made on this subject. Indeed, my officials tell me that we have got further with the current set of proposals than ever before. It is good news that the inspector's report was delivered a week ahead of schedule, which shows that in terms of time, we are still on target. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the developments are firmly in our spending plans for 2008, assuming that all planning applications and consents go accordingly.
Mr. Don Foster (Bath) (LD): I welcome the work that the Government are doing with UNESCO to support cultural heritage at Stonehenge and elsewhere, but when the Minister for Media and Heritage met people from UNESCO, did he take the opportunity to discuss ways in which we could do more, through UNESCO, to support cultural reconstruction in war-torn countries such as Iraq? Does the Minister therefore think that it would be vital to persuade the American Government to do what we have done recently[Interruption.]
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