In March 2003, during the debate on the Licensing Bill, the Liberal Democrat MP Nick Harvey led for his party thus:
‘I welcome the Government's decision to introduce the Licensing Bill. There is no doubt that a comprehensive overhaul of the legislation in this area is long overdue…Compare and contrast with Summer/Autumn 2005:
There are clear reasons for reform. We need a new regime for social reasons, to control antisocial and binge drinking. We need to give the police the opportunity to tackle the issue of chucking-out times more satisfactorily…. it is certainly the case that the balance of all lobbying by the police that I have experienced, in the 11 years that I have been a Member of Parliament, has been in favour of abolishing a common chucking-out time and enabling them to tackle problems in town centres more flexibly.
We also need a new regime for reasons of better government. It cannot be right for the Government to sustain arbitrarily imposed limits on when people can enter, and must leave, premises established to serve alcohol... It is right, therefore, that local communities should have a say in the licensing regime in their area.’
'Commenting on the Prime Minister's speech [on respect], Liberal Democrat Shadow Home Secretary, Mark Oaten MP said: If the Prime Minister had wanted to show real action he would have announced a suspension to the licensingLynne Featherstone, another of those millionaire Liberal Democrat MPs who finally won their seats in May, is also critical, claiming that the government hasn't done the research regarding the impact of the bill, joining Don Foster atop this particular bandwagon.
Curious, isn't it? The Liberal Democrats supported the deregulatory aspects of the bill and any objections raised two years ago were fairly technical and more concerned with the changes to entertainment licensing than any concern about binge drinking - the Tory David Cameron was chiefly concerned about the future of morris dancing in his constituency. I should note that the LDs and the Tories did vote against the bill - although this was hardly a determined attempt to thwart it, as the turnout was low (just half of the LD parliamentary party bothered to turn up for the division) and Mark Oaten himself didn't deem it worthy of his attention at the time. Suddenly, as the bill becomes law and the tabloid press take an interest, the Liberal Democrats go into full oppositional mode. Never let it be said that they miss an opportunity to score political points.
By the way, Nick Harvey did show some foresight when he commented that the bill as presented
'That provokes the spectre of licensing bodies sending out busybodies to drum up objections to provide the opportunity to turn down applications.'For we only have to look at Milton Keynes to find news of a couple of councillors apparently trying to scare up complaints from their constituents. Can you guess the political allegiance of these opportunists?