Licensing And The Environment

One of the oldest adages in both politics and life in general is that "what goes around comes around". Nowhere else has this been truer than in my involvement with the Licensing Bill, which has taken up so much of my time over the past three months.

It brought back memories of the detailed questioning at my selection as your parliamentary candidate some four years ago when locally related affairs seemed dominated by fears of the spectre of the "twenty-four hours city" and the life of residents being made a misery by anti-social behaviour.

In principle the Conservatives favour choice and generally we believe that there should not be strict rules applied to drinking at all hours. However experience has shown that we live in a society which cannot be trusted to behave in a civilised fashion, especially where alcohol is concerned. Any liberalisation and deregulation of our licensing laws must therefore be handled with great care alongside a framework to protect our residential amenities.

A few weeks ago I browsed through that speech I made at my selection and smiled wryly on realising that I was using the same words and phrases when it came to articulating my views on the Licensing Bill this summer. The main trouble with what the government has proposed is that it is essentially centralising and tries to put a single template across all parts of the UK from the West End to sleepy seaside towns.

Above all the removal of licensing powers from residents and local councils will make the system far less flexible and undermine the goal of deregulation. I would argue that discretion is the key and that the real risk of the proposed changes, many of which are still being debated in the House of Lords, is that they stand to benefit only the large operators in the alcohol and entertainment industries, at the expense of some of the smaller, family owned restaurants, bars and clubs, many of which still exist even in central London. Many of those establishments have a long term, traditional stake in their community and I fear that the villages which make up central London will be diminished if such family owned establishments are taken over by larger operators content to pander to the lowest common denominator.

At a time when many politicians are accused of not keeping to their word I am pleased that the pledges I made four years ago to do my best to stand up for residents’ interests is one promise that I have been able to keep and I should perhaps also give credit to the Labour MP for the neighbouring constituency of Holborn & St Pancras (Frank Dobson), who equally argued forcefully against this government’s ill thought through proposals.

But it is this idea of self-responsibility that we will always come back to in our concerns about the local environment here in the heart of the world’s most vibrant cities. With recycling of household waste, for instance, that responsibility is personal. Here in Westminster recycling is as key in our winning the war on waste as the successful household initiatives that have developed over the recent years. That is where it is so difficult. It requires the individual to make an effort, to make a choice. Leadership in environmental matters is vital but it still comes down to us as local residents to consider our actions constantly.

So it is my experience that the success of recycling initiatives ties in very strongly to the sense of community and belonging to one’s immediate environment. In the business world – offices, shops and the like – there seems to be much less enthusiasm to separate paper, plastic, glass etc than there is at home which is understandable.

In Westminster the initiatives amongst residents over the last few years has prompted a tremendous response but because Westminster has a high turnover of residents it is also a continuous and hard job keeping everybody up to the task.

In the City of London the paper mountain is still huge despite the advent of what has been described as the paperless office courtesy of emails and intranets. In Westminster no matter how hard the cleansing services work it is the general public that can do so much more by being more considerate with its unwanted material.

I’m a great paper user because I write letters and handle personal correspondence by mail rather than e-mail. That is my way and I don’t apologise for that. But it is a miniscule amount of paper usage in comparison to just one document that can arrive from bodies like the GLA eulogising one of its current hot topics.

I recycle at home. It is slightly inconvenient. It does mean rubbish hanging around in the kitchen for a little longer than I would like (Michele will confirm that I am an infuriatingly tidy person!). But if we don’t all take a lead now and then how many more landfill sites will have to be dug in the countryside and how many more industrial incinerators will we need in this country in the decades ahead?

At home we have got into the habit (and I have found that it does have to be a habit) of separating paper and glass in our household rubbish because maybe more than most I have seen the size of the problem from the local council’s side.

Some people do consider that a failure to recycle is anti-social but judging from the many responses to a survey, which I carried out amongst Marylebone residents, earlier this year on the Licensing Bill the prospective new law contains the seeds of really encouraging anti-social behaviour.

Exhortation by us politicians to promote more freedom and choice has to be tempered by the disappointing failure of so many who eschew responsibility for their actions which harm both the community and natural environments.