My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.—(Baroness Blackstone.)
Amendment No. 121 relates to Clause 7, which in turn relates to the exercise and delegation of functions of the licensing authority. Members of the Committee will recall that central to the Bill is the transfer of alcohol licensing from the magistrates to the local authority. Therefore, the Bill currently gives rise to a potential conflict of interest.
Many, most or, perhaps, all local authorities will need to have some form of licensing, because they will run sports clubs with bars, theatres, amusement arcades or social clubs. They will have a range of activities that fall within the range of the Bill. Under the current provisions of the Bill, they will be judge and jury of their own affairs, through their licensing authority. The judgment on whether it is proper for a local authority's sports club to have a liquor licence will be made by that local authority. Currently, that is not a problem because the licensing magistrates, who are separate from the local authority, make the decision, but that separation will no longer take place when the Bill is enacted.
The conflict of interest is surely not fair and is certainly not transparent. There is a perfectly easy way out of the situation, however. We could make a special case for those applications that concern the local authority by requiring the licensing justices and the magistrates' court to determine those licences alone. In those circumstances, the local authority's case could be heard by someone who was not connected to, or part of, that authority. In that way, fairness and transparency could be maintained. I beg to move.
I, for one, believe that my noble friend deserves some support on his amendment. One aspect of the Bill that I do not like at all is moving responsibility for oversight of the licensing law from magistrates to the local authority. That is a backward step. I hope that we shall make much more of that point on Report.
A brief look at the Explanatory Notes shows the relationship between the licensing authority and its committee. I was going to say that the committee would be its child or its servant, but it seems that the licensing committee will be the master of the situation with very little to stem its bureaucratic habits.
I warmly support my noble friend. I hope that the noble Baroness will not draw wrong conclusions from the fact that not everyone on this side of the Committee has been on their feet to say that the amendment deserves very careful attention. It deals with the complex and difficult relationship that will exist between the licensing committee and its parent.
There is no doubt that the Committee will have given the amendment careful consideration. As the Committee will appreciate, the straightforward fact is that there is nothing new in the proposals in the Bill. The Bill does not introduce self-licensing and self-regulation for local authorities for the first time. It is already well established in law. The Local Government (Financial Provisions) Act 1963 and the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982 have given rise to no problems relating to the self-licensing of local authorities. They are well practised in this area. The Bill extends the areas in which local authorities will be asked to exercise a licensing function.
Local government performs a multitude of functions. It is not uncommon under the current regime for one part of the licensing authority to apply to another part about a particular matter. I do not believe that there is a conflict of interest in the proposed system or that the existing legislation governing local authorities gives rise to real concerns in this area.
The amendment would create an unnecessary complication to the licensing system, inevitably introducing additional costs. The licensing committee is required to act objectively under the measures provided by the Bill. That is safeguarded in the Bill. On that basis, I hope that the amendment will be withdrawn.
I promise to read carefully what the noble Lord has said. Perhaps he will correct me if I have got it wrong. I understood him to say that a local authority can presently give itself a licence. That is all right, but he then suggested that giving the local authority the total power over licences was a comparatively minor step. On this side of the House, we do not regard it as such. I think it a major and regrettable step. I hope the noble Lord is clear about that.
I appreciate what the noble Lord says and I understand his anxieties. Local authorities are licensing authorities under existing legislation. That has given no cause for concern, as identified in the amendment, that they are obliged to be objective when exercising this authority and that from time to time other parts of the authority may bring the issue to the fore. Local authorities are used to that activity in their present licensing role. The Bill makes no change in the principle; it simply extends the areas over which local authorities will exercise a licensing function. It does not change the nature of the role they are asked to perform. That role has been performed adequately and effectively under legislation some of which has existed for 40 years. I am merely contending that the anxieties expressed have no substance.
We are all conscious that in judicial issues the law and the courts have become ever more careful to ensure that there is not only no actual conflict of interest, but no perceived conflict of interest. As I understand what the Minister said, undoubtedly the powers of local authorities to grant licences to themselves will be extended under the Bill. Has the Minister considered situations in which that might be controversial with some members of the public who may oppose the grant of a licence by the local authority to itself? Does the Minister feel comfortable that such members of the public will consider they are adequately protected by having one half of the authority consider another half's application? Does he not think that they may perceive they are engaging in a tough labour and that there is a conflict of interest? This is a serious topic that warrants further consideration.
I am grateful to both noble Lords who have spoken in support of the amendment. I referred to transparency in my opening remarks. Transparency is being lost here because of the way the thing is being structured. As the Minister said, this is an extension. It is an extension into a highly commercial and competitive area. We heard in earlier debates about the social consequences of the sale of liquor and extended opening hours for pubs and social clubs. There are great risks of a perceived conflict of interest if the local authority gets involved in such a highly competitive commercial situation. I do not wish to divide the Committee, but I do not find the Minister's response entirely satisfactory. I shall read it carefully and I may wish to come back to the issue. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
moved Amendment No. 122:
Page 5, line 5, at end insert—
"(8A) Nothing in this Act shall detract from the right of an elected member of a council that is a licensing authority under this Act to address or write to the licensing committee or licensing authority in order to make representations to them on behalf of the residents of the ward, or other electoral sub-division, or the authority which he represents.
(8B) No elected member making representations on behalf of local residents under subsection (8A) may participate in any decision made by the licensing committee or licensing authority concerning a matter about which he has made representations to them, either in public or in private."
This touches on a similar subject to the previous amendment. We are concerned to confront the situation in which local councillors may feel inhibited from actively assisting residents in making representations on the grant of licences in their ward or electoral district. A local councillor might be constrained from assisting local residents because he or she was a member of the licensing authority that was to grant or refuse the licence. Any councillor worth his or her salt inevitably knows that when discharging a quasi-judicial function one must be seen to be impartial. If one supports one side or another, it will be impossible to appear to be impartial when making a decision to grant or refuse a licence which will have serious financial consequences one way or another for the applicant.
The Bill should make it clear that a local councillor can represent residents. That is what he or she is expected to do. Local residents will naturally look to the local councillor to assist them in all matters concerning them and the local authority. Licensing matters should not be an exception. They must be able to talk freely with the local councillor at his or her surgery and that councillor must then be free to make representations to the licensing authority or committee.
However, if the local councillor makes such representations, we feel it is important that that councillor takes no further part in the decision-making process by the licensing committee or authority. The licensing committee or authority must be impartial and must be seen to be impartial. That will not be the case if one of its members has been making representations on behalf of residents. That should disqualify the local councillor from participating in the decision-making process. I beg to move.
We support these amendments and have added our names to them. The problems of conflict of interest need to be looked at. I hope the Minister will give a satisfactory response.
I have a question that goes back to a previous amendment about the licensing committee being quorate. If a pub in the ward of a member of the licensing committee came under discussion, would it be possible for the committee to be quorate if that member had to stand down at that point, as would happen under the amendment? The Minister laughs, but I find that slightly worrying. If a board representative could face a direct conflict of interest, they might not be allowed to stand down because the committee might not be quorate. In that case, how would the conflict of interest be dealt with?
I want briefly to add to the comments already made, and to support them. One of the important aspects of the Bill that has not been widely or fully understood is the difficulty that it places in the way of objections and objectors. It is drafted in such a way that there are extremely limited grounds for objection. For that reason the need of the local councillor, almost above everyone else, to be able to represent the objections of their constituents is paramount.
Let me clear up my indication of amusement at what the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, was saying. I did not want to be discourteous; I was merely reflecting on the fact that it is his amendment that creates the problem with regard to the quorum. He is asking me whether I feel that there would be difficulties over the quorum, but I will seek to resist the amendment, thereby solving all such problems so far as concerns a particular councillor making representations. I do not have a direct answer to the point that he raises, but that indicates that the nature of the amendment creates difficulties for the legislation. That is why I will resist it.
I share with all Members of the Committee the concern graphically expressed in this short debate on the role of local authorities and councillors. It is entirely reasonable that elected members should be able to write to the licensing authority or raise matters on behalf of the people whom they represent. I merely wish to assure the Committee that nothing in the Bill prevents that. In fact, the Bill defines interested parties in several places, including as local residents and their representatives. That would clearly cover local councillors.
I do not believe, therefore, that there is any need for the first part of the amendment. I seek to give the assurance that we recognise that a proper role is to be played by the elected councillor for a ward in which the issue crops up and for which representations need to be made.
The second proposed subsection, which raises the issue of conflict of interest and would prevent councillors taking part in a decision that they had made representations about to the licensing committee, is also entirely unnecessary. As we have already discussed, elected members are already under certain duties related to conflict of interest.
The Bill does not raise issues of conflict of interest anew. Local authorities have many powers that relate to the proper action of the councillor when there might be a conflict of interest, which is either declaring it or, in certain circumstances, not participating because he identifies it as of such significance and magnitude that he or she ought to be inhibited from participating. We already have that in legislation. The Bill merely seeks to extend an area of responsibility for local authorities, but does not change in any way, shape or form the role of local councillors or their obligations in such circumstances.
It is not that I do not share the anxieties raised about the proper conduct of local councillors; I merely say that they are dealt with in legislation and in the nature of the roles that councillors play across their activities as local authority representatives. The Bill raises nothing specific on the matter. That is why, although we respect the arguments made, we do not think it necessary to put the obligations in the Bill. That is why I ask that the amendment be withdrawn.
Perhaps the issue that I was trying to enlighten myself about was that of conflict of interest. I am particularly concerned about small authorities with small quorate memberships. The Minister said that he would not address that question, but that is our particular question. If there is a conflict of interest and the licensing authority is small, does that mean that that member cannot stand down? Would they then just say, "I have a conflict of interest on this issue"?
The noble Lord comes back to the point, so I shall address it a little further. Clause 9 clearly identifies a role for the licensing committee and enables it to regulate its own proceedings, and provides for regulations to prescribe proceedings including the quorum of the meeting. In an earlier debate, we identified particular issues where the authority might be so small that the whole authority was the licensing committee. Such a local authority could not conceivably act in circumstances where everyone had to be present and correct in order to form a quorum if it also had a rule that indicated that someone could not be there to count as far as a quorum was concerned because there were proceedings and requirements for a councillor to withdraw and not be present.
The majority of councils will not be in a situation in which the whole authority is the licensing committee, so the issue will not arise for the majority of them in quite that form. It will be necessary for those councils involved to act in such a way to be able to protect their proceedings, to ensure that they can make progress.
Such councils need to do that on a range of other activities. Local authorities are planning authorities, and the issues of conflict of interest can come up in those and a whole range of activities in which local authorities get involved. Where those issues crop up, they have conducted themselves sensibly, intelligently and to the satisfaction of the nation. We pride ourselves that, on the whole, most local authorities are above reproach as regards such issues. By heavens, we rely on our ever-vigilant press, not to say our elected representatives, to bring to the attention of their locality and the nation any infringement with regard to conflict of interest. That has gone on for all the years in which local authorities have been governed by the legislation that I quoted on an earlier amendment. All that I am saying is that the measure does not need such provision in the Bill.
I am somewhat disappointed by the Minister's response. As I made clear, we are talking about a quasi-judicial function. I hear what he says in relation to the role of local councillors, and the responsibilities to be impartial that they take on when they become local councillors. However, we are talking about issues that often involve huge financial implications either way. We feel that the amendment would be a helpful compromise, if I may put it that way, with regard to the need to win the hearts and minds of those who feel passionately that we should not move from a licensing system that is dealt with largely by magistrates to one involving local authorities because, as I mentioned at Second Reading, of the need for that "not in my backyard" approach.
From experience some years ago as a district councillor, I know that there were occasions in relation to planning matters where it was perfectly in order and normal for ward members to have not only to declare an interest, but remove themselves from the decision-making process. That is a quite common situation across the country on different councils that choose to take that sensible approach, whereby proper representations can be made.
I am glad that the Minister made it clear that there was no need for our concerns in relation to the amendment, and that those representations could be made by individuals to their local authorities and councillors without fear of any partiality within their own wards. However, we feel that this is a good opportunity for the Government to encourage councillors to consider removing individuals on a committee if the decision in relation to a particular application impinges on an application in their ward. I heard what the Minister said and we shall consider his comments with care.
We feel that the problem is made worse by the Government's refusal to reconsider the need to have all members of a licensing committee present. The Government should consider being more flexible in that regard. As we have already indicated, we will probably return to that on Report. If there was more flexibility in terms of the numbers sitting on a licensing committee from council to council, this sensible compromise could be practically applied. For the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
I understand that my noble friend Lord Brooke has been restrained by his modesty from repeating his arguments, valid as they were, because he spoke to the point earlier. I should not like the Minister and her advisers to think that objections to the clause have been entirely dealt with in view of my noble friend's shyness.
In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 125 to 128.
Amendments Nos. 124 and 125 deal with the register that the licensing authority is required to keep containing all relevant licensing details. My first thought is that the clause is over-regulatory and prescriptive in the extreme. It is obviously important and in the interests of clarity, efficiency and consistency for each licensing authority to have a comprehensive register base that contains certain details by default. Yet we need to strike a balance between imposing an administrative burden on local authorities and making the system run smoothly and effectively.
Amendment No. 124 reflects the principle behind the first group of amendments to which I spoke this afternoon. I believe that personal licences should be held within a central register administered by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. That will reduce costs to the local authority by absolving it of the need to track personal licence holders. With these amendments, we are not trying to take away the authority to run the licensing system which has now rightly been given to local councils. If there is a central authority administering personal licences, it will also ensure that individuals cannot reapply for a new licence when they have suffered sanction or endorsement of their existing licence. The police will have easy access to a nationwide record of licencees.
Amendment No. 125 is also an attempt to limit the administrative burden and paperwork for local authorities. We will later argue that the requirement to display a designated premises supervisor on the face of the premises licence is unnecessary. In mitigation of that, we accept that it is important that all appropriate contact details are available to the licensing authority and police service. Those details should be attached to the local authority register and changed through simple notifications as and when circumstances alter.
I turn to Amendment No. 126. Clause 8 imposes a requirement on licensing authorities to keep a register containing a record of all licences granted and many other matters, including those mentioned in Schedule 3 and such further information as may be prescribed. That will be a fairly onerous task. However, subsection (2) will give the Secretary of State power to make regulations as to the form of the register and how it is to be kept. That seems to us to be an unwarranted interference by central government in local government. It is all very well to impose an obligation on a local authority to keep a register. We go along with that. However, to tell it how to keep that register is going too far. I hesitate to criticise the Government for being control freaks but there comes a point when central government must trust elected local representatives. Telling them how to keep the register is going too far.
On Amendment No. 127, we are concerned about the cost to licensing authorities of the Bill. The expense of carrying out licensing functions is going to be significant. It is very important that carrying out those functions is as cost neutral as possible and, as and when an expense is identified, it is important to give the licensing authority power to recoup that expense in some way or another.
Under subsection (3) of this clause the local authority is under an obligation to provide facilities for inspection of the register by any person during office hours. That will inevitably have a cost because a room must be made available and there must be some person to supervise inspection. That must be paid for and we believe that a local authority should have the power to insist on such payment as is necessary to cover the expense of allowing anyone to inspect the register. We wonder whether the Government have considered that aspect and would be interested in their response to it.
Turning to Amendment No. 128, anyone wanting to know the details of a premises licence must first ascertain the address of the premises, then try to ascertain the relevant licensing authority—the boundaries of which may be unknown to this person—and must then try to find out where the register is. That could take hours of otherwise productive time.
The position is much more difficult in the case of a personal licence because anyone wanting to know the details of a personal licence must find out where the holder of the licence lived when he first applied for such a licence. He will have to search every register. We therefore feel that it is appropriate that the Secretary of State should make the appropriate arrangements for there to be a separate register but trust to her good sense as to the way in which the information in the register will be available on, for example, the Net. If, however, there was a central register accessible online, that information would be available with a few clicks of a mouse. I beg to move.
I rise to support these eminently sensible amendments, which have severe implications in terms of the costs to local authorities of implementing the Bill. We support the amendments in particular because—this was raised earlier—the licence will be financed by a cost-recovery system. As I understand it, if the system for imposing the licence is extremely expensive, that will make personal licences extremely expensive. I seek some guidance from the Minister on that issue because it would have severe implications for the proposed costs set out in the White Paper for personal licences. These sensible amendments go to the heart of the Bill, which involves deregulation. We believe that they address one of the problems that has cropped up in the Bill; that is, that it has become more complicated between the publication of the White Paper and the drafting of the Bill. It need not be so complicated. If the Minister does not consider this issue closely, I hope that the noble Baroness will return to it at the next stage.
I am glad that my noble friend drew attention in Amendment No. 126 to Clause 8(2). We have over many years got used to central governments treating local authorities with increasing contempt. Is it really necessary for Ministers or Secretaries of State to spend their time directing local authorities not merely to keep a register but how and where to do so? It really does seem absurd. Not all local authorities are as moronic as central government seem to believe. One of the reasons why people get fed up with and withdraw from local government is because they are not given any responsibility.
I am not making a party point; there was a time when I complained about the way in which some of my noble friends made a habit of filleting local government. Here is another Government telling local authorities how to blow their noses or, if they are to have a dog, to keep it in a kennel. It should not be necessary to give such minute directions as are apparently contemplated to sensible and capable authorities. If I have missed an explanation for this subsection I would be interested to hear it.
I hesitate to disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, because he knows so much about these matters. However, there is an argument for proposing, as the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, has in one of her amendments, that if the registers were kept in a form accessible via the Internet it would be much easier for people to find them. If people have to go to the local authority offices where the register is held, they will have to find out first which office it is and who they will have to ask to obtain the information. If the registers are in a prescribed form on the Internet, everyone will know how to access them and it will not make any difference whether they live in Durham or Bodmin; the way of obtaining information via the Internet will be identical.
So there is something to be said for the noble Baroness's suggestion in Amendment No. 128 that the Secretary of State should, under subsection (6), arrange for the duties to be discharged by having one or more central registers common to all local authorities in terms of method of access even though the information may be collected by individual local authorities in whatever way they choose. The information must be the same so that it can be fitted into the software to enable anyone to have access to it. That is paramount, because it is essential that members of the public who need this information are not put to great trouble in obtaining it.
Amendment No. 128 is inconsistent with Amendment No. 126 seeking to leave out subsection (2), because prescription will be required if the Secretary of State is to ensure that the data are harmonised and presented in a single medium on the web.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for presenting an argument that substantially accords with that I intended to propose on how prescriptive one needs to be to local authorities. We share the view that a national register would be desirable. It would provide ready access to the information, as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, indicated. It would assist in ensuring conformity across the country and it has many obvious advantages.
Our problem is how to get from here to there. We are rightly wary of suggesting that we should prescribe that the Secretary of State creates a national register before the legislation can be implemented, given the difficulties that we know exist with regard to compiling an extensive database of such complexity across the country. We propose working towards the national register by building it up over a period of time. That is why it is right that local authorities should have the primary obligation as the licensing authority to collect the data. However, a minimum of prescription is needed, not to tell local authorities how to blow their noses, as the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, said, but to ensure that they record the information in such a way that we can build up the national register from local achievements.
The prescription is merely to seek a standardisation in the form. Our local authority colleagues share that aspiration. There are trials taking place among a group of local authorities of licensing online, a prototype integrated licensing system under the aegis of the Local Government Association, using funds from the Invest to Save budget. We hope that this work will be a pointer to obtaining the information in a manageable—and, crucially—publicly accessible form so that the register can fulfil the role defined for it.
That is the basis on which we say that to demand a central register at the moment the legislation receives Royal Assent and is implemented is asking too much, but we will work towards that objective against a background where the local authorities will enjoy, as the licensing authority, the responsibility for developing the information in such a form that would guarantee that it can be included in the national register in due course. Therefore I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.
Before the Minister sits down, two issues spring to mind: first, the development costs of such a register will be substantial. Will it be a self-recovery system so that the development costs for setting up the register on a local basis will be met by the local licence holders? That will lead to a variation in the costs if it costs more to set up a local register in one area than in another. Secondly, we support the Minister's argument about premises licences, but I hope he will address the fact that the same argument cannot apply to personal licences, which are not fixed in one locality.
I am grateful for that helpful suggestion. We are clearly not starting from the year dot with the legislation, but are seeking to develop a new licensing system on the basis of the information already obtained. We have much further to go under the Bill's provisions for more extensive information. I return to the point of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, about access to such information; that is why we are seeking for it to develop in such a form.
The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, asked about costs. We are seeking to ensure that there are not additional costs to local authorities. We have said that the costs involved in operating the licensing system will be met by the fees levied. That will take into account the development of the register. There is no intrinsic reason why a sophisticated system of intelligence gathering properly applied should be more costly than a rudimentary system, which can be costly for local administration because it does not use the information technology available. The point of the central position is to seek to give guidance on how local authorities can most economically and effectively be involved in the development of the information. The issue of costs ought not to be irksome to the local authorities.
We are seeking to avoid a situation where the local authority has to work out almost from first principles every detail of the information that they need to garner. We are seeking to give them clear guidance from the centre on that which is required, consistent with the requirement of the legislation, in order to ease the burden on local authorities so that each one of them is not involved in a fresh exercise. That is why I made reference in my earlier remarks to the fact that activities are taking place already among a group of local authorities to see how the information can be garnered and integrated in order to keep costs to the absolute minimum.
There is a point which needs to be clarified. Will the Secretary of State be responsible for the development of the software, the database and the access software, or will there be a consortium of local authorities? If that is so, how is that consortium to come together? For example, it is not a matter which the LGA would normally have undertaken. However, if it is to be undertaken by the Secretary of State, would there not have to be some power in the Bill to precept the capital costs involved?
No. I can respond to the noble Lord by now giving some reassurance to the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, that we are not expecting that the Secretary of State will set out a series of stipulations, particularly as regards the most cost-effective measures, and impose that on local authorities, assuming that the Secretary of State was so all-knowing as to be able to carry out that activity. Here is an issue on which it is quite clear that in the first instance local authorities will take responsibility as the licensing authorities. Very intelligently, they are already setting up processes. A group of local authorities is coming together for a pilot study on the way in which they could most effectively develop a system for the collation of this information.
The Secretary of State will inevitably act benignly in support of systems which prove to be effective. The local authorities will take responsibility for this. It will not be the first time that local authorities have taken responsibility for developing systems which are common to a number of them, or even all of them, rather than being dictated to by Whitehall.
I have tried to reassure the noble Lord that the Secretary of State will have a very clear interest in seeking to reassure himself that the information, and the way in which it is garnered, does not create such terrible inconsistencies between local authority approaches to this matter as to completely inhibit the eventual development of the national register to whose value he has already attested.
Amendment No. 124 would require the licensing register to record personal contact details as may be required by the Secretary of State. The Bill, as drafted, contains the power for the Secretary of State to prescribe matters other than those on the face of the Bill, which must be kept on the licensing register. These matters may well include the kind of information suggested by the amendment. I am not hostile to the intent of the amendment, but merely indicate that Amendment No. 124 may not be necessary. I do not believe that there has been a clash of significant principle in the Committee on the register. I hope that I have given assurances that enable noble Lords to withdraw the amendment.
This has been a worthwhile debate because clearly we need to understand a little better the Government's thinking behind the requirement to keep a register. There is definitely considerable agreement in terms of the principle of keeping a register which can be applied as uniformly as possible across the country. That makes sense. In that case, if the Government are clear that we want to avoid inconsistency, I question why the Bill is not a little more straightforward. Under Clause 8(2) why should not the Bill say,
"Regulations shall require a register kept under this section to be in a prescribed form and kept in a prescribed manner"?
Under Clause 8(6) we have suggested an amendment that,
"The Secretary of State shall arrange for the duties conferred on licensing authorities".
The Government are clearly not keen to be seen to be too forceful on the face of the Bill as regards how the register should be kept. I wonder whether that is because they want to avoid the question of costs. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, for pointing out the question of costs because it is clearly something that is terrifying the industry. The Government have said that the local authorities will not incur additional costs. The industry itself is very much concerned about the costs that will fall on it in setting up these systems and administering them.
I read the Government's response as being, "We are not quite sure that we want a national system up front because we would have to pay for it. If we start with a system from the local authorities and build upwards, that way we avoid the cost of setting it up, but we can, if we feel like it, and when we like, prescribe how it should be administered and what form it should take". If the Minister is clear as to how this matter should be developed, the Government should be a little more up front, a little clearer in the Bill, as to what is expected. I believe that we are going to have some pretty robust debates in relation to the fees before the Committee stage is complete because it is very hard to believe that it will not add enormous cost for whoever has to pick up the tab. At the moment it appears that it will be the industry. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendments Nos. 125 to 128 not moved.]
Clause 8 agreed to.
Schedule 3 agreed to.
Clause 9 [Proceedings of licensing committee]:
[Amendments Nos. 129 and 130 not moved.]
Clause 9 agreed to.
Clause 10 [Sub-delegation of functions by licensing committee etc.]:
[Amendments Nos. 131 and 132 not moved.]
Clause 10 agreed to.
Clause 11 agreed to.
Clause 12 [The relevant licensing authority]:
[Amendment No. 133 not moved.]
Clause 12 agreed to.
Clause 13 [Authorised persons, interested parties and responsible authorities]:
In this instance, Amendments Nos. 134, 137, 281 and 284 pick up the same subject, but in relation to clubs as against licences for premises. The amendment is designed to enable the employees of contractors, or other third parties, to exercise the functions of an authorised person, for instance, rights of entry. In the absence of such an amendment it would not be lawful for a local authority to delegate such functions to a third party.
This part of the Bill is unnecessarily restrictive at present because it prevents local authorities from contracting out functions, which many seek to do. I believe that it is a commonplace throughout this House that increasingly over the past 25 years local authorities have contracted out functions. I adverted on a previous occasion to the fact that the department sponsoring the Bill did not seem wholly familiar with some of the changes that have occurred in local government in the course of the past 10 years. The Bill as drafted would prevent any such contracting out and the amendments are intended to address that issue.
Clause 13 sets out those who are authorised persons, interested parties and responsible authorities in relation to premises licences for the purpose of the Bill. Clause 68 makes similar provision in respect of club premises certificates. The categories of authorised persons are identical. Authorised persons are given certain powers under the Bill for inspection purposes. For instance, Clauses 58 and 94 provide that authorised persons may enter a premises to inspect it when an application for a premises licence has been received in respect of those premises. Clause 174 provides authorised persons with the authority to enter a premises with a view to seeing whether a licensable activity is being carried on and in accordance with an authorisation.
Authorised persons do not, however, have exactly the same powers in respect of licensed premises operating under club premises certificates as those operating under premises licences. The power that I have just described, for instance, does not apply when a premises is used under the authority of a club premises certificate only.
The amendment would extend the persons defined as authorised persons to include any other person authorised by the licensing authority and their employees. The powers of inspection and entry in the Bill, which are necessary to support and monitor compliance with its provisions to ensure that we have a fully effective and efficient licensing system, are by their very nature intrusive. Those powers are essential, though, for the success of the system but we must make sure that only those who are needed to supervise and inspect the system—that is, professional experts—have those important powers along with the police.
The right of entry provided by Clause 174, for instance, should only properly be exercised by local authority officers who have been authorised or by the police. It would not be appropriate to allow licensing authorities to subcontract third parties to exercise powers of that nature. Although I accept the noble Lord's remarks about the development of subcontracting in many other areas, I am advised that local authorities do not wish to subcontract in this area.
A licensee whose premises might also be his home would be reasonably comfortable about letting a local authority officer who had a recognised role inspect the premises but the licensee might not feel the same about someone working for a private company operating under contract. Similarly, I would not want to see a licensing authority engaging a private company and providing it with the power to enter premises to see whether the appropriate safeguards were in place for the activities being carried out there.
I do not believe that the amendments are appropriate and I hope very much that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw them.
I shall speak also to Amendment No. 153. Clause 13 refers to the statutory functions or duties of local authorities but clearly they have many other duties and functions that arise under common law or the European Convention on Human Rights—such as control of nuisance. Local authorities also have powers that become duties where it falls upon them to take action in respect of licensed activities—using powers conferred on them from whatever source.
The amendment seeks to increase the accuracy of the reality of the situation by using the words "legal powers", which include all those duties, rather than "statutory functions". Amendment No. 153 follows on. I beg to move.
The noble Viscount may be reading more into Clause 13(2)(d) than is there. That subsection simply describes an environmental health officer—nothing more. By including that officer in the definition, such officers are conferred with the powers of an authorised person for the purposes of the Bill.
Substituting "legal powers" for "statutory functions" would not alter that and might be confusing by departing from an accepted definition of that official. The same point applies in respect of Clause 68. Local authorities and their officers may only exercise the functions that have been conferred upon them. Against that background, I hope that the noble Viscount will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
I thank the noble Baroness for addressing the points that I raised. I understood exactly her remarks but I am not sure that I understand many of the implications. I shall not go further today but I wish to consider the Minister's reply against the advice that I have received and perhaps return to the matter at a later stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The clause refers only to the statutory function to control the risk of pollution. I referred in my previous amendment to the prevention of nuisance as being one of the licensing objectives. Local authorities have both statutory and non-statutory duties with respect to the other licensing objectives. It is important that they are able to perform those functions with respect to their licensing duties. I beg to move.
I support Amendment No. 136. I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 150 and 151 and the consequential amendments, Amendments Nos. 297 and 298.
As to Amendments Nos. 150 and 297, at present when a local authority considers an application for a new public entertainment licence or a variation to a licence, it will have before it a report in which local authority officers will set out any grounds for objection or representations. These may come from the district surveyor, environmental health, or from the licensing officers themselves. As the Bill is drafted, relevant representations, which we have already mentioned, would be able to be made only by interested parties and responsible authorities.
Clause 13(4)(d) provides that a local authority can be a responsible authority, but only in respect of certain narrowly defined functions, including environmental health. What is not included are the important functions which the local authorities now carry out under the Crime and Disorder Act in combination with the police. It is only right that given the links between alcohol and crime, the local authority should be able to make relevant representations in respect of its duties under the Crime and Disorder Act.
I turn to Amendment No. 151 and its consequential Amendment No. 298. The local weights and measures authority carries out important consumer related functions in relation to licensed premises and as such it should not be precluded from being able to make relevant representations in respect of licensing applications. If, for example, it has been found that an unscrupulous owner of licensed premises has been selling short measures, it is surely only right that the local weights and measures authority should be able to make representations if that person applies for a new licence elsewhere, and, more importantly, it should be able to apply for a review of an existing licence under Clause 50.
I support the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, and my noble friend Lady Buscombe. The common cause between the two sets of amendments is the prevention of crime and disorder. The concepts that lay behind the Crime and Disorder Act had been contemplated by the previous government before 1997. However, I am the first to say, certainly on the basis of local experience in inner London, that we have been considerable beneficiaries of the Crime and Disorder Act. The degree of collaboration and co-operation between local police and local authorities in central London in dealing with a whole series of problems, and the fact that this power would be extended by the amendments powerfully recommend them.
I hope to persuade the Committee that all of the objectives of these amendments are already covered by the Bill, but in order to do so I shall refer briefly to the definitions mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, when speaking to a previous group of amendments.
An authorised person is a person who is given powers of entry, inspection and, in the case of an officer of a licensing authority, enforcement. An authorised person is also charged with monitoring compliance with any conditions or restrictions attached to licences or certificates. An interested party is a local resident or residents' association or local business or trade group that wants to make representations about applications or apply for a review. Responsible authorities are expert bodies which will be able to make representations often amounting to a recommendation or objection to applications or to seek a review. The complaints or objections of the interested parties and responsible authorities must be relevant to the licensing objective.
When we add to the list of authorised persons, as some of these amendments seek to do, we must remember that we are adding to the people who have access to premises for inspection and to investigate breaches. We suggest that we ought to be cautious about doing that. Licence holders and qualifying clubs are engaged in legitimate business. We should not lightly add to their burdens by letting any group have this kind of access. When we add to the interested parties and responsible authorities, we add to the bureaucracy of the system. I know that the Committee is anxious to avoid that. The more responsible authorities that become engaged, the more paperwork there is. The burden falls on industry and on any authority that we involve. The costs have to be recovered through licence fees. We must be absolutely certain that involvement is absolutely necessary.
Among authorised persons we do not include the police because they already have the many necessary powers of entry. Where there is any doubt the Bill refers to them by using the term "constable" rather than "authorised person". We include any local authority or officer authorised by the licensing authority for the purposes of the Act. We include the fire authority and those entitled to inspect on issues related to health and safety. We include environmental health officers and those responsible for the safety of passengers on boats and ships. We can prescribe others if we want to.
Among responsible authorities we include the police, the fire authority, those responsible for health and safety, environmental health officers, licensing authorities in whose area the premises also lie if they are in more than one area, navigation authorities in the case of boats and other more specialist authorities. This is a comprehensive list. We do not include the licensing authorities themselves as they will receive the objections and decide on their merits. We would not wish them to be judge and jury. Therefore, the responsible authorities are intended to include technical and professional experts. That includes the local authority acting as the environmental health authority. The Secretary of State can add to the list by regulation.
Amendments Nos. 151 and 298 in Clauses 13 and 68 seek to add trading standards officers to the list of responsible authorities. When considering the licensing objectives in connection with an application to grant or vary a licence, the issues of crime and disorder are primarily for the police. Those concerning health and safety are for local authorities and, in special circumstances, for maritime agencies and the Health and Safety Executive. Those concerning nuisance are for the police, the local authorities and local people. Those concerning children would engage them all.
So there really is comprehensive coverage of those whom it is necessary to include in the definitions of "authorised person", "responsible authorities" and "interested parties". Trading standards officers are mentioned in the Bill in connection with test purchasing, for example, when they send minors into licensed premises with the intent to purchase alcohol. Then they can pursue prosecutions. That is done in collaboration with the police. If trading standards officers want to initiate a review they have only to pick up the phone and speak to their colleagues in the police. On the issue of crime, it is sensible that they should speak with one voice. Therefore, we do not need to include trading standards officers.
Amendments to the definition of "authorised person", local authority officers responsible for statutory functions relating to crime and disorder, public safety and protecting children from harm are covered in Amendments Nos. 136 and 283. Amendments Nos. 150 and 197 add those with statutory functions relating to crime and disorder. We are now talking about the officials who along with the police will be given powers of entry, inspection and enforcement for licensing purposes. We are not talking about statutory consultation. "Authorised person" includes an officer of a licensing authority, which means the local authority that is authorised by the authority for the purposes of the Bill. In terms of entry, inspection and enforcement, the licensing authority can authorise any local authority officer to act for it for the purposes of the Bill. These amendments are therefore unnecessary.
I hope that I have covered all the ground in this set of amendments. I hope that I have given adequate assurance that we have the powers that are necessary to cover all of the legitimate points raised by the amendments, but no more.
In moving Amendment No. 138, I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 139, 142, 144, 145, 146, 148, 285, 286, 289, 291, 292, 293, 294, 140, 143, 287 and 290. That large group of amendments are all related.
I shall speak to Amendment No. 139 first. Clause 13(3) introduces unnecessary restrictions on which members of the public can object to the grant of a premises licence. At present it is not necessary for a person to live
"in the vicinity of the premises" in order to object. However, the words
"in the vicinity of the premises" give rise to some difficulty. They are legal definitions and it is difficult for that person's objection to be considered by a local authority or by the licensing justices.
Any person who may be affected by the use of the premises for licensable activities should obviously have the right to be heard. That is an elementary requirement of natural justice as well as being an entitlement under Article 6 of the Convention on Human Rights. The amendment is designed to remove that restriction.
The removal of the restriction is particularly important when considering the requirement that the Bill imposes on licensing authorities to grant applications in the absence of "relevant representations"—whether or not the grant of the application would promote the licensing objectives, or be in accordance with the authority's licensing policy or be consistent with the Secretary of State's guidance, which is the definition of "relevant representations" in the Bill. The right of an "ordinary person" to object to the grant of a premises licence will be particularly important, given that he or she has no such right to object to the grant of personal licences or to the holding of temporary events.
The Committee stage of the Bill is taking some time and is generating some interest among the public at large. The lack of ordinary persons' rights as we perceive them in the Bill is getting a lot of attention and is creating a great deal of concern. So I shall be particularly interested in the Minister's answer to that point.
Amendment No. 140 is intended to remove a further unnecessary restriction. There is no provision for an objector to be represented by another individual. The individuals of course could be local councillors or a Member of Parliament. The use of the phrase "a body representing" persons who live in the vicinity may exclude, for example, amenity societies, hospitals and all kinds of fairly obvious bodies and societies constituted as charities and which do not therefore represent particular residents.
Amendment No. 143 is designed to ensure, for the avoidance of doubt, that amenity societies and similar organisations will retain the right, which is not clear in the Bill, to object to licences which they possess at present.
I turn to Amendments No. 144 and 146. The drafting of the provision seems designed to prevent organisations which are not businesses, which may be affected by the grant of a premises licence, from being heard. Those could be schools, hospitals or indeed any other non-profit making activity.
I think that I have covered the contents of that string of amendments with those remarks. I beg to move.
I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 139, 144 to 146, 148, 286, 291 and 293. I shall not follow the noble Lord on Amendments Nos. 140, 143, 287 and 290, partly because of the topography of the groupings page and also the fact that Amendment No. 140 is unlikely to come after Amendment No. 293 in the same group. However, I respond very warmly to the spirit with which he spoke to the earlier amendments.
I wish to add two random examples. As to Amendment No. 139, those living locally seem to me to have every right to take an interest in the fact that there is a bus stop close to the licensed premises as there is likely to be noise going on into the night as a result of its location.
As to Amendment No. 145—I declare an interest as the recently appointed Pro-Chancellor of the University of London—other bodies such as universities or, indeed looking across the Chamber, trades unions, equally have a right to express an interest in these matters. They are as likely to be affected as are residents in the areas concerned.
I briefly add to the question raised by my noble friend Lord Falkland. What the Committee hopes to hear from the Minister with regard to the word "representing" is that it means representing not in a formal legal sense, but in a broader sense.
Secondly, how representative? Does the body concerned have to purport to represent all local people or, as I would hope, will it be sufficient for the body, for example, to represent informally a group of local people who have come to a public meeting which has been advertised specifically to mount objection to a particular licensing application? That is quite common. A village notice board may ask all those concerned about the proposed 24-hour opening of the White Hart to come to the village hall on Tuesday night.
I hope that the Minister can assure the Committee that such a meeting, which would be made up of course of one party—those opposed—would nonetheless be a body, and that the person or persons who at the end of that meeting were so charged would be a body representing persons who live in that vicinity within the meaning of this subsection.
I follow on in support of what the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, has just asked the Minister in relation to Clause 13(3)(b). A great deal turns on the meaning of the word "representing". As a past chairman of the Goring and Streatley Amenity Association, I know that if we had not carried out our function, albeit in a very informal way, of representing that body in relation to some applications within the local area, our lives would not have been worth living. That is why such groups exist, to be the eyes and ears—the bush telegraph or village pump—of local areas. Therefore it is tremendously important that bodies such as amenity associations and local pressure groups should be allowed to represent people within their local area.
An interested party is a local resident or residents' association, local business or trade group. These may want to make representations on applications for premises, licences or club premises' certificates or to apply for a review of the licence or certificate after it has been granted. I can give the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, and the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, the reassurance that they seek. They do not have to represent everyone in the area, but only those who have requested them to act on their behalf in objecting to a particular licence. However, if we expand these groups too far, we add to the bureaucracy of the system. That places a burden not only on industry but also on the licensing authorities. Simplicity is something we should value.
One of the aims of the Government in bringing forward this legislation is to give a real voice and influence to local people who will be affected by the decisions taken. The industry understands that but has some anxiety about it. Local economies need the investment and employment that the hospitality and retail businesses bring. But these businesses also need some certainties if they are to make the necessary investment. Therefore a balance has to be struck.
Amendments Nos. 138, 142, 145, 285, 289 and 292 focus on the definition of a local resident. The Bill describes such a person as living in the vicinity of the premises but it does not define vicinity. That is a matter for the licensing authority to judge when receiving a representation or an application for a review. This is a matter on which the courts may have to rule if a challenge is mounted against the decision of the licensing authority.
The amendments substitute the broader term "locality" and in doing that, sever the direct link made to premises by the Bill. Their intention is to extend the range of people who might object to those living further away. This again raises the issue of nuisance caused by some customers of licensed premises when they may be hundreds of yards away. Once customers are beyond the vicinity of the premises concerned, it will be enormously difficult to say which venue they were at. They may have come out of a private house drunk and disorderly.
The purpose of the Bill is to give a voice to those living near to the premises who will be more directly affected by what happens on those premises and would be able to demonstrate that concern at a hearing. The use of the term "locality" would muddy the waters and make it more difficult for licensing authorities to decide if a representation was in the frame. Severing the direct link to premises makes much more difficult, if not impossible, the proper consideration of any application on its merits. The focus of a premises' licence is the activities to be permitted on those premises, not the behaviour of individuals half a mile away and beyond the control of any licensee. If people do engage in anti-social behaviour, they have to be dealt with under the law as individuals. There is no sensible substitute for personal responsibility before the law. The Bill sets out the proper duties and obligations to be placed on licensees. If we go beyond that, we reduce the credibility of the licensing system. Other crime and disorder prevention strategies deal with those broader anxieties.
Our amendments in this group—Amendments Nos. 139, 148, 294 and 286—take a slightly different tack by referring to persons legitimately or simply affected by the use of the club or licensed premises. As we are dealing with primary legislation, the use of the word "legitimately" must be largely redundant. The arguments are essentially the same. I appreciate that some noble Lords believe that the impact of licensed premises may fall as hard on those living near to taxi ranks, fast-food outlets or, indeed, a bus stop where customers may go after visiting licensed premises. How far away from the premises are we talking about and which premises? If we are talking about cumulative effects of many licensed premises, that is a matter to be addressed more broadly. We have already debated that.
Licensing can be only one strand of a much more complex approach. It is certainly not a panacea. I would be the first to accept that. The right approach is for the licensing authority to judge when an individual lives in the vicinity of the premises and if an objection through representation or a complaint through an application for a review is legitimate under the terms of the Bill.
Finally, Amendments Nos. 144, 146, 291 and 293 seek to expand the term "business in the vicinity" to include any organisation. There are many possibilities; schools, churches, hospitals, perhaps a prison or a trade union, as has already been suggested. Businesses are listed because livelihoods may be at stake. If disorder, disturbance or nuisance drives customers away from another business, jobs may be lost and the business may fail.
I made the point earlier that the more we extend the number of people that may make representations, the more we increase the number of potential hearings. That would make the system more bureaucratic and more expensive and would add to the burdens of both industry and licensing authorities. We must approach with caution any expansion of these definitions. I have great sympathy with the idea that schools should be able to make representations about an application and if that were denied by the Bill, I should certainly agree to consider the proposed amendments. However, in the case of a school, it would not be difficult for the school to encourage a parent, a pupil, a governor or a teacher living in the vicinity or indeed the local residents' association to make the necessary representations. In practical terms, I do not believe any of these organisations or bodies will be inhibited from objecting where necessary.
That is exactly what I said. The Bill would indeed allow that.
They can make representations as governors as long as someone associated with the school, living in the vicinity—normally governors do live in the vicinity—requests them to make such a complaint.
I turn now to Amendments Nos. 140, 143, 287 and 290. Those amendments had been grouped separately but because they put forward the same argument, rightly, the noble Viscount included them in this group. The amendments provide that the Bill would explicitly state that a local residents' body would be one the licensing authority considered was representative. We have made it clear that it is for the licensing authority to decide in the first instance whether a body is representative of local residents. I do not believe that the wording of these amendments adds anything to that. It would be down to the judgment of the licensing authority, and, if necessary, the courts. For these reasons, I hope that the noble Viscount will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
Before the noble Viscount withdraws the amendment—I had misunderstood and thought he was not moving Amendment No. 140 and its associated amendments—perhaps I may ask the Minister whether a Member of Parliament or a councillor is in her view entitled to act as a representative on behalf of those who want to make complaints. Frankly, there has hitherto been some doubt whether that opportunity will continue to be available to Members of Parliament and councillors, or whether the Bill is intended to take them out of the chain.
The answer is yes: a Member of Parliament could act as a representative.
I am most grateful to the noble Baroness for responding to this great raft of amendments in such a helpful and detailed way. I apologise to the Committee for running on in my enthusiasm to a later grouping—the fault of my highlighting pencil—but the Minister was kind enough to say that the amendments were related and to respond to them.
This has been an interesting debate. Those outside the House who take a close interest in the Bill will find the Minister's remarks and the contributions of other noble Lords extremely useful. This is one area of the Bill where we do not know what will happen when it is enacted. The Government take a slightly more optimistic view than do some Members on this side of the Committee, although it is actually not a party political matter. Some government Members may take a not very sanguine view of the ability under the Bill to obtain alcohol at all hours of the day and night. There will undoubtedly be difficulties.
If I interpret the Minister's remarks correctly, she is not prepared to acknowledge that we live in a highly mobile society. The whole business of "vicinity" and "locality" is the subject of much concern. After all, people may come out of a club that does not properly control the amount of alcohol sold to people who are clearly unable to hold it. One hopes that those people will return home by public transport, not in their cars. Happily, that is one area of our culture that has changed. Such people now know that it is illegal and improper to drive their cars. But people will move about in areas well removed from the source of the problem.
We shall carefully study the Minister's remarks, as I suspect will those outside the House. The cause of much concern is whether sufficient protection is in place under the liberalisation—with which we agree in theory—that the Government are introducing. That is what the amendments were intended to winkle out—to use that unparliamentary expression—from the Government. I thank the Minister for her complete answer. I shall carefully consider it and return to the matter later.
Before my noble friend withdraws the amendment, to assist the House, will the noble Baroness, after the debate, consider her reply to the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville? I think there may be a misunderstanding. I understood the Minister to say that an MP could under the subsection be representative of people living in the vicinity of a pub. That may not be right, in that the "interested party" definition is either of persons living in the vicinity or having a business in the vicinity or a body representing such persons. I do not understand how an MP could fall within the definition of a body representing persons.
Or a councillor, as my noble friend says.
Finally, there may have been a misunderstanding about what was said vis-à-vis school governors. I think that the Minister said words to the effect that a board of governors could, if one of them lived in the vicinity of a pub, thereby become an interested party. That is undoubtedly true, but what was being suggested was that if, let us say, a primary school in a village had threequarters of its pupils coming from the village, the primary school committee could be a body representing those of the children who came from the village. I do not want the Minister to be drawn into those refinements now—this is hard for everyone—but it may be appropriate for her to consider the matter and communicate further.
Following on from what the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, said, we ask in the amendment whether,
"the Member of the European Parliament, the Member of Parliament and the local ward councillors for the constituency or ward in which the premises are situated", would fall within the definition of "interested party". As I understood it, the Minister said that a Member of Parliament would. However, I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, that on reading the wording of the Bill, it is hard to see how that is the case.
Clause 13(3)(a) states:
"a person living in the vicinity of the premises".
It is not unknown for Members of Parliament, of the European Parliament, and so on, to live outside the area they represent—which is the vicinity of the premises. As for,
"a body representing persons", an individual Member of Parliament or of the European Parliament is not a body. A Member of Parliament or of the European Parliament is not necessarily,
"a person involved in a business in that vicinity".
Clause 13(3)(d) states:
"a body representing persons involved in such businesses".
Again, that does not allow for the inclusion of a Member of Parliament or of the European Parliament.
I therefore ask the Minister to support Amendment No. 147 and consequential Amendment No. 295—especially if she supports the notion that a Member of Parliament, national or European, or councillor should be an interested party in his or her constituency or ward, as I think and hope she does. I have not chosen to move the previous amendment concerning the word "representation", because I listened to what the Minister said about the principle behind the clause. I beg to move.
Perhaps I may rejoin the debate, having missed a little of it. I declare my interest as a member of a local authority.
I support my noble friend's amendment, especially as it concerns ward councillors. It is strange that there is nothing in subsection (3)(a), (b), (c) or (d) by which a ward councillor could be identified. In my experience of licensing panels, ward councillors tend to become involved not only in their own interest but in the interest of those whom they represent.
My noble friend is correct. Paragraphs (a), (b), (c) and (d) contain nothing that could be translated into the terms of her amendment. If, in due course, we are left with the list of interested parties in the Bill, there will be continued debate about whether a ward councillor can attend—unless someone has a copy of Hansard to hand to look up the reference. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure us again on that point. I believe that she has done so previously.
The amendments would make Members of the European Parliament and Members of Parliament "interested parties" for premises within their constituencies. Councillors would be interested parties for premises within their wards. Under the Bill, interested parties may make representations about applications for licences or certificates. They may also apply to the relevant licensing authority for reviews of licences or certificates. Therefore, the amendments would allow MEPs, MPs and councillors to make representations about applications for licences and to apply for reviews of licences and certificates for any premises within their constituency or ward.
The Government believe that the licensing system should be managed by democratically accountable bodies. That is why we are transferring responsibility for alcohol licensing from the licensing justices. We also believe that local residents and businesses should be given the opportunity to have their say about licensed premises in their vicinity. That is why those groups are included in the list of interested parties.
It is the case that any resident living in the vicinity may use any representative to put his or her case. I hope that that answers the question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips. The representative could be a solicitor, a friend, a relative, a Member of Parliament, a ward councillor, an MEP, a Member of the National Assembly for Wales or of a body representing the amenity interests in the vicinity. Therefore, a person can nominate any individual to act on his or her behalf. But why should any of those individuals have a say "in their own right"? In every case that I have cited, "representative" is the appropriate word. If no local resident in the vicinity wants to exercise his or her right to make representation or to apply for a review, whom would those representatives be representing?
The representatives are available if a local resident wants to use their services. However, views should not be expressed on a resident's behalf when he or she has not been consulted and has not made a request. The rights given are to protect those directly affected by activities to be carried on at the premises concerned. It is not a matter for others to tell residents that they know better.
In the light of what I have said I hope that the amendment will be withdrawn.
Before my noble friend sits down, I listened to the earlier points made by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips. I found the Minister's response to the amendment rather difficult. If anyone can represent a person living in the vicinity of the premises, what is the point of the special mention in subsection (3)(b) of,
"a body representing persons who live in that vicinity"?
If it is either a person or a body, the subsection should say so. Alternatively, there is no need for paragraph (b). I find it rather difficult to understand. I should be grateful if the Minister would explain whether I have misunderstood the provision.
I am not sure why the subsection uses the term "a body" rather than "a body or a person". I suspect that the lawyers will tell us that when drafting legislation of this sort "a body" includes a person as well as some form of organisation. That person might be an MEP or an MP. However, the point is that we cannot concede that any of these bodies or persons should complain in their own right without a request from people or businesses who live in the vicinity. I believe that that is clear.
I fear that I am not happy with the Minister's reply. From it, I understand that a body such as a local ginger group or an amenity association can come under the terms of Clause 13(3)(b) but not a Member of Parliament or a Member of the European Parliament. There is confusion here. I am not happy with the Minister's reply. It is important that Members of Parliament—be they Members of the European Parliament, Members of the national Parliament or local ward councillors—should be able to represent persons living in the vicinity, whether in terms of what might be classed a public right or in their own right.
I am not happy with the Minister's reply, which conflicts with an earlier response. On that basis I wish to test the opinion of the Committee.
It is our contention that this is a further important amendment if local democratic accountability is to be preserved. Clause 18 provides that applications are to be granted in the absence of "relevant representations" made by,
"an interested party or responsible authority".
The Bill requires a licensing authority to promote the licensing objectives set out in Clause 4 and to have regard to its licensing statement and, as the Bill stands, to any guidance issued by the Secretary of State. It ought to be the case that a licensing authority should have the power to refuse an application for a premises licence where the licensing objectives would not be promoted by granting the licence and/or where the grant of a licence would be contrary to the licensing statement or the guidance issued by the Secretary of State. The licensing authority must, therefore, be entitled to take into account the licensing objectives, its policy and the guidance, even where there are no relevant representations from interested parties.
Under Clause 13(4)(d) the licensing authority may make relevant representations only in its capacity as an environmental health authority. The amendment is designed to enable the licensing authority to draw to its own attention by means of making relevant representations the impact of the grant of a licence on the licensing objectives, its policy and central government guidance.
The clause as drafted narrowly limits the grounds on which a local authority can make relevant representations to its statutory functions in relation to environmental health. But local authorities have much wider responsibilities for crime and disorder under the Crime and Disorder Act, and for the environmental and social well-being of their areas under the Local Government Act 2000.
In addition, local authorities have obligations under statute, in common law and under the European Convention on Human Rights. It would be wrong, therefore, to prevent them from making relevant representations to the extent that these responsibilities required them to do so, given that to do so would promote the licensing objectives. I beg to move.
We have a difference of approach, as is reflected in the amendment. I will seek to defend the position represented in the legislation, and I hope that the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, will accept that the amendment is undesirable.
The principle on which we are working is straightforward. The licensing authority's discretion is engaged only when relevant representation has emerged. In seeking that objective, we are seeking to support the concept behind the Bill as a deregulation measure, keeping bureaucracy to the absolute minimum. Under normal circumstances, when no one has objected to the position, the licensing authority is carrying out a straightforward exercise of accepting a licence application to which no one has raised any objection. That will reduce bureaucracy, when no one outside the authority has shown any cause for doubt and the licensing authority—which is the local authority—is able judiciously to use its judgment on the licence, to which no one has objected. The problem with the noble Viscount's amendment is that it brings the licensing authority into conflict with itself, having raised objections that were raised by no one else.
The amendment would make a straightforward exercise into a fundamental issue. The local authority on which the premises or club is situated would be able to object to an application for the grant or variation of a licence or certificate, or to complain about certain premises, and give rise to a review of a licence when no one else had done so. That would run counter to the philosophy behind the Bill, which is to keep the system as clear, straightforward and unbureaucratic as possible, and would bring the local authority into a particular relationship when it is itself the licensing authority.
That is the argument and concept behind the clause, and why the amendment should not be accepted. We should consider who has not objected to the application. The police, the fire authority and the local residents have not objected—no one who has a direct interest in the issue has objected. The local councillors have not been active on behalf of anyone else, because no one else has raised an issue with regard to the application. Suddenly, the whole local authority, which is the licensing authority, is part and parcel to an objection. That clearly does not fit with a measure in which there is ample provision for those who object to be able to do so, and there are proper procedures for them to do so. The amendment would introduce a massive complication for the authority in its licensing role. On that basis I hope that the noble Viscount will reconsider the amendment.
We shall discuss aspects of the other amendments, to which the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, referred, on Clause 18. They would broaden the issues to much more general points than the technical grounds on which professional local officers such as environmental health officers can make representations and object. If the amendments were accepted, absolutely any area would be open to objection, with the local authority making representations accordingly.
We are seeking to keep a balanced, proper and correct procedure, which certainly gives the opportunity for those who wish to object and feel the obligation to do so. When no one in the community has objected and no professional body has done so, it must be right to regard the local authority as able to act in its straightforward licensing role and not get involved in the process that the amendment would impose.
The Minister made reference to Amendments Nos. 186 and 189, which I simply prayed in aid of the amendment moved by the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland. One purpose of Amendment No. 186 was to allow police officers and the local authority to make representations in relation to premises supervisors in any circumstances required to promote the licensing objectives. Of course, it is likely that the police will have views on a particular individual as regards licensing. Those who have been inspecting on behalf of the local authority also have detailed knowledge, however, and it seems a pity that that knowledge should not be available when the decision comes to be made.
Perhaps I was not entirely fair to the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, and I apologise if that was so. We shall have a major debate on the issue when we discuss other amendments.
As the noble Lord rightly said, the relevant issues for individuals specified in a premises licence will concern the police. I emphasise that we are seeking to develop a system in which managers can move from premises to premises with the minimum of hindrance. Any objection that was laid against such a manager would inevitably be a police matter, because it would relate to criminal law and to a lack of fitness of the individual to continue in that capacity. We shall have a debate on that subject later, but I emphasise that the issue is one not for the licensing authority but for the police.
I was about to speak before, but the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, put the matter much better than I could have done, as one would expect.
The Minister made an interesting and clever speech, knocking down my Aunt Sally. I confess that my amendment is a difficult concept, but he cleverly kept off the licensing objectives, which are at the core of the question. As the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, said, there is no reason why the local authorities should not have the right to feel that there was a reason that the licensing objectives were not met.
I take all the points that the Minister made about added bureaucracy, but many of us feel that the Bill will create more bureaucracy anyway, rather than reduce it. On the face of it, the project of removing the licensing of alcohol and entertainment from magistrates to local authorities is a simple one. However, as we are finding out, it is a complex issue, and we would not be debating the matter in Committee for five days if it were not. We do not yet have the guidelines.
We shall deal with the licensing objectives later. However, I take what the Minister says, and compliment him on the clever way in which he made my amendment look irrelevant and obscure. However, I hope that he understands me when I say that we would like to reconsider the points that were raised. We have been advised that the issue is important, and we shall, if necessary, return to it at a later stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
This is a probing amendment. The amendments so far have been aimed at widening the number of people who could object. This one goes in the opposite direction, as the Minister will no doubt point out. He has strenuously rejected any attempt to widen the number of groups who can oppose, saying that the list is authoritative. The purpose of the amendment is to ask the Minister who would be prescribed by the Secretary of State under this paragraph. Obviously there is a balance to be struck between allowing eligible groups to oppose and allowing the industry to ensure that the list does not become too wide. It would be helpful if the Minister could outline those groups, bodies or individuals who are envisaged under paragraph (g). I beg to move.
I support the amendment, to which my name and that of my noble friend Lord Luke have been added. It would be otiose to repeat what the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, said. I apologise to the Committee for being so dilatory in not thanking the Minister at the beginning of our debates today for her letter dated today. I am reminded of it by the reference of the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, to the lack of draft guidance. I am pleased that the Minister's letter has confirmed that draft guidance will be available in time for Report.
We are all extremely grateful that the Minister has seen fit to strengthen her team to ensure that sufficient resources are concentrated on the production of the guidance. We are grateful that she has listened to our earnest pleas for sight of the guidance before the Bill leaves your Lordships' House. Many of the practical implications of the Bill will be dealt with in the guidance. I am grateful to the Minister for making strenuous efforts to ensure that we shall be able to have the guidance at our side when we debate the Bill on Report.
I support the amendment. I listened to the Minister say how precise and clear the list is and how we do not need to extend it. However, he then shoots himself in the foot under paragraph (g) by saying that the Government will have anybody else that they like at the time prescribed. There is no logic in that. The Minister has talked eloquently and persuasively, while I have been sitting here quietly, about how all the earlier categories under subsection (4) are exhaustive, exhausting and explicit. Then, lo and behold, he goes and does this. I cannot see how he can logically defend it.
This is a case of girding one's loins. I shall clearly do my best to keep the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, in what he indicates has been a benign frame of mind for the past half hour or so as we have debated these issues. I am grateful for the way in which the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, moved his amendment and to the noble Baroness Lady Buscombe, who, for the first time, mentioned her colleague the noble Lord, Lord Luke, who I understand is enjoying his 70th birthday today. That gives me the chance to congratulate him. I am sure that we all wish him well on such an auspicious day. He is fortunate not to be in my position on these challenging amendments.
As the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, said, we regard our list as exhaustive. It is meant to be exhaustive and comprehensive, so I am open to chiding from the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, on why on earth we should have an open-ended dimension for the Secretary of State to add to a list that is meant to be exhaustive, as I sought to say earlier.
The answer is straightforward. There is nothing sinister in the proposals. We simply seek to make provision for the possible development of public authorities that we know not of at the moment. In due course Parliament and the executive may, in their wisdom, seek to develop fresh authorities, public bodies and—dare I say—even quangos, which may have an interest in this area. We cannot define them at this stage because they do not exist. However, it would not be right to have to go back to primary legislation to include the interests of any such body if it were widely recognised to have a proper interest and role to play. For example, the list contains the Maritime and Coastguard Agency as agents of the Secretary of State. We do not know whether it or any other body may have its name or role changed. Change occurs with such bodies. We are merely seeking to avoid the need to use primary legislation to bring them within the framework. The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee saw no reason to object to the provision. I am taking the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, at his word. This is a probing amendment and it has certainly probed me quite deeply. I hope I have given a satisfactory response.
With that answer and the understanding that the Minister does not have any particular bodies in mind at the moment, I shall not press the amendment. It is unsettling that there is quite such a blank cheque. I am sure the industry will find that slightly unnerving, but I take the Minister at his word that the provision will not be used as an opening to include large numbers of other groups, or, especially, other quangos. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
This clause introduces the issue of the designated premises supervisor, who looms large in the Bill and has been a topic of much discussion and consternation for all those involved. The clause defines the designated premises supervisor as the individual named on the premises licence as the premises supervisor. The requirement that the designated personal licence holders be formally linked to the premises licence threatens to increase significantly the bureaucracy faced by premises licence holders and the costs incurred by local authorities. It will lead to numerous applications to vary the licence as personnel move around. The requirement also runs counter to the flexibility of a split licensing system, set out in the White Paper.
In the event of an extraordinary incident, such as the designated supervisor leaving employment without providing prior notification to their employer, or the immediate curtailment of employment of the designated personal licence holder, the licensed premises will cease to be able to trade. The White Paper sought to move away from the system whereby a premises licence holder would be penalised for the actions of a personal licence holder without even the application of the due diligence defence. The clause will impose just that system.
Why have the proposals for a new system outlined in the White Paper been replaced by a system that involves more red tape? Local authorities and the industry were hoping for flexibility in the new licensing system. This issue of the designated premises supervisor is just one example of how those who drafted the Bill have failed in their promise to liberalise the licensing process.
I want to make an additional point that I believe is relevant. We are puzzled as to why provisions in the Bill deal with the designated premises supervisor, as he or she appears to have no function at all. However, a number of provisions in the Bill appear to give the designated premises supervisor some function. For example, Clause 19 provides that a designated premises supervisor is required where the premises licence authorises the supply of alcohol, and that no supply of alcohol may be made on any premises unless there is a designated premises supervisor in possession of a personal licence.
If a designated premises supervisor is identified in the premises licence and has a personal licence, those requirements are satisfied. There is surely no need for the designated premises supervisor identified in the premises licence to be on the premises, or even to supervise the supply of alcohol. That is made clear by subsection (3) of the same clause, which provides that,
"every supply of alcohol under the premises licence must be made or authorised by a person who holds a personal licence".
That subsection does not refer to a designated premises supervisor. Such authority can be given by someone else who holds a personal licence.
We appreciate that a designated premises supervisor can be guilty of a number of offences in Part 7. However, the designated premises supervisor is just one of a group of people who can be prosecuted, including the holder of the premises licence or any person who works at the relevant premises. In any event, all the offences require knowledge of some activity being carried on. If the designated premises supervisor is not on the premises, he or she would not have sufficient knowledge for the purposes of the prosecution.
The functions of the designated premises supervisor in the Bill are illusory. Provided that a designated premises supervisor is identified in the premises licence and that he holds a personal licence, the requirements of the Bill are satisfied. That being so, we must ask ourselves whether there is some hidden agenda. Is it intended that the designated premises supervisor must be on the premises when alcohol is served? If that were the case, that requirement could be unacceptable to many commercial organisations, and would undoubtedly be unacceptable to most voluntary organisations such as village hall committees up and down the country.
Voluntary organisations are in many instances, as the description suggests, run by volunteers. It surely would be unacceptable if a volunteer helping out in village life, and who was identified as the designated premises supervisor of a village hall, had to attend and supervise every function there. That would put intolerable pressure on a mere volunteer who gives up his or her time for free.
We therefore urge the Government to confirm that the provision is not intended to impose any obligations or functions on the designated premises supervisor. I beg to move.
I make my customary declaration of interest as a non-executive director of Whitbread plc. I broadly support the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe. As every vote counts, I am sure that she will be very happy to know that that is so.
We cannot look ahead too far to future amendments, but it is none the less true that Amendment No. 155 would alter the reference to the designated premises supervisor. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, will come on to that relevant point. Later, the jumbo group in which the lead amendment is Amendment No. 160 will suggest changes in how the information about the premises supervisor would be handled. That relates to Clause 36 in particular, under which we might have an application to vary the licence to specify an individual as a premises supervisor.
I enter the discussion at this point because I think it important that we should not get into a mindset that perhaps relates a little to the past. I also want to indicate, certainly in relation to a good number of companies that operate in the sector—for example, pub-restaurants—that we would not normally expect to start with a blank cheque if there were to be a change. That will not actually happen. What will happen is that the personnel who will deal in such premises, whether as designated premises supervisors or premises supervisors, are likely in many cases simply to be transferred from another establishment. That is good management, and is the way things will operate. The people who are arriving are likely to have already been accepted as designated premises supervisors, if the term remains in the Bill, or as premises supervisors.
The principle on which we ought to work is that we absolutely minimise the need to question again the position of someone who has already been accepted elsewhere as a premises supervisor. That is true throughout this part of the Bill. The Government have done quite a good job on Clause 36, but it is very important that any changes made do not result in a situation in which we significantly reopen the issue when someone has already been accepted as capable and qualified to be a designated premises supervisor, if that remains in the Bill, or at least a premises supervisor. If we do that, we will not be matching the way in which the industry is developing. For example, substantial groups own a good number of pub-restaurants or pubs and move people around in the interests of good management.
I have tabled some amendments—Amendments Nos. 155 and 157—that come within this area. It might be for the convenience of the Committee if we addressed those now, because my noble friend has eloquently spoken on the whole topic. She has been a good deal more radical than I had envisaged being in my amendments. I have been using a scalpel, and she has been using a cleaver. The cleaver is probably to be preferred in the end.
I do not want to repeat the points made by my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, except to say that the Bill is deregulatory. Ministers keep telling us that, but this part of it adds another layer of licensable persons. It really adds nothing to premises and personal licences, the concept of which we have broadly accepted.
As my noble friend said, the provisions have an illusory role. Perhaps I might give a practical example. There are about 70,000 public houses in this country, of which about half are owner-managed. In those cases, presumably the personal licence holder and the premises supervisor will be the same. There is only one person, because he is an owner-manager. Nothing will really be achieved. All the Bill would do is require more forms to be filled in and more people to be registered.
As for those who are in the managed sector, that is another 35,000 people to be enrolled, registered and tracked. Every change would be re-registered. It is not clear to me from the Bill exactly whether it is envisaged that one could have a premises supervisor for more than one premises, or whether there is a maximum number of premises to which a person may be a supervisor.
There would be another layer of bureaucracy as a result of a deregulatory Bill. It adds nothing that is not there already, with the twin approach debated during the Committee's earlier sittings. There must be a strong argument for taking a much more radical approach and using, as my noble friend did, the cleaver to reduce the burden on the industry.
I do not believe that the metaphor of the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, of a cleaver is fair. Basically, the amendment, which we support, brings the Bill back into line with the White Paper, which was debated by the industry and was the subject of much discussion for many years. The problem with subsection (1) is that it introduces designated premises supervisors, which muddies the waters between a premises licence and a personal licence. The strength of the amendment is that we would move away from that added form of bureaucracy and back to something that was envisaged in the White Paper. It has now somehow been changed for the worse through the translation of the White Paper into the Bill. I hope that the Minister considers the issue carefully. Although many amendments follow on from this amendment, the issue will be of central importance to the next stage of the Bill.
I was intending to speak to later amendments but the general issue is raised in this regard. It may be helpful to the Minister and the Committee if one gets off one's chest what one wants to say. I begin by declaring an interest as a consultant to the Co-operative group and as the vice-chairman of the all-party retail group, which has a general interest in this sphere.
From what I have read I am, frankly, puzzled. I have had good information from a body called the British Beer and Pub Association, which also represents other bodies. I want to use the word "puzzlement". I am sure that the Minister will be able to help us. Reference has already been made to the position in the White Paper. The amendments seek to secure the understanding in the White Paper.
The BBPA states:
"The White Paper stated that on taking up responsibility for a business the licensee should 'normally do no more than simply register his or her arrival with his local police and the licensing authority by a letter covering a copy of the personal licence'".
That is simple, unbureaucratic and practical. However, the situation has now changed; I am sure that the Minister will tell us why. The industry proposed the original concept in a submission in 1999. That was taken up in the White Paper in 2000. I am told that none of the parties in the working groups that were consulted by the DCMS appears to want or believe it to be necessary to evolve such an unnecessary complex system. All that is required is that the police and licensing authority know who is responsible for any particular premises.
The Minister knows that the Bill has had a general welcome in the industry and among many other bodies and the general public. We do not argue against the Bill or even its principle; we argue against the manner in which the Minister and his colleagues consider it appropriate to take it forward. I should be grateful if he dealt with that point.
The principle of splitting the licence into a personal and premises licence is severely undermined through the requirement to name the personal licensee on the premises licence and treating a change of licensee as a variation of the premises licence. Frankly, I am puzzled about the reasons why. That leads to a great paper-chase every time there is a change of manager or tenant. We do not want that unless it is absolutely necessary. The Minister will doubtless tell us why it is absolutely necessary and we will have to cogitate on his case. This does not involve confusion; it is difficult to understand why that which was previously part and parcel of the rapport between the industry and the Minister had to involve the change that we are discussing.
In order to save time, I am going to make a long speech. As has been recognised in our debate, the amendment, which is the first in a series of amendments about the designated premises supervisor can cover the whole range of issues raised in subsequent amendments. By setting out where we stand on designated premises supervisors, I hope that I will be able to make shorter speeches when we consider Amendment No. 155, the group of amendments beginning with Amendment No. 156, the group of amendments beginning with Amendment No. 157, the group of amendments beginning with Amendment No. 160, Amendment No. 161, the group of amendments beginning with Amendment No. 187, the group of amendments beginning with Amendment No. 214 and the group of amendments beginning with Amendment No. 273. I hope that I will be spared the necessity of making this general speech all over again.
As has been recognised, this is an absolutely fundamental concept in relation to the way in which the Bill has been drafted. We start straightaway with the central concept of the designated premises supervisor. Amendment No. 154 would efface effectively from the Bill the whole principle of the designated premises supervisor. I venture to suggest that if the amendment were agreed to, all of the groups of amendments to which I have referred would no longer be necessary.
As we made clear on Second Reading and beyond, the Bill is a balanced package—the balance is between reducing bureaucracy for the industry and maintaining safeguards to protect the public. The designated premises supervisor is the essential key to that balanced package. The Bill requires that every premises licence that authorises the supply of alcohol must specify a designated premises supervisor. That includes premises such as a pub, nightclub or supermarket. The designated premises supervisor must be the holder of a personal licence. I shall say in a moment what that involves. In practice, that individual will be responsible for the day-to-day running of the premises and will shoulder much of the burden on behalf of the premises licence holder.
I of course agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, that with village pubs there will be no separation: the premises licence holder will be the designated premises supervisor and that role will no longer be significant. However, it must be recognised that in any larger organisation, which could be a business as opposed to an individual, there must be someone who is capable of ensuring that the conditions of the premises licence are adhered to. There could be a number of personal licence holders working in larger premises and junior and assistant managers could all hold those licences. There is no requirement in the Bill that they should be listed or that their names should be made available. There is no bureaucracy of that sort. All of those people would have satisfied the conditions for holding a personal licence to supply alcohol. They must be over the age of 18, have no unspent convictions for relevant offences and possess an accredited licensing qualification so that they will have at least some understanding of the social issues and potential problems associated with the sale of alcohol. The reason for having a designated premises supervisor is to ensure that there is always one specified individual among those personal licence holders who is identified and identifiable for the premises. One hopes that they will have experience relating to the supply of alcohol and alcohol-related matters.
We anticipate that the designated premises supervisor will be given day-to-day responsibility for running the premises by the premises licence holder. That is not to say that he must be present on the premises all the time. Restrictions on the hours of work would make that totally impracticable. But he occupies a pivotal position. In public houses we are increasingly seeing managed houses where a large pub-operating company would hold the premises licence and a manager would be installed to look after the pub. The business could be in London, the pub in Newcastle. Management supervision would be provided usually by the designated premises supervisor. By designating the premises supervisor in the premises licence—the amendments beginning with Amendment No. 181, described by the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, as the "scalpel", would leave the premises supervisor but take him off the licence—it is clear to all who is in day-to-day charge of the premises.
The industry does not like these provisions. I know that. The noble Lord, Lord Williamson, made that abundantly clear. We discussed these matters with the industry at great length.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. This is an important point. In my excitement to get to my feet earlier I forgot and probably should declare my interest for the purposes of today's debate. I am a non-executive director of a brewery and a pub operator.
Can a designated premises supervisor be for more than one premises or only one? If it is only one, that presumably means a pub-operating chain will have to have a personal licence holder and another layer of management in the shape of a designated premises supervisor. That does not apply to single operators. So the Government are imposing a layer of management on the bigger chains that is not being imposed on single operators.
That is wrong in two ways. First, a designated premises supervisor can be for more than one premises. Secondly, a personal licence holder is needed in order to operate the premises anyway. If that personal licence holder is the only personal licence holder, then he will be the designated premises supervisor. There is no additional layer. There is no separate person from the personal licence holder in the form of the designated premises supervisor. Those are absolutely minimum requirements to ensure accountability.
This issue is causing a degree of concern. Is the Minister saying, as I believe he is, that the designated supervisor does not have to be on the premises all the time? If so, then a pub can be run for large periods of time by just a manager with the requisite personal licence.
Without wishing to take up too much of the Committee's time, surely that means that a large organisation is worse off than an individually-run village pub where the premises licence holder is also the designated premises supervisor. He is on site, managing and controlling the situation on a day-to-day basis. But in the case of a large organisation there has to be someone who is effectively floating from one premises to another, in which case there is not the same hands-on management. There is effectively a separate layer in this designated supervisor overseeing a number of establishments.
That is possible. The Bill does not rule it out. It is not what we would expect to be the normal situation. We would normally expect there to be a designated premises supervisor who looks after one premises. There is no additional layer of bureaucracy in that. But businesses can organise themselves as they think fit. For example, if there is a more senior manager, that senior manager may be given responsibility for more than one shop or more than one pub.
I know one publican who has four pubs. But it may be a pub chain with 30 pubs. If the designated supervisor can oversee more than one pub, does it mean that that person's name will be above the door of all four pubs in just a small chain, or all 30 pubs in a larger chain?
Much to my regret there is no provision which says that the name should be above the door. I believe it to be a good thing that it should say "Andrew Robert McIntosh" or "Rupert Mitford licensed to sell beer, wine and spirits for consumption on or off the premises". But that is not what the Bill says. It is sad but we have to put up with that.
The principle is that the designated premises supervisor is normally the person responsible for day-to-day management of the premises. If the industry can persuade us that a single person can be responsible for the day-to-day management of more than one premises, then that person will be registered as the designated premises supervisor. There is no mystery. We are trying to be as flexible as possible to the industry.
Although the industry does not like these provisions, the police and local authorities take a quite different view. The police and the licensing authorities who are responsible for enforcing the Bill consider these provisions essential for making enforcement effective. First, it is essential that the police or officers of the licensing authority can identify immediately the person at any premises selling alcohol in a position of authority. They can do so at the premises because a copy of the licence must be held there and a summary displayed. The Bill requires that the designated premises supervisor shall be named in the licence. That will ensure that problems are dealt with swiftly by engaging with that key individual. If the person was not named on the licence itself, as later amendments provide, passing officers or officials might have to check headquarters records. That would be neither helpful, nor practical nor efficient.
Secondly, it is essential that the police are able to object to the designation of a new premises supervisor where in exceptional circumstances they believe the appointment would undermine the crime prevention objective in the Bill. I shall come to the circumstances of objection in a moment. For very good reasons, therefore, we have given undertakings to the police that these arrangements should prevail. The provisions establish clear lines of responsibility. Where trouble flares up the police will be better able to take the necessary action quickly, with a minimum of confusion.
But we have not forgotten the desirability of light touch bureaucracy. We want business to thrive for the sake of investment, employment and local and national economies. But that has to be balanced against the need for effective enforcement in the interests of the wider community. All that we are asking business to do is to indicate the name of the premises supervisor on the premises licence while he or she is in post. There is nothing in the Bill that prevents an immediate change of that person if a business wants to do that.
Where a change of premises supervisor is to take place, the premises licence-holder—perhaps a supermarket chain or a pub-operating company—notifies the police and the licensing authority and shows that the individual concerned consents to taking on the role. That is a simple notification. It is far from being what my noble friend Lord Graham called a "paper chase". The whole licence does not have to be sent in for amendment. That would place a burden on the licensing authority itself. The Bill provides that a part of the licence may be submitted, ideally a schedule to the main licence, giving personal details of key individuals. That would be dispatched, amended and returned.
Fears have been expressed that the arrangements could hinder or slow down the movement of managers between premises. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, that that is what happens in large groups. But nothing could be further from the truth. I refer to Clause 37. The premises licence holder can give notice that the appointment is being given immediate effect so that nothing hinders the change of premises supervisor. If the police intervene and object and the licensing authority upholds the police objection, the individual would have to be removed straightaway. But the premises licence holder would be able to give notice of a different individual to be given immediate effect, pending notification to the police.
I can assure Members of the Committee that I understand the concerns about some parts of industry. But as a result of the efforts we have made to accommodate the industry, those concerns—I know they have been expressed in representations to Members of the Committee—are unfounded.
I realise that the Minister is trying to give a comprehensive reply, but he said that the take-over could take place with immediate effect pending notification of the police. As I understand it—he may correct me—the Bill later states that the police may take up to 48 hours to make checks. Is the Minister saying that the person could take over pending the police checking up and reporting, or does he have to wait for the go-ahead from the police, which could take some time?
Yes, he could be in post. But designated premises supervisors have to hold personal licences, which the police can check quickly.
I saw a degree of bemusement on the face of the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, when I talked about premises supervisors having responsibility for more than one premises. That is the case because the Bill does not forbid it. However, if one looks at the practicalities, if there were a chain of 30 pubs and the premises licence holder wanted to nominate the same person for all of them, the police would say, "No, that won't work, that would undermine the objective", and they would object accordingly.
I do not believe that that will happen. The Bill provides for one, two or three premises at most to be under the responsibility of a supervisor. We are trying to keep the provision simple and not to make it unnecessarily complicated.
The complexity of the existing alcohol licensing regime is not fully recognised. On every occasion where a new manager of a pub or supermarket takes over control of the premises there has to be a full application for the transfer of the licence, involving a full hearing before the licensing justices and court appearances by the police, whether or not they have any objections. We expect the majority of applications to be dealt with administratively with virtually no costly court hearings, which are a common part of the existing regime.
That is why I am justified in saying that this is a deregulatory Bill. We envisage a light touch bureaucracy but we have to balance it by giving the police a right to object and intervene, but only in exceptional circumstances. For example—this is relevant to what the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, was saying—a personal licence holder might have been allowed to retain his licence by the courts despite convictions for selling alcohol to minors, or he might have acquired convictions for the possession rather than the supply of controlled drugs. What if such an individual fetches up at a pub with a history of being used by under-age drinkers or an association with drug abuse? The police would surely intervene when such a personal licence holder and such a pub came together. That is why the provision is necessary.
Perhaps I may clarify my point. If the Minister reads Hansard he will find that I said that Clause 36 was a good clause. That is the clause about the application to vary a licence. I want to make sure that with the passage of the Bill we do not arrive at more difficult circumstances in relation to Clauses 36 and 38.
I am glad to hear that and I take it as support for the Bill's provisions.
We want a provision that allows for the industry's aims that the new regime should be simple and the regulatory burden should be as light as possible. The Bill replaces elements of more than 50 statutes currently impacting on licensing. Our estimate is that it will save the retail, hospitality and leisure industries almost £2 billion over 10 years. But there must be safeguards in place. I have set out the minimum safeguards involving the police. To remove designated premises supervisors would wreck the balance we have achieved between deregulation and protection.
I thank the Minister for his full response. He will not be surprised to hear that I am not entirely satisfied. Members on all sides of the Committee have good reason to believe that the function of the designated premises supervisor is unclear. I urge the Minister and his officials to consider between now and Report stage my points about the functions of the designated premises supervisor. We understand what he says about policing and the need to ensure proper management of all licensed premises, but if for smaller owner-run pubs it is all right for the personal licence holder to be the designated premises supervisor, why is it not all right for larger organisations?
We do not understand the need for the additional layer, not least for the reason I suggested, that there appears to be no particular function that such a supervisor could or should carry out over and above that—
A designated premises supervisor is a personal licence holder. There may be a number of personal licence holders working at the premises. The designation tells the police who is in charge; that is all. There is no additional layer of bureaucracy.
I am not satisfied that it is necessary to have a specific separate person as a designated premises supervisor. Will the Minister and his officials consider what Members of the Committee have said? The debate on this subject will continue on the forthcoming amendments. We recognise the complexity of the existing regime, but the Government would be well advised to return to the proposals set out in the White Paper—to which the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, referred earlier—and to reconsider whether it is necessary to have an extra layer which does not add to policing or the proper management of the premises. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Perhaps I may briefly finger my scalpel on this issue. Having heard the Minister I went through a variety of emotions. He began by describing the role as if it were an area manager covering a number of pubs. It became clear as he was questioned that the police will ensure that there is one person who is a designated premises supervisor and they will not permit him to be designated for more than one premises. It will be permissible for him to have more than one premises but it will not be practical because the police will object.
The Minister had the attractive idea of having the name above the pub door, for which I have a great deal of sympathy. But we have in essence two boxes; the premises licence and the personal licence. The Minister is putting an arch between the two, which is the present licensing system; namely, having above the door of the pub the name of the designated premises supervisor, as we do at present. We have taken the present licensing system and added two more boxes to it. I beg to move.
The scalpel kills as surely as the cleaver if it is wielded inexpertly. I am not saying for a moment that the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, is inexpert; he is clearly extremely expert. If the designated premises supervisor is not identified in the original premises licence or any premises licence as subsequently amended at the time when the application is made, which is when full consideration is given to the circumstances of the licence, there is no opportunity to include what is entirely relevant to local people, the police, the licensing authority—everyone concerned with the licensing objectives of public protection, health and safety, public nuisance and so on: who is going to be in charge. Surely this is precisely the time at which we should name the person who is going to be in charge.
moved Amendment No. 156:
Page 9, line 6, leave out from "individual" to end of line 7 and insert "personal licence holder who has obtained the signed consent of the premises licence holder to such designation and served the prescribed form upon the chief officer of police and the relevant licensing authority"
I give an undertaking that I shall not mention scalpels or any form of cutlery or silverware. This amendment does not remove the designated supervisor, but really deals with some of the arguments associated with the clause.
There are two independent arguments here. One is concerned with the system built up around the designated premises supervisor and the other with the powers of the police to object to the individual named as the designated premises supervisor. They are not dependent on each other, but are separate aspects of the Bill.
The amendments as proposed by the industry to the procedures and obligations surrounding the designated premises supervisors are supported by the British Beer & Pubs Association, the British Hospitality Association, the Restaurant Association, the Association of Multiple Retailers, Business in Sport and Leisure and the British Retail Consortium. Members of the Committee will be aware that this represents a very large and diverse part of the leisure and hospitality market. Those organisations have discussed the issues with the Local Government Association which agrees that the procedures are unnecessary. The police have expressed their concern that the personal licence holder is known to the premises licence holder. This is covered by the requirement to obtain the consent of the premises licence holder.
The industry has discussed the issues at length with the Government and is very disappointed that the arguments they have made have not received any robust response from them. The industry itself proposed the concept of split licensing and, in its original proposals long before the White Paper, recognised that the personal licence holder would need to be known to the authorities and that this information would need to be registered. It therefore has no quarrel with the need to identify and register the premises supervisor.
However, it does not support the linkage to the premises licence holder through the requirement to regard the change of licensee as a variation of the premises licence and the requirement to write the name of the designated premises supervisor in the premises licence.
The premises licence should stand alone as it is concerned with the suitability of any particular premises to provide alcohol and/or public entertainment at the time and under the conditions granted for it. This must stand irrespective of the personal licensee who has the duty and the responsibility to uphold the terms of the licence and the law in general.
The consequence of this linkage is seen in the series of obligations that arise from that linkage. The name of the designated premises supervisor must be given at the time of application for a new licence. This person will not always be identified at the time of application. For example, a supermarket chain obtaining a licence may not even appoint the relevant manager until very near the first opening day. It should make no difference to the application for a premises licence as to who will be responsible for the licence, as long as he or she is properly qualified under the Act.
The premises licence must be altered every time there is a change of manager. That can happen very frequently in the larger businesses where managers are constantly moving for career development or other reasons.
The White Paper expressly stated that on taking up responsibility for a business the licensee should,
"normally do no more than simply register his or her arrival with his local police and the licensing authority by a letter covering a copy of the personal licence".
The process described in the Bill is anything but simple. At this point I say that I believe that the light touch to which the noble Lord alluded perhaps slightly understates the complexity of the situation. In discussions with the DCMS the industry has suggested that the name of the licensee be displayed at the premises. That obviates the need for the name to be included on the premises licence and can be very easily changed on the arrival of a new designated premises supervisor. In his earlier and very detailed response, I believe that the Minister said that he personally thought that that is an excellent idea. I very much hope that he will be taking it up with the officials at DCMS.
The Bill also requires the name of the designated premises supervisor to appear on the operating schedule. That is completely unnecessary as the operating schedule is concerned exclusively with the premises. That would have to be changed and re-submitted every time a manager changed.
The requirement also to name the premises supervisor in applying for a new licence under the transitional arrangements poses problems as it will be around six months before the licence is confirmed. The designated premises supervisor might well have moved on by then. What purpose does it serve to have this name? Surely, the premises licence is about the premises, not about who happens to be running them at the time.
The industry merely wishes to keep the process simple. It recognises the burden that would fall on local government through the paper chase that would result from the attachment of the individual name to the premises licence. Simple notification, a duty laid strictly on the business, is the simple and effective way to achieve everyone's goal.
I turn to the police powers to object to the transfer of a personal licence holder. Nothing in the arguments about the simplification of the system of notification of the designated premises supervisor precludes the police objecting on receiving such notification. But should the police have these powers? Do they need them? Do they really provide any safeguard? Are these powers proportionate to the harm envisaged? It is a question of whether the uncertainty introduced by these powers is truly justified. The police argue—the Government support them—that it is necessary. The argument runs that where a personal licence holder may have an infringement recorded against his licence, but that it is minor and no proceeding to revoke the licence has been taken and he wants to take over premises with a history of infringement such as drug dealing, the police should be able to object to that licensee.
Do minor traffic offences result in a motorist being prevented from driving on certain roads? Surely, a minor infringement is just that. If the courts have decided a suitable punishment, should the licensee be in double jeopardy in that he is prevented from pursuing his or her chosen career? Is it not arguable that such a licensee, having had such a warning, might even be a more diligent licensee as a result?
Surely, premises with a history should be dealt with. One of the weaknesses of the current system is that such premises are not dealt with. The problem of the particular business should be dealt with and closed if necessary. The police are being given the power to decide who runs a "dodgy business".
These provisions re-introduce the "fit and proper" test by the back door, which is something which the White Paper set out manifestly not to do. The police also seem to want to vet potential licensees on the basis that they might have criminal connections. If the licensee is a criminal then he or she must be brought to trial for such crimes. To seek to prevent them running a pub or a supermarket does not really make sense. We want the police to concentrate on criminality.
How indeed would the licensing authority, whether or not such a person is identified by the police, be prevented from operating or managing a particular pub, club or supermarket since by definition there is no hard evidence on what basis such a decision could be made?
I apologise for the length of the explanation of these amendments, but this is a complicated area. I hope that the Government can give some indication of why they find the amendment unacceptable. We are not trying to remove the designated premises supervisor. I look forward to the Government's reply. I beg to move.
In an earlier amendment the noble Lord said that powers were necessary because a designated premises licence holder in one place might not be suitable for another. He quoted as an instance the fact that a person had a conviction for selling alcohol to under-aged minors or that he had a conviction relating to drugs; and that the premises to which he was being assigned, presumably by the employer, had a history of one or other of such activities taking place.
It seems that there would be two classes of designated premises licence holders—those who did not have any conviction, so there could be no conceivable objection by the police to employers moving them from one place to another throughout the country; and those with some convictions recorded against them. They would not be sufficient for the individuals to be struck off the register but there would be limits on the nature of the premises to which they could be assigned.
If the only reason for the system is to allow the police to confirm the transfer of a person from one licensed premises to another, why not say so on the face of the Bill? Cannot employers be given total discretion to move personnel from one supermarket or pub to another as they see fit in exercising their management powers—so long as the employee does not have any criminal convictions? If the only reason for placing restrictions on the appointment of a person to a particular premises is that a conviction awarded by a court bears some relationship to the previous history of the premises concerned, that should be dealt with as a special case.
I was asked for a robust response. The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, can have a robust response. Frankly, these amendments are nonsense. Amendment No. 156 says that a designated premises supervisor would actively have to obtain the signed consent of the premises licence holder to fill that role and to notify the police that he had taken up the position. The designated premises supervisor is the person employed to manage the premises—or he is the person managing the premises who also holds the premises licence. I assume that Amendment No. 156 does not apply to those circumstances.
In what circumstances does an employer actively have to seek the signed consent of his employer to do his or her job? In real life, the contract of employment represents an explicit permission on the part of an employer for an individual to work at a particular premises. Imagine the situation where one applied for a position, got the job, then had to ask the boss for permission to turn up. That is what the amendment would require. The premises supervisor would be required to notify the police that he had taken up the job. That is the job of the premises licence holder; it is not to be shirked by putting the duty on the designated premises supervisor.
The Bill makes the premises licence holder responsible for variation of the licence, including the premises supervisor, for good reason—where one has corporate ownership. If a business wants to change its premises supervisor, that is the responsibility of the business, not of the premises supervisor, as Amendment No. 156 suggests. One would not employ a premises supervisor, then say, "Good luck. Welcome to the job. Now make sure you tell the police you have arrived." That is the responsibility of the business.
Amendments Nos. 238 and 242 would remove the bulk of Clause 40, which covers the procedures to be followed when an individual wishes to cease to be the designated supervisor for a particular premises. In recognition of the particular circumstances of some part of the industry, the clause contains safeguards for the industry. It requires the premises supervisor to notify the holder of the premises licence once he has made the final decision and notified the licensing authority of his or her intention—not just tell the licensing authority or the police, or both, but tell his employer. It is only right that the employer should be notified. The amendments would remove that requirement.
There is nothing burdensome about the provisions and I have set out the reasons for them. These amendments are particularly bizarre.
I asked for a robust response and I got one. I admit that the purpose of the amendments is to make sense of the designated premises supervisor. The Minister's response clearly shows that I should move back to the position of earlier amendments and object altogether to the inclusion of the clause. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
This amendment is designed to probe only. Clause 17 sets out the application process for a premises licence. An application must be accompanied by an operating schedule and a plan of the premises—both in the format to be prescribed. That may seem a reasonable obligation for any premises licence holder to undertake to procure a licence. However, some premises that are used to paying £30 per annum—as at present—to operate the village pub may feel burdened by what appears to them to be added administration, greater bureaucracy and more red tape.
The amendment proposes that operating schedules need only be produced for certain types of premises. It is deliberately broad and does not focus on physical size or capacity. However, several forthcoming amendments deal with capacity. If a mandatory capacity were imposed, to be set out in the operating schedule, our amendment might go some way to exempting small village pubs from having to specify numbers.
The principle behind the amendment is simple. Premises range from a local pub in a rural area that serves a handful of regulars each day to a busy nightclub open until 3 a.m. and holding many hundreds of people. While it is admirable to try to impose one-size-fits-all legislation on a system, perhaps it is unrealistic. The small country pub might have problems trying to outline the steps it proposed taking to promote licensing objectives as detailed by subjection (4)(b).
Perhaps a balance can be reached between consistency and uniformity on the one hand and flexibility to suit certain circumstances on the other. It is clear that the Government realise the need for such a balance. Paragraph 38 of the guidance framework states:
"This section would underline the principle of proportionality. It would recommend that conditions are tailored to the particular circumstances, style and characteristics of the individual premises concerned. Standardised conditions often result in burdensome, unnecessary and costly conditions being attached to small venues that are not causing any problems in a community".
I hope that as we discuss the details of premises licences in Part 3, the Government will continue to have regard to the need for such proportionality as opposed to standardised conditions. I beg to move.
I fear that the phrase "operating schedule" fills some people with dread. It has a bureaucratic ring to it. We might have alighted upon a happier phrase but it is the one we are using. I reassure the noble Baroness and people who are anxious about the issue that there is no cause for anxiety.
The average size pub will be able to list its operating schedule by filling one sheet of A4—perhaps two at the absolute outside. It is meant to be a non-bureaucratic exercise. It is clearly needed for all licensed premises. Therefore, we are ensuring that it covers every conceivable licensed circumstance.
We recognise the strength of the noble Baroness's point that for the small village pub the schedule should not be a draconian document requiring endless hours of burning the midnight oil for the pub to meet its obligations. Far from it. It seeks to specify the basis on which it operates as succinctly as possible. For some larger premises or events the document is bound to be a little more involved. However, I believe that the main burden of the noble Baroness's argument concerned small premises. I give way to the noble Lord.
Will the regulations make a distinction between the two types of premises so that the country pub will not be caught up in the bureaucracy that is envisaged for much larger premises? What will be the position as regards the regulations?
The licensing authority will be aware of the aspects on which it needs reassurance before granting licences in respect of premises with differing roles in the community. The licensing authority will be familiar with those roles. A licensing authority will be able to determine the significant difference between a small village pub and large urban premises that may carry on a whole range of functions which require a clear specification of the basis of the business and how it is to be carried out.
I do not seek to decry the significance of the operating schedule. It is a crucial part of the basis on which the licence is issued. It is also the crucial document that identifies for authorities seeking to enforce the law—primarily the police—what the nature of the licence is and what functions the relevant premises are entitled to carry out. We shall seek to ensure that local authorities discriminate between large and small businesses. Regulations will stipulate that businesses of a certain size carrying out a certain range of functions are to be defined differently to the small village pub to which reference has been made.
The strength of the legislation lies in its power to bring a wide range of premises within one framework for licensing. As regards the concern that the operating schedule may cause anxiety to a potential licensee, I point out that it will deliver benefits to the licensing authority, responsible authorities, interested parties and potential licensees. Licensing authorities will consider the operating schedule with any other accompanying material and must grant the licence as applied for unless representations have been made that are critical of it. We envisage that in the majority of cases the granting of an application will constitute an administrative process. But without the requirement to submit such a document, licensing authorities would not have the basic information they require to process applications without holding costly hearings. We should not forget that all applications and renewals and almost all changes to a justice's licence to sell alcohol require a full hearing before the magistrates' court which represents a significant investment of time and money. The operating schedule will do away with that and replace it with a much less onerous system.
The operating schedule may become the focus of a process of genuine partnership between the licensing authority and licensees. In the light of that explanation, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment. Anxieties have been properly expressed but clearly the measure will not constitute a great bureaucratic demand but one that differentiates between the small pub and the big enterprise with a whole range of obligations necessarily imposed upon it. It will give a clearer specification to the community and to the enforcement authorities of what is required. For the vast majority of small operations and small pubs the measure should constitute an enormous advantage rather than a disadvantage.
The noble Lord said that the operating schedule would not impose great bureaucratic burdens on the small village pub and that for the average size pub the schedule would comprise one or two sides of A4. However, he did not say what would be included in the operating schedule for larger establishments such as big clubs which might hold as many as 1,500 people. Obviously, as he said, there would be more stringent requirements for those establishments. We should like to know what they are. Will the operating schedule for large establishments extend to matters that go beyond what happens within the establishment itself but which are relevant to a local authority's consideration of an application? One obviously assumes that the operating schedule will detail the number of hours and the times at which the establishment would be open, but will it also refer to such matters as the management of traffic within the periphery of the establishment itself?
Will the operating schedule detail the measures that the relevant enterprise should take to prevent nuisance such as the scattering of litter in its neighbourhood and any other matters connected with the objectives of the Bill, including the reduction of crime and disorder?
The operating schedule relates primarily to what takes place within the premises, the car park attached to the premises and the immediate environment. The noble Lord rightly identifies that for a large business the schedule will be extensive. It will certainly specify hours of opening, areas in which children may be present and areas in which certain kinds of entertainment may take place and so on. Therefore, the schedule will quite rightly be extensive where a wide range of entertainment and activities take place.
However, the schedule will not refer to traffic regulation in the vicinity of the enterprise. The capacity of the car park for those who wish to attend the premises is an important consideration. That goes without saying. However, we cannot go too far in that direction. We cannot investigate circumstances where it is alleged that litter has been dropped by a patron of the relevant premises. It would be impossible to prove that. The operating schedule operates within a framework that is concerned primarily with what takes place within the premises concerned.
I thank the noble Lord for his response. This debate has been worthwhile given that we are discussing a broad range of premises that are to be considered in relation to the operating schedule. As I said, this is a probing amendment. I shall revert to representatives of the industry to ensure that they are happy with the assurances that the noble Lord has given today. On that basis I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
moved Amendment No. 160:
Page 10, line 30, leave out from "a" to end of line 33 and insert "notice in the prescribed form and including a statement of the prescribed information in respect of the individual whom the holder wishes to nominate as the premises supervisor, and a form of consent in the prescribed form given by that individual."
I was in two minds as to whether to move this large group of amendments given the debate that has already taken place in relation to designated premises and licence holders. On balance I have decided to make a brief plea to the Government. Therefore, I shall refer to the following amendments as they involve a slightly separate point to those already covered.
In moving Amendment No. 160, I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 163, 181, 183, 203, 219, 229 to 231, the Question that Clauses 37 to 40 stand part, and to Amendments Nos. 239, 240, 241, 250, 258, 441, 442, 450, 452, 455, 456, 457, 458, 460 and 462.
One of the purposes of the new Bill is to streamline the licensing regime in England and Wales. It achieves that in a number of ways, but in particular by having separate premises and personal licences. That matter has already been debated. The two are connected in that no supply of alcohol may be made from any premises unless there is a premises supervisor who holds a personal licence which has not been suspended. In addition, every supply of alcohol must be made or authorised by a person holding a personal licence. In many respects the position is analogous to vehicle and driving licences. A vehicle must be licensed and can be driven only by someone with a driving licence.
However, unlike the position with a vehicle, a premises licence must specify the designated premises supervisor. If there is a change in the identity of the premises supervisor, an application must be made to the licensing authority for a variation of the premises licence in order to specify another individual. Such an application involves a degree of formality and expense and gives the chief officer of police for the relevant area an opportunity to object to the variation of the premises licence, thereby preventing the appointment of a new premises supervisor.
We believe that that procedure is unnecessarily bureaucratic, given that there is need only for a notice to be given to the licensing authority. Furthermore—and this is the important point—it is unnecessary because the individual concerned would have been vetted and found to be suitable if he has been granted a personal licence. We cannot see any need whatever, therefore, for this further vetting by the chief officer of police. I beg to move.
I have looked at paragraph after paragraph of my speaking notes and I realise that I have said it all already. I hope that the Committee wishes to be spared that repetition. As the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, has not dealt with all the amendments in the group in detail, I hope she will forgive me if I also do not.
However, I want to repeat the simple phrase with which I virtually finished my long speech on Amendment No. 154. Of course it is true that the qualification for holding a personal licence is the fundamental one of being able to serve alcohol. It is also true that the designated premises supervisor declaration does not add much. But, the designation of a premises supervisor tells the police and those who need to know who is in charge. That is why we have it here.
I thank the Minister for his response. I hear what he has said. As I said in relation to previous amendments, we are not satisfied of the need for a designated premises supervisor in the sense that, for example, one could have a manager of any business in charge. We are not clear why there should be a separation in this way. But we shall think about the matter very carefully. We hope that the Minister will read what we have said in Hansard. These concerns have been echoed throughout industry and among Members of the Committee today. For the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
I move Amendment No. 161 standing in the name of my noble friend Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, who is not able to be here. The requirement in Clause 17(4) is that an operating schedule be submitted with each application for a licence. That matter was discussed in relation to Amendment No. 158. It is intended that the operating schedule will set out such detail about how the premises will be operated, including times of opening and closing. I shall not go into that issue because it was covered in Amendment No. 158.
The purpose of Amendment No. 161 is to change the position. Instead of a centrally prescribed form, local authorities would have the right to decide. In response to Amendment No. 158, the noble Lord said:
"The local authority will know", when referring to the information that they would need. That is exactly the point I make in the amendment: the local authority will know what is required. That requirement might be very different between local authorities. There is nothing to say that each area will conform with another. We have covered the difference between the large and the small, but even then there is a difference between—for example—central and outer London.
The schedule will be an important document for both the licensing authority determining the application and for those who will have to consider whether they will be affected by the operation and may wish to object. There will be no other information available on which to understand when and how the licence will be operated.
Again, in reply to Amendment No. 158, the Minister said exactly that; that without the schedule the local authority would not have the necessary information. He also said that the Bill was intended to create a less onerous system. I do not think that is correct. Less onerous for whom? Certainly, at the moment it is not less onerous for the local authority because the burden is on the licensing court. All that will be transferred to the local authority.
I consider that the Government's proposal in this clause—that this document and the information required on it will be prescribed centrally by their officials and that no other form will be acceptable, whether the application is to operate in Eastbourne, Blackpool or London—is not good enough. It is very important that licensing authorities should be free to require different information according to the needs of their local areas.
If applicants believe that a request for information of a certain nature is unreasonable or unlawful, they can say so. If necessary, they can challenge the matter in the courts. I think that local authorities should be able to set out their own requirements for information they require. I beg to move.
I hope my noble friend will forgive me, but I have some difficulty with what is proposed. Having very different forms in different parts of the country, perhaps in adjacent local authorities, and the possibility that local authorities might change the nature of the form from time to time, would make it enormously burdensome for companies that operate a range of public houses or licensed premises. Some standard format is essential if there is not to be an unreasonable burden on multiple licensed premises' operators.
Within Clause 17, in particular in subsections (3) and (4), there is more than enough latitude for a local authority to obtain whatever it wishes. I am sorry, but I think that it would be potentially incredibly burdensome and bureaucratic for local authorities to be able to sail away pursuing their own particular requirements for information in respect of premises licences.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, for making the points that I was going to make. The differences referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, are not those between areas but those between different premises. The conditions applied to a licence will reflect the various needs of different premises. They will include, of course, some reflection of the area, but they will not be applicable necessarily to all the licences in a particular premises. There are parts of Westminster and of Soho where very different circumstances arise, but there are areas around here in Westminster where one has quiet little pubs which are no different from country pubs. I think that most of us know which they are.
It would be quite inappropriate for the City of Westminster to have different requirements for operating schedules from other licensing authorities. There is indeed a transfer of a burden from licensing magistrates to local authorities. It is not an increase; it is a transfer of a burden to bodies generally agreed by all those who responded to consultation on this Bill to be more democratically accountable and more appropriate to be the licensing authorities. To give licensing authorities the possibility of huge differences in the way in which applicants have to apply to such an authority for permission would be a huge burden on business and would give no perceptible advantage to those who have to live in the area or to those who would otherwise be involved in representations on a particular application.
I thank the Minister for those comments. I am interested in his point about areas within areas. I wonder whether the Government would consider something like the system that operates in countries like Australia, where different rules apply to what might be called tourist hot- spots. Such areas could be in any major city in the country. There may be an area equivalent to Soho in Leeds. The requirements in such areas are different.
I know the road that leads from Manley Ferry to the beach, too.
I cannot claim to know Leeds. I was throwing that out as a possible example, but it could apply to any city. I wonder whether the Government might give some thought to this matter when they draft the forms. I appreciate that there are areas in Westminster—and in all parts of London—which are extremely quiet, but there are other areas that are under different pressures which are a cause of concern. Perhaps he could think about that before the next stage. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
moved Amendment No. 162:
Page 10, line 36, leave out paragraph (a) and insert—
"( ) a description of the proposed relevant licensable activities, including such details as may be required by the authority in its statement of licensing policy,"
In rising to speak to Amendment No. 162, I shall also speak to Amendment No. 301. These amendments are not dissimilar to the previous amendment. The difference in terms of wording is that our amendment makes specific reference to the statement of licensing policy. I shall be brief. I listened to what the Minister said on the previous amendment, but I should like to ask for his view on certain activities that might take place in a particular area and whether the Government believe that this is something they should bear in mind in relation to the operating schedule. As it stands the definition of the operating schedule under Clause 17(4) leaves much to the regulations but also, regarding activities likely to take place at the premises, provides only that there shall be a statement of the relevant licensable activities. One particular area in which such a description would be totally inadequate—certainly in the view of some local authorities—is where striptease and similar forms of entertainment are to be provided in the licensed premises. The Minister must forgive me. I have not yet visited Australia so that may be the sort of area he was referring to.
At present, local authorities as public entertainment licensing authorities have the ability to place conditions on the provision of such entertainment and can ensure that it does not take place in certain premises where it would be inappropriate, due to the locality. For example, it is common for authorities to have policies which ensure that no such activities take place in premises near places of worship or schools. It is important that licensing authorities should be provided with this type of detail so that they can continue to take well informed decisions. I beg to move.
In this group of amendments we have Amendment No. 170 which is concerned with the operating schedule. This will give my noble friend Lady Gardner a chance to come at me from the other direction. Amendment No. 170 removes paragraph (h) which states:
"such other matters as may be prescribed."
As presently drafted, this surely meets the requirement of my noble friend. This is a parallel issue to what we discussed before when the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, was somewhat concerned at having to defend a difficult position on another matter. The operating schedule is already very extensive in covering the relevant licensable activities, the basic times of opening, any other times of proposed opening, the length of the licence and whether the consumption of alcohol is to be on or off the premises. It also contains steps to promote the licensing objective which in itself could be lengthy, with four sub-sets. Then at the end to have,
"such other matters as may be prescribed", seems to leave an open-ended opportunity to have not one or two sides of A4 paper but many sides, as over time it is considered desirable to prescribe more and more.
Our debates on earlier amendments left me concerned that there was going to be considerable discrimination between large and small premises, that matters might become complicated and that, over time, the smaller licensed premises might be asked to do more and more, depending on the local authority licensing committee, which would inevitably be risk averse. There are no "brownie points"—there is no mileage—for such a committee in not gathering as much information as it can. Therefore, while one might be able to live with the provisions of Clause 17(4)(a) to (g), paragraph (h) was a bridge too far. We do not need an open-ended possibility for pressure to be applied for regulations to become broader, wider and more extensive over time.
I rise as my Amendment No. 171 is in this group, and I am in favour of the idea of having more control over what is prescribed.
However, I really rose to say that I do not claim to know anything about the seedy side of Australian life. I realised as the debate went on that your Lordships thought I referred to night-clubs. However, I was referring to tourist zoning, such as where there are different hours and days of shop opening. Singapore is the same: if an area is considered to have many tourists, it is treated differently from other parts.
Let me begin by defending my noble friend. The part of Australia to which he referred was not the seedy side but a road with substantial hostelries at which one could get a drink in large company. So I can reassure the noble Baroness that my noble friend is no more acquainted with the seedy side of Australia than she or I.
On the general issues, it is quite clear from the representations made on these amendments that there are divided counsels on the Opposition Benches. The reason why counsels are divided is because the Front Bench is operating at one extreme with regard to their amendment, while the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, is operating at the other extreme. The Government are, rightly, balanced and are in the middle, between those two extremes. This is the beauty of the measure. We seek to strike a balance between the need—
I hope that the noble Lord will forgive me, I feel the need to intervene. As I have said, I listened to the Minister in relation to previous amendments, and this was certainly not something that I was pushing. To that extent, I am certainly not at the opposite end of the spectrum to my noble friend Lord Hodgson. However, this is a question I believe should be aired because it is of concern to local authorities. As we are discussing this general area, I think that it merits a response from the Government.
I understand what the noble Baroness says. I did not seek to make too big a point of this, but the arguments about the amendments come from different perspectives. That suggests that the Government have got it all just about right: we have a balance between the need to prevent crime, disorder and public nuisance, to ensure public safety and to protect children from harm and to reduce the regulatory burden on industry—an express objective of the Bill.
Irrespective of the force with which noble Lords have presented their amendments, I am pointing out the obvious fact that, were they to be carried, the balance in the Bill would be severely upset. After all, we want a thriving hospitality and leisure industry. We all know how important that is to the country because of the money involved. It is right that we create a level playing field. The operating schedule is a key tool for achieving that balance.
Wherever they are based, businesses need to know what information they must provide on their schedules. That will allow swift, proportionate decisions to be taken to enable them to operate in a professional and responsible way. To allow licensing authorities in effect to specify their own form of operating schedules would undermine that objective of uniformity. It would also run counter to the Bill's central deregulatory approach, which relies to a large extent on the applicant describing how he or she intends to carry on licensable activities on the premises.
Problems have arisen in the past where licensing authorities have imposed a raft of standard conditions irrespective of whether they were necessary. The Bill sets out a simple system based on the four clear objectives which, while providing for flexibility, provide the foundation for the new system and should eliminate some of the inconsistencies of the current system without adding to—in fact, reducing—the amount of bureaucracy involved.
Although the aim is to minimise the administrative burden on applicants, the Secretary of State's power to add further matters to the list of those that must be included in the operating schedule is necessary to ensure that if, in the light of experience, it proves desirable for the operating schedule to contain additional information—for example, whether meals will be served or the hours for which children will be admitted—that may be provided for quickly and flexibly. Its use would be subject to the negative resolution of Parliament. The Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform, which reported favourably on the Bill, was content with that power and did not regard it as excessive.
One problem with the current system is that the detailed technical and administrative processes are set out in primary legislation, and we have had to wait for almost 40 years for parliamentary time to change them. By allowing the Secretary of State that power, changes can be made quickly, efficiently and across the board—again, supporting the level playing field. So that is the basis for that power of the Secretary of State, which I defend against the amendments.
I recognise that the amendments are probing amendments. We have now had substantial debate about how the operating schedule will operate. I hope that it will be recognised that the Government have the balance of the Bill about right, and that the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment.
I want briefly to refer to paragraph (g), as have other Members of the Committee, which is dealt with in a later amendment that I shall not now move. I hope that it will become clear to all prospective premises licence holders what,
"the steps it proposes to take to promote the licensing objectives", means. I can imagine most individuals trying to fill out an application form and schedule scratching their heads and asking themselves, "What does that mean?", when all they want to do is open a business and get on with it. We hope for clarity.
I share that objective with the noble Baroness: there should be clarity. That is part of the reason that we have sought to safeguard the Secretary of State's role in issuing guidance.
In our earlier debate, I said that the small village or urban pub of discreet pretensions will be able to meet its obligations in less space than a sheet of A4. Of course, where there are other considerations—as I said earlier, those overwhelmingly relate to those establishments that have much more multifarious roles than that of the ordinary village pub—the schedule will be a little longer. The noble Lord will recall that an earlier amendment concerned how onerous the provision will be for the average small hostelry. I sought to give reassurance about that, and I reiterate that assurance.
As drafted, there is no obligation under the Bill on the licensee to have regard to the licensing authority's licensing statement. That may create unnecessary complication when applications must be decided. It is surely better for applicants to prepare their operating schedules in the light of the licensing objectives and the licensing statement. One problem with the existing system of notification is that it is not clear from the notice received from the magistrates or posted on windows exactly what an application is for, unless a local resident goes to the magistrates' court to consult the papers.
Where there are many applications in an area, as can happen, it will be a considerable burden on local residents to try to find out what each application is all about, and on the licensing authority to explain it. The amendment would ease that burden considerably and ensure that residents did not have to object to everything simply to create time for them to consult the papers and understand what the application was for.
Within that subject, I speak also to Amendment No. 303, which was tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville. It would insert the words:
"having regard to the licensing statement of the licensing authority . . . a short description of the application which may be included in any notice advertising the application".
The two amendments are closely related. I beg to move.
Amendment No. 172 concerns regulations regarding the advertising and promotion of an application under Clause 17(5). It is a probing amendment, but I should be grateful for an assurance from the Minister about the degree to which this is expected to be extensive and costly. As I said earlier, 35,000 public houses are owner-managed. They are not necessarily enormously profitable; they are small businesses of a classic kind. The regulations required under subsection (5) could be perfectly reasonable. However, they could be very extensive and expensive. The requirement to give notice to each responsible authority and such other persons as may be prescribed could also be a burdensome activity.
It would be helpful if the Minister could explain the thinking behind this provision and give reassurance that this will not be an unnecessary and undue burden for people seeking to run sensible licensed premises.
I am grateful for the manner in which the noble Lords have moved their amendments. In the Bill, we are seeking to ensure that there is a balance between the removal of red tape for the industry and proper and sensible safeguards for the public. That is why some of these amendments are rather more dramatic in their effect than others.
Amendment No. 172 would have one very unfair effect and one very dangerous effect. It would remove the requirement for an applicant for a premises licence to advertise their application to interested parties; namely, local residents, businesses and their representatives. This would deny those parties the opportunity to make representations about developments in their locality that might affect their lives and businesses directly. I do not accept that the majority of the public would consider this omission as being acceptable.
Furthermore, it would even remove the requirement to notify those bodies which are expert when it comes to judging the merits of applications against the promotion of the declared licensing objectives. I am referring here to the police, the fire authority, the environmental health authority and others. The Government consider it quite unacceptable to place obstacles in the way of an appropriate assessment of the likely impact of an application on the prevention of crime and disorder, public safety, the prevention of public nuisance and the protection of children from harm. The amendment is unacceptable.
Amendment No. 209 seeks to remove the obligation on the part of the applicant for a provisional statement to similarly advertise and notify his application through which local residents and businesses are kept fully informed about planned developments in their neighbourhood and can, along with the responsible authorities, make representations about what is being planned at an early stage. Provisional statements are designed to give developers of all shapes and sizes a degree of confidence but no guarantee that premises which they are developing, building or extending will be able to be used in the way that they expect in respect of the carrying on of licensable activities when the work is finally completed.
Applications for provisional statements will be advertised in the same way as applications for full licences. Interested parties and responsible authorities will be able to make their representations in the usual way.
I want to reassure the noble Lord that the rights of residents are at the cornerstone of the Bill from the earliest stages. Anything that seeks to remove their rights to be informed of new developments in their areas is not acceptable. That cannot be right. If local residents cannot engage with the issue at an early stage, developers could have no confidence, if they continue with their planned development, that a premises licence is likely to be forthcoming when applied for at a later stage. In those circumstances, the investment will possibly not be made. It serves no one's interest to make this change which increases uncertainty in an area in which one would be seeking to provide assurance.
The amendments in this group seek to ensure that the applicant submits a short description of their application or variation of a club's premises certificate or their variation of a premises licence, along with other relevant paperwork. The description would then be used by the licensing authority to advertise the application or variation.
However, even if the licensing authority is required to advertise the application—which it is not—the amendments are unnecessary and would result in nothing more than an increase of paperwork and red tape for the applicant. The fact of the matter is that the Bill makes it crystal clear that it is the responsibility of the applicant—not the licensing authority—to advertise his or her application in accordance with regulations made by the Secretary of State and to notify the responsible authorities. These regulations are likely to specify what information is required in the advertisement and how widely it should be published. It will be a relatively straightforward matter for the licensing authority to determine whether an applicant has complied with the necessary advertising requirements.
The Bill is designed to rid the licensing system of a great deal of the current bureaucracy, not to increase it. I hope that I have established that in resisting these amendments I am seeking to protect a system which is clear, which lays obligations where they should be laid, but clear and appropriate obligations. On that basis, perhaps noble Lords will feel reassured about the amendments that they have proposed and be prepared not to press them.
I accept what the noble Lord has said. My amendments are concerned with residents and with absolutely clarity when applications are made. I am not convinced that more clarity is proposed than currently exists in the Bill. My amendment seeks to make matters even clearer, so that people know exactly what is proposed in relation to the licensing objectives. This is a probing amendment. This is a complicated area—much more complicated than it appears on the surface. I make no secret of the fact that many on these Benches are concerned with the position of residents in relation to the legislation. Residents should be in a position to understand the provisions fully and to be able to act when necessary.
I shall read the noble Lord's remarks in Hansard. If necessary, I should like to speak to him before the next stage of the Bill; otherwise, I shall wait and see what happens. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
I speak to Amendments Nos. 167 and 304. This is a brief probing amendment to establish the Government's position on maximum capacity for premises. We do not intend to press the amendment, but to obtain an indication of government thinking at this stage on maximum capacity in premises. I beg to move.
We have been debating these matters for four hours and I am beginning to lose my train of thought. I would not say that my Amendments Nos. 193, 304 and 310 are probing because I believe that they are of immense importance for public safety. The proposed new clause will attach a condition to the granting of a licence that specifies clearly the maximum permitted occupancy figure when the premises are being used for a licensable activity. In addition, it states that the figure must be specified on the licence itself.
The amendment also proposes that the maximum permitted occupancy figure must be determined by the licensing authority in consultation with the police, the fire authority and the responsible authority as defined in Clause 13(4)(d).
Concern has been expressed by the Local Government Association that a maximum permitted occupancy requirement is not part of the Bill at present. That concern is shared by the Association of Chief Police Officers and a number of members of the public. A common concern relates to the safety of members of the public who will attend licensed premises. It was agreed in relation to Clause 4 that public safety is one of the objectives. I believe that the new clause would allow the proper examination of premises. I do not suggest that that would not take place; but if a licence included a reference to numbers, proper provision could be made to ensure, for example, that the toilet facilities were adequate and that the requisite number of exits were available.
History shows that panic can ensue in premises where fire breaks out or where other difficulties emerge. There have been recent examples. There is a clear case for a mandatory capacity being part of the licence. I understand that it is already a requirement for clubs to adhere to a mandatory capacity limit. It must surely follow that a similar provision should form part of this Bill.
It is a question of common sense that in considering the granting of a licence the licensing authority should be able to satisfy itself that public nuisance, crime and disorder are not exacerbated by the kind of behaviour that may result from overcrowding of the premises.
The only people who will worry about the need for a maximum occupancy figure are the minority of operators who routinely overcrowd their premises to dangerous levels. Anyone walking along streets in London, or in university towns, where crowds of people attempt to get into and out of premises will see that such a provision is necessary. The people who would worry would be those seeking to make the maximum profit from the sale of alcohol. I make no excuse for saying that.
Furthermore, I remind the Committee that, in the past, when pubs on one side of the Edgware Road closed at half-past ten, people moved across to the Paddington area, where they stayed open until 11 o'clock. I can envisage that, when other operators are shutting at a reasonable time—reasonable in modern-day terms: midnight or one o'clock in the morning—and others stay open, there will be a move towards the places that are open. They may not have been the first choice of clients at the start of the evening, but when they have had sufficient alcohol they may feel that they want to continue drinking and will go to a place that is already overcrowded.
Public safety should not be put at risk for the sake of profit by those who want to abuse the absence of permitted occupancy figures. These amendments would strengthen the Bill and would provide protection for the public—both those who will use the licensed premises and passers-by. This place should provide the licensing authorities with the legislative tools that they will need when deciding on the numbers of people who can enjoy the benefits of a licensed premises.
I have a great deal of sympathy with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Clarke, but having a maximum permitted occupancy figure in a single establishment may not satisfy the requirement that he has advanced of the licensing policy, through the awarding of licences, meeting the objectives set out in the Bill.
If an establishment had the necessary number of technical facilities—the noble Lord mentioned two: fire escapes and toilets—in proportion to the number of people who will fit into the premises, the local authority would have no other reason for declining to grant the licence. What I thought the noble Lord was getting at was the possibility of an overall limit being put on the number of people who would be present in all the establishments within a given area. That is where problems will arise in relation to the licensing objectives of the Bill. It may not be a matter of one single establishment—although some are very large; some premises take 1,500 people and that in itself is a substantial cause of crime and disorder in an area. But when an area has several establishments of that size, it is an almost certain recipe for problems in the neighbourhood. Yet there is nothing in the awarding of licences that takes that into consideration.
The noble Lord has put his finger on the lack of powers in the Bill to deal with the overall figure of attendance at all the establishments in a given locality; and even if one one specific licence could be subject to a limit of this kind, it would not solve the problem.
I support the view that there should be a clear definition in safety terms of the permitted number of people per establishment. There is a precedent in the Greater London Authority's late-night music and dancing licences. The authority was always careful to ensure a limit on the number of people entering a premises. The most difficult aspect is the enforcement of such a limit. It is extremely difficult to enforce restrictions on numbers.
I have put my name to Amendment No. 167, and I also support Amendment No. 301 to which my name and that of my noble friend Lord Luke have been added. This is a very difficult area. I agree with the tone of noble Lord, Lord Redesdale: we look to the Government to say what their feelings are in relation to this difficult issue—difficult because it is hard to consider a "one size fits all" provision. What might be sensible in relation to a large establishment would not necessarily be so in relation to a small country pub.
As my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes has suggested, the real problem is in terms of how such a provision would be policed, particularly in relation to small country pubs. Is it reasonable to require expenditure on a doorman in order to police the capacity of such premises when they merely have a few regulars in on a Friday night?
I have sympathy with the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Clarke of Hampstead. This is an important safety issue. Safety is the key. We remember all too clearly the dreadful events at Hillsborough. I do not mean to sound over-dramatic. It is important to realise that we are talking about enormously large establishments. There is no comparison between the country pub and some of the large establishments to which young people throng—perhaps that makes me sound as though I am getting old. I understand that there is something rather "cool" about being in an over- crowded, "hip" establishment, which obviously gives rise to safety concerns.
I recognise that these are probing amendments and that the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, is asking me to set out how we see the issue of capacity operating in licensed premises. Of course, one of the key concerns of the Bill is public safety. It is so important that we have enshrined it in the licensing objectives, at the very core of the legislation. Licensing authorities must carry out their functions with a view to promoting the objectives. Furthermore, in his operating schedule the applicant for a licence must describe the steps that he proposes to take to promote those objectives. A club must do the same when applying for a premises certificate.
As my noble friend Lord Clarke says, it is essential that public safety is assured. That was the essence of the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe. The Bill gives expert bodies—responsible authorities, such as fire authorities, the police, health and safety authorities and environmental health authorities—a statutory role of making representations on applications for new licences and certificates and the opportunity to call for existing licences to be reviewed on any ground relating to the licensing objectives. These experts may advise the imposition of a maximum capacity to be attached as a condition to premises licences or club premises certificates to the licensing authority if they believe that it is necessary for public safety. We would expect them not to hesitate to do so wherever it is appropriate.
This closely mirrors what happens in the existing licensing system, where these expert bodies make recommendations to the local authorities and the licensing justices. However, what the amendments would do—I recognise that they are for the most part probing—would be to make a capacity limit compulsory in every case through its specification in the operating schedule or following the receipt by the licensing authority of relevant representations by the licensing authority deciding to impose a maximum occupancy for the premises. That would make the system unnecessarily arbitrary and burdensome.
We recognise that capacity limits are necessary for some premises. The present licensing justices and local authorities can attach capacity limits at their discretion. The system works, and the only complaints that we have received have come from nightclubs, which regard mandatory capacity limits as a way of defending the virtual monopoly on late night drinking that they currently enjoy. We are keen for there to be greater flexibility for licensed premises and for capacity limits to be imposed when they are necessary, but not otherwise. That is why the Bill will reproduce the system currently in place.
We should also be clear that, in most cases, the places will already have capacity limits in force under existing fire certificates. If a fire certificate includes certain conditions, it would be unnecessary to reproduce them in a premises licence. If a fire certificate were granted for premises when their future use for licensable activity was not known, the licensing authority and fire authority may wish to impose a new capacity limit that would apply at any time when the licensable activity is taking place. That is why we are allowing licensing authorities to impose capacity limits when they are necessary.
I should tell my noble friend Lord Clarke that no mandatory capacity figure is imposed on nightclubs under current licensing law. Such conditions are imposed under the discretion of the licensing authority, so nothing will change, but the licensing authority will seek the advice of health and safety experts and the fire authority when necessary. We should not lose sight of the fact that health and safety at work regulations require employers to assess the risk for their workers and others, including customers, who may be affected by their business, and identify what measures are needed to reduce or control the risks. That assessment might well include some consideration of the risk of overcrowding in premises, and ways in which that risk can be controlled.
The Bill is intended to be flexible. Licensing authorities will be able to attach capacity limits as conditions of licences when it is thought that expert opinion believes that it is necessary and given the other controls in place. In the light of what I have said, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
I thank the Minister for that reply. I was particularly concerned about nightclubs that might press the issue as a means of preserving their trade in late night drinking. Also, if maximum capacities were introduced in a mandatory way, it would imply the need for bouncers and doormen on every door, which would change the whole nature of many establishments. That would obviously not be welcome in terms of changing the mentality of drinkers in late night establishments. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.