Licensing Bill [HL]

– in the House of Lords at 3:17 pm on 4th March 2003.

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Votes in this debate

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Photo of Baroness Buscombe Baroness Buscombe Conservative

moved Amendment No. 193:

After Clause 111, insert the following new clause—

"MEANING OF "SERIOUS OFFENCE"

(1) In this Part "serious offence" means a relevant offence to which subsection (2) applies and in respect of which a custodial sentence of at least 30 months was imposed.

(2) The relevant offences to which this subsection applies are—

(a) any sexual offence, within the meaning of section 161(2) of the Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000 (c. 6) (interpretation),

(b) any violent offence, within the meaning of section 161(3) of that Act,

(c) any relevant offence under the Theft Act 1968 (c. 60) or the Theft Act 1978 (c. 31), and

(d) any relevant offence under the Forgery and Counterfeiting Act 1981 (c. 45).

(3) In subsection (2) "custodial sentence" has the same meaning as in section 76 of the Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000 (c. 6) (meaning of "custodial sentence")."

Photo of Baroness Buscombe Baroness Buscombe Conservative

My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 193, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 195, 198, 199, 200, 201, 202, 203, 204, 205, 206, 208, 209, 210, 211, 212, 213, 214, 215 and 216.

These amendments all relate to a very important aspect of the Bill—applications for a personal licence from individuals with convictions for serious offences. Clause 118 makes various provisions as regards an application for a personal licence. A licensing authority must grant the application if the applicant is 18 or over; he possesses the relevant qualification; no personal licence previously held by him has been forfeited in the previous five years; and he has not been convicted of any relevant offence or foreign offence. If those conditions are satisfied, the licensing authority must grant the application; there is no discretion in the matter. That is the case even if the chief officer of police is satisfied that the granting of the licence would undermine the crime prevention objective. As we said quite strenuously in Committee, that cannot be right.

If the chief officer is satisfied that the granting of the licence would undermine the crime prevention objective, we on this side of the House feel that it is absolutely essential that the licensing authority should consider the chief officer's view. The licensing authority can always reject his views, but, at the very least, it should consider them. The chief officer must therefore be given notice of any application for a personal licence so that he can then form a view as to whether the granting of a licence would undermine the crime prevention objective.

We also believe that if an applicant for, or the holder of, a personal licence is convicted of a serious offence, the application for a personal licence should be dismissed or the personal licence forfeited. The Bill as presently drafted merely provides that where the applicant or the holder of a personal licence is convicted of a relevant offence, which would include a serious offence, the licensing authority must notify the chief officer of police, who then has to form a view as to whether the granting or continuation of the licence would undermine the crime prevention objective. If he forms that view he must give the authority an objection notice, which would then be considered by the licensing authority.

For serious offences, the application for a personal licence should be dismissed or the personal licence forfeited. As to what we mean by a serious offence, we have had regard to Clause 112(2) and (3). Those subsections make a distinction as regards certain specific offences. Those are any sexual offence, any violent offence, and any relevant offence under the Theft Act 1968 or the Forgery and Counterfeiting Act 1981. The distinction that those two subsections make is between convictions where the offender is sentenced to either more or less than 30 months in prison.

As the Bill is drafted, if the applicant for a personal licence is convicted of such an offence but not sentenced to more than 30 months, that conviction is disregarded and, if all the other conditions are satisfied, the licensing authority must grant the application. As we said in Committee, we find that extraordinary. If an applicant is convicted of one of the specific offences, at the very least the chief officer of police should be entitled to object. If a sentence of more than 30 months is imposed, we believe that the application should be dismissed. We see no justification whatever for the view that someone convicted of such a serious offence and sentenced to more than 30 months' imprisonment should be a suitable person to hold a personal licence.

Noble Lords will notice from the third Marshalled List that clear progress has been made since we debated the matter in Committee. We are very pleased that the Government are to support Amendment No. 195, which concedes that the police should have the discretion to form a view in the event that the applicant for a personal licence has been convicted of a "relevant offence" that is not spent. We are grateful that the Government have recognised that important measure. On the assumption that Amendment No. 195, to which the Minister has added her name, is agreed to, our Amendment No. 193 is unnecessary.

I shall deal briefly with Amendment No. 202. It covers a slightly different but very important point. It provides a change in the burden of proof where the applicant for or holder of a personal licence has been found guilty of a relevant offence. The burden of proof should be on him to satisfy the authority that the crime prevention objective would not be undermined by the application being granted or the licence not being revoked.

As drafted, the police simply have to be satisfied that granting the licence will not undermine the crime prevention objective. That is not enough. The burden should be on the applicant to convince the police that he or she should be granted a licence. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Redesdale Lord Redesdale Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I support the amendments. Although I added my name to a number of them, I plan to speak only to Amendments Nos. 193 and 195.

The purpose of Amendment No. 193 is to widen the net for those convicted of serious offences, so that a number of different offences not set out in the Bill would be included. On looking at them again, I would have many difficulties with my noble friend Lord Avebury if I were to press it, because it might well impinge on the rights to run premises of offenders who had served their time in prison and been rehabilitated.

As said by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, the Minister has added her name to Amendment No. 195. We believe that it is a compromise that will enhance the Bill rather than detract from it. On that basis, I very much hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, will not press the other amendments but will support Amendment No. 195.

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (the Arts), Department for Culture, Media & Sport, Minister of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) (Arts)

My Lords, the Government have reflected carefully on the House's debates in Committee about relevant offences. As a result of our considerations we wholly support Amendment No. 195, which would substantially change the Bill's definition of a conviction for a relevant offence. Amendments Nos. 214 and 215, which stand in my name, are both consequential to the changes envisaged by Amendment No. 195. Having made those concessions, however, I must resist the other amendments in the group.

If taken in isolation from the other amendments in the group, Amendment No. 195 would mean that if an applicant for grant or renewal of a personal licence had an unspent conviction for any offence listed in Schedule 4 to the Bill, the licensing authority would be required, on considering an application for grant or renewal of a personal licence, to notify the police.

The police, having regard to that conviction, would then be free to notify the licensing authority if they considered that to grant or renew the licence would undermine the crime prevention objective. On receiving such a notification, the licensing authority would be required to hold a hearing at which all the parties would be able to put their arguments. After hearing the arguments, if the licensing authority were satisfied that it was necessary for the promotion of the crime prevention objective to refuse the application, it would do so.

That would be a significant strengthening of the arrangements in the Bill debated in Committee. We have listened carefully not only to the points made in the House, but to points made to us directly by the Association of Chief Police Officers, and we believe that Amendment No. 195 meets those concerns.

The other amendments take matters much further, and we believe that they go too far. They would create a new concept of "serious offence" which adopts the formulation that the Bill currently uses to create a threshold in respect of convictions of relevant offences identified in Clause 112(3). The object of the threshold had been to identify the place where a conviction could be disregarded for some, but not all, purposes in the Bill. A conviction for a serious offence would mean automatic refusal of an application for grant or renewal of a personal licence. Effectively, the individual would be banned for life from ever holding the authority to sell alcohol by retail. In addition, the proposal is that on convicting a personal licence holder for a "serious offence" as defined in the amendments, the courts would be obliged to declare the licence forfeit.

What kind of message would that send about rehabilitation? I am grateful for what the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, said about that. Under the amendments, a life ban would arise out of any conviction for an offence currently listed in the Bill at Clause 112 if a custodial sentence of at least 30 months had resulted. We question whether that could sensibly be regarded as proportionate, and it might well give rise to questions of human rights. A man convicted of theft or assault at the age of 21 would still be subject to the automatic ban at 40 without any consideration of how his circumstances might have changed. We do not think that reasonable. To accept the amendments would write such individuals off regardless of the efforts that they might have made, and of whether probation and prison services that work with such individuals during and sometimes after the completion of their prison sentences would welcome that. I very much doubt that they would.

We also have difficulty with the idea that the sentencing court should have no discretion when deciding whether or not the licence should be forfeit. No doubt the court would take such action in very many cases. However, this is still a matter that should be judged on the individual merits of each case in all the circumstances that have given rise to the offence. I do not believe that we should be attempting to settle arguments about mandatory and discretionary sentencing in a Bill that is focused on licensing.

I hope that the noble Baroness will agree that we have gone a long way down the road of ensuring that the public are properly protected by accepting Amendments Nos. 195 and 214 and moving Amendment No. 215 in order to strengthen the qualifying tests and increase the involvement of the police. We believe that the other amendments in this group go too far.

I therefore ask the noble Baroness not to press her amendment and to accept that Amendments Nos. 195 and 214 are all that is necessary to meet the concerns of noble Lords. I also ask the House to accept Amendment No. 215 which, as I said earlier, is consequential to the changes that we are proposing.

Photo of Baroness Buscombe Baroness Buscombe Conservative 3:30 pm, 4th March 2003

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that very full reply. I accept what she said about a life ban. It may seem stiff but it has been worth our while to push the matter to strengthen our case. I accept what she said about the question of proportionality. Any sentence that carries a conviction of more than 30 months involves a fairly serious offence. We are relying to a large extent on rehabilitation that works.

We are grateful to the Government for listening to our concerns, which have been echoed by the Association of Chief Police Officers. It understands the issues better than all of us. We are pleased to withdraw our Amendment No. 193 and hope that noble Lords will agree to Amendment No. 195 and Amendment No. 214, which strengthens the test, and consequential Amendment No. 215. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 4 [Personal licence: relevant offences]:

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (the Arts), Department for Culture, Media & Sport, Minister of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) (Arts)

moved Amendment No. 194:

Page 116, line 38, at end insert—

"An offence under any of the following provisions of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (c. 48)—

(a) section 107(1)(d)(iii) (public exhibition in the course of a business of article infringing copyright);

(b) section 198(2) (broadcast etc. of recording of performance made without sufficient consent);

(c) section 297(1) (fraudulent reception of transmission);

(d) section 297A(1) (supply etc. of unauthorised decoder)."

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 112 [Meaning of "conviction"]:

Photo of Baroness Buscombe Baroness Buscombe Conservative

moved Amendment No. 195:

Page 62, line 32, leave out subsections (2) to (4).

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 115 [Application for grant or renewal of personal licence]:

Photo of Lord Redesdale Lord Redesdale Liberal Democrat

moved Amendment No. 196:

Page 63, line 37, leave out subsection (2) and insert—

"(2) An application for the grant of a personal licence must be made to the Central Licensing Authority."

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 116 [Individual permitted to hold only one personal licence]:

Photo of Lord Redesdale Lord Redesdale Liberal Democrat

moved Amendment No. 197:

Page 64, line 14, leave out from second "the" to end of line 15 and insert "Central Licensing Authority"

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 118 [Determination of application for grant]:

[Amendments Nos. 198 to 202 not moved.]

Clause 119 [Determination of application for renewal]:

[Amendments Nos. 203 to 206 not moved.]

Clause 121 [Duty to notify licensing authority of convictions during application period]:

Photo of Lord Redesdale Lord Redesdale Liberal Democrat

moved Amendment No. 207:

Page 66, line 40, leave out from second "the" to end of line 41 and insert "Central Licensing Authority"

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 122 [Convictions coming to light after grant or renewal]:

[Amendments Nos. 208 to 211 not moved.]

Clause 127 [Forfeiture or suspension of licence on conviction for relevant offence]:

[Amendments Nos. 212 and 213 not moved.]

Clause 129 [Court's duty to notify licensing authority of convictions]:

Photo of Baroness Buscombe Baroness Buscombe Conservative

moved Amendment No. 214:

Page 71, line 16, leave out subsection (2).

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 130 [Licence holder's duty to notify licensing authority of convictions]:

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (the Arts), Department for Culture, Media & Sport, Minister of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) (Arts)

moved Amendment No. 215:

Page 72, line 7, leave out from "apply," to "or" in line 9.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 216 not moved.]

Clause 134 [Unauthorised licensable activities]:

Photo of Lord Beaumont of Whitley Lord Beaumont of Whitley Green

moved Amendment No. 217:

Page 74, line 6, at end insert "covered"

Photo of Lord Beaumont of Whitley Lord Beaumont of Whitley Green

My Lords, this amendment seeks to explore the area covered by these newly made offences, which may be for doing something that is not in itself very harmful. The amendment suggests that there should be an offence only if the activity is conducted in covered premises, not if they are being conducted in the open air. As I say, this is an exploratory amendment and I shall be glad to hear the Government's explanation of the situation. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Government Whip, Lords in Waiting (Whips)

My Lords, I appreciate the manner in which the noble Lord proposed the amendment, which he defined as exploratory. I am afraid that it leads to a dead end so far as the Government are concerned. The amendment would not stop activities that are carried on outdoors from being licensable but would preclude effective enforcement if an authorisation was not obtained. It would be an open invitation to the less scrupulous to flaunt their responsibilities.

One of the virtues of the Bill is its flexibility. It makes provision, for example, for village fetes, where the use of temporary event notices will ensure light-touch regulation. It also provides for larger-scale outdoor events, which carry serious implications for public order, safety and nuisance—events such as very large concerts in Hyde Park and the Glastonbury Festival, to name but two.

We must ensure that issues of public safety, the prevention of crime and disorder and public nuisance, and the protection of children from harm are considered by organisers of large-scale open-air events such as those to which I referred. It is also imperative that expert bodies have the opportunity to consider proposals for such activities. We all remember the tragic death last year when 250,000 people turned up at a concert held on the seafront at Brighton but only 60,000 were expected. That provoked Fatboy Slim to say that he would not play at another free show in Brighton unless he could guarantee people's safety. At the rather more sedate Brecon Jazz Festival in 1999, 90 arrests were made for drug offences and 23 for public disorder offences.

Even events on a much smaller scale have the potential to give rise to problems. The problem with the amendment is that it would, for example, effectively allow a rock band to perform out in the open—perhaps in a park in the centre of a residential area—without any authorisation.

As well as in the entertainment context, no offence would be committed if a person, whether or not a personal licence holder, sold alcohol outdoors without authorisation. Nor would it be an offence to provide late-night refreshment from uncovered premises without authorisation. I am not convinced that the public would thank us for allowing such a state of affairs to obtain.

We must ensure that open-air activities come fully within the ambit of the Bill in order that matters relating to the promotion of the licensing objectives can be properly considered. Where people undertake licensable activities without appropriate authorisation, they must be left in no doubt that they are committing an offence. I hope that the noble Lord recognises that there is a strong case against the amendment and that he will withdraw it.

Photo of Lord Skelmersdale Lord Skelmersdale Conservative

My Lords, the Minister mentioned concerts. Would the Jubilee Concert at Buckingham Palace last year have been licensable under the Bill?

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Government Whip, Lords in Waiting (Whips)

My Lords, that is an interesting point. I am slightly chary about the privileges that obtain with regard to royal palaces. I believe that we all recall the time when this place benefited from such a provision. I am sure that the noble Lord will accept that I will not trample over a royal prerogative inadvertently from the Dispatch Box. I cannot answer him directly but I shall of course write to him.

Photo of Lord Beaumont of Whitley Lord Beaumont of Whitley Green

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for explaining the Bill's approach in this regard and the limits to its extension. I am entirely on his side, living as I do on the edge of Clapham Common. If I pursue the amendment I do not imagine that it would be popular with my neighbours. The Minister's reply leads to some questions which I may pursue at a later stage. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (the Arts), Department for Culture, Media & Sport, Minister of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) (Arts)

moved Amendment No. 218:

Page 74, line 9, at end insert—

"(1A) Where the licensable activity in question is the provision of regulated entertainment, a person does not commit an offence under this section if his only involvement in the provision of the entertainment is that he—

(a) performs in a play,

(b) participates as a sportsman in an indoor sporting event,

(c) boxes or wrestles in a boxing or wrestling entertainment,

(d) performs live music,

(e) plays recorded music,

(f) performs dance, or

(g) does something coming within paragraph 2(1)(h) of Schedule 1 (entertainment similar to music, dance, etc.).

(1B) Subsection (1A) is to be construed in accordance with Part 3 of Schedule 1."

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 137 [Defence of due diligence]:

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (the Arts), Department for Culture, Media & Sport, Minister of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) (Arts)

My Lords, Amendments Nos. 219 and 284 have been tabled to correct minor drafting points. Clause 137(2) should read, "This subsection applies" rather than, "This section applies". Amendment No. 219 seeks to correct that. Amendment No. 284 clarifies that the reference to the 1964 Act in paragraph 29 of Schedule 8 is to the Licensing Act 1964. I hope that noble Lords will support those minor changes.

As regards Amendment No. 248, noble Lords will recall that in Committee I gave undertakings that appropriate and fair time limits will be set out in regulations. Those will ensure the timely processing of applications and prevent them being frustrated by delay. It is important that there is consistency and a degree of certainty for industry and that at the same time licensing authorities and other relevant authorities have sufficient time to consider applications. As I have explained, the rationale behind setting out such time limits in secondary legislation rather than on the face of the Bill is to ensure enough flexibility to amend those if necessary in the light of experience.

Building on those assurances, Amendment No. 248 seeks to clarify that appropriate time limits can be imposed in relation to all stages of the application process; for example, the amount of time licensing authorities have in which to consider application forms and any relevant representations before a hearing is held, the length of time between notification of a hearing and the hearing, and the length of time a licensing authority has in which to determine the application following a hearing.

Noble Lords welcomed the assurances on time limits given in Committee, so I hope they will be able to support the amendment, which seeks to give greater clarification to our intentions. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Redesdale Lord Redesdale Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I welcome the amendments and do not want to detain the House. Can the Minister give the House an idea of the draft timescales, which obviously may change, which the Government are considering at this stage of the Bill?

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (the Arts), Department for Culture, Media & Sport, Minister of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) (Arts)

My Lords, I do not think I am able to help the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, at this stage. However, as soon as I can I shall let him know.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Photo of Baroness Buscombe Baroness Buscombe Conservative 3:45 pm, 4th March 2003

moved Amendment No. 219A:

After Clause 138, insert the following new clause—

"DISORDERLY CONDUCT OUTSIDE LICENSED PREMISES

(1) Where customers of licensed premises engage in disorderly conduct after they have left those premises, no person to whom subsection (2) applies shall be liable to any fine or other penalty arising from that conduct by those customers.

(2) This subsection applies—

(a) to any person who works at the premises in a capacity, whether paid or unpaid, which authorises him to prevent disorderly conduct on the premises;

(b) in the case of licensed premises, to—

(i) the holder of a premises license in respect of the premises, and

(ii) the designated premises supervisor (if any) under such a license,

(c) in the case of premises in respect of which a club premises certificate has effect, to any member or officer of the club who, at the time the conduct takes place, is present on the premises in a capacity which would enable him to prevent disorderly conduct occurring within the premises;

(d) in the case of premises which may be used for a permitted temporary activity by virtue of Part 5, to the premises user in relation to the temporary event notice in question."

Photo of Baroness Buscombe Baroness Buscombe Conservative

My Lords, we have had numerous debates on the responsibilities of the industry and how far that extends beyond the premises. Certainly, in our early debates it was clear that the publican, or indeed the club owner or manager, should not be responsible for the behaviour of drinkers or clubgoers beyond the immediate vicinity of the premises. Through our debates, "vicinity" seems now to have extended to the neighbourhood. There is perhaps still the question of how far that neighbourhood extends.

We have also had numerous debates about fees. The Government have been keen to reassure the House that while the whole system will be self-financing, at the same time fees will be set centrally and will be reasonable. The Government have worked at length to encourage us to feel comfortable about leaving the question of fees and the amount of such fees to regulations. Indeed, the noble Baroness was very clear when she stated:

"Licensing fees will be set centrally and fairly. They will be set at a level which will allow licensing authorities to recover the full costs of exercising the licensing functions, including administration, inspection and enforcement".

The noble Baroness went on to say:

"The exact level of fees is yet to be decided. The Secretary of State is still considering representations on the levels and the figures are not therefore etched in stone. We currently estimate that the one-off fee for a premises licence will be set in bands between £100 and £500, with annual charges for the purpose of providing revenue for the licensing authority set in bands between £50 and £150".—[Official Report, 16/1/03; col. 342.]

To some extent we have all felt that it is time to back off and wait for regulations. However, I was rather taken aback when I opened the Daily Telegraph last Saturday and discovered on page 4 an article stating:

"Pubs and nightclubs would have to pay a levy to fund the cost of extra policing in city centres hit by late-night drunken disorder, according to proposals that have alarmed Downing Street.

David Blunkett is drawing up plans that would force the licensed trade to make a financial contribution to pay for extra patrols in areas plagued by anti-social behaviour at closing time.

The scheme, which some say would amount to making the private sector pay 'protection money', has divided Whitehall where some officials say it could open the way for extra burdens on business.

The Home Secretary is looking for ways to include the idea in the Anti-Social Behaviour Bill being drawn up to tackle 'low-level' loutish behaviour such as graffiti and vandalism.

Bob Ainsworth and John Denham, the Home Office Ministers responsible, initially tried to have the measure included in the Licensing Bill which is before the Lords, but were resisted by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport".

I enjoyed the last sentence. I take it that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport realises the extent to which we in your Lordships' House are concerned about the real impact of the Bill on the industry and on local authorities, and has therefore persuaded Home Office officials that the process of setting fees, if fees are to be set, should be delayed and included in a later Bill.

The purpose of our amendment tabled yesterday—I apologise to the Government; I do not like tabling amendments at the last minute—is to seek clarification as to where the responsibility for licensed premises begins and ends. It is accepted that there are duties on personal licence holders to ensure that they run orderly premises and that they do not serve drinks or sell to under-age persons. Beyond that we are keen to ensure that disorder away from such premises is properly associated with those who are personally responsible for such behaviour and that they are dealt with by the powers which the police already have.

The Bill ensures that disorderly and drunk persons are evicted from the premises. We want to ensure that the licensee is then not made responsible. We question the Government as to whether their intention is to make the licensee responsible for such persons once they are outside. We believe that that would be iniquitous and unfair. There have been discussions in your Lordships' House and elsewhere as to whether licensed premises should be charged separately for the cost of policing in city centres and whether such charge should be laid on the pubs, bars and night-clubs.

We want to know from the Government, and we believe it is only fair that the industry should know from the Government, ahead of any anti-social behaviour Bill what is the true position. Will the industry be asked to pay for anti-social behaviour, however that is defined in a later Bill? Is this a matter which the Government have decided to delay until another date but have full intentions of assessing? It is important that we have a clear answer now from the Government. We are doing all we can to assist them by backing off in terms of demanding at this stage that the question of fees should be on the face of the Bill. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Redesdale Lord Redesdale Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I support the amendment. Although it is a probing amendment, the issue is important.

We have had many debates on the impact of the Licensing Bill on the amenity and the neighbourhood and how it will affect different areas. We are concerned about the idea that a levy or fee might be paid, which seems to be based on a pilot study done on Peter Street in Manchester, where bars and pubs were asked to pay money towards an extra police officer, with the police paying for another officer. That led to a reduction in crime, so we support it as a scheme on a voluntary basis, but we would have severe reservations about making it a national scheme.

There are some stress areas that would react well to that sort of scheme, such as the Big Market in Newcastle or parts of the West End. If the scheme was conducted in a broader area, it would be extremely unfair on smaller pubs that have no problems with the type of behaviour exhibited in the stress area. I hope that the Minister can give an indication that no such national levy is being considered.

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (the Arts), Department for Culture, Media & Sport, Minister of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) (Arts)

My Lords, I understand fully the sentiments behind this amendment. It is designed to clarify the extent to which managers and staff are responsible for the conduct of customers after they have left the premises. I hope I can do that. As the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, and the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, said, it is a probing amendment.

The Government's position has always been that the licensing regime is focused on individual premises and individuals when they are on those premises. The Bill provides the specific offences of allowing disorderly conduct on licensed premises; sale of alcohol to, or obtaining it for, a person who is drunk on licensed premises; failure to leave licensed premises; and so on. It is very difficult to see how it could be otherwise.

Licensees have a range of tools to control people's behaviour while they are on the premises—not all of them born of legislation. However, once the customer leaves the licensee's sphere of influence, his or her power over them is rapidly attenuated. Indeed, I made that clear during earlier stages of the passage of the Bill. That said, there is a range of measures on which licensees in a particular area can collaborate to reduce disorder collectively. For example, some town centres operate a radio paging system so that messages relating to disorder issues can be disseminated rapidly to all licensed premises. That can help in alerting all licensees in a particular area when trouble is occurring, ensuring that disorderly groups cannot simply move from pub to pub.

Noble Lords will be aware, too, of the provisions in the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001 relating to on-the-spot penalties in respect of disorderly behaviour while drunk in a public place and to the offence of buying or attempting to buy alcohol for consumption in a bar in licensed premises by a person under 18. We should not be introducing anything to reduce the breadth of powers of the police under the 2001 Act.

The focus of the Bill itself falls squarely on the premises. It is precisely because of that focus that this amendment is unnecessary, although I accept that it is a probing amendment. I should point out to the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, and the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, that one should never believe what one reads in the newspapers. We have no intention of imposing such a levy—the article is not true.

The noble Lord, Lord Harris, moved an amendment in Committee about police charging and we resisted it. We believe that industry contributes to the cost of policing and that the matter is properly dealt with in voluntary arrangements such as those that take place in Peter Street in Manchester, to which I referred on several occasions.

I hope that has reassured noble Lords and the licensed trade that licensees will not be penalised for the activities of customers after they have left the premises and hence the licensee's control. In view of that, I hope that the amendment can be withdrawn.

Photo of Baroness Buscombe Baroness Buscombe Conservative

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her response to this probing amendment. I believe the Minister when she says that the article that I quoted is not true. I am grateful to her for being so clear on that point. However, although I would love to agree that one should not believe all that one reads, one could follow with that awful cliché;No smoke without fire". Noble Lords will appreciate that such an article will make many people wonder whether the aims of the Government, Her Majesty's Opposition and other noble Lords on the Bill will be undermined by another Bill at a later date.

I urge the Minister to ensure that this debate gives rise to a true example of joined-up government, with the officials from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport making our views clear to officials from the Home Office, so that they are fully aware of what has been said today. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Lord Lea of Crondall Lord Lea of Crondall Labour

moved Amendment No. 220:

After Clause 141, insert the following new clause—

"LICENSED PREMISES (EXCLUSION OF CERTAIN PERSONS) ACT 1980

(1) Section 1 of the Licensed Premises (Exclusion of Certain Persons) Act 1980 (c. 32) (exclusion orders) is amended as follows.

(2) In subsection (1), for "may" there is substituted "shall".

(3) In subsection (3), for "two" there is substituted "ten"."

Photo of Lord Lea of Crondall Lord Lea of Crondall Labour

My Lords, if we conducted a public opinion poll on the question, "Do you agree that people found guilty of violence against staff in a pub should be excluded from that pub for a long time?", I would guess that around 95 per cent of people should say, "Yes". Indeed, they would express astonishment that it is not already the case. This is the sort of practical measure that would help to connect politicians with ordinary people in public and saloon bars.

We have often debated violence against staff, and it has often been said that we want to do all that we can to eliminate that sort of appalling behaviour but that it is difficult to achieve. If that is the case, why are we not already doing what is proposed in the amendment?

I hope that the Minister will not take comfort from the marked reduction in the number of exclusion orders from what, on any interpretation, was already a small number. In the early 1990s, it was something like 70 and about 25 in the mid-1990s, when the statistics suddenly dried up. I may be wrong about those statistics, but no doubt I will be corrected if I have looked up the wrong ones. However, the reduction is marked. I have talked to the trade unions and employers, who are all concerned about the marked reduction. Their conclusion is not that the problem has gone away. The explanation lies in the roles of the magistrates' courts and the licensing courts, and the relation between them.

When people are found guilty of a violent offence, why are they not automatically excluded? Surely, a priori, one would think it the simplest thing in the world to attach automatically such an order to a sentence. The measure was included in a White Paper in 1980, but mysteriously disappeared. Does the problem relate to automatic sentencing or some related objection, or is it a technical problem relating to court procedure? If so, we should deal with it in the Courts Bill—and we have the opportunity to do that.

If the problem relates to the sort of objection that I have mentioned, it is an illogical objection, as will become clear when we give the matter a moment's thought. It is not exactly an infringement of liberty to be kept out of a pub, is it?—especially, if one has been proved guilty of committing a violent offence in that pub.

Without making a long speech, I ask my noble friend to take the matter forward by agreeing to consider carefully how the principle can best be drafted before the Bill is sent to another place. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Redesdale Lord Redesdale Liberal Democrat 4:00 pm, 4th March 2003

My Lords, I support the amendment. It is unfortunate that exclusion orders were not included in the Bill. Perhaps the Minister can tell us why they were not. They would have been extremely helpful. Bar staff can be intimidated when people who have been barred return and make life difficult for them.

I also support one scheme which has done most to counteract violence in pubs. The Minister mentioned the pager scheme in the previous amendment, which is part of the national Pubwatch scheme. I commend the work of all those who have set up that voluntary scheme and who have tried so hard to make sure that it is a national scheme. In considering the good work and the fact that the Minister has mentioned that scheme today, will she press her colleagues in the Home Office to make sure that there is adequate funding for it? It is a scheme that works. It has prevented a great deal of violence by groups who have caused violence in one pub, have been thrown out, and who have then moved on to the next one. Having said that, I very much hope that the Minister will give some reasons as to why exclusion orders were dropped from this part of the Bill.

Photo of Baroness Buscombe Baroness Buscombe Conservative

My Lords, I support this very sensible and worthwhile amendment.

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (the Arts), Department for Culture, Media & Sport, Minister of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) (Arts)

My Lords, Amendment No. 220 would insert a clause into the Bill amending the Licensed Premises (Exclusion of Certain Persons) Act 1980.

The 1980 Act provides that on convicting an individual for an offence involving violence or threats of violence on licensed premises, a court may make an exclusion order banning the individual from those premises or other specified premises unless the licensee consented to his admission. Orders can have effect for not less than three months and not more than two years. An offence is committed if the person breaches the court's order.

Amendment No. 220 would make two key changes to those provisions. First, it would remove the court's discretion not to make such an order. It would also increase the maximum period of such an order from two years to 10 years. The White Paper, which was published in April 2000, proposed that the courts should be empowered to impose longer bans for up to 10 years and, in the most serious cases, for life. I therefore have some sympathy for the proposal to increase the maximum period of the ban. Nevertheless, I must resist the amendment.

Perhaps I may explain why the position has changed. Following the White Paper consultation, we examined the prospects of including this measure in the Bill. However, there is a question mark regarding whether a licensing Bill that deals mainly with regulatory and administrative arrangements is an appropriate statute in which to address sentencing matters. In the context of human rights, there are also sensitive considerations in relation to the proportionate nature of bans of such length, particularly where the subtext for the offence could involve a problem with alcohol that borders on illness.

Our concerns in this area have led us to decide not to include such a change on this occasion. I should add that it may also be considered odd that, where a ban of such an arguably draconian length is imposed by a court, it should be up to the licensee or his staff as to whether it is enforced. That aspect certainly needs more consideration.

Noble Lords should also appreciate that licensed premises are private properties and no licensee is obliged to admit any person to his premises so long as he does not unlawfully discriminate. Licensees can and do bar individuals from their premises, sometimes for life. Indeed, Pubwatch schemes often ensure that certain individuals are barred from pubs across a widespread area. Incidentally, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, that I shall certainly pass his comments on to my colleagues in the Home Office about resourcing schemes of this kind.

We do of course appreciate the concerns that exist to protect licensees and their staff who are sometimes the victims of drunken violence. The 1980 Act is already there to provide some degree of protection, but in our view the amendment goes too far.

Our concerns are increased by the proposal to remove the court's discretion not to make an order following a relevant conviction. If the offender worked on licensed premises—let us say as a member of staff—and was convicted of offences involving threats of violence after a squabble with a drunken customer, an exclusion order of the kind proposed could cost him his livelihood. It would be a very significant sentence indeed.

We cannot therefore agree that the court should have to add an exclusion order to the sentence being given, which might be a conditional or even an absolute discharge. At the other end of the scale, it would be somewhat burdensome for a court to have to make an exclusion order in the case of a person being sentenced to life imprisonment, say, for a very serious act of violence.

The criminal courts are the appropriate bodies to decide whether such orders are necessary and whether the making of such an order is a proportionate response to the particular offences committed in the individual circumstances of any case. I do not think we should be trying to settle the argument between mandatory and discretionary sentencing in a Bill of this kind. It is a matter to which this House is bound to return in the context of a number of other, perhaps more appropriate, Bills.

So, in the light of the points I have made, I hope that noble Lords can agree not to press their amendment on this occasion.

Photo of Lord Lea of Crondall Lord Lea of Crondall Labour

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. I am astonished that, despite all its technical ins and outs, the conclusion is not more positive. I again ask that the matter is given serious consideration. It has the support of some noble Lords on this side of the House and of both the other parties that have spoken. It will shortly be going to another place. I speak having been a member for many years of the Transport and General Workers' Union. The National Association of Licensed House Managers is now a part of that union. It is not the only party; the employers are also very concerned about the problem of violence in pubs.

I begin by expressing some concern that the example that was given was of an absolute discharge. I am talking about someone who is found guilty of a violent offence. That is the matter we are amending. That person ought to be excluded from a pub. I ask my noble friend to ask the department to have another look at the matter.

On the question of which Bill, we have enough Bills passing through Parliament this Session that I am sure we can find the right Bill. There is the Courts Bill and there is another one which will deal with sentencing and so on.

The opportunity should not be missed to update an inadequate position. That has been proved by more than 10 years of experience of running the present system. In withdrawing the amendment at this stage, I want to say that if nothing is done, I am afraid that this will not be the end of the matter. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Baroness Buscombe Baroness Buscombe Conservative

moved Amendment No. 221:

Before Clause 143, insert the following clause—

"ALLOWING CHILDREN INTO LICENSED PREMISES

(1) In pursuit of the licensing objective in section 4(2)(d), children under the age of 14 are only permitted to enter into licensed premises as defined in subsection (2) when accompanied by an adult over the age of 18.

(2) For the purpose of subsection (1), these licensed premises are—

(a) public houses;

(b) nightclubs; and

(c) any similar establishment whose primary purpose is the consumption of alcohol."

Photo of Baroness Buscombe Baroness Buscombe Conservative

My Lords, we now come to the issue of children—an issue on which I have felt especially strongly during the Bill's progress through the House. I said on Second Reading that I could not understand how the Government could have a stated policy to develop a family friendly culture if parents did not have to be present. I have continued to press that point and thought long and hard about how we could address that difficult area.

As the Bill stands, unaccompanied children of any age will, in principle, have totally unrestricted access to bars, clubs and pubs at any time of day or night. I have yet to meet a publican who thinks that that is a good idea or who wants to be responsible for supervising youngsters who may get into trouble in what is sometimes a very adult atmosphere. Licensees have told us that they feel compelled to make their premises as unrestricted as possible in order to remain competitive under the new regulations, irrespective of whether they think that a good idea in principle. That serves only to encourage an environment that puts children in danger. Many children can look older than they are and, with fake identity cards available from the Internet, it is easy for them to fool bartenders and bouncers.

The Bill lumps together supermarkets and lap-dancing clubs under the same licensing regime, with potentially disastrous results. Although it is wholly desirable for children to accompany their parents on family shopping trips, the same legislation enables them to visit a nightclub at 3 a.m. on their own, if they so wish. We have returned to this point many times, and many beyond your Lordships' House find it hard to believe.

The situation is compounded by the fact that in the same Bill, where children even attempt to buy an alcoholic beverage under the age of 18, they are guilty of a criminal offence. There is no defence under the Bill; they are guilty. Is it reasonable to make our children criminal? The Bill encourages the notion that we should allow children and young people into pubs and clubs, saying, "Come in and join this atmosphere, but if you dare to attempt to buy an alcoholic drink, you are a criminal". That cannot be right.

Amendment No. 221 is reasonable. It sets a liberal limit on the age under which children should be prohibited from entering certain premises unless accompanied by an adult. It provides that children under the age of 14 should not be allowed into pubs and clubs, unless accompanied by an adult. We have been careful to specify premises. The Bill covers premises licensed both for the sale of alcohol and for regulated entertainment—perhaps unwisely. Children should be able to enter cinemas, theatres and restaurants. We want to restrict their access when unaccompanied to premises whose primary function is the sale of alcohol—primarily, pubs and clubs.

We should remember that we are discussing extending licensing hours up to 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I am sure that the Government will say that that will not happen in many circumstances, but we believe that we must create some consistency in the Bill for the sake both of our children and of licensees and club owners and managers. Is it fair on them to have the burden of deciding whether their premises are suitable for young children?

We fully support the promotion of family friendly pubs. The amendment would not prevent that. Children would not be in any way prohibited from entering pubs with their families. We intend to guard against less salubrious licensed premises, where there is potential harm to young children who enter unaccompanied.

Let us remember the added burden on the licensee. The licensee can always state on the licence that access for under-18s is prohibited. The problem arises when we turn to the guidance. Paragraph 4.25 of the draft guidance notes makes it clear:

"Nothing in a statement of licensing policy should limit the access of children to such premises unless it is necessary for the prevention of harm to children. No statement of policy can properly anticipate every possible issue of concern that could arise in respect of children with regard to individual premises and as such, general rules should be avoided. Consideration of the individual merits of each application remains the best mechanism for judging such matters".

But any publican, club owner or manager will have to state clearly when applying for a licence why he wants to exclude children from his premises. From the Bill and the national guidance notes, it is clear that they must clearly set out reasons why they want to protect children from harm. Is that the right position in which to place a publican: that he must say, "I don't want children in my pub"—or club—"because I want to protect them from harm"? What publican in his right mind will apply for a licence saying, "I really want a premises licence but there is something a little bit wrong with my pub", or club?

The examples in the national guidance notes are clear. A statement of policy that the local authority may set out may highlight areas that give rise to concern in respect of children. For example, they may include premises where there have been convictions for serving alcohol to minors or with a reputation for under-age drinking; with a known association with drug-taking or dealing; where there is a strong element of gambling on the premises; and where entertainment of an adult or sexual nature is commonly provided. That all places a huge, unfair and unnecessary burden on licensees and club owners and managers. We question why the Government have an alcohol reduction strategy when at the same time they are saying that they want to encourage a family friendly environment and encourage our children into pubs and clubs.

I have children. I go into pubs with my children. I should not dream of allowing my children into a pub under the age of 14. The police told me that they wished that I would make the age in the amendment 18; they believe that 14 is too liberal. But at present there is a law that says that children can enter parts of a pub that do not include the bar area—for example a beer garden—unaccompanied. That is why we have set the age in the amendment at 14; we hope that we have got that right.

To us, the amendment is extremely important. We have tried both on Second Reading and in Committee to persuade the Government that a limit that would encourage consistency throughout the land with regard to children would help. I have now spoken to an enormous number of people. I spoke on 12 radio stations and two television channels this morning and no one beyond your Lordships' House can quite believe the Bill as drafted. A lady from Birmingham said:

"That's it. The lunatics have finally taken over".

A youth worker from Birmingham said that it will cause more confusion for children. He said that there is a popular belief among young people that cannabis is now legal—we know that that is not the case, but there is confusion—and that they will think that it is legal to drink alcohol.

Another interesting point was made to me just before I entered the Chamber. A mother rang me to say that she fears that under the Bill there will be no incentive for children to come home. It will be harder for parents to enforce curfews and children will stay out all night. Those are entirely unnecessary additional burdens and worries for parents. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Redesdale Lord Redesdale Liberal Democrat 4:15 pm, 4th March 2003

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Falkland and I have attached our names to the amendment. The Government have set out a case for allowing unaccompanied children into pubs, but it is not strong enough to include the provision in the Bill. That is why I hope that the Minister will heed the arguments advanced today. Otherwise, there will be a division of opinion on the matter.

I was especially taken by what the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, said about the Bill making it a criminal offence for someone under 18 to try to buy a drink. I was thinking about the matter last night. It was and is a rite of passage for anyone under 18, but especially boys, to try to buy a drink in a pub to see whether they can get away with it. It does not seem to cause many problems at present. To deem it a criminal offence would add a layer of criminality to such activity. Young people try to sneak into certificate "18" films and to buy alcohol before they are 18. It would be unfortunate if it were made a criminal offence, especially if someone were charged with it. But I doubt that such an offence would ever be used.

The Bill creates stringent conditions on the sale of alcohol to people under 18. If under 18 year-olds are allowed as of right into pubs, many 16 or 17 year-olds might enter, making it difficult for landlords to ensure that they have stopped the sale of alcohol to everyone under 18. I remember buying a pint easily when I was 17. It happens despite the best efforts of many landlords, for whom we are creating a high hurdle. We have created conditions whereby, if a landlord believes that a customer is 18, it is all right. But, under the Bill, many under 18 year-olds will believe that they have a right to be in a pub.

My local landlord at the Albert in Primrose Hill in London told me a story that is extremely pertinent to the situation. One afternoon, he asked some 15 year-olds who had entered his pub and were making a noise to leave. When they said that they were only drinking Coca-Cola, he told them that they must leave because they were unaccompanied. The 15 year-olds complained to their headmaster, who complained to the publican that he had broken the law because people aged over 14 were allowed into a pub unaccompanied. The headmaster wrote to the brewery, which replied that the publican would donate to the charity that the children had been supporting in a sponsored walk that day.

It is an interesting situation. The Bill will give people the impression that they are allowed into a pub as of right. I asked the Minister about the matter several times, and he told me twice that people were allowed into a pub only at the discretion of the publican. But we are heaping many responsibilities on landlords and giving the public the impression that young people will have a right to enter pubs. It is easy to say in this House, where we all understand the definition, that the situation would be easily understood by most publicans. But, when I mentioned to the publican of the Albert that he had a right to refuse entry to anybody, he agreed but did not feel that he could have argued the point in that situation.

We have an issue: many young people will go to pubs. Pubs attract people. One of the arguments for allowing young people into pubs was that they might be safer there than they would be outside on the street. It is a strange argument. Children might be safer in some pubs—the good ones that we have all drunk in. However, if it is not safe outside—as in some areas in Newcastle that I know well—the pubs will not be safe either. In one particular case, the police had to close down a pub in Walker where two handguns and a large quantity of drugs were found. Those are extreme examples. In 99 per cent of cases, it might be perfectly acceptable for children to enter pubs.

We also talk about the need for pubs to be family-friendly. However, by making pubs family-friendly we assume that the whole family will enter them as opposed to unaccompanied children. If that is the case, I see no difficulty with the amendment, which, ultimately, is extremely sensible.

I have no difficulty with the Government's concept of trying to liberalise the system. However, we are not liberalising the system; we are building into it problems that will have to be sorted out by the good sense of publicans. Although I have every respect for the good sense of publicans, this would be an unnecessary addition to the Bill.

Photo of Lord Williamson of Horton Lord Williamson of Horton Crossbench

My Lords, I make my customary declaration of interest as a non-executive director of Whitbread. I support the amendment. The difficult question of unaccompanied children has always been on the agenda since consideration of the Bill began. The public would regard the Bill as creating a strange situation if it were not amended. Obviously, we are confronting differences of view. On the one hand, I welcome a liberalising Bill that could improve the convenience and amenity offered by the hospitality trade through licensed premises. But, like many Members, I am concerned about unaccompanied children.

We must ask ourselves whether we are satisfied that it would be good if a publican admitted to his pub a 13 year-old girl, for example, who could then sit by the bar sipping Coca-Cola for four or five hours. The Bill would make it perfectly legal. Would that be a good situation? I do not think so. That is why it would be advantageous to have clarity as proposed by the amendment. The amendment is clear about the age at which children can enter licensed premises unaccompanied and where they must be accompanied. It would be good for social policy and for publicans and owners of premises, who would know where they stood.

We all know that it is an offence to sell alcohol to an individual aged under 18. But that is not the question here. The question is: what would happen if unaccompanied children were given total access to a bar, whatever they were drinking? I am not in favour of such an element of freedom. It is a dangerous freedom to grant some children.

I support the amendment, but, if it is accepted, it might be useful to clarify the exact meaning of "public house". There is now a large variety of public houses, including pub-restaurants, some of which have a children's facility attached, which is now a common feature that is highly desirable. That is a secondary point. For the moment, I support the amendment as presented.

Photo of Lord Bridges Lord Bridges Crossbench

My Lords, I, too, support the amendment. I raise a technical point on proposed subsection 2(c), which refers to,

"any similar establishment whose primary purpose is the consumption of alcohol".

It is an imprecise provision. Who will decide the primary purpose? The owner of the premises might argue that the purpose of his establishment was the promotion of darts. The subsection, therefore, imputes a motive by a third person undefined. It might be more sensible to refer to an establishment whose "principal activity" was the consumption of alcohol. One could observe such activity and arrive at a decision. No doubt we shall have to work on the clause, so perhaps that point could also be considered.

Photo of Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe Labour

My Lords, I support the amendment. I have not spoken during previous debates on the Bill but I have followed the arguments carefully. I am particularly concerned about the growth in drunkenness and drug-taking among youths. The test that I apply is whether I believe that the Government's proposals will help or hinder policy development in those areas. Regrettably, I have not so far been convinced that they will help; rather the reverse. It is important that I register my opposition. If we cannot find a way through the issue, some of us may vote in the Lobby in which we would not normally be expected to vote. I believe that I speak for some of my colleagues on these Benches on that.

Photo of Baroness Howarth of Breckland Baroness Howarth of Breckland Crossbench 4:30 pm, 4th March 2003

My Lords, I support the amendment. I spend a great deal of time with young people listening to them, and I am particularly concerned that the Government appear to be giving out extraordinarily mixed messages.

We all know how it works: alcohol may not be sold to a younger child, but it will be bought by an older young person and handed on. We all know what the statistics show about the increase in alcohol consumption among our young people. If the Government are serious about tackling the issue, they are sending out a mixed message by saying that young people can go unaccompanied into premises on which alcohol is sold within this definition.

The argument has been used that children might be safer in such premises than outside. I know places where they might well be safer inside than outside. However, that is no argument. That is an argument for providing better youth facilities that are appropriate for young people and where they will be safe to develop their skills. In the village where I live, we have marauding young people with nothing else to do buying drink from older peers and terrorising some of the older folk. I do not feel that I can blame those young people; we do not provide any facility for them.

I support the amendment. My only regret is that the age limit is not set at 16 or 18.

Photo of Lord Sutherland of Houndwood Lord Sutherland of Houndwood Crossbench

My Lords, I support the amendment for three reasons. The first is that it provides a measure of protection to children, a matter that has been of considerable concern to the House over the years. Secondly, the amendment would provide a degree of guidance to children about appropriate behaviour, especially to 13 year-olds under significant peer pressure. Thirdly, it provides support for the good regulation of pubs by publicans, and it would be welcomed by the trade.

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (the Arts), Department for Culture, Media & Sport, Minister of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) (Arts)

My Lords, as we explained during debates on earlier groups, we recognise the importance of the issue to the House and to the wider public. We have been fastidious in our consultation with groups such as children's charities, Alcohol Concern, the police and the Association of Directors of Social Services to make sure that their concerns are taken into account.

The policy enshrined in the Bill is exactly that contained in the White Paper, which received widespread support. We made the protection of children from harm an objective of the Bill, and, from the start, that has guided our approach to the issues. For that reason, I shall make it clear before I go any further that we will take the amendments away and come back either at Third Reading or, more realistically, in another place with a further strengthening of the Bill in that respect. I hope that your Lordships will accept my good faith in that matter.

In considering the matters raised in the debate, it is important that your Lordships properly understand the position under the alcohol licensing laws. There is a lot of misunderstanding and even ignorance. The noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, and the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, are, I am almost sure, aware of the situation, but, in the interests of completeness in responding to the debate, I shall explain it. Under existing law, at the discretion of the individual licensee, it is open to any child aged 14 or over to enter a public house or nightclub unsupervised and to remain there so long as they do not consume alcohol. Under the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994, children's certificates were introduced by the previous Conservative government to permit the supervised presence of children of any age in bar areas until nine o'clock to help create more family-friendly pubs.

At the discretion of the licensee, unsupervised children of any age may also enter and remain in licensed premises, so long as they do not enter the bar area. They can be present in dining areas, family rooms, pub gardens and other places away from the bar area. The Bill simplifies the position by giving children the freedom to enter licensed premises but only at the discretion of the licensee, as several noble Lords pointed out. The licensee does not have to say why he does not want children in his pub or nightclub; he must say how he will protect children from harm, if he intends to admit them. That is an important point. We are also providing for that freedom for the licensee to be restricted in respect of children under 18 where necessary for their protection from harm. That provides greater control and protection than at present, for several reasons, although I am aware that the public may not fully understand that.

Under the Bill, where necessary for the protection of children from harm, conditions may be attached to the premises licence excluding or restricting the presence of children, whatever the licensee's preference. That cannot be done under existing law by the licensing justices. The Bill also provides for responsible authorities and interested parties to be consulted before a decision is taken as to what conditions should be imposed in respect of children. That does not happen now. Finally, at any sign of trouble or concern, the Bill provides for any interested party or responsible authority to seek a review of the licence, following which entry by children could be restricted. No such provisions exist currently. I am a little surprised that the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, continues to say that the Bill allows unrestricted access at any time of day or night. The Bill provides for the restriction of access, if that is necessary for the protection of children from harm.

The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, said that what we did at the moment was fair enough in 99 per cent of cases. That is why we chose the option of having a flexible Bill supported by flexible guidance, so that we do not regulate everyone unduly for the sake of 1 per cent of cases but retain powerful controls to deal with that 1 per cent. Furthermore, we intend using the guidance to emphasise that there are particular premises from which children should be excluded. They include those with a poor reputation for under-age drinking; places where drugs use may be an issue; places where heavy gambling goes on; or places where adult entertainment is provided.

We also made it clear in responding to another group of amendments that we were happy to consider adding the local social services to the list of responsible authorities that may make representations about the presence of children. I must underline the fact that we are also strengthening the laws on the consumption of alcohol by children on licensed premises. There is a significant package of measures focused on protecting children. The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, and, I think, the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, mentioned the issue of the offence of drinking by young people under the age of 18. I shall not get into that issue now, as it comes up in the next group of amendments.

We have an enormous amount of sympathy with the underlying objectives of this group of amendments. As I said, we will consider them carefully. We intend to discuss them with the children's charities, the police and the child protection organisations. We have arranged a meeting tomorrow with seven of the bodies concerned with such matters, and I will ensure that the concern expressed in your Lordships' House is made known to everybody at that meeting. I apologise for the fact that we have not been able to hold the meeting a little earlier and thus been able to come forward with new proposals, but it has been difficult, given the problems of busy diaries, to arrange a meeting involving seven different organisations.

We recognise that in the amendments noble Lords have attempted to restrict the proposal to pubs, nightclubs and other similar venues where the primary purpose is the consumption of alcohol. However, in its current formulation, the amendment is not quite right. The noble Lord, Lord Bridges, pointed out that the third category of venues is vague and could lead to problems of definition. Furthermore, as the noble Lord, Lord Williamson of Horton, said, problems of definition will arise over the terms "public house" and "nightclub", neither of which is currently used in licensing law. The words would cover a wide variety of premises. We want to think carefully about definitions.

We also need to think hard whether requiring children under the age of 14 to be accompanied by adults before they may enter such premises serves as an open invitation to those who might harm children by offering their services as an accompanying adult; they could be 18 years old. Again, we need to consider this and speak to all the relevant bodies with experience in the area.

Of course we need to focus on the question of whether unaccompanied children—

Photo of Lord Redesdale Lord Redesdale Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I apologise to the Minister for the interruption. She mentioned that older adults might provide a service for those aged over 14 to enable them to go into clubs. However, is not that the case at present? I believe that 14 year-olds are allowed entry provided that they are accompanied by an adult.

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (the Arts), Department for Culture, Media & Sport, Minister of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) (Arts)

Yes, my Lords, but if we are going to write that into the legislation and believe that it will provide a protection, we must be absolutely clear that it is done in a way that provides genuine protection.

We also need to focus on the question of whether allowing unaccompanied children into pubs would put them at risk of being tempted to buy alcohol. We must focus on the risk of underage drinking. Temptation implies choice, but the Bill provides no choice. It would be an offence to try to buy, to sell or to allow the consumption of alcohol. That is not presently the case, so again this is an improvement. I say this not to be defensive but simply to ensure that your Lordships are clear on what the Bill does. However, as I have said, we are alive to all the concerns expressed and we shall consider how they can be met.

I turn briefly to Amendment No. 226. I do not believe that in speaking to the amendment, the noble Baroness really wants to make it unlawful to sell alcohol to an adult in an off-licence if a child aged under 14 years is present. As drafted, the amendment would ban children of that age from such shops and convenience stores. I do not believe that that would make much sense.

I have listened carefully to noble Lords on all sides of the House. I hope that noble Lords will accept our assurances that the Bill has in place many arrangements which can protect children from harm. I hope too that they will accept that we are willing to examine what more can be done to ensure children's well-being. In the light of those assurances, I hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment until the whole issue can be properly addressed with the relevant children's organisations and the police.

Photo of Lord Northbourne Lord Northbourne Crossbench 4:45 pm, 4th March 2003

My Lords, perhaps I may put a question for clarification to the noble Baroness before she sits down. I did not hear her mention whether any effort has been made to consult parents. Can she give an assurance that before this section of the Bill is redrafted, some effort will be made to take into account the views of parents?

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (the Arts), Department for Culture, Media & Sport, Minister of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) (Arts)

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for that suggestion. Of course I shall take it away and ensure that parents' organisations are consulted.

Photo of The Earl of Sandwich The Earl of Sandwich Crossbench

My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, can she respond to the powerful point made by the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, about the responsibilities of the landlord under the terms of the Bill? Is she going to address the matter in the next group of amendments?

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (the Arts), Department for Culture, Media & Sport, Minister of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) (Arts)

My Lords, I think that I have already said something about it in response to the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, but the point will be addressed again when we consider the next group of amendments.

Photo of Baroness Buscombe Baroness Buscombe Conservative

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her response and thank also the many noble Lords who have offered their welcome support for this important issue. I refer to the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, who has added his name to the amendments, and the noble Lord, Lord Williamson of Horton. I hear what the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, has to say as regards the wording. I thank also my noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth of Breckland, and the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland of Houndwood. I am truly grateful for the wide support of noble Lords because this is such an important issue, one that goes way beyond politics. It is about our children and the need to protect them from harm.

The Minister is quite right; the publican has to say how he intends to protect children from harm. However, I say that that will put an enormous burden on him, which is not currently the case. A publican will have to make clear, when a licence is applied for, how he intends to protect children from harm. By instant inference, that makes it sound as though the publican has a problem with his pub. I think that that is entirely wrong.

The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, has said that tomorrow she intends to speak to a number of children's societies. The Government have had some two-and-a-half years to get this right. Perhaps I may quote briefly from a letter sent to me by the Children's Society:

"In relation to this amendment, we do think that it is important to stress the fact that creating child-friendly and family-friendly environments requires a commitment to ensuring that there are benefits to be gained for children—not simply relying on the idea that children's presence will have a positive effect on adults. Children may become intimidated by the environment and behaviour around them and in the absence of a parent or carer there arise many questions about how the licensee can and should respond to them. For example, what should be the pub licensee's response to an upset unaccompanied eight year-old turning up in a bar at 11 p.m. asking to be served a soft drink? By what means might a licensee appropriately seek to remove a child from their premises, and should they just leave them outside? What, if any, is the licensee's responsibility if he or she notices a group of young teenage girls on the receiving end of seduction attempts by older men on their premises? There are many wider questions of children's interests, care and development that are not addressed by a licensing policy which presumes in favour of children's unrestricted access, and relies on licensees' discretion".

The Bill is absolutely clear. I have been a lawyer for 25 years, but I had to read and re-read the Bill when I first received it because I could not believe its intention. However, the intention is clear and backed by the Government's draft guidance notes.

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (the Arts), Department for Culture, Media & Sport, Minister of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) (Arts)

My Lords, I meant to say, "the noble Baroness". Perhaps I may say to the noble Baroness that I think she is being a little unfair in claiming that the Government have not thought about this over the past two-and-a-half years. A White Paper was published and a wide consultation held as a result. It did not produce the kind of concerns that we have heard around the House during this debate. Moreover, the Government consulted children's organisations. They made it clear that they thought the proposals being put in place in the Bill to protect children were adequate. Clearly more thought must be given to that in light of the concerns being expressed, but I wanted to point out that it is not quite true to say that this has not been considered by the Government for two-and-a-half years.

Photo of Baroness Buscombe Baroness Buscombe Conservative

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister. I accept what she has said, but it is not for us to be concerned that a meeting is taking place tomorrow. We want to accept what the Minister has said in terms of her good faith.

However, I do not believe that we can leave the issue to another place. The risk is too great. Too much is at stake, and it is about our children. I should like to test the opinion of the House.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 221) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 184; Not-Contents, 111.

Division number 1 Private Parking: Ports and Trading Estates — Licensing Bill [HL]

Aye: 182 Members of the House of Lords

No: 109 Members of the House of Lords

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.

Clause 146 [Purchase of alcohol by or on behalf of children]:

Photo of Baroness Buscombe Baroness Buscombe Conservative 5:00 pm, 4th March 2003

moved Amendment No. 222:

Page 79, line 27, leave out subsections (1) and (2).

Photo of Baroness Buscombe Baroness Buscombe Conservative

My Lords, in speaking to Amendment No. 222, I speak also to Amendments Nos. 223, 224 and 225. The penalties for persons committing criminal offences when buying or attempting to buy alcohol under the age of 18 in each case would be a maximum of a level three fine on the standard scale, which is a recordable offence. Although the offences are contained within existing legislation, we, and the Children's Society, believe that there is a need for them to be removed in light of proposals in the Bill to relax access to licensed premises for children and the intention of the Government to create more child-friendly environments.

We are concerned about under-age drinking and the damage that it can cause to children. However, we are strongly opposed to the criminalisation of children in order to deal with the matter. The whole package of reforms contained within the Licensing Bill has important implications for children and young people. The effect of relaxation in licensing conditions would allow children and young people to access licensed premises more freely, although now—with thanks to your Lordships—those under 14 would require adult supervision.

This rightly highlights the need to strengthen existing prohibitions against wrongful sale and supply of alcohol to minors by adults. However, enforcing these offences for children would criminalise a high proportion of young people whom we know to be experimenting with alcohol before the age of 18.

Paragraph 8.34 of the guidance issued by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport makes the intentions of the Government clear. It states:

"The Secretary of State intends that the admission of children under the age of eighteen to premises . . . should normally be freely allowed without restricting conditions unless there are very good reasons to restrict entry or to exclude children completely. The Government does not want the promotion of child-friendly and family-friendly premises to be frustrated by overly restrictive licence conditions. The changes in the 2003 Act to the law concerning consumption of alcohol by minors on licensed premises now mean the focus for licensing authorities, the police and other authorised persons should be on the enforcement of those laws and not on restrictions".

We, and the Children's Society, are extremely concerned that existing restrictions on children's access to premises licensed for the sale and consumption of alcohol are to be replaced with more rigorous enforcement of offences relating to under-age drinking, given that the range of offences includes offences committed by children. We believe it to be illustrative of a failure to understand fully the concept of protecting children from harm should the Government deliberately increase children's exposure to opportunities to procure and consume alcohol at the same time as urging more rigorous enforcement of offences that would see increasing numbers of children subject to arrest, conviction and fine.

The vast majority of children experimenting with alcohol under age are not involved in anti-social or criminal behaviour of any kind. Perhaps of even more concern is the prospect of these offences being added to final warnings and other convictions of children at an early age of offending, drawing them more rapidly into the category of persistent offending and consequent harsher punishment. It is inappropriate and unjustified to use criminal sanction against children in order to attempt to protect them from the irresponsibility of adults who might sell to them or supply them with alcohol.

We are concerned at the criminal offences that can be committed only by a child for behaviour that is entirely lawful for anyone else. We also note that while adult offences under the Bill are accompanied with a statutory defence, there is no such defence for a child. Thus, it becomes more likely that an adult can evade his or her responsibility for an illegal act of selling or supplying to a minor, leaving the child to take the blame for the criminality of the transaction.

I have further notes on this subject and it is important that the Government consider it with real care. There are a number of issues at stake. We believe that, far from better protecting children, the measures in the Bill are likely to increase the pressures upon and opportunities for children to buy and drink alcohol in public venues—given the extended hours and so forth—only for criminal law to be used should they give in to temptation. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Redesdale Lord Redesdale Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I spoke in support of Amendment No. 222 earlier.

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Government Whip, Lords in Waiting (Whips)

My Lords, the Government recognise that these amendments are both clear and well-intentioned. However, I fear that we cannot accept them. We are strengthening considerably the law as it relates to the sale of alcohol to minors and its consumption by them on licensed premises. The Bill will make it an offence to sell alcohol on licensed premises to anyone under 18 and an offence for those under 18 to consume it anywhere on licensed premises, with the sole exception of 16 and 17 year-olds being permitted to drink wine, beer or cider with a table meal when accompanied by someone over 18 years old.

Amendments Nos. 223 to 225 would remove the offences committed by an individual aged under 18 of buying or attempting to buy alcohol, or having or attempting to have alcohol supplied to his or her order by or on behalf of a club, and that committed by an individual aged under 18 of knowingly consuming alcohol on licensed premises.

I understand entirely the good intentions behind the amendments. It is to avoid the situation, as the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, made clear, in which large numbers of prosecutions are brought by the police against children, with the potential impact on their future lives and careers. That is a laudable aim and none of us would want children's prospects to be blighted.

However, the amendments are both unnecessary and undesirable. First, to be clear, the Bill as drafted translates the law as it currently stands faithfully. The idea that the Bill in some way creates a new offence of this nature is misconceived. If the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, feels that over this long period of time he has a confession to make, I assure him that other authorities might be interested. However, under the Bill, it was an offence in the past and it is an offence now to carry out that minor rite of passage which he quoted from his past.

The existing law, however, did not in his case result in prosecution—perhaps because he succeeded in concealing the fact that he was below 18. It does not result in a large number of prosecutions. The police tend to use cautions to deal with this kind off offence. For example, during 2000, fewer than 25 prosecutions were brought in the whole of England and Wales for the combined offences of purchasing or consuming alcohol on licensed premises by someone under 18. Of those, 22 were found guilty. During the same period there were just 80 cautions for the same offences.

As is often the case, the main use of the offence provisions to which these amendments refer—and which they seek to delete—is as a deterrent. The majority of people, including young people, do pay proper attention to the law. Although it would be impossible to arrive at precise figures, a certain amount of under-age drinking is prevented by the simple fact that it is illegal. Of course, it is entirely unrealistic to expect that no children will ever buy or attempt to buy alcohol, or consume it on licensed premises. But the law places a serious obstacle in the path of such activity, and the Bill will replicate that.

There is a further argument against the arrangements that these amendments would introduce. Under-18s would soon appreciate the fact that there was nothing whatever in the law to prevent them trying to buy alcohol. It would be open season for under-18s to try everything they could to pull the wool over the eyes of even the most responsible of licensees. These amendments would risk leading to a significant increase in under-age drinking.

The offence provisions in the Bill will act as a deterrent—as the existing legislation does—and balance the increased freedoms provided elsewhere in the Bill. As is often the case with deterrent powers, they will not result in large numbers of prosecutions brought against children—we do not expect such action to rise above the current low levels. I hope that with those assurances the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe—having moved her amendment with the best of intentions—will recognise that the Bill as it stands meets her objective and will feel able to withdraw this amendment.

Photo of Baroness Buscombe Baroness Buscombe Conservative

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response. I am grateful for his acceptance that we have good intentions in relation to these amendments. Given the previous grouping and the Minister's remarks with regard to the forthcoming meeting with various children's societies and other groups on the issue of how we deal with children, I ask the Government to consider carefully the question of offences.

There is no question that under-age consumption of alcohol has become a growing problem—more so now that many children carry identity cards. I logged on to the Internet the other day to see how easy it is to obtain an ID card. All I was asked to do was to pay £10 and state my age. I was very tempted to state that I was rather younger than I am! I have seen these cards. For a tenner, I could have become a member of the British students' union: all of a sudden I could have become 18 years of age—how wonderful!—and found myself with a card that enabled me to enter a club or pub pretending to be that age. I should not have got away with being that age, but many do. They therefore believe that they are not doing anything wrong. Of course, they are; but we are now living in a climate where a great deal of under-age drinking takes place. We should not do anything that encourages it—hence our determination to ensure that there was an age limit so that children of a certain age could not be allowed into pubs and clubs on their own.

We question why the Government have an alcohol reduction strategy—not the sincerity of the strategy, but its purpose—if, at the same time, children under 18 are criminalised if they attempt to drink alcohol.

Photo of Lord Avebury Lord Avebury Liberal Democrat

My Lords, will the noble Baroness give way? She may like to be reminded that the Government do not yet have an alcohol harm reduction strategy. One has been promised for years but is still in the process of gestation.

Photo of Baroness Buscombe Baroness Buscombe Conservative

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his intervention. It illustrates better the point I am attempting to make.

I believe that the Government are sincere in their wish to find ways to reduce this growing problem—one that worries all of us. Criminalising children is, in our view, not the way to deal with this. I hope that the Government will give time to this issue between now and Third Reading. I know that there is not much time, but we should be grateful if it were possible to discuss this issue at some length with the various children's groups tomorrow. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 223 not moved.]

Clause 147 [Consumption of alcohol by children]:

[Amendments Nos. 224 and 225 not moved.]

Photo of Baroness Buscombe Baroness Buscombe Conservative 5:15 pm, 4th March 2003

moved Amendment No. 226:

After Clause 149, insert the following new clause—

"PROHIBITION OF SALES IN THE PRESENCE OF CHILDREN

(1) A responsible person commits an offence if, on any relevant premises which are licensed principally for the sale by retail of alcohol, he knowingly allows an individual aged under the age of 14 to be in that part of the premises where such sale takes place during any such sale unless that individual is accompanied by another individual aged 18 or over.

(2) A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 1 on the standard scale.

(3) In this section "responsible person" means, in relation to a licensed premises—

(a) the holder of a premises licence,

(b) the designated premises supervisor, or

(c) any individual aged 18 or over who is authorised for the purposes of this section by that holder or supervisor."

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 164 [Review of premises licence following closure order]:

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (the Arts), Department for Culture, Media & Sport, Minister of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) (Arts)

moved Amendment No. 227:

Page 89, line 34, leave out "Regulations may" and insert "The Secretary of State must by regulations"

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 169 [Relaxation of opening hours for special occasions]:

[Amendment No. 228 not moved.]

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (the Arts), Department for Culture, Media & Sport, Minister of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) (Arts)

moved Amendment No. 229:

Page 94, line 6, at end insert—

"( ) Before making an order under this section, the Secretary of State must consult such persons as he considers appropriate."

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 170 [Activities in certain locations not licensable]:

Photo of Lord Greenway Lord Greenway Crossbench

moved Amendment No. 230:

Page 94, line 25, at end insert—

"( ) aboard a vessel licensed to carry less than 100 passengers engaged on a journey,"

Photo of Lord Greenway Lord Greenway Crossbench

My Lords, this amendment deals with an aspect of the Bill which, so far as I am aware, we have not yet discussed.

Clause 170 lists a number of exemptions from the Bill's provisions, including various modes of transport: aircraft, hovercraft and trains on domestic journeys, and vessels engaged on international voyages.

I tabled an amendment in Committee to add domestic passenger vessels to this list, but due to an unfortunate mix-up over timings was unable to move it. I had tabled it as a result of the widespread concern expressed by domestic passenger ship operators at the Bill's provisions, coupled with their annoyance at the fact that no prior consultation had taken place with their trade associations, or with the Maritime & Coastguard Agency, which oversees all maritime regulatory and safety matters and which, I understand, does not look too kindly on a whole host of different local authorities getting involved in marine activities.

I understand, however, that since Committee stage some meetings with the department have taken place at which it became clear that, as a result of the inquiry into the "Marchioness" disaster, the Government are primarily concerned with the tidal Thames, where the largest concentration of boats exists. Many of these are used as tourist boats by day and as what are termed disco boats by night. I appreciate that the latter activity gives rise to concern. It is noisy, and there is a potential for anti-social behaviour when passengers come ashore at night. Furthermore, these tend to be year-round activities.

I understand that during the discussions some measure of sympathy was expressed in regard to smaller boats elsewhere in the country. As a result, I have narrowed down my original amendment to one which seeks to delete only those domestic passenger vessels or craft which are licensed to carry 100 passengers or fewer. It is aimed specifically at that part of the industry which operates inland; that is to say, on canals and on certain sections of non-tidal waterways such as the River Thames above Oxford and, moreover, on a more seasonal basis.

Such activities are an integral part of local tourism, which is still struggling to recover from the disastrous effects of the recent foot and mouth crisis. I do not need to remind the Government that tourism is one of the main planks for their plans for regeneration of the countryside. The prime purpose of these vessels is tourism and the sale of alcohol amounts only to some 10 or 15 per cent of their income, which hardly puts them into the same category as public houses.

Despite the sympathetic noises from the department, which I mentioned, it could well be that 100 passengers might be considered too high. But I have chosen the figure carefully. Most of the larger, so-called, "disco boats" have two decks and carry well over that number. The larger single-deck boats which operate below Oxford also carry more than 100 passengers. Those to which my amendment would apply almost invariably have only a single deck in order to be able to pass under low bridges.

Among the latter is a horse-drawn barge, which operates on the Kennet and Avon Canal and can carry 90 persons. Many other canal vessels cater mainly for coach parties of around 60 to 70 passengers. At the other end of the scale are a number of small craft carrying as few as eight passengers, where the "bar", if I may describe it as such, is nothing more than a cupboard containing a couple of bottles of spirits. All operators of such boats regard the provision of the bar as a valid part of what they offer. And what can be more pleasant than enjoying a glass of beer, or perhaps something a little stronger, when gliding through the countryside on a warm summer's afternoon?

Under the provisions of the Bill, the cost of licensing and all the extra work that that involves would in some cases make a considerable dent in bar profits and would impose a substantial burden on operators who run a fleet of boats. In addition, I think it most unlikely that the activities I have described would lead to anti-social behaviour. Indeed, I find it hard to recall a single incident, certainly one that is drink related. On the other hand, I can well remember a number of serious disturbances that have occurred among football fans travelling to or from matches abroad on vessels that are specifically excluded from the effects of the Bill.

It would be a tragedy if a number of small businesses engaged in the rural tourist industry were forced to scale down their operations, or even close down, as a result of what is widely regarded in the boating industry as an unnecessary sledgehammer-like approach to deal with what is perceived as an almost non-existent problem. I hope that the Minister will be able to give me some satisfaction. And if he does not like this amendment, perhaps he will indicate that between now and Third Reading he might be prepared to find an alternative way of achieving a similar end. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe Labour

My Lords, I support the amendment. I understand why the Government have adopted their present position, given my experience of living close to the River Thames from Monday to Thursday. Often I have the benefit of hearing some of the large disco boats which travel up and down and that may have been a prime factor in the minds of the draftsmen. However, many other people are involved in the industry, as described by the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, particularly on canals and rivers. A good deal of the business there has suffered badly as a result of the foot and mouth crisis.

The industry is beginning to recover to some extent, but it foresees that if the legislation is passed, a good deal of additional bureaucracy and cost will fall on to its shoulders. Alternatively, it will simply stop making alcohol available, which in turn will affect business in the longer term.

I hope therefore that the Government will reconsider the matter. Like much of what we have seen in the Bill, this issue is one of proportionality. If left as it stands, the provision will place a substantial additional burden on a good and successful part of the tourist industry. We should be seeking to encourage, rather than discourage, it. Yes, we need regulation and deregulation from the Bill, but we need to strike a balance. The ideas put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, present us with an opportunity to effect some changes, if not precisely in line with the amendment. If the Minister is prepared to explore the issue, we can find a balance that is acceptable to the industry and will produce results which will make everyone happy.

Photo of Lord Harrison Lord Harrison Labour

My Lords, I, too, live by the River Thames from Monday to Thursday; namely, in this House. Sometimes when the windows are open in the Library we occasionally hear the raucous noise from the boats on the River Thames. At weekends and during the holidays I live in Chester. The wonderful River Dee and the Shropshire Union Canal flow through it and they are well used by leisure and commercial boats. I support the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, in his request to the Government to ascertain whether those who I understand are the real target of this provision—namely, the disco boats—can be pinpointed. The other leisure boats, often run by small businesses which are integral to the tourism industry in places such as Chester, should not be discomforted by misdirected legislation.

I cannot outline the problem better than the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, and therefore I ask the Government to look kindly on his amendment. Perhaps they could finesse the problem in another way so as to ensure that the thriving industry associated with leisure and pleasure boats is not struck down.

Photo of Lord Phillips of Sudbury Lord Phillips of Sudbury Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I, too, have sympathy with what has been said and I hope that the Government will take action as proposed by the amendment.

Photo of Baroness Buscombe Baroness Buscombe Conservative

My Lords, I, too, support the amendment. I declare an interest because I spend my weekends next to the River Thames in a non-tidal waterway below Oxford. I would therefore be spared from the proposal in the amendment. When I first heard of it, I was concerned because my experience is that water is a fantastic conduit for sound. I am sure that the Government have borne that in mind in relation to this part of the Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Greenway, has clearly given great thought to the amendment in confining it to smaller boats and waterways and to those who want to conduct their business in a way that does not unduly impact on others or interfere with licensing objectives.

The noble Lord's reference to gliding gently through the countryside is all too tempting a suggestion. We want to do all we can to support tourism. This is tourism generally of a rural nature. It relates to those who are struggling to make a living and do not want to see it compromised by legislation which lacks proportionality. As the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, said, there must be a balance and I believe that the amendment strikes the right balance.

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Government Whip, Lords in Waiting (Whips) 5:30 pm, 4th March 2003

My Lords, the amendment seeks to amend Clause 170, which is an important clause. Clause 170 provides that an activity is not a licensable activity if it is carried on at particular locations. These include aboard an aircraft, where separate legislation applies, or aboard a railway vehicle engaged on a journey and also aboard a vessel engaged on an international journey, where domestic law does not apply.

As the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, indicated, he seeks to add a new category of exemption for vessels licensed to carry fewer than 100 passengers. The Government do not consider vessels with just under 100 passengers small vessels. The "Marchioness" tragedy gave rise to the vessels clause. The number of people involved in that tragedy was only just over 100. The noble Lord, Lord Greenway, described river journeys in almost idyllic terms, as did others who enjoy the delights of the river. However, I stress that the Government wish to address an important issue here with regard to the necessity for licences.

The Bill provides a simple licensing process for vessels of the kind we are discussing that is not excessively expensive. We should take public safety into account with regard to a vessel on the water. I think that the noble Lord will appreciate why I am reluctant to respond completely positively to his amendment although I recognise the force of his argument.

The laws in regard to the licensing of activities on vessels have always been inadequate. For instance, it is perfectly legal to sell alcohol to children on vessels on a journey and for them to consume it. It cannot be right in the Government's view that the sale of alcohol and other activities aboard vessels—for example, pleasure cruisers—should not be licensed when the risks associated with those activities are at least as great as they are on land. Public safety and prevention of harm to children and of disorder are probably the main considerations. But there will also be questions of public nuisance—to which noble Lords referred—to people who live on the banks of waterways or in houses by the edge of canals and rivers.

Lord Justice Clarke's view, stated in his interim report on the Thames Safety Inquiry, and supported in his final report, was that:

"If we are to retain liquor licensing laws and require premises to be licensed to sell alcohol, then the reasons that commend themselves to require such premises on land to be licensed seem to me to apply with at least equal force in respect of vessels. Indeed it might be said that safety concerns demand even higher standards for those in charge of serving alcohol on board boats".

Following that inquiry the Deputy Prime Minister made a commitment that the Government would close the loopholes in regard to the sale of alcohol on vessels. The Bill fulfils that commitment and will bring about 600 vessels within the licensing regime. As I believe the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, recognises, the amendment would prevent licensing authorities from taking any measures in respect of the licensing objectives with regard to the protection of children from harm. That is an important consideration. The noble Lord will recognise that that is one of the golden threads that run through the Bill.

We recognise that this is one of the areas of the Bill that is regulatory rather than deregulatory, but given the overwhelming public interest issues it is necessary to bring vessels within the licensing regime. I emphasise that for smaller vessels the process will be simple and not costly.

I recognise that the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, made a persuasive case. The Government will consider whether we could exempt the category of boats—I believe that the noble Lord referred to single-deck boats and to barges—that hold eight to a dozen people. I am sure the noble Lord will recognise that we must be careful in this regard. Some small pubs have capacity for only a small number of people in their bars. We cannot have a situation where a pub that can establish that it has a capacity as small as that of a barge should be exempt because we have accepted the strength of the noble Lord's case in relation to a certain category of vessel. As I say, we shall consider the matter to see what can be done. I hope that with that earnest of intent the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Lord Greenway Lord Greenway Crossbench

My Lords, at the outset I say how grateful I am to noble Lords on all sides of the House and to the noble Baroness who supported the amendment. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Davies, for giving a full and frank reply. I was not aware that under existing rules one can, apparently, supply alcohol to a child on a boat. As far as I am aware, under the MCA rules all passenger carrying boats have a strict alcohol policy maintained by the skipper. I should have thought that there are already plenty of regulations to deal with these matters.

I believe that the safety aspect is also something of a red herring. There are many regulations dealing with safety aspects with regard to the captain and crew. I believe that there is a far lesser possibility of safety problems arising out of alcohol consumption on the kind of boats I described. Nevertheless, any crumb of comfort is better than nothing. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Davies, for saying that he will reconsider aspects of the matter, I hope in consultation with the various trade associations involved in the activity. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Baroness Buscombe Baroness Buscombe Conservative

moved Amendment No. 231:

Page 94, line 30, after "effect," insert—

"( ) at premises in respect of which a licence under the Gaming Act 1968 is in force and the premises are being used wholly or mainly for the purposes of gaming to which Part 2 of that Act applies,"

Photo of Baroness Buscombe Baroness Buscombe Conservative

My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 231, I wish to speak also to Amendment No. 261. At previous stages of the Bill the Government said that they would not remove casino and bingo clubs from the provisions of the Bill. But the reasons the Government gave show that, remarkably, they have failed to grasp the nature of their own licensing regime over those establishments. Matters cannot be allowed to rest there.

The Government say that the removal of casinos and bingo clubs from the provisions of the Bill would leave magistrates with the responsibility for alcohol licensing in relation to one group of premises when they would no longer have it for another group. But irrespective of the provisions of the Bill, magistrates will retain full control over the conduct and licensing of gaming premises by way of the Gaming Act 1968. Nothing we are debating today will change that position. It is generally accepted that the control and licensing of gaming premises by magistrates works well. I stress again that it must continue until such time as Parliament approves a new gaming Act.

So the effect of the Bill as currently drafted is that gaming premises will have to make an additional and unnecessary licensing application to the local authority. The amendment seeks to avoid that situation which would be a recipe for chaos and confusion. Without the amendment the Bill will create precisely the "ping pong" between local authorities and magistrates' courts that the Government said in Committee they were so anxious to avoid.

I remind your Lordships that the Government stated again in Committee on 13th January that they did not want business to be subject to unnecessary burdens as a result of the Bill. But by imposing the requirements for licensing by the local authority, the Bill has precisely that effect on gaming premises. They would have to make applications to both the local authority and the magistrates whereas all other licensed premises would have only one annual fee to pay.

The costs involved are substantial: the current fee for the renewal of a gaming licence is £7,950 for casinos and £1,450 for bingo clubs. I understand that the additional costs arising from the Bill could amount to as much as £10,000 per establishment. I would be interested in the Government's response to that figure. For one company alone, the additional expenditure could amount to about £1.5 million. That wholly unnecessary burden would remain until such time as the gaming Bill promised by the Government reached the statute book. I would be surprised if the Government were willing to give any undertaking as to when that Bill might appear.

The Government say that the amendment would mean that magistrates would have to acquire a new responsibility in relation to entertainment licensing in gaming establishments. But magistrates have been responsible for entertainment licensing in these premises for almost 35 years. The Government can hardly be unaware of the position, because only five months ago the Department for Culture, Media and Sport issued guidance to magistrates following the decision to allow live entertainment in casinos. Contrary to what has been claimed, the amendment would introduce no new responsibilities for magistrates.

The Government also claim that the amendment would mean that the Bill would not apply to casinos and bingo clubs. That seems to suggest that these clubs would be allowed to make hay until such time as the Government introduced a new gaming Bill. That is not so. The criteria and safeguards set out in the Bill already apply to gaming establishments because they arise from the application of the provisions of the Gaming Act 1968. They have to be considered at each annual renewal of a gaming licence by magistrates.

It is not as if local authorities are actively seeking this new responsibility in any event. We understand that Westminster City Council, in whose territory many of our foremost casinos are situated, has told the Department for Culture, Media and Sport that it is practically impossible to see how local authorities could process applications for gaming premises under this Bill until such time as new criteria are established under a new gaming Act. Such concerns recognise the primacy of gaming legislation in regulating casinos and bingo clubs. It is of course right that gaming legislation should have primacy, because it can impose more stringent requirements than can reasonably be imposed by the general run of licensing legislation.

The amendment would not result in piecemeal provision, as the Government claim. That implies that the amendment anticipates parts of the promised gaming Bill, but it seeks to do quite the opposite. It would maintain what is widely regarded as a satisfactory status quo pending the implementation of a new gaming Act.

We believe that the Bill is a recipe for short-term chaos and unnecessary cost. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (the Arts), Department for Culture, Media & Sport, Minister of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) (Arts) 5:45 pm, 4th March 2003

My Lords, the amendments would take out of the control of the licensing authorities licensable activities in almost 2,000 bingo clubs and over 120 casinos and transfer them to the magistrates under the Gaming Act 1968. Before these proposals can be properly debated, it is important that the House appreciates the Government's current plans for reform of gambling law.

The responsibility for licensing gambling establishments, such as bingo clubs and casinos, rests at present with the magistrates. An individual company which wishes to run a bingo or casino club must obtain a certificate from the Gaming Board for Great Britain. This confirms that the applicant is fit and proper. The magistrates then decide whether to grant a licence covering the premises on which bingo or casino games are to take place. They must take into account any advice given to them by the board.

Last March, the Government published A Safe Bet for Success which set out proposals for comprehensive reform of gambling. The noble Baroness is right: as I said in Committee, of course I cannot give a firm commitment about when it will be possible to bring a gambling Bill before Parliament. It could be as early as next Session, but obviously we have to wait until the next Queen's Speech before we know.

The amendments try to anticipate parts of that gambling Bill. Once local authorities are responsible for gambling premises in their areas—not just as the licensing authority for alcohol, entertainment and late-night refreshment but for gambling—in principle, it makes sense to envisage a single licensing procedure for casinos and bingo clubs. We envisage that the licensing committees which will be set up under the Bill would in due course be empowered to deal with gambling licensing matters as well. Bingo clubs and casinos would, therefore, be able to make one application to one body. Such a streamlining of the present arrangements could bring about substantial savings for business and also for the police, local residents and others with an interest.

It would be wrong to pre-empt the future reform of gambling licensing through piecemeal provision in advance of full and detailed consideration of what is appropriate for that future position. The amendments are an unsatisfactory short cut to that future position. In the first place, they would leave the magistrates with responsibility for alcohol licensing in relation to one group of premises when they would no longer have it for any other group. So administrative systems and expertise would have to be maintained for that purpose. Indeed, the magistrates would have to acquire a new responsibility in relation to entertainment licensing.

What is worse, the provisions of the Licensing Bill would not apply, so that the criteria and safeguards which we have spent many hours debating would not extend to bingo clubs and casinos. If these amendments were made to the Bill, the provision of licensable activities in those clubs would not benefit from the Bill's inbuilt protections of expert scrutiny and representation but would in effect be at the magistrates' discretion. If that is no longer considered the right licensing approach for all other premises, why should it be so for bingo clubs and casinos?

The exemption that is envisaged also has a number of wider repercussions. A number of the offences set out in Part 7 of the Bill and the closure powers set out in Part 8 apply only to behaviour or activities taking place on premises for which a licensing permission under the Bill has been granted. So the exemption provided would render these offence provisions ineffective. Let me give a few examples: if the amendment were accepted, children under 18 could be permitted to consume alcohol in bingo clubs and casinos without an offence being committed; disorderly conduct could be allowed to develop without an offence occurring; and alcohol could be freely sold to drunks. I do not think that the noble Baroness wants or intends to have such an arrangement.

The noble Baroness asked about the new casino licence fees. I understand that the fee will be £28,915, with renewal at £7,950. The casino currently has to obtain a justices' licence for which it pays extra, and a special hours certificate, for which it also pays extra. Under the Bill, casinos will obtain a premises licence costing between £100 and £500 and then make a payment of £50 to £150 a year. That seems to be an improvement.

The Government readily acknowledge the case for rationalising licensing responsibilities but believe that this needs to be done properly. Gambling and gaming raise many additional issues which will not be relevant to the licensing activities with which the Bill deals. The right safeguards need to be in place when any attempt at integration is made.

The amendments would lead to a significant vacuum that is unacceptable, and I hope the noble Baroness will agree not to press them.

Photo of Baroness Buscombe Baroness Buscombe Conservative

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her full response. Clearly we still disagree with her on a number of issues. I thought I made it clear that in our view the amendment would not result in piecemeal provision, as the Government had stated in Committee. Clearly the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, believes that it would do so. We disagree on that. She also repeated the argument made in Committee that the amendment would mean that the Bill would not apply to casinos and bingo clubs. As we have said again this evening, the criteria and safeguards set out in the Bill already apply to gaming establishments, because they arise from the application of the provisions of the Gaming Act 1968. They have to be considered at each annual renewal by magistrates of a gaming licence.

There are other issues on which it would not be sensible for me to repeat my arguments without repeating all that I said when moving the amendment. We clearly differ on some issues. I hope that before Third Reading the Minister will consider again some of the points that we have raised in Committee and this evening. In turn, I shall take away her point about disorderly conduct and children. That is an important issue that I should like to consider further. I also entirely agree with her that a fee of £100 to £500 sounds like an attractive improvement on £7,950. Again, I shall defer to those in the industry, who are better placed to respond to what the Minister has said.

I thank the Minister for her response. I ask her to consider again the case that has been made, given that the Government have promised a new gaming Act. We understand that it is impossible to give an accurate timescale for when that will be introduced. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Lord Phillips of Sudbury Lord Phillips of Sudbury Liberal Democrat

moved Amendment No. 231A:

Page 94, line 31, at end insert—

"(h) at a garden fete or other event of a similar character promoted for purposes other than private gain at which fewer than 500 people are to be present at the same time"

Photo of Lord Phillips of Sudbury Lord Phillips of Sudbury Liberal Democrat

My Lords, fetes could be the issue that got away. A lot of helpful amendments have been tabled to the Bill, but the one issue that came up on Second Reading that was not aired in Committee was fetes. In case anybody thinks that this is a minor matter, I calculate that there must be about 50,000 fetes a year in England and Wales—charitable fetes, fundraising fetes and fun fetes. I have no idea what licence fee is being contemplated, but if fetes stay within the ambit of the licensing system, a fee of £100 would represent a total of £5 million of licence fee expenditure. The more important point in many ways is the bureaucratic burden that would be imposed on thousands of tiny organisations that put these annual fetes together on a wing and a prayer. Many of them would get it wrong.

I am sure I do not need to labour the place of the fete in village life. It is almost a symbol of a certain way of life. It represents all the things that we are trying to preserve in society: jolly harmlessness, the communality that is so often under attack or missing; and inclusiveness. They are all-embracing, amateur, joyful occasions. I suspect and hope that the Government may not have intended that these events should be part of the regulatory framework of the Bill. I have heard many times and believed the statement that this is a deregulatory measure. We need to have regard to the importance of the role of fetes in our lives.

There is wide support for the amendment in principle, although there is wide ignorance of the fact that fetes will be caught up in the tentacles of the Bill. From those who have been made aware of the fact that they currently fall within the Bill, one gets a unanimous and pretty fierce response. The Churches have expressed that to me. Perhaps they have written to the Minister. The Charity Finance Directors' Group has just woken up to the issue. They may have written as well. I am not sure.

I hope that my drafting is simple and straightforward. "Garden fete" is used in Schedule 1 to the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982. I cannot be certain that these fetes are not part of the current licensing framework, because the 1982 Act provides that local authorities can opt out of the need to have licences for such events. Nobody ever gets a licence in my part of the world, so Suffolk has certainly opted out. I suspect that licensing authorities have opted out all round the country. I should be interested and surprised if it were otherwise.

I have included a provision that in order for a fete to be exempt it must be promoted for purposes other than private gain. That is borrowed from Clause 172. I have also suggested that there should be fewer than 500 people present at the same time. That is borrowed from Clause 98. I hope that the purport is clear and that there is ample justification for allowing the amendment in principle, if not with the words that I have used. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Cobbold Lord Cobbold Crossbench

My Lords, I support the amendment. I shall not be able to express the issues any better than the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury. I think his figure of 500 is arbitrary. Given the type of event, there would be nobody counting the people. However, in principle, the size is about right.

In passing, I noticed that the clause exempts royal palaces. That answers an earlier question about whether the recent Jubilee concert would have had to be licensed under the Bill. Clearly it would not.

Photo of Baroness Buscombe Baroness Buscombe Conservative

My Lords, I also support the amendment. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, that there is a question mark over the figure of 500. I have ringed it and thought about it and my feeling is that, sadly, it would be unusual today to attract more than 500 people to a garden fete or similar event. A few years ago, more people might have turned up, but 500 is a reasonable number. A number has to be set and 500 is about right. It would be otiose to say any more than the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, has already said on this sensible and fair amendment.

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (the Arts), Department for Culture, Media & Sport, Minister of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) (Arts)

My Lords, the Government are prepared to consider the issues that the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, has raised, but we have some concerns that will have to be addressed. First, the amendment would exempt from the licensing regime all licensable activities carried on at garden fetes or similar events, including the sale of alcohol. I did not believe that to be the noble Lord's intention—I hope I am right in that. I thought that the purpose of his amendment was to raise issues about regulated entertainment that are more properly considered under Schedule 1, as he said. If I am not right, while we are prepared to consider the case for regulated entertainment, the Government would oppose any exemption for the sale of alcohol.

I should perhaps remind the House that the provision of public entertainment at garden fetes is already covered by existing legislation. Within Greater London, entertainment carried on at such events is licensable. Outside Greater London, the position depends on whether individual local authorities have chosen to adopt the relevant provisions of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982, to which the noble Lord referred, and whether they have made any relevant by-laws. There are also provisions in the Private Places of Entertainment (Licensing) Act 1967, which is another area where local authorities can resolve to apply its provisions in respect of entertainment.

Nevertheless, I understand that the local authority in whose area of responsibility the garden fe te run by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, takes place—namely Suffolk—has not adopted the relevant legislation or made any by-laws. So I can quite see that, from his point of view, the requirement to obtain a licence under the Bill for an activity that he carries on now without a licence would represent an extension of regulation. We want to avoid that. Nevertheless, as he is obviously aware, the potential for regulation already exists.

A further concern relates to what we would mean by a garden fete. The noble Lord will not be surprised to hear me say that. Unfortunately, there is no definitive case law on the point, and the small number of cases that have been decided by the courts give an unclear and contradictory picture. One case concluded that a jazz and beer festival fell within the meaning of "fete". Another took a much narrower and probably more sensible approach by referring to the sale of cakes, old clothes, locally grown fruit and vegetables, and perhaps games such as guessing the length of a phenomenally long runner bean. The point is that the concept of a fete is somewhat nebulous.

On a related point, we are also concerned that unless we get the definition and any relevant parameters right, we might end up allowing some potentially quite large events—such as the jazz and beer festival to which I referred—to fall through the cracks. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, recognises that and has sought to address it through the application of an upper limit. We will consider that as part of our further consideration.

I will ensure that the noble Lord is involved in further thinking about this, although he will appreciate that any amendments to the Bill may have to be introduced in another place. However, that does not in any way preclude us from involving him in the discussions that now need to take place. In the light of that, I hope that he will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Lord Phillips of Sudbury Lord Phillips of Sudbury Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, for that reply, which could not have been more helpful. I should hope, however, that we could deal with the matter here; as we know, another place misses out whole swathes of legislation when time is short. Nevertheless, I understand the problem. I immediately assure the noble Baroness that I have no intention of bringing in bucolic drunkenness by the back entrance to the marquee. I accept that Clause 172 deals with raffles and tombolas and with a certain limited provision of sealed containers of alcohol. There is no shortage of soft-shoe shuffle on my part about that, and I accept that it must not be allowed in.

The noble Baroness mentioned the Private Places of Entertainment (Licensing) Act 1967. However, that legislation is confined to events promoted for private gain. It would therefore withstand the current proposals and not be touched by this legislation. Other than that, I look forward to seeing the fruit of the noble Baroness's statement and to collaborating with her as far as possible. I am grateful. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 173 [Prohibition of alcohol sales at service areas, garages etc.]:

Photo of Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts Conservative 6:00 pm, 4th March 2003

moved Amendment No. 232:

Page 96, line 34, leave out paragraph (b).

Photo of Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts Conservative

My Lords, I am seeking to amend Clause 173, which is entitled:

"Prohibition of alcohol sales at service areas, garages etc".

In order to avoid a misconception that seemed to arise in Committee, I should say that nothing that I am proposing has anything at all to do with service areas. The prohibition on alcohol sales at service areas seems entirely reasonable to me. There seemed to be some confusion about whether I was seeking to permit alcohol to be sold at service areas; I am not.

The amendment seeks to create circumstances in which we can maintain the village shop, particularly where it is linked to a garage and wishes to sell alcohol. It seeks to prevent the creation of "shopping deserts", as they have come to be called. As we discussed and we all know, the village shop is under considerable commercial pressure. Village shops/post offices are under pressure because benefit payments are being made differently. Village shops/garages are under pressure because we have a "throw away" rather than a mend environment. Petrol retailers are being driven out because of the pitiful profit margins. The village shop is also under pressure because of supermarkets.

If that commercial unity is to survive, the only answer is to combine those functions. If the garage wants to sell other goods and those goods include alcohol, so be it—let them apply for a licence. I am not suggesting that they should be free from having to apply for a licence. I am saying that they should not be prohibited, as the Bill currently provides, from being able even to apply for a licence. Garages are not even included in the permissible category.

The illogicality of the current position can be illustrated in various ways. It is, for example, permissible for an off licence to be located just 10 to 15 feet from a garage in the same village street. In all likelihood, however, if operated separately, both businesses would go out of business as they would not be commercially viable. Major supermarkets advertise in local newspapers to offer cheap petrol as a means of attracting customers. As I said in Committee, however, once people fill up with petrol at the supermarkets, they can fill up the boot of their cars with booze. Driving to Tesco or Sainsbury's to buy alcohol is as dangerous as driving to one's local village shop/garage to buy a six-pack of beer.

In replying on this issue, the noble Baroness had only two arguments. The first was that permission can be given if less than half the annual turnover of the village garage/shop involves garage-type activities. I think that that was the point she made in Committee in reply to an intervention from my noble friend Lord Crickhowell. The argument seems totally illogical. If 49 per cent of my garage/shop turnover is in petrol, I can apply to sell alcohol with impunity. If it is 51 per cent, however, I cannot do so as I would be in danger of creating alcohol crazed drivers. How will we deal with the threshold when village shops are just either side of the 50 per cent level?

The Minister's next substantive argument was that changing the arrangements would encourage drink driving. She pointed out that, since 1979, alcohol-related deaths on the road have decreased from 1,600 to 480. I think that the number decreased again in 2001. She was absolutely right to say that that is extremely good news. The question, however, is whether those figures are in any way related to the prohibition proposed in the Bill. I would argue quite strongly that they are not.

I have mentioned the position regarding Sainsbury's and Tesco and the huge bias against small village garage/shops. In reply to a Written Question in another place, Mr Bob Ainsworth said that no studies have been undertaken on the commission of drink driving offences related to alcohol purchases from different retail categories. He went on to say that the UK has shown that a combination of rigid enforcement and advertising campaigns has had a dramatic effect in reducing the numbers of people killed and seriously injured in crashes involving illegal levels of alcohol. That seems to shoot another hole in the Minister's argument because, if the prohibition was that important, the Home Office should have done some research on it. The Home Office, in a Written Answer, is effectively saying that the major factor is not alcohol sales, but enforcement and advertising campaigns.

The present permissions were introduced in 1988. Since then, between 600 and 1,000 forecourt stores have met the requirements of the present legislation, and there has been no increase in alcohol-related deaths. Indeed, as the Minister rightly points out, alcohol-related deaths have fallen.

In Scotland, the situation is already as I would like it to be, as legislation liberalised the position in 1997. Garages can apply to the district council licensing board for a licence permitting them to sell alcohol, and there has been no discernible increase in alcohol-related deaths as a result of that minor change in Scotland.

The provision is a strike for local democracy, and for village shops and local communities. The Government talk about the Bill being a deregulatory and decentralising piece of legislation. They should trust the local licensing authority, which will know whether an application is worth while. If it is not, they can turn it down. Local people would have a chance to decide. To have a blanket ban drives another nail in the coffin of local shopping facilities based in villages. If they are to survive, we have to combine functions to meet modern economic competition. If the Government are honest about local authorities taking decisions that reflect their local conditions, they should remove the blanket ban and permit local sense and opinion to prevail. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Redesdale Lord Redesdale Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I support the cogent argument put forward.

Photo of Lord Cobbold Lord Cobbold Crossbench

My Lords, similarly, I should like to support the amendment, for all the reasons that the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, so eloquently put forward.

Photo of Baroness Buscombe Baroness Buscombe Conservative

My Lords, we also support the amendment.

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (the Arts), Department for Culture, Media & Sport, Minister of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) (Arts)

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, for returning to the matter, as we had an enjoyable debate on it in Committee.

Clause 173 prohibits the sale of alcohol at certain excluded premises, including garages. That prohibition is not new. I remind the House that it was introduced under a Conservative government not that long ago, at the behest of the police and road safety organisations. We have reviewed the position and consider it right that it should continue as it is for the time being.

Although we and previous administrations have made good progress in reducing drink driving, there is still much work to be done. Allowing the sale of alcohol would undermine our very clear messages in that area. The issue is not so much to do with reducing drink driving as ensuring that our messages on the topic are clear, and that we can continue the welcome results of the past 20 or more years. The police and road safety organisations maintain their extremely strong support for our view. It would be quite wrong of the Government to act contrary to that firm advice, as would certainly be the effect of the amendment.

I appreciate that the position may not seem logical in some circumstances. It is of course true that one can drive to an off-licence and fill one's boot with super-strength lager, even when the off-licence is 25 yards down the road from a garage. However, all our advice from the experts in road safety points to the continuation of the prohibition.

That said, we might one day reach a point where we consider that drink driving is no longer a menace. At that happy time it might be appropriate to lift the ban on alcohol sales, and the Bill provides flexibility for the Secretary of State to do that through regulation. The amendment would remove that flexibility, and primary legislation would be needed to change the position.

We recognise the importance of balance, however. There is no blanket ban, as the noble Lord said that there was, on the sale of alcohol from garages. It will be allowed under certain circumstances. We recognise that the garage shop often plays a vital role in rural communities, where it might be the only store for some way. That is why the Bill is drafted in such a way that the prohibition will apply only to premises that are primarily used as a garage or form part of premises that are primarily so used. I know that the noble Lord was concerned that the effect of the Bill would be to penalise village shops but, for the reasons that I have given, we have drafted the Bill to ensure that that does not happen.

I should like to take the opportunity to clarify some of the definitions on which the Bill will rely. Use as a garage means use for the retail sale of petrol or diesel or for the sale or maintenance of motor vehicles. Whether a premises is used primarily as a garage is tested under current law by reference to the intensity of use by customers. That may take turnover into account, as I said in Committee. I wrote to the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, following our debates in Committee with quite a detailed explanation. I placed copies of that letter in the Library. In effect, the licensing authority will be able to take into account a number of factors when arriving at a licensing decision in relation to premises of such a nature, so there is no blanket ban.

At present, it is right to continue the prohibition in its current form. At some stage in future the position may have to be reviewed. Meanwhile, I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts Conservative 6:15 pm, 4th March 2003

My Lords, that is not very satisfactory. We are sacrificing small businesses because the Government want to give a message. As I have explained, while we all absolutely applaud a reduction in alcohol-related deaths, the reality is that the provisions on small garages have nothing to do with that. Nothing that the Minister said makes any difference on such deaths at all. She simply said, "We've got to say this, because that's the message that we want to give". Essentially, we are telling many small businesses, "Because we want to give a message, you're going to go out of business". That is what the Minister effectively said.

Forecourt stores have become a new sector of the British retail trade. Frankly, it is unfair of the Government to permit large superstores on the edges of towns to continue to sell alcohol while advertising petrol as a loss leader, and then to say that that simply cannot be done in the village. In the village, the ability to sell alcohol will depend on intensity of use, but that is undefined; it could be turnover but could be something else.

The Minister spoke about public opinion. The law in Scotland permits people to apply to local licensing authorities and get a licence, irrespective of the features to which the Minister referred.

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (the Arts), Department for Culture, Media & Sport, Minister of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) (Arts)

My Lords, the noble Lord implies that the prohibition is new, but it is not; it is in the existing arrangements. It is important that people understand that. He also implies that large numbers of village shops will go out of business because of a new arrangement that is being introduced. The arrangement already exists and the village shops are operating. The rules that apply to village shops are exactly the same as those that apply to supermarkets; the issue depends on the intensity of use. If the intensity of use in supermarkets becomes mainly that of selling petrol to motorists who drive in with their cars to pick up petrol and move on, the same limit and prohibition will apply to them. However, that is not normally the case, because petrol is a smaller part of their business than selling food and other items. The noble Lord is not being entirely fair about the present position, which—I again remind him—was introduced by the government whom he supported not that long ago.

Photo of Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts Conservative

My Lords, are we going to play pat-ball over who did what? The fact is that economic conditions have changed much over the past 15 years and forecourt stalls are now a feature of the retail scene. Moreover, over the past 15 years village shops and village facilities have come under greater economic pressure than ever. That cannot be helped but it is a fact. We either say, "We must stick with the law as it is because that would send the wrong signal", or we must say, "This is not right because the circumstances have changed".

If the Minister can produce a single piece of evidence that shows that selling booze from small shops in villages increases the number of alcohol-related deaths from driving, I should not be standing here. The fact is that there is no such information. In Scotland, there is no public opinion for change. The reality is that we should make the change to reflect the circumstances and take a small step towards preserving the village shop. I want to test the opinion of the House.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 232) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 107; Not-Contents, 116.

Division number 2 Private Parking: Ports and Trading Estates — Licensing Bill [HL]

Aye: 105 Members of the House of Lords

No: 114 Members of the House of Lords

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

[Amendments Nos. 233 and 234 not moved.]

Clause 174 [Rights of entry to investigate licensable activities]:

[Amendment No. 235 not moved.]

Clause 176 [Appeals against decisions of licensing authorities]:

Photo of Lord Avebury Lord Avebury Liberal Democrat 6:30 pm, 4th March 2003

moved Amendment No. 236:

Page 98, leave out line 12 and insert—

"(3) The magistrates' court may make an order as to costs, having regard to its statement adopted under subsection (4) below.

(4) The magistrates' court shall—

(a) beginning on the day appointed by the Secretary of State referred to in section 5(2)(a), adopt a statement as to its policy for awarding costs in relation to cases heard on appeal under this Act, after consulting with—

(i) premises licence holders,

(ii) personal licence holders,

(iii) residents,

(iv) business, and

(v) such others that it deems fit;

(b) review its statement adopted by virtue of paragraph (a) above every three years, after consulting with—

(i) premises licence holders,

(ii) personal licence holders,

(iii) residents,

(iv) business, and

(v) such others as it deems fit."

Photo of Lord Avebury Lord Avebury Liberal Democrat

My Lords, at the request of the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, who is unavoidably absent hosting an event at the University of London, I rise to move Amendment No. 236 standing in his name. The amendment is concerned with the award of costs by magistrates' courts in cases where there is an appeal against the decision of the licensing authority.

Under the European Convention on Human Rights, courts may award costs in certain circumstances. The convention is based on the principles of legality and proportionality, which require that where a public authority has a wide discretion in law—in this case the discretion of the magistrates to award costs—there must be either in the legislation or in supplementary regulations,

"a sufficient indication of the circumstances in which that discretion will be exercised".

That is taken from the case of Silver v UK (1983).

A public statement setting out the approach that will be adopted in the exercise of otherwise over-broad discretions may suffice in some cases. Section 2(1)(a) of the Human Rights Act 1998 requires courts and tribunals in making determinations on issues which have arisen in connection with the convention to take into account among other things any judgment, decision, declaration or advisory opinion of the European Court of Human Rights. That includes the decision that is made in regard to costs. The European Court of Human Rights does not award costs against any person who claims that his rights have been violated, whether or not that claim has been upheld.

Furthermore, the convention requires that the burdens placed on any of the parties in civil cases should not be so onerous as to create an imbalance between the parties. The Bill as presently drafted is likely to deter individuals from appealing against decisions of the licensing authority even where there are very good grounds for doing so—for example, where there is evidence of bias or where there have been serious mistakes of fact or law—because of uncertainty over the costs that a litigant may have awarded against him.

There is even greater uncertainty because paragraph 9(3) of Schedule 5 to the Bill requires the licensing authority and the licensee to join in as respondents, which creates the possibility that two lots of costs may be awarded if magistrates choose to exercise their discretion in that regard. The experience of litigants is that residents will not take on risks of costs if there is uncertainty as to the quantum.

Given all of that, while magistrates should, indeed, have the power to award costs, the interests of ensuring that there is access to the court requires it to be indicated on what basis they will exercise that discretion. We believe that the best way would be through a statement which would have to be produced after consultation with the parties likely to be affected. Magistrates' courts already have court user forums where such issues can be raised. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Government Whip, Lords in Waiting (Whips)

My Lords, Clause 176 provides that after determining an appeal, magistrates' courts may make any order as to costs they think fit. Amendment No. 236, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, would fetter the courts' discretion by requiring them on making an order as to costs to have regard to their own statement of policy as to costs. As the noble Lord described, that policy must be developed in consultation with licence holders, business, residents and any others the courts think appropriate. The policy must be reviewed every three years, again following consultation.

In our view it would be quite wrong to fetter the courts' discretion to make orders as to costs on the basis of the individual merits of any case. The courts do that every day. They are already the appeal body at first instance for appeals associated with public entertainment licences. The courts should not be expected to consult the community before they make decisions. Their independence is something we all value.

Aside from those points of principle—the amendment raises a point of principle—I believe that the amendment is a recipe for what would be inconsistent practice all across the country on the matter of costs. If an appeal brought before the courts is considered vexatious by the magistrates or judged to be frivolous, surely it is only right that the courts should bear that in mind when making their decisions on costs. The courts have vast experience of such matters and we have no desire to change the existing arrangements with regard to appeal hearings. We must trust our judiciary to act reasonably and judiciously as they overwhelmingly do.

The noble Lord is concerned, and the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, at a previous stage of the Bill expressed concern, that local residents may be reluctant to mount appeals with the prospect that costs may be awarded against them. I understand the sentiment behind the representations. Those with a valid case have no reason to be deterred but it is right that any potential appellant should think hard before bringing an appeal. It is not meant to be a second bite at the cherry. The decision-making body under the terms of the Bill is the licensing authority. The appellate court is needed to ensure justice, fairness and reasonableness in the decision-making and as a remedy when parties are genuinely aggrieved.

As I said earlier, we have to trust the courts to exercise their discretion fairly. I therefore ask the noble Lord not to press his amendment.

Photo of Lord Avebury Lord Avebury Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I shall not press the amendment without consulting the noble Lord, Lord Brooke. However, I found the Minister's reply unsatisfactory in the sense that he did not deal with the argument. I pointed out that the case law in the European Court of Human Rights requires that some indication of the circumstances in which the discretion of the courts would be exercised has to be given. At present, there is not any. Whatever the noble Lord may say, I believe there is a powerful deterrent against people who wish to exercise legitimate rights in appealing against the decision of the licensing authority for any of the reasons that I have given by virtue of the fact that they may be faced with almost unlimited costs. I do not think that any residents' association will take on the responsibility of formulating an appeal knowing that those risks exist, however remote, and however justifiable the case.

The best I can do at this stage is to say that I shall discuss the matter in detail with the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, and with those who he has consulted, who are experts in the law of Strasbourg and who have advised him, as I have told your Lordships, that a provision of this kind is required. It may not be in the exact wording of the amendment, but certainly the manner in which the discretion of the courts would be exercised has to be notified to those who might exercise their rights to appeal against the decision of the licensing authority. It is unfortunate that the Minister could not have given even an indication that the Government would consider the principle of the matter if not the detail of the amendment. We shall have to take it away and come back, if necessary, after consultations at another stage of the Bill. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 5 [Appeals]:

[Amendments Nos. 237 and 237A not moved.]

Photo of Lord Cobbold Lord Cobbold Crossbench

moved Amendment No. 237B:

Page 117, line 31, leave out sub-paragraph (3).

Photo of Lord Cobbold Lord Cobbold Crossbench

My Lords, the amendment would delete paragraph 2(3) of Schedule 5, which is concerned with the right of appeal against the granting of a licence. The right of appeal is vitally important in principle, but the provision worries me as it relates to persons who have already made relevant representations at the original licensing authority hearing, and it challenges the licensing process itself. The provision may be used as an objector's charter, giving rise to all sorts of frivolous appeals designed explicitly to delay the licensing process. That could be especially relevant in the case of a public entertainment licence for a special event, when timing may be of importance.

I do not intend to press the amendment to a Division, but will the Minister comment on whether the concept of an objector's charter has any validity?

Photo of Lord Avebury Lord Avebury Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 238 and 245, standing in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville. This, again, is a convention matter.

The convention requires that decisions involving civil and convention rights must be made by independent and impartial tribunals such as, in this case, a magistrates' court. If they are made by an administrative body, such as a local authority, there must be an avenue of appeal to an independent tribunal on the facts as well as on the law.

The Bill does not give objectors the right to access to a magistrates' court unless they have made relevant representations. However, an individual may have been precluded from making relevant representations for a variety of reasons. There may have been no notice advertising the application and the local authority may have made a mistake in determining the application in those circumstances. The objector may incorrectly have been considered not an interested or responsible person. The licensing authority may incorrectly have deemed the representation frivolous or vexatious or, in a review, incorrectly considered the representation to be a repetition.

Those restrictions on access to an independent tribunal may fundamentally affect the rights of such an individual, whose only course of action may be to petition the administrative court for leave to quash a decision made on that basis. The burden on a resident in doing that would be onerous in terms of substantial cost and time. The essence of his right of access to an independent tribunal would be vitiated, which would be a violation of Article 6.

The amendments would deal with that problem by allowing the individual the right to appeal to the magistrates' courts, which would have the ability to award costs to prevent or deter abuse of the right.

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (the Arts), Department for Culture, Media & Sport, Minister of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) (Arts)

My Lords, it is only right that all parties involved in the process of licensing applications have available appropriate remedies and the freedom to challenge decisions in appropriate circumstances. Where, following the advertisement of an application so that interested parties may have the opportunity to make relevant representations and then a hearing convened to consider them, it would seem wholly unfair to deny those people the right to appeal the determination of the licensing authority if they feel it is necessary. For example, a premises licence may have been granted subject to modified conditions, which the interested party does not feel properly addresses the concerns raised in his representations about the prevention of public nuisance.

Amendment No. 237B would remove not only that right of appeal, but also the right of responsible authorities—expert bodies such as the police or environmental health body for the area—to appeal against decisions. In this respect, the amendment would not only be unfair but would also remove a safeguard when, for whatever reason, such bodies feel that an appeal is necessary to ensure the promotion of the licensing objectives. Quite apart from those concerns, I would not be in a position to confirm to noble Lords that acceptance of the amendment would be compatible with convention rights. I therefore hope that the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, will withdraw it.

Amendments Nos. 238 to 240 and 242 to 245, on the other hand, would add new circumstances in which appeals could be made. They would allow a person who had made representations about any of these applications to appeal on the grounds that the application should not have been treated as compliant by the licensing authority. They would allow someone to appeal a decision when their representations about applications or the review of licences or certificates had been deemed not relevant by the licensing authority. On all these matters, they would allow a person to appeal against a decision by the licensing authority that their representations were not relevant representations, or were frivolous or vexations.

The proposals strike at an important aspect of the procedures for applications for licences. The Bill, without the amendments, will enable the consideration and determination of applications to be dealt with speedily and effectively, involving the appropriate professional experts and those residents and businesses likely to be affected by the outcome of the application.

We have often pointed out during the course of debate that the Bill needs to strike a balance between allowing the licensed industry to go about its business and protecting the rights of interested parties and responsible authorities. The Bill allows those parties and authorities to have far more say in the licensing system than before. Not only can they make representations about all applications, they can also request the review of a licence on a ground relating to the licensing objectives at any time.

It is important, however, to ensure that safeguards exist to prevent a small number of troublemakers from frustrating the intentions of the Bill. That is why licensing authorities will be able to decide whether representations about applications or reviews have come from interested parties or responsible authorities—and if they have, in the case of the former, whether they are relevant, and not frivolous or vexatious.

The amendments have the potential to create a nightmare scenario whereby every single administrative judgment about representations that the licensing authority makes could be appealed against, thereby protracting the operation of the licensing regime. I am also curious as to why there is such a distrust of licensing authorities, which is implied in the amendments. They are capable of making sound judgments in relation to representations and to the parties who have made them. It is right that there should be an avenue of appeal against the decisions that licensing authorities take about applications relating to licences, certificates and statements. But to allow appeals against the judgments that a licensing authority needs to make to ensure that it is considering the correct evidence from the right sources when making decisions is simply unnecessary. Judicial review is the appropriate recourse for a person aggrieved by judgments of this sort.

In the light of what I have said, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, will not press his amendment.

Photo of Lord Cobbold Lord Cobbold Crossbench

My Lords, I hear what the Minister says, but she has not answered my question about frivolous delaying tactics at the second stage. She stated, correctly, that frivolous applications could be stopped at the first hearing, but there seems no method for preventing frivolous applications and appeals under the provisions. However, I am not prepared to press the point. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 238 to 247 not moved.]

Clause 178 [Hearings]:

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (the Arts), Department for Culture, Media & Sport, Minister of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) (Arts)

moved Amendment No. 248:

Page 98, line 28, at end insert ";

( ) prescribe the period within which an application, in relation to which a hearing has been held, must be determined or any other step in the procedure must be taken"

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 180 [Provision of information]:

Photo of Lord Avebury Lord Avebury Liberal Democrat

moved Amendment No. 248A:

Page 99, line 43, at end insert ", or

(c) to an interested party to enable them to make relevant representations, but nothing in this subsection shall authorise a licensing authority or responsible authority to disclose matters of commercial confidentiality"

Photo of Lord Avebury Lord Avebury Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I move Amendment No. 248A again on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville. It concerns a situation where a responsible authority or the licensing authority becomes aware of information that may threaten the well-being or harm the safety of individuals where it may have an obligation to make information available to those likely to be affected. That was held in the case of Guerra v. Italy, which was discussed on an earlier occasion.

The Bill, as drafted, prevents the licensing authority from complying with that obligation. The amendment removes the offending clause and allows the licensing authority and the responsible party to consider whether in all the circumstances that disclosure is necessary.

I refer back to the discussion in Committee between the noble Lords, Lord Davies and Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, on the subject of disclosure of information from licensing premises. The noble Lord, Lord Davies, sought to distinguish the decision in Guerra v. Italy, on the grounds that the polluter was a chemical factory and therefore of greater risk to residents than licensed premises.

The noble Lord, Lord Davies, may be right about that or he may be wrong; it all depends on the facts in question. In the absence of Clause 180(3), the licensing authorities and the courts would have to balance the data protection and privacy issues with the issues relating to the right to receive information on issues that may cause harm. The problem with Clause 180(3) is that it prevents the licensing authority and the courts from carrying out this balancing task. Therefore, we believe it is unsatisfactory to have the clause in the Bill in Convention terms.

It is questionable for the Minister to argue, as he did, that licensing premises do not cause problems that can damage health. The possibility that that might occur is implicit in the Bill. For example, in Clause 13(4)(d) local authorities are given powers to object in pursuit of statutory functions relating to,

"minimising or preventing the risk of pollution of the environment or of harm to human health".

If a local authority were to find that there was harm to human health, it would be difficult to argue convincingly that the principles in Guerra v. Italy do not apply.

Perhaps I may say that in Committee the Minister seemed unaware of the way in which the Strasbourg courts have used the judgment in Guerra and subsequent cases. Since then, I hope that he has taken the opportunity to bring himself up-to-date on the issue. It is not an isolated case; it is a case that established the principle that public authorities have duties to collect and disseminate information on environmental pollution that can affect the amenities of people who live in their midst. It has been quoted approvingly, for example, in Lopez Ostra v. Spain and in Hatton and others v. UK. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Government Whip, Lords in Waiting (Whips)

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for moving the amendment. As he said, we had a fairly thorough discussion of the matter in Committee, but I recognise that the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, and, I imagine, the noble Lord himself are dissatisfied with the response. We are not convinced either by the representations made at that time or by the arguments presented on this occasion.

Clause 180 provides that information held by licensing authorities and responsible authorities for the purposes of the Bill may be shared with other licensing authorities or responsible authorities, where necessary, to enable the discharging of their functions under the Bill. I do not think anyone would disagree that it is perfectly reasonable that licensing authorities and bodies such as the police, fire authority and health and safety bodies should be able to share such information for such purposes.

What would not be reasonable—this is the case that the Government argued in Committee—is the removal of the protections for licence holders, applicants and other individuals without which they could not know which other organisations or individuals had been passed their confidential information or data, and for what purpose. That is particularly acute in relation to personal data where, as noble Lords will know, the Data Protection Act makes specific provision on disclosure. It would be wrong for us to seek in the Bill to override those provisions. Applicants provide information for the purposes of the Bill and it is to be used for those purposes only.

Clause 180 provides the right level of protection because, in discharging licensing functions or its functions as a responsible authority, the licensing authority or responsible authority may well have in its possession information to which issues of confidentiality and so on will attach. And of course information relating to licences and notices issued by licensing authorities will be kept on a register which all licensing authorities are required to maintain and this information will be accessible to the public. For those reasons, I ask that these amendments are not pressed. There are excellent reasons why the clause is necessary.

I understand the main concern behind these amendments is a concern that the clause will endanger powers under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 and the Local Government Act 2000, which allow information about crime and disorder and environmental issues—to which the noble Lord made specific reference—to be shared and that that would be incompatible with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which was an issue much raised in Committee. I offer the noble Lord the comment that we have thought seriously about these issues since Committee. I give a strong assurance that that is not the case. There is nothing here which is incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

Clause 180 relates to information collected specifically for the purposes of the licensing regime by licensing authorities. The types of information relating to crime and disorder and to environmental matters—which I believe the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, has in mind, and are issues to which he referred in Committee, and of course the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has reflected those anxieties today—are rightly available to interested parties under the 1998 Act. The provisions of the 1998 Act similarly provide a gateway for the sharing of information which enables the holders of information to provide it to others in accordance with that Act. The provisions in the Bill relate to its scope; they do not affect the provisions in the 1998 Act.

The noble Lord will know that my noble friend the Minister has signed the Bill to the effect that it is compatible with the terms of the European Convention on Human Rights; and Clause 180 is so compatible. That is the reassurance that I give.

I recognise that the noble Lord has raised some very important points. The Government's contention is that we are dealing with a very restricted area of information for specific purposes. It is within that framework that the restrictions apply. I hope he will recognise the reasonableness of the Government's case and feels able on behalf of the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Lord Avebury Lord Avebury Liberal Democrat

My Lords, once again I am obliged to withdraw the amendment because I am not able to consult with the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, regarding the Minister's answer. There did not seem to be anything in his reply, so far as I could make out, to enable this balancing of two conflicting requirements that I mentioned when introducing the amendment.

I specifically acknowledged that there were data protection implications and other requirements of confidentiality that had to be observed, but that the amendment was designed to allow those to be weighed against the freedom of information requirements which would otherwise have applied if there had not been, for example, the Data Protection Act.

I need to take the matter away and discuss it again with the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, in order that we can decide with the benefit of the advice—and particularly in the light of considerations that go to the heart of the Human Rights Act—whether we need to bring the amendment back at another stage. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 249 not moved.]

Photo of Lord Avebury Lord Avebury Liberal Democrat 7:00 pm, 4th March 2003

moved Amendment No. 249A:

After Clause 180, insert the following new clause—

"PROVISION OF INFORMATION BY THE POLICE

(1) When a relevant representation has been made by an interested party or by a responsible person (other than the chief officer of police) in respect of any premises, the licensing authority must give notice of that fact to the chief officer of police as soon as is practicable.

(2) When the chief officer receives a notice of a kind referred to in subsection (1), he must as soon as practicable place a report before the licensing authority giving details of all incidents of crime and disorder (if any) on the premises or in the vicinity and related to the premises reported to the police during the most recent three months for which the information is available."

Photo of Lord Avebury Lord Avebury Liberal Democrat

My Lords, the amendment was prompted by my experience listening to the licensing sub-committee of the City of Westminster on 20th February, when the head of CO14 Clubs and Vice Unit was not objecting to the renewal of the licence in question, but two officers attended to give evidence on their own initiative. The head of CO14 explained that the internal process in the police was that all officers who had anything to say about a particular application were to channel their comments through CO14, which would, in the light of all the circumstances, decide whether it was expedient to object.

In this case, having considered the information at their disposal regarding violence and disturbance at or in the vicinity of the premises, and in the light of what the management were doing about it and how many people were coming through the establishment's doors, it concluded that there were insufficient grounds to object to the renewal. A councillor then asked whether it would not be a good idea to present that evidence to the sub-committee. The officer replied that to be fair and ethical, the police would have to consider every individual offence to see whether it related to the premises, which would take a lot of effort.

I accept that in the West End, where there is a concentration of nightclubs in a small area, it may not always be easy to say whether offences committed in the vicinity are related to particular premises, but the police are already required to exercise their judgment on that in relation to closure orders under Clause 158(1).

As I see it, three groups of offences are relevant: those committed on the premises, about which there can be no doubt; those committed by someone who recently left the premises; and those where no evidence is available about where the offender was beforehand, or whether he was ever in any of the premises in the vicinity. When I say "evidence", I do not mean it in the strictly legal sense, because the police will generally know more about the background than is available in the form of witness statements. I take it that the phrase,

"related to, the premises", in Clause 158(1) must be construed in that way. People nearly always tell ambulance personnel where the victim had been drinking and the information may be given to the police by ambulance men or by witnesses who are not prepared to give formal statements. It is perfectly reasonable for the police to make their own judgment on whether an offence is related to the premises, short of being able to prove it to the standards that would be required in a court of law.

In pursuit of the licensing objective, the police should maintain records that allow them to analyse the connection between licensed premises and offences committed on or in the vicinity of premises. Those records must be produced when the police have imposed a closure order and are asking magistrates to order that the premises remain closed until the licensing authority reviews the premises licence under Clause 164(2).

In fact, the police keep computer records of all crimes reported to them, and I am told that it would not be difficult to analyse them in that way. That would mean that little further work would be required to produce the information for the licensing authority as required by the amendment. Without it, it is difficult to imagine how the licensing authority will set about achieving the objective of reducing crime and disorder.

The Minister has accepted that there is a relationship between alcohol consumption and crime, and that the presence of large numbers of people in open public spaces can give rise to problems of disorder and nuisance. The combination of the two causes the harm. Large numbers of people without alcohol are completely innocuous, as we saw from the recent anti-war march, in which more than 1 million people participated without, as far as I am aware, any increase in crime or disorder in central London. But put the two together and we get trouble, as the House would be aware if the Minister had been able to give the figures that she said she would try to provide when I asked her for them on 19th December at col. 801.

If I may say so, the Minister could not have asked the police about the figures, because when I did so, they were able to give me month-by-month statistics for 2002 of calls to the police classified as violence against the person in the Charing Cross and West End Central police areas of Westminster and, for comparison, the whole of the boroughs of Croydon, Barnet and Merton. The totals are instructive. In Barnet, there were 649; in Merton, 299; in Croydon, 889; but in central London, 1,495.

From those figures, your Lordships will deduce what is in any case intuitively obvious: the more late-night drinking establishments there are, the greater the level of crime and disorder. It follows that any strategy to reduce crime and disorder should include the closest possible monitoring of existing establishments and a rigorous policy of closing those that can be shown to be connected with a large number of offences.

Amendment No. 259A, which is grouped and also stands in my name, follows a similar train of thought. It proposes that the licensing authority should maintain records of crime and disorder at or in the vicinity of premises, as well as of ambulance calls to the premises. I do not envisage a great deal of work for the licensing authorities if the amendment is approved, because they would simply receive details from police and ambulance authorities in electronic form, to be accessed for the licensing authority's consideration where relevant representations were made against the renewal of a licence.

That would ensure that the licensing authority, not just the police, had the information about the level of crime linked to the premises, instead of being completely in the dark if for some reason—as in the case that I cited at the beginning of my speech—the police decided not to oppose renewal. At present, that is a serious gap in the Bill.

If the Minister can think of any other way to reduce crime and disorder through the policies of the licensing authority, I should like to hear about it. In the guidance, where premises licences are discussed, only one paragraph deals with the licensing objectives, paragraph 6.24, and that is concerned only with operating schedules. Paragraphs 6.70 to 6.74 deal with reviews of premises licenses, but those can arise only when the police have imposed a closure order. The guidance is clear that only actual convictions are to be considered in those reviews, but it is less clear whether it must be proved that the criminal conduct was a matter of policy or of negligence.

If the management allow under-age drinking or use of the premises for the sale of Class A drugs, for instance, those would be for consideration; but what if the offence was committed by someone on the premises or just outside? Would cases such as that of Mr Lee Bowyer and Mr Jonathan Woodgate, accused of grievous bodily harm and affray outside the Majestyk club in Leeds, be taken into consideration, or would the licensing authority have to ignore the Lee Bowyer case because he was acquitted?

I hinted earlier at one other question: the National Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy is supposed to report in May. The health Minister, Hazel Blears, told me that there would be an interim analysis paper by the end of last month, summarising the results of the consultation that took place between October last year and mid-January 2003.

Here is yet another example of the lack of joined-up government, because we have no idea what views were expressed about the role of the Licensing Bill in combating alcohol harm. Licensing was not mentioned at all in the consultation document, but some of the representations undoubtedly made the point that late-night drinking is linked to crime. Perhaps it is inconvenient, from the Government's point of view, for that to be highlighted while your Lordships are considering the Bill.

It is commonsense that the licensing authority should be entitled to consider all the information on record about crimes on licensed premises or in their vicinity. Without that, they will not have the means to use the licensing system to reduce crime and disorder. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Buscombe Baroness Buscombe Conservative

My Lords, I support the amendments. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, will not mind my saying that I discussed the amendments with him. I asked him whether they might place a significant additional burden on the police. I was satisfied from our discussion that that would not be the case.

Given that, I believe that the amendments are sensible and, in essence, would be for the benefit of all. To say more would be to repeat what the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has said.

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (the Arts), Department for Culture, Media & Sport, Minister of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) (Arts)

My Lords, although the intention behind the amendments is both clear and laudable, the Government must resist them for several reasons. First, they are unnecessary. Where the police are notified of an application for a premises licence or club premises certificate, a variation of the same, or a provisional statement, or where they call for a review of a premises licence or club premises certificate or contribute to one on the grounds of any of the licensing objectives, they will have access to the relevant history of the premises and will be able to present the facts of the case to the hearing. That history need not be limited to the three-month period that would be achieved by Amendment No. 249A. Furthermore, Clause 180 makes specific provision for the police as a responsible authority to make available the information that they hold,

"for the purposes of facilitating the exercise of the authority's functions".

In addition, Clauses 17, 29, 50, 70 and 85 provide for regulations to be made on the procedures for dealing with applications for the granting of, or review of, premises licences or club premises certificates and for the making of a provisional statement. The Bill states expressly that those regulations will require the applicant to advertise his application and to give a notice containing details of it to each responsible authority and such other persons as may be prescribed. It further states that, where the application is for a review of a premises licence or club premises certificate, such notice must be given to the holder of the premises licence or club premises certificate. Furthermore, in the case of a review of a premises licence or club premises certificate, it makes clear that those regulations will require the licensing authority to advertise the application and to invite representations about it to be made to the authority by any interested parties and responsible authorities. The first part of Amendment No. 249A is, therefore, unnecessary—it is already provided for by the Bill as it stands.

The amendments would also place significant additional burdens on the police, the ambulance service and the licensing authority. They would place further pressures on the police, in particular. I fear that they may entail diverting resources from dealing with crime and disorder into handling another significant set of paperwork.

Finally, the amendments adopt something of a shotgun tactic. Not all incidents of crime and disorder, or ambulance call-outs, will relate to how premises are run, or the effect of liberalisation of licensing laws. A major component of crime at licensed premises, particularly in tourist areas, is theft of, for example, mobile phones, wallets and handbags. It is a cognitive leap to explain the apparently higher number of calls to central London police by the presence of more licensed premises. Many factors may be involved, including the large number of tourists, on whom criminals prey.

Another large part of crime committed at licensed premises comprises threats, intimidation and violence against licensees. It would not be appropriate to seek to link those aspects of crime to a premises licence or club premises certificate. My point is that requiring the police and the licensing authority to record every incident of crime and disorder that may relate to licensed premises imposes huge extra burdens for little gain. Fraud by bar staff is another example of relatively common criminal activity that would appear to have little bearing on a licensing application. What is important is that the police can make all the relevant facts available. Under the new system they will already be able to do that.

Similar arguments apply to requiring the ambulance service to record all calls to licensed premises and to provide details to the licensing authority. Many of those calls will be entirely unrelated to the activities carried on at licensed premises.

A review of a premises licence does not have to wait for a closure order. Clause 50 allows any interested party or responsible authority to apply for a review at any time on a ground related to the licensing objectives.

We have discussed Amendment No. 259A with ACPO. Its view is that a requirement that local authorities maintain records of crime at or around licensed premises would duplicate work that the police already undertake, and that the amendment is therefore unnecessary. It is also concerned that it could give local authorities a crime and disorder role that properly lies with the police.

I hope that, in the light of what I have said, the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Lord Avebury Lord Avebury Liberal Democrat 7:15 pm, 4th March 2003

My Lords, I do not know whether the noble Baroness has discussed the amendment with the police. I have done so. I can tell her that no extra work would be involved. The police already record reported crimes on computer. As I said earlier, it would be a simple matter of electronic transfer for them to give the information to the local authorities.

Admittedly, the information would not be analysed in such detail as the noble Baroness hinted at. There would be no indication of whether particular crimes were linked to activity over which management staff of premises had control. The local authorities, in interpreting the figures, would have to exercise judgment. Given that the noble Baroness says that they will receive the information called for in this amendment in some form, I do not see why they should not have it as a matter of regular practice. If local authorities built up experience of evaluating police reports and determining the proportion of crimes attributable to the management of premises, they would become as good at exercising that judgment as one would wish. In any case, if local authorities receive reports of crime and disorder that they must consider when deciding whether to award or renew a licence, they must exercise a certain amount of judgment on the figures presented to them by the police.

Obviously, we shall not solve the problem this evening. I am afraid that it is another piece of unfinished business to which we will have to return. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, warmly for her kind support. No doubt we will discuss the matter again before the next stage. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 250 not moved.]

Clause 189 [Index of defined expressions]:

[Amendments Nos. 251 to 259 not moved.]

[Amendment No. 259A not moved.]

Photo of Baroness Buscombe Baroness Buscombe Conservative

moved Amendment No. 260:

After Clause 191, insert the following clause—

"ANNUAL REPORT ON THE EFFECTS OF LICENSING POLICY

(1) The Secretary of State shall publish each year a report on the effects of the change in licensing policy introduced under this Act.

(2) In each report under subsection (1) the Secretary of State shall include—

(a) an assessment by the Chief Medical Officer of the public health advantages and disadvantages of alcohol in regard to the licensing policy set out under this Act, including specifically, details of the amount of binge drinking,

(b) an assessment of the impact of the licensing policy on children and young people,

(c) a statement of the number of fixed penalty offences, cautions and convictions for alcohol related offences in the preceding year, together with details of the number of recorded offences under Part 7 of this Act,

(d) evidence from licensing authorities as to whether the new licensing system is cost effective, and

(e) any other information which the Secretary of State sees fit to include."

Photo of Baroness Buscombe Baroness Buscombe Conservative

My Lords, the amendment would impose on the Secretary of State a duty to produce an annual report detailing the effects of the change in licensing policy proposed in the Bill. In Committee, I spoke to a similar amendment, Amendment No. 446. It proposed an annual report on the effects of licensing policy on public health. I was heartened by many noble Lords' support for that amendment. As my noble friend Lord Hodgson rightly pointed out:

"We need to monitor the effects of the laws that we pass; otherwise we are working in a vacuum and will have no way of monitoring the effectiveness of our decisions".—[Official Report, 20/1/03; col. 476.]

In response, we were told:

"The Government take these issues very seriously and we shall continue to monitor them. However, we do not need to set down in primary legislation a requirement for the Secretary of State to publish a report every year on the matters covered by the Bill".—[Official Report, 20/1/03; col. 478.]

I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, on that point. It is the duty of the Government to publish a report detailing the effectiveness of an Act that amounts to a complete overhaul of the laws relating to the licensing of alcohol and entertainment.

I sincerely hope that the new licensing system will work efficiently, especially in the light of the many hours that we have devoted to scrutinising the Bill in your Lordships' House. The Government argue for guidance, rather than regulation, but regulation is not flexible enough to cope with the alterations—foreseen and unforeseen—that may be needed as the system gets off the ground. There may be teething troubles.

I do not wish to sound like a pessimist, but, in the worst possible scenario, there may be fundamental problems in the practical working of the new system. An example of that can be seen in the issue of fees. We have already talked at length about a cost-effective, self-financing system. Those representing local government fear that they will not have enough income to sustain the administrative burden of the licensing system. They would prefer the introduction of local variables in fees. The Government have insisted that fees be set centrally, and we agree with that. However, we must know whether that aspect of the Bill will place vast financial pressure on local authorities, as they fear.

We must know whether alcohol-related crime soars; whether binge-drinking escalates or diminishes; whether the policy on children provides adequate protection; and whether local transport and cleaning services can cope with later licensing hours. Essentially, we must know whether the new system works. We should remember that the last Licensing Act was passed in 1964, and we have been—if I can put it this way—stuck with it for a long time. The same situation could apply with this law.

If the Government's only reason for opposing the amendment is that they fear the burden of producing such a report—as I fear it is, going by what the noble Lord said in Committee—I am disappointed. Transparency and accountability are at the heart of the amendment. I hope that the Government's opposition to it does not reflect a concern that an annual report might expose the shortcomings of their new licensing system. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Government Whip, Lords in Waiting (Whips)

My Lords, as the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, said, we had a debate on this in Committee. She is right. I shall reiterate the points about the effects of the Bill.

The Government take seriously all the issues that the noble Baroness raised and will continue to monitor them after the implementation of the new licensing system. Just as the policy was not developed in a vacuum, we would not wish to see it administered and enforced in one. It is important that the effects of alcohol or any potentially dangerous substance on public health are carefully monitored. The Department of Health does that. Along with the Office for National Statistics, it publishes comprehensive statistics on alcohol use and abuse in all sections of the public, including young people. For example, Smoking, drinking and drug use among young people is an annual report on the frequency of drinking, the amount drunk and the types of drink consumed by children and young people. The Home Office does a great deal of work with the Office for National Statistics on the relationship between alcohol and crime.

Any report such as that proposed by the noble Baroness would have to be based on robust criteria showing clearly the link between the data and the licensing system introduced by the Bill, as well as the many other factors that influence behaviour. It is a complex area, and, as I said in Committee, I fail to see how a report that could be of use in those terms could be constructed. To require the Secretary of State in primary legislation, every year for the foreseeable future, to produce and publish such a report—much of the contents of which are already published by other departments—is unnecessary.

The amendment would also place an ongoing burden on local authorities and other responsible bodies. The noble Baroness broadened the requirements to include the impact on local authorities. That would create burdens where they are not needed. I therefore ask the noble Baroness to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Baroness Buscombe Baroness Buscombe Conservative

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. In some ways, I am pleased that the Minister recognises that there are issues that may come to light when the system begins and that there may be teething troubles.

There is a need for flexibility, and I am sorry that the Government do not accept that it would make sense to have some form of annual report. That would allow us properly to review how things are progressing. In our debate on an earlier amendment today, when we discussed the age at which children should be allowed into pubs and clubs, I made the point that we might get it right or we might need to raise the age if there were problems.

There are many issues connected with new alcohol and entertainment licensing laws that we may not even have begun to recognise at this stage. We wish the new system well, but it is regrettable that the Government do not feel it appropriate to have an annual report. For the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 6 [Minor and consequential amendments]:

[Amendment No. 261 not moved.]

Photo of Baroness Buscombe Baroness Buscombe Conservative

moved Amendment No. 262:

Page 142, line 14, at end insert—

"( ) After section 55(2) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (c. 8) (meaning of "development" and "new development"), insert—

"(2A) Notwithstanding the provisions of any order or development order or any other provision made under any power under this Act, all premises which are licensed or required to be licensed under the Licensing Act 2003 shall be required to seek planning permission for any material change of use in the premises.""

Photo of Baroness Buscombe Baroness Buscombe Conservative

My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 262, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 270 and 271, regarding planning and use class orders.

Ministers have said on many occasions that issues relating to the impact of licensed premises on the amenities and environment of an area should be dealt with through the planning system and should not be addressed through the licensing system. At present, that is not always possible in the planning system. The amendments would ensure that planning controls would apply to all material changes in use in licensed premises and that all the conditions and undertakings to which a licensed premises was subject were transferred into its planning consent, to the extent that they were not transferred into its planning licence. The amendments would give practical effect to ministerial wishes for amenity issues to be planning issues, not licensing issues alone.

Planning permission is required for all development in land and buildings that includes material changes of use. In deciding whether to grant planning consent, a planning authority must decide the application,

"in accordance with the development plan, unless material considerations indicate otherwise".

Such considerations might include, for example, noise, waste, pollution or the cumulative effect. The planning system does not always work in that way, because not all material changes of use are subject to development control in the planning system. The Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987 created a new use class—the A3 use class—comprising all uses of premises for the provision of food and drink. That order exempted all premises in the new A3 use class from the requirement to seek planning consent and was, moreover, retrospective.

The argument used at the time by the Government was that controls over the impact of a premises on the amenities of the area could and should be dealt with through the licensing system and not through the planning system. Therefore, a change from restaurant to bar does not require planning consent, nor does an increase in hours or numbers. The Licensing Bill and, in particular, the guidance will sweep away the ability of local licensing authorities to take into account material changes of use at licensed premises and the body of licensing conditions and undertakings that exist with respect to existing premises.

The effect will be that there will be no planning or licensing control over the impact of a licensed premises on the amenity of an area, except in the case of new premises, which will have to apply for planning consent. Crucially, there will be no control over the impact on local amenities of decisions by existing premises to extend their hours, increase their capacities or switch from low to high intensity uses. Planning authorities will become far more cautious about granting planning consent and development will be constrained. We have returned repeatedly to this concern during the passage of the Bill. We do not want to see a situation arising where the industry puts forward plans but then local authorities are afraid that those plans would have a compromising impact on licensing and therefore back away at the planning stage. We think that the amendments would assist in that matter.

I appreciate that in the near future a planning Bill is to come before the House, but we cannot wait and second-guess what that Bill may contain. If amenity is to be solely a planning matter, then adequate safeguards must be transferred to planning conditions. That is what the amendments seek to achieve. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Avebury Lord Avebury Liberal Democrat 7:30 pm, 4th March 2003

My Lords, I rise warmly to support the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness. Perhaps I may discuss at the same time Amendments Nos. 268, 272 and 273 tabled in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville. They concern the carry-over into the new regime of undertakings given in connection with the award of a licence. At present, those undertakings will not form part of the transitional arrangements and in effect they will disappear because they are dealt with on an informal basis by agreement between the licensee and the local authority. I am not sure of their legal status, but we have been advised that one of the effects of the Bill would be that all the undertakings given to licensees in the past will not read across into the new regime and thus will be lost. We think that that represents a serious lacuna in the Bill which the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, seek to address.

I shall not repeat all that has been said by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, but I should like noble Lords to know that I counted the number of times that the word "planning" was used during our discussions in Committee. The total was 123 times. That emphasises the fact that noble Lords believe that there should be a close link between planning and licensing. The amendments would establish a necessary connection by ensuring that material changes of use of licensed premises would remain under the control of the planning authority and that any conditions and undertakings to which a licence is to be subject would carry over into the new regime created by the Bill. To an extent therefore an overlap occurs between the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, and the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville.

I am concerned about the combined effects of the A3 use class as set out in the use classes order and the Bill. As the noble Baroness has explained, the A3 use class order embraced a whole class of uses of premises for the provision of food and drink, all the way from a little neighbourhood café comprising half a dozen tables up to a huge nightclub able to accommodate over 2,000 people. The order provided that changes of use from one use to another within that use class did not require planning permission. Furthermore, the 1987 order was retrospective, applying to all premises that came within the A3 use class at the time. What was even worse was that planning permission continued to be given for new A3 development, but at least under the licensing regime as it stood before the proposals in this Bill it was possible to impose conditions for new liquor licences, on entertainment licences and night café licences on grant or renewal to protect the amenity of the surrounding area.

At earlier stages of the Bill I mentioned the situation in Ealing, which was reviewed in the Research Report on Planning for Leisure and Tourism from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. I commend the report to noble Lords. It contains some interesting case studies. However, the study that particularly caught my attention related to Ealing town centre. It helps to establish that what we are talking about is not unique to Westminster—a point often pretended by those who seek to suggest that the circumstances of Westminster are unique and should not be allowed to drive policies in the Bill.

The report showed that:

"In Ealing town centre, between 1990 and 1995, there were 25 applications for change of use from A1 to A3 (plus 6 extensions) and 8 from offices to A3. The growth of liquor licences has also been significant. Not only were there applications relating to new A3 uses but existing A3 uses [such as] cafés, take-aways, restaurants and pubs were changing in concept (without requiring planning consent) and seeking new licences. Over the same period there were 20 new on-licences and 11 restaurant licences in Ealing town centre".

The effects of that, felt by Ealing residents, were problems relating to the concentration of A3 uses, leading to public disorder disturbances and the deterrence of potential visitors; conflict of amenity with residents; noise and traffic in the early hours; degradation of the environment; litter, broken glass, urine and so forth; along with a reduction in facilities for other groups of users such as families and the elderly. Those are the same kinds of problems that have been cited in relation to Westminster. They could be duplicated in many other places.

I think it is important to include the amendments in the Bill, in particular that any undertakings given by licensees should be carried forward into the new regime. Without that, a substantial degree of protection will be lost.

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (the Arts), Department for Culture, Media & Sport, Minister of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) (Arts)

My Lords, I recognise the genuine concern that because of the exploitation of the current A3 use class, "superpubs" have been allowed to spring up by the back door. That is why, in a statement made today, my honourable friend Tony McNulty, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, announced his intention to change the use classes order so as to put pubs and bars into a separate class. The effect of that will be to require planning permission for such a change, closing the ability to exploit the planning development position.

The remaining amendments relate to Schedule 8 to the Bill which makes provision for transition from the current licensing system to the new one. Where a licence exists, an application may be made to convert it to a premises licence. The licensing authority must grant such an application subject only to possible objection from the chief officer of police. The Government agreed to include these provisions in the Bill following representations from the industry expressing concern that, without them, the industry would face damaging uncertainty about continued trading.

Schedule 8 also provides that a conversion application can be accompanied by an application to vary the converted licence. The Government hope that the majority of applicants will use this to take advantage of the opportunities which the Bill offers. Once the new regime is in operation, there will be potential for a review of the premises licence.

An application for the conversion must be accompanied by certain relevant documents, including the existing licences and forms of consent from, for example, the holder of the existing licence if that person is not making the application. The documents are required to enable the licensing authority to confirm the existence of and the terms of the permissions that will be converted into the terms of the new premises licence.

Amendment No. 270 would require that an application would also need to be accompanied by an application to modify the planning consent for the premises. The application would need to incorporate any conditions or undertakings on the existing licence or licences which would not be transferred to the new premises licence. Amendment No. 271 would further require the relevant authority not unreasonably to withhold planning permission for any such applications.

I have already stated that the conversions of existing licences will provide assurance to licence holders that they will, as a minimum, retain the authorisations enjoyed under their existing licences. The "two in a bar" exemption contained in the Licensing Act 1964, which we have of course previously debated at length, will not be continued. That exemption does not represent an authorisation under the terms of the existing licences, but is a freestanding provision in the 1964 Act. But the conversion will not affect other existing legally binding conditions such as planning conditions. On that point, therefore, the amendments are unnecessary.

The position on undertakings is a little more complicated. Undertakings are usually provided by applicants for licences in order to obtain their licences in circumstances where they might otherwise be refused. For instance, a pub might undertake to ensure that no customer leaves the premises with a glass after 10 o'clock at night. Such undertakings are a way of assuring licensing authorities that the licence holder will behave in a certain way, and thus dissuade them from refusing a licence application or granting it only with certain restrictive conditions.

However, these undertakings do not have any legal force. They may be considered now by licensing authorities when licences are being renewed. If the undertakings have been broken, that could lead to renewals being refused. But they cannot of themselves lead to a criminal prosecution as would be the case with licence conditions.

Therefore, should it be mandatory for applicants for licence conversions to provide information on these non-legal obligations? There is one key reason why I do not believe that it should. Under the Bill, interested parties and responsible authorities can request the review of any premises licence on a ground relating to the licensing objectives. This gives ample opportunity for residents, for instance, to seek recourse if any premises give rise to problems of crime and disorder or public nuisance.

I can assure the House that the Bill provides ample protection. It also provides more opportunities than at present for residents and others to seek a remedy if a premises causes a particular problem. I therefore see no need to require all applicants for licence conversion to face the additional hurdle of a mandatory application for modification of planning consent, or indeed to require relevant authorities to have to consider them.

As to the amendments standing in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, we have already debated the merits of the transfer of undertakings to premises licences at some length but I shall rehearse some of our reasons for resisting these amendments again.

The attaching of existing conditions to a new licence under the conversion arrangements is already addressed by the Bill. Undertakings are a different matter. They do not have any legal force unless they themselves form conditions on the face of existing licences. They may be considered by licensing authorities when licences are being renewed and, if the undertakings have been broken, this could lead to the renewal of licences being refused. But they cannot of themselves lead to a criminal prosecution, as would be the case with licence conditions.

The question is therefore whether it should be mandatory for applicants for licence conversion under paragraph 2 to provide information on these non-legal obligations. There is one key reason why I do not believe that it should. Under the Bill, interested parties and responsible authorities can request the review of any premises licence on a ground relating to the licensing objectives. That gives plenty of opportunity for residents and others to seek a remedy if a licensee does something, or fails to do something, which was previously the subject of an undertaking, provided of course that the act or omission relates to the licensing objectives.

As we have said before, there is nothing to prevent the applicant providing additional material in his conversion application if he wants to. This could help assure local residents of his intentions in a similar way to an undertaking.

I can assure the House that the Bill provides the protections needed. It also provides more opportunities than at present for residents to seek a remedy if a premises causes a particular problem. There is nothing to be gained in transferring undertakings to premises licences and I therefore hope that these amendments will not be pressed.

Photo of Baroness Buscombe Baroness Buscombe Conservative

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that full response. I am grateful that the Government have expressed a genuine concern about the current A3 use class. We are surprised and delighted by the statement from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, which may well have been made while we have been busy in your Lordships' House. We are pleased to learn that the Government intend to change use class orders and put pubs and bars in a separate class. We welcome that and appreciate the Government's move on the issue.

I heard what the Minister had to say about Amendments Nos. 270 and 271. I am sorry that there is to be no movement on them but I accept in large part what the Minister said in relation to them. As to Amendments Nos. 268, 272 and 273, I defer to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, who spoke on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Brooke—who, unfortunately, is unable to be in his place tonight—and I await to hear what the noble Lord has to say in regard to the Minister's response.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for his support for the amendment and his welcome for the Government's statement today. These are important issues. As regards undertakings, I shall speak further with noble Lords before deciding whether or not to return with an amendment at Third Reading. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 7 [Repeals]:

Photo of Lord Peyton of Yeovil Lord Peyton of Yeovil Conservative 7:45 pm, 4th March 2003

moved Amendment No. 263:

Page 148, line 31, at end insert "with the exception of section 2"

Photo of Lord Peyton of Yeovil Lord Peyton of Yeovil Conservative

My Lords, I cannot remember starting a speech in this way before. I hope that I shall enjoy the goodwill of the Government when I say that I shall be brief. If they are equally brief in reply I shall more than understand.

My position can be briefly stated. It is this. When the Report stage of the Bill started I was somewhat disappointed and surprised that more had not been made of one of the important moves initiated by the Bill—that is the replacing of licensing justices with local authorities. I believed that there was bound to be an occasion during the Report stage when noble Lords would have a chance to put their views very clearly and to seek the opinion of the House. That did not happen.

I must accept that in some ways it was my own fault. I had tabled two amendments, the purpose of which was to preserve into eternity the licensing justices and to remove the peril of their being replaced by various local authorities. Unhappily, on the particular day that I was here, waiting with bated breath to take part in the debate, your Lordships suddenly made a bound forward with such speed that I was taken totally by surprise—I believe I can perhaps be forgiven for being surprised—and I failed to move the amendment. Amendment No. 263 is not very important. It seeks to preserve the definition of licensing justices and is key only when matched with the earlier amendment to Clause 3.

I have the greatest admiration for the way in which my noble friend on the Front Bench has conducted proceedings on the Bill. She has done so with great distinction, intelligence and eloquence. I appreciate that she is under some constraints from which I am comparatively, if not totally, free.

My worry is that the Government are removing licensing justices—who are experienced, trusted and efficient—and that local authorities will have to learn. They will have to start in a painful way by stating their policies. I expect that will be a muddled and confused affair. I promised to be brief and I shall therefore resist the temptation to quote from the guidance which the Secretary of State has graciously offered to local authorities on how to conduct their new roles. But that guidance will require a great deal more guidance, and more guidance after that, before anyone really understands and comes to conclusions about what they should do.

The point is that the Government are replacing what is known and works with what is new. Moreover, genuine fears are awakened among family brewers and licensees. I shall not quote figures because they will indicate only who is in favour of what. But suffice to say that there is a sufficient and genuine volume of anxiety on this point which concerns smaller businesses in the industry and individuals whose livelihoods are dependent on it. They are worried that proceedings under local authorities will be slower, and who can doubt that when looking at the evidence of planning procedures? They are also concerned that decisions are likely to be extremely varied in quality and that they may come up against bias, and that there will be more expense.

It is simply no good for Ministers to say that there is a right of appeal. That ignores the simple basic fact that appeals are an expensive procedure. I shall not dwell at length on the guidance so kindly offered by the Secretary of State. I shall turn to that at a later stage. Briefly, I refer to the colourful speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, when he referred to my noble friend Lord Hodgson as Scylla to match the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, as Charybdis. I do not see any similarity between my noble friend Lord Hodgson and a whirlpool.

However, in that speech, the Minister tiptoed with the utmost delicacy around all the real points of the Bill. He did not satisfy me in any way. Nevertheless, he proceeded with the utmost delicacy and did not put his foot on any particularly delicate plants.

I am being intentionally brief, but, in my opinion, there should have been an opportunity during the passage of the Bill for your Lordships to express a clear view on this issue of whether the licensing justices should be replaced by local authorities. It is my intention to table an amendment at Third Reading which will comprise the two amendments which I had proposed on Report. They are of fundamental importance to the Bill and noble Lords should have an opportunity to express their views. To ask anything tonight would be completely hopeless, but I give the Minister notice of my intention to table those amendments at Third Reading. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Buscombe Baroness Buscombe Conservative

My Lords, I shall be brief. First, I thank my noble friend Lord Peyton of Yeovil for his extremely kind words in relation to the Bill. I remind your Lordships that this is a subject on which I spoke at some length at Second Reading and in Committee. I asked then that the Government consider an evidence-based approach—something which they applauded when discussing earlier Bills. It is important that we understand the issues behind the reasoning for the move from magistrates to local authorities. I believe that the response I received in Committee fell short of all the issues. As my noble friend Lord Peyton of Yeovil said, the Government appeared to be tiptoeing—a fitting expression—around the most important issues.

This is an important issue. As previously said, it is a hearts and minds issue that needs to be won. There is concern in some areas of the industry that the Government have not given enough reasons as to why the move is being made.

Photo of Baroness Howe of Idlicote Baroness Howe of Idlicote Crossbench

My Lords, I support Amendment No. 263 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Peyton of Yeovil. I, too, had hoped to contribute at Report, but found that the amendment was not moved—or if it was, it was not debated.

I declare an interest as a justice of the peace, although now on the supplemental list. I was out of action during the earlier stages of the Bill but I read the Hansard report of Second Reading and Committee. I was considerably surprised at how little attention was given at either stage to the change of licensing authorities from licensing magistrates to local authorities. I should mention that the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe—whose speeches at Second Reading and in Committee I have read—made a gallant effort to elicit a satisfactory response as to why such a change was felt to be necessary. But she received little support from any Benches; nor, in my opinion, a convincing or informative answer from the Ministers. One reason given by the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, was that it would be considered as going to the heart of the Bill and would, therefore, be seen as a wrecking amendment.

Having checked that point with the Public Bill Office, I understand that their view is that that is not the case. I confess to not being a lawyer, but the amendment—both the original and this one—moved by the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, appears to replace local authorities with magistrates as the licensing authorities. If it was Parliament's wish, the rest of the Bill could remain the same. So why is it a wrecking amendment?

As the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, said, there are other important issues. Why replace well-trained, well-trusted bodies with people who will need to be trained? There probably will be more costs involved than anyone has taken into account. Perhaps more significantly, but more delicately, the greater objectivity and even transparency that justices bring to their judicial decision-making is important. Without wishing to cast dispersion on local authorities, your Lordships are all too aware of the pressures that constituencies with certain axes to grind can bring to bear.

Again, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, and apologise to your Lordships' House for raising the issue at this stage. However, I hope that the noble Lord will be allowed to raise it again at Third Reading in order that a more satisfactory answer will be obtained. I fully understand if we do not receive an answer now.

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Government Whip, Lords in Waiting (Whips) 8:00 pm, 4th March 2003

My Lords, as the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, indicated, the House should not expect much of an answer now because the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, is to table amendments for further debate at Third Reading, irrespective of what I say. That makes for a most interesting debate. I am replying to a debate in which no one will listen who has actually contributed thus far.

However, I shall speak briefly into the void. I recognise the inadequacies of the debate in Committee. I have no doubt that there will be inadequacies at this stage, not least because I fear that we are speaking to a thin House about an amendment which may not be wrecking but goes so much to the heart of the Bill that it totally transforms the legislation. The Government propose that the new licensing authorities should be local authorities, and here is an amendment saying, "No. Why don't you stay with the people who have been administering licences for pubs and for the sale of alcohol over the past decades?" If that is not fundamental to the Bill, I do not know what is. It seems rather strange that we are being asked to debate this substantial issue at this late stage in our considerations. But so be it.

Let us be absolutely clear. Of course we pay tribute to what licensing authorities have done in the past. Magistrates have done an excellent job. But times change. Let me say straight away to the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, that, if he has his wishes, magistrates will be invested with continuing responsibility not only with regard to alcohol licensing but for all the other licences for which local authorities are presently responsible. Responsibility for five other categories of licensing regimes will be placed upon magistrates. I do not think that anyone has suggested that that should be the way in which the issue should be resolved.

It is a common misunderstanding that magistrates, in their capacity as licensing justices, sit as a magistrates' court. That is not so. They were established as an administrative committee elected by the magistrates in the relevant petty sessions area because the job that they do is not a judicial job, although the role has certain judicial aspects to it; predominantly it is an administrative role. The reason why we say that that administrative role should now be vested in the local authorities is simply that there are two important practical considerations to take into account.

First, since 1998, the local authorities have given the lead locally on crime prevention strategies and partnerships. We all recognise that the public good requires a real consideration of the relationship between alcohol and crime, and the local authorities are well placed to give that lead.

Secondly, local authorities are now overwhelmingly the licensing authorities for five of the regimes that we seek to integrate. This is a deregulating Bill to reduce the burdens of red tape on the industry. It aims to bring the licensing authorities into one complete entity to deal with the range of issues. Only local authorities can conceivably be expected to undertake that responsibility.

Thirdly, as an administrative concept, in principle—I ask the noble Lord this, because he has a long record in democratic politics which we all respect—to whom does he think the magistrates are responsible when they carry out their role? The answer is that they are responsible to each other and the way in which they have been selected for the Bench. To whom does the noble Lord think the local authorities are responsible? He knows very well that they are responsible to their communities.

Surely it is only right, when dealing with a regime that so affects the local community, that we should seek to make the licensing authority responsible to the local community rather than to a select group within it. That is a further principle which I hope the noble Lord shares with me. He may well disregard everything that I have said, regard this as an inconsequential response from the Government Front Bench and table his amendments. But I assure him that they will be resisted, on principle and in practice, because this is the fundamental basis of the Bill.

Photo of Lord Peyton of Yeovil Lord Peyton of Yeovil Conservative

My Lords, I shall resist the temptation to reply to the noble Lord at considerable length. I hope that I shall have an opportunity to do so at a later stage.

The only point I want to make is that he is not entitled to saddle the Opposition with acceptance of the Government's intentions and the validity of those intentions. The Opposition, too, has its convictions; it has its notions and ideas. I have given voice to them only briefly. I have done so because I am profoundly disturbed that we have arrived at this stage of the Bill without having had an opportunity to challenge the Government on this particular step and to get them to give their reasons in full. That will do. In the circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 8 [Transitional provision etc.]:

[Amendments Nos. 264 to 266 not moved.]

Photo of Lord Avebury Lord Avebury Liberal Democrat

moved Amendment No. 267:

Page 155, line 27, at end insert "which shall include a supplement to recoup local authority costs of preparation and implementation of the requirements of this Act"

Photo of Lord Avebury Lord Avebury Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I move this amendment on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, with his approval, as before. I shall not say that I shall be brief, because I shall be—unlike those who say so and do not carry out their undertakings.

This is a probing amendment. It arises out of an anxiety expressed by the City of Westminster to the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, concerning the start-up costs of the new regime. The council does not want to impose any additional burdens on the entertainment industry, but it would like an explanation from the Government as to what funding will be available from central government to enable local authorities to cover the start-up costs for the new licensing regime. At present, the council says that it has not received any kind of answer from the department on this vital matter.

The council has done some assessments of the start-up costs that it will face. These are in the region of £100,000. That includes: training for the additional staff that it will have to take on; equipment; office accommodation; and the cost of transferring data from magistrates and for the policy and consultation work that will have to be done within the authority.

Those are preliminary estimates at this stage, but it is a fact that most local authorities will face substantial additional costs in terms of starting up and getting the new regime under way. I should be grateful if the Minister would clarify whether there will be any supplement on the fees or, if not, how the Government expect local authorities to be able to fund the start-up costs without transferring money from other essential services. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, the one-sentence answer is that the amendment is unnecessary. The Secretary of State will set fees on the basis of full cost recovery, and full cost recovery will cover all the costs mentioned in the amendment.

There is also a three-sentence answer which I think Westminster would like me to give. The amendment is about the transitional period—the start-up period. During that period, there will be 155,000 personal licence applications nationwide from existing holders of justices' licences. Each of those will cost £30. In addition, 180,000 businesses will convert from their existing licences to premises licences, and those licences will cost £100 to £500. All these fees will be upfront, and during the transitional period there will be no enforcement costs whatsoever because the justices' licences will still be in force. Local authorities will be quids in.

Photo of Lord Avebury Lord Avebury Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for that answer, although I am not sure that Westminster will necessarily agree that authorities will be quids in. They will have to do the arithmetic and tell us whether they are satisfied with the figures that he has given. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 268 to 279 not moved.]

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (the Arts), Department for Culture, Media & Sport, Minister of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) (Arts)

moved Amendments Nos. 280 and 281:

Page 164, line 9, leave out from first "and" to "in" in line 10 and insert "section 73 (prohibited conditions in club premises certificates) applies"

Page 164, line 14, leave out "sections 72 and" and insert "section"

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Photo of Lord Redesdale Lord Redesdale Liberal Democrat

moved Amendment No. 282:

Page 165, line 25, after "licence" insert "or a person who has held a justices' licence within the last 12 months prior to the appointed day, that has not been subsequently revoked"

Photo of Lord Redesdale Lord Redesdale Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I shall be extremely brief; I am not sure whether I can be as brief as my noble friend Lord Avebury, but I will try.

This is a probing amendment. We believe it sensible to give those who have held a justices' licence 12 months in which to apply for a new licence. It gives people who may be out of work at the time of the change a chance to apply for one of the new personal licences. We very much hope that the Government will look favourably on the amendment. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, I think there is a misunderstanding in the amendment. At any time during the transitional period, anybody who has a justices' licence will be able to qualify automatically for a personal licence, and he can do it early or late in the transitional period. The amendment says that anybody who ceased to have a justices' licence in the 12-month period before the transitional period but had one before that is also automatically qualified. That is not the purpose of the Bill. We are saying that those who are engaged in the licensed trade—in other words, those who have a justices' licence—are accepted as being fit and proper persons, to use the existing wording, and therefore it is proper that they should qualify automatically for a personal licence. Once they have given one up, the question arises: why did they?

The amendment excludes those whose licences have been revoked. Have they given their licence up because they lost interest or because they feared that it would be revoked if they did not abandon it first? The prospect should be thought about; it is better to leave the provision the way it is.

Photo of Lord Redesdale Lord Redesdale Liberal Democrat

My Lords, on that evocative note, I should like to thank the Minister for his reply and all the Ministers for the helpful way in which this stage of the Bill has been dealt with. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.