Licensing Act 2003 (Second Appointed Day) Order 2005

– in the House of Lords at 7:29 pm on 14 November 2005.

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Photo of Viscount Astor Viscount Astor Spokespersons In the Lords, The Family & Culture, Media & Sport 7:29, 14 November 2005

rose to move, That this House calls upon Her Majesty's Government to withdraw the Licensing Act 2003 (Second Appointed Day) Order 2005 (S.I. 2005/2091) and to replace it with an order specifying the second appointed day as 30 June 2006 in order to allow more time to address public concerns about the effects of the proposed changes and for arrangements for any required changes to be completed in an orderly manner [8th Report from the Merits Committee]

Photo of Viscount Astor Viscount Astor Spokespersons In the Lords, The Family & Culture, Media & Sport

My Lords, in the 2001 general election the Labour Party sent a text message to its voters, saying:

"Vote Labour if you don't give an XXX for drinking up times".

That message—a somewhat cheap electoral ploy—bounced the Government into introducing the Licensing Act, with the prospect of 24-hour drinking. It was an unwise promise—24-hour drinking is a concept that nobody asked for, nobody wants and has been condemned by all. The Government failed to listen to the serious concerns that were raised in this House during the passage of the Bill, and now an order is being made to bring in a licensing policy that is a total mess.

Most people who go to bars, pubs and clubs behave well—the vast majority do so. Nobody wants 24-hour drinking, but many would like a reasonable extension to the hours that pubs, bars and restaurants can be open in their area. They should be allowed to open for longer if their customers want it, and if it does not create unacceptable consequences for local residents. Reasonable extensions, where appropriate, do not in themselves encourage bad behaviour. Indeed, there is evidence in Scotland that a more liberal policy has worked well.

There are serious problems with binge drinking, mainly by those under 21. Binge drinking is a serious problem, as it leads to all kinds of other unacceptable behaviour, involving increased costs for the police and the health service. Sometimes it is not just drink that causes problems, but a mixture of drink and drugs.

Alcohol sales in pubs have fallen in the past 15 years, and they have been declining by about 1 per cent a year, while alcohol sales in supermarkets have grown by about 5 per cent per annum over the same period. Supermarkets are cheaper. You can buy a tin of lager in a supermarket for 50p, which would cost £3 in a pub or bar. I am afraid that supermarket staff do not always check the age of their customers, and now that they are open 24 hours a day, they can apply for licences to sell alcohol for 24 hours a day, resulting in the problem becoming worse.

I know something about the problems faced by the industry, local councils, residents and customers. In 1997 I founded a bars and restaurants business. We built the company up to 36 city bars, ranging from London to Aberdeen to Newcastle to Manchester, and even to Cardiff. On Saturday night we would have well over 30,000 customers eating and drinking in our restaurants and bars throughout the country. We were—I hope—responsible operators, partly because we did not let in those under 21, but mainly because we had a strict drinks and door policy. I do not have to declare an interest any more as we sold the business at the end of October.

The result is that I have an insight into the industry of both good and bad operators. There are some bad operators who should not be allowed to trade. They could easily have been put out of business had the will and determination been there to do so. We did not apply for any new extensions to our licensing hours.

The Government's policy is such a mess that it is difficult to know where to start. The DCMS has issued 180-page guidance to the Local Government Association, which is supposed to prevent the explosion of binge drinking, but it is skewed against those who want to object. For example, the guidance states that you have to live in the vicinity to object. We have seen that nobody understands what that means. Some councils believe it is 100 yards; some are Euro and believe it to be 100 metres. What does the Minister think the definition should be? What did the guidance intend?

Some objectors have been threatened by some of the larger pub operators that should they lose their objection they might have to pay costs. Can that really be the case? I am afraid that it is. Two Labour councillors in Newcastle are facing costs because of their appeal to the magistrates' court. Will the Minister explain that? Logically, if that principle is extended to other areas of council policy, such as planning applications, all decisions by local councils might be subject to the same threat of costs. I cannot believe that that is what was intended.

The guidance also prevents local councillors objecting to licences in their own wards. They are not even allowed to address their licensing sub-committee. We are told that local councils might be biased in favour of their local residents. But is that not why they are there? Have local residents not elected them to be precisely that—biased in favour of their local electors? What is the reason for that erosion of democracy? Will we now be told by the Government that MPs cannot represent their own constituents, or object to something in their own constituency? That is ridiculous.

The problem with late-night drinking is not just what happens inside pubs, but the noise customers make when leaving. When people all leave pubs and clubs at the same time it can be noisy, but the guidance suggests that local authorities cannot stagger closing times. Indeed, it is clear the nuisance caused by noise outside the premises cannot be taken into account when local authorities apply for a closure order. It is very often the noise outside that local residents care about most.

The Government should delay bringing the order. Their argument is that the Act gives the police new powers, but we all know that the police have plenty of powers to tackle existing problems. The problem is that they do not use them. Many, both inside and outside the industry, are constantly frustrated by the inability of the police to act, but it is difficult to understand why. I have often wondered whether the police allow a bad operator to keep trading so that they know where all the trouble-makers are in the evening in a particular area. In Birmingham responsible bar operators have had to close because of continued violence by the Yardie gangs. The police did little to help responsible operators, and now some months later, we have seen the results—an increase in crime and disorder in Birmingham.

Environmental health officers already have the powers to close licensed premises that create a noise nuisance. The problem is that often many councils do not have arrangements for their officers to work at night. Some do. From experience, I know that Westminster council does, and its officers are extremely effective.

The order to implement the Licensing Act was supposed to give local councils and their constituents more say. In fact it gives them less. It is a mess. What is more, it will cost local authorities more than they receive in licence fees to organise a new regime. The Government promised that it would be self-financing. Westminster council, for example, estimates that its net deficit on licensing will be £4.6 million in 2006–07. That represents a £38 council tax increase per Band D taxpayer. Surely that is not what was intended.

I have to say as an aside that if the bizarre smoking laws, which have been trailed, are put into effect it will get worse. In many pubs about 10 per cent of their turnover is food. Now they will have to decide whether to continue providing food and allow no smoking, or allow smoking and provide no food. It is a mess; a farce. Let us have either no ban or a total ban. That is the only thing that makes sense both inside and outside the industry.

The department has also promised a code of practice on irresponsible drinks promotions. When will we see a draft? Who has been consulted? The department is strangely silent on that matter.

Licence applications are in disarray. We know that in Westminster alone 350 premises—about 10 per cent—have failed to apply for their new licences. That is replicated all over England. It is too late for them to apply to get a licence in time. As a result, come 24 November, those without a new licence will be trading illegally. What is the Government's response? It is extraordinary. We are now told that more than 20,000 bars, pubs and restaurants will be allowed to operate illegally. We are told that the police will take action only when there are specific concerns about crime or disorder. In effect, local authorities are now being encouraged to turn a blind eye. How can the Government pass an Act and expect us to allow this order to go through when they are so cavalier about the law? The message is, "We passed it but don't worry you don't have to obey it because we mucked up the introduction of this new policy". Is that a sensible policy? Is it sensible law-making?

Who can and cannot break the law? Who will decide? Will it be the local authorities, the police or will the departmental Minister get a list on his desk every Monday morning? Will licence applications be accepted retrospectively? We await the Minister's answer. The policy is a farce; a total mess. The order should be postponed. The Government should accept my Motion, which would allow for all licences to be considered, so there would be no law-breaking. The police and local authorities have all the power they need, and the order does not change that.

A survey published today by the Evening Standard found that more than 600 premises—160 pubs, 75 clubs, 110 hotels and 200 supermarkets—have now been given approval to serve alcohol 24 hours a day. That totally disproves and refutes the Government's earlier claim that there would be only a handful of licences. What is more, petrol stations have jumped on the bandwagon and are applying to sell alcohol 24 hours a day.

The delay would allow the flawed guidance to be rewritten—guidance, that even the Minister responsible in another place, has already agreed to review. I commend my order and I beg to move.

Moved, That this House calls upon Her Majesty's Government to withdraw the Licensing Act 2003 (Second Appointed Day) Order 2005 (S.I. 2005/2091) and to replace it with an order specifying the second appointed day as 30 June 2006 in order to allow more time to address public concerns about the effects of the proposed changes and for arrangements for any required changes to be completed in an orderly manner.—(Viscount Astor.)

Photo of Lord McNally Lord McNally Leader In the House of Lords, Leader, House of Lords, Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords

My Lords, I, too, look forward to the Minister's reply to what I thought was a forensic dismantling of the order by the noble Viscount, Lord Astor. It is a funny old world; it is about 100 years since that great Liberal, Sir Winston Churchill, accused the Conservative Party of drawing a brewer's dray across the road of progress. Of course at that time the Conservative Benches in this House were known collectively as the "Beerage". Today, it is the Labour Party that is the brewer's friend.

I say at the outset that if the noble Viscount chooses to divide the House, we will certainly support him. Indeed, we regret that the Motion is not as robust at that put down in the Commons. We do so not in any way as killjoys; indeed like Falstaff and Justice Shallow I too have heard the chimes at midnight. We have been generally supportive since the mid-1980s of Parliament abandoning making moral judgments about how people spend their leisure time and their disposable income. But we also believe that there must be a limiting factor, because when one exercises one's leisure preference, it has to be not at another's leisure nuisance. The Licensing Act was sold to us on the rosy prospectus of bringing the continental café society to Britain—I remember the debates when the Minister talked about that.

Just today I received the notice for the meeting on Wednesday of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Local Environmental Quality, which will be meeting to discuss the night-time economy. Here is the point for discussion:

"The local environmental quality and anti-social behaviour issues arising from the night time economy include the following: litter; flyposting; vandalism; noise; urine; vomit; commercial waste and fear of crime and violence . . . The above issues can be said to be a result of a number of key underlying causes, including the following".

The agenda goes on to list changes in the licensing law; the cultural change of binge drinking; the lack of transport late at night and the lack of toilet facilities. One local chief executive said to me that it is extremely strange that on the one hand we provide the facilities for people to fill themselves full of beer and then we close down the toilets where they could relieve themselves instead of in people's doorways. As the all-party group agenda points out, this clearly needs further thought and study. As the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, rightly said, right at the heart of the absurdity the promise about local power is being countermanded by the fact that objectors are being made subject to cost, threats are being made, and there is the absurd limitation on councillor power. I gave a stern warning about the dangers of this Bill on Second Reading. I said:

"I am not sure that simply changing the hours will alter what is a peculiarly English attitude to alcohol consumption".—[Hansard, 26/11/02; col. 673.]

I stand by that today. My noble friend Lord Avebury further warned that:

"Large extra human and financial costs will be imposed on society and will make life intolerable for thousands of people".—[Hansard, 26/11/02; col. 683.]

I am glad that he is here to say "I told you so". He could put a 10 or perhaps even a 100 in front of that "thousands" today. He stated that the assumption that allowing people to drink all night will reduce the level of alcohol abuse and of crime and disorder was "manifestly untenable". We warned before, and we are warning again. One of the biggest problems, as the noble Viscount pointed out, is that British teenagers are among the biggest drinkers in Europe. The latest government figures show that 44 per cent of 18 to 24 year-olds binge drink at least once a month.

Even more alarming are the social and economic costs of that binge drinking. When the Lords considered the Licensing Act in 2003, many Peers gave graphic accounts of the escalating violence and social disorder on the streets of towns and cities across the UK due to binge drinking. Two years later, the situation has got even worse. In the last year, there has been a 15 per cent national rise in violent offences committed in connection with licensed premises. There are serious health consequences too. Around one in 13 of the UK adult population is dependent on alcohol, and in England and Wales there was an increase by 18.4 per cent in alcohol-related deaths in 2004.

One need only look at the international situation to see that the Government are taking us in the wrong direction. Longer licensing hours in Western Australia, Iceland, Ireland and Canada have increased both consumption and the violence and drunkenness that it leads to. There is also good evidence to show that reducing availability and drinking hours can help to tackle binge drinking, which has happened in Norway, Finland and Sweden. Another of the Government's main justifications for the new licensing law was to vary closing hours and curb drunken violence on the streets at weekends. However, in a British Beer and Pub Association poll, 90 per cent of its 30,000 members had only applied for an extra one or two hours' opening time, with the majority applying to close at midnight. Figures like those suggest that midnight will become the new chucking-out time. Closing times will be deferred as opposed to staggered, and we will have a situation where, as Chris Allison, lead officer on licensing at the Association of Chief Police Officers has warned:

"People will have drunk more and are more likely to get into fights".

It is not just from these Benches and the Conservative Benches that doubts are now coming forth. Judges, health experts, the licensing industry and many local authorities are giving similar warnings. The Government's licensing reforms have been called "an absolute cock-up" and the major pub companies are accused of being concerned more with profits than with social responsibility. The Royal College of Physicians said that there was already an "epidemic" of binge drinking and that the Licensing Act,

"flies in the face of common sense".

What do the general public think? A BBC poll earlier this year said that 67 per cent of people thought that the Licensing Act would increase trouble, with 62 per cent saying it would make Britain a worse place to live. It is obvious that there is serious concern about these proposals.

As the noble Viscount has pointed out, the police already have considerable powers, which they do not often use. The "new" police powers do little but replicate those existing and rarely-used powers. That is why on these Benches we join the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, in saying to the Government that there is a need for a pause before we take this step. Some flexibility needs to be brought in if we are not to reach the disaster that people are predicting. Indeed, one would say that almost before the Act is implemented there is a need for review and revision. It is not a crime for Government or Parliament to say, "We may have got this wrong—let's think again". Surely there is a case for that, and we urge the Government so to do.

Photo of Lord Avebury Lord Avebury Spokesperson in the Lords (With Special Responsibility for Africa), Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs, Spokesperson in the Lords (Civil Liberties), Home Affairs

My Lords, the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, referred to this Act as a farce and a mess. It is not only a farce and a mess, and a shambles, administratively, but a pernicious and imprudent measure that will result in greater crime and disorder, heavier burdens on the health service, and more young lives ruined by illness and disablement.

It runs directly counter to the Government's professed objective of reducing crime and disorder. The Interim Analytical Report said that alcohol-related harm was then running—in 2001—at £20 billion a year, of which crime and public disorder accounted for £7.3 billion. My noble friend has given other examples of the enormous costs being incurred in connection with alcohol harm. That report also showed that as consumption of alcohol per head increased, so did the directly measured harm, such as accidental deaths, suicides, and alcohol-related diseases.

As my noble friend observed, the same effects have been seen in Australia, Iceland, Ireland—and, I would say, Scotland as well. The Government have failed to produce any respectable academic evidence for the claim that the limited relaxation of drinking hours in Scotland in 1976 led to a reduction in crime and disorder there. As everybody knows, Scotland was at that time in the middle of a major recession and that was the reason for the unusual results that were obtained there momentarily. Scotland is now back on the same level of crime and disorder as we are in England and Wales. All long-term studies show that—other things being equal—the amount of harm caused by alcohol is directly related to overall consumption, and that increases in consumption will lead to more harm.

Let me relate that to the small area of central London covered by the Soho Society, which tells me that in connection with the Act the licensing committee received 698 applications, 450 for renewals of the previous licence, and 248 for variations or extended capacity, which again reinforces the point made by my noble friend that we are not talking about a very small of increase in hours but a widespread variation being requested by the operators. There were 192 objections on the grounds of cumulative impact, of which 110 were not considered in time and therefore deemed to be refused. Of the 82 applications that were considered, 78 were refused, and 70 have appealed to the magistrates.

Does the Minister agree that since all those applications come under paragraph 2 of Schedule 8 to the Act, the licensing authority ought only to consider the renewal of the existing licence and should look separately at the extension of hours which is being requested, once the bare renewal has come into effect? None of us appreciated that that was the effect of the schedule, but certainly this is the way that we read it now. But magistrates have begun to hear appeals already, where the authority has decided that both the renewal and the variation can be considered simultaneously.

If I am wrong, and those appeals are successful, other licensees will ask for extensions and, in the worst case, throughout the area of Soho, there would be on average another three hours of drinking at all the 685 outlets. If, say, 300 people in each of these establishments drinks a couple of pints an hour, they will consume an additional 1.25 million pints during the extra time, causing a significant amount of extra harm. The same arithmetic could be done for every area in our towns and cities where the concentration of late-night drinking has already led to the kind of mayhem that we have seen on programmes such as the BBC's "Drunk and Dangerous".

In one of the cases that was heard in Westminster—that of Candy Bar at 4 Carlisle Street W1—the district judge ruled that, although it appeared that the respondents in an appeal to the magistrates were exhaustively listed in paragraph 9 of Schedule 5, and did not include "interested parties" who had objected to the application, notwithstanding their right to lodge an appeal, they should have the option to be a respondent on equal terms with the local authority. Do the Government agree with that decision of the judge? The judge also directed that the application be considered de novo on appeal, undermining the principle that local authorities should be the primary determinants of licensing policy.

The same judge in the appeal of Sophisticats, a strip club on Welbeck Street, who requested to be allowed to sell alcohol up to 5am instead of 3am, made no reference to the council's licensing policy. This is likely to be the case everywhere. The magistrates will hear all the evidence again, taking two days, with solicitors and barristers on either side, and obviously licensees would be stupid not to appeal when they are already getting clear signals that the magistrates are not there to reinforce the licensing policy of local authorities, but to develop their own independent policies. Could the Lord Chancellor not apply the Civil Procedure Rules to the magistrates' courts under Section 82 of the Courts Act 2003, to prevent a total log-jam in the magistrates' courts?

The decision in the Candy Bar case may yet be appealed, and residents find themselves back in the situation of having no rights of appearance at appeals which they themselves have lodged. Is there anything the Minister can do to prevent that situation arising? Because if that situation is allowed to happen, then the magistrates hearing all these appeals will not have reference to anything that was said by the residents—they will not even listen to the residents—but will make up their minds, as the judge in this particular case said, de novo.

There is a great deal to be said on the guidance, particularly in the way it appears to suggest that local authorities have no power to set terminal hours—as the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, pointed out. They can decide that the cumulative impact of licensed premises on a given area has an adverse impact on law and order and therefore that they will not grant any new licenses. Since an application for longer hours is now treated as a new application, that allows local authorities to refuse them after the existing licence has been renewed. It seems, however, that many local authorities have not fully understood the complex advice on cumulative impact and have failed to appreciate that it trumps the strong recommendation in paragraph 329 that longer hours are important to ensure that concentrations of people leaving the premises at the same time are avoided.

Finally, I return to a subject which has been argued for two years without reaching a satisfactory outcome. I suggested that three indices be used to measure the incidence of crime and disorder before and after the second appointed day. Those were: crimes of violence against the person; ambulance call-outs on or in the vicinity of licensed premises; and A&E department statistics from hospitals to which the victims of drink-related attacks and accidents are likely to be taken. The Government have finally conceded that the first crime indices will be collected, but only in five named local authority areas, and in July they were still exploring how A&E data and ambulance statistics could be satisfactorily collected.

The London Ambulance Service maintains detailed records of time and place of call-outs and I imagine that other local ambulance authorities do the same. I do not understand why the Government arbitrarily limited the assessment of the effects of the Act on crime and disorder to the particular areas chosen, leaving out the whole of the north-west, Wales, East Anglia and the south-west. If the authorities in those areas are already collecting information of the kind that is needed, surely it would help to give a more complete picture if they were incorporated in the assessment. As for A&E attendances, the bare statistics of the number of patients attending between 11 pm and 7 am would be better than nothing, on the basis that a high proportion of the casualties during those hours are very likely to be alcohol related.

When this Act first saw the light of day, people did not realise how the country had already gone so far towards a licensing free-for-all and how extensive was the damage being caused to a whole generation. Now we are able to see the effects—which have already been described by the noble Viscount and my noble friend—in our prisons, hospitals, psychiatric institutions and morgues. There is no excuse for a Government who are deliberately turning on the taps.

In her book The March of Folly, the American historian Barbara Tuchman examines leaders such as mediaeval popes, George III and President Johnson, who adopted policies that were plainly contrary to the interests of their people. When alcohol is demonstrably causing enormous harm to our society, a government who promote its use deserve to be included in that list. It is a pity that we cannot postpone the appointed day, not for six months, but for ever.

Photo of Lord Colwyn Lord Colwyn Conservative

My Lords, I hope that the House will allow me 60 seconds to say something on behalf of musicians in this country. Every time that I intervened during the passage of the then Bill, the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, chastised me for my continual interventions, and assured me that there was no problem at all and that it was all in my imagination. However, although the Act includes the "playing of recorded music" in the description of regulated entertainment, that is disapplied in the transition to the new regime for existing bars, pubs, restaurants, hotels and any premises that are already licensed to sell alcohol for consumption on the premises. Those places will be allowed automatically to keep jukeboxes or other systems for the playing of recorded sound, no matter how powerful the amplification. However, the automatic permission to have one or two live musicians in such venues—amplified or not—will cease. That was the live performer element of the so-called "two in a bar" rule, which since 1961 has been available in those premises as an exception from the general requirement to hold a public entertainment licence for live music.

The DCMS hoped that existing pubs, bars and restaurants would seek authorisation during the transitional period by varying their licence application to include live music, which could be done for one fee. However, that variation is not straightforward. It entails public advertisement at the applicant's expense, and a period for: public consultation; vetting by police, the fire authority, and on grounds of environmental health; planning; and ultimately the approval of the licensing committee of the local authority. If objections are received, whether from local residents or other agencies, a public hearing may be required with the potential for knock-on costs. The Government were warned that the then Bill would do nothing to promote live music. Musicians need venues to play and perform. The Act does nothing to help.

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham 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, it falls to me to clarify what the House should be concentrating on today. What we have had of course is a repetition of some Second Reading speeches, many of the points in which were not carried through to final decisions on the then Bill. The House should recognise that we are not debating the Act today, but a process of implementation of it that is already completed in accordance with the wishes of the House, other than this final step. I recognise that the final step gives the opportunity for some rehearsal of past arguments.

The noble Lord, Lord McNally, was kind enough to suggest that the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, produced a forensic dismantling of the Government's position. That was scarcely in evidence during the passage of the then Bill. I heard the noble Viscount refer to the Labour Party's campaign with three Xs in it. That does not sound very forensic to me; it was a four X campaign, related to the advertisement for a famous lager firm. I did not think that we had a forensic dismantling of the Government's case. We had a plea for the final stage not to be implemented. However, the date is significant, because it is the date on which premises licences and club premises certificates are given effect and the old licences cease to have effect. If a vote took place and proved fatal to the measure, which it is not designed to do, vast numbers of our licensed premises would be outwith the law. Thousands of premises would have to apply simply to stay open over Christmas. Such are the reckless arguments presented on the other side of the House that I believe that noble Lords there are prepared to sustain their case on the basis of something that would produce chaos for the industry and the consuming public.

Let us be frank. This debate is a fallout from a media campaign in the summer that began to identify what it regarded as weaknesses of the Act. The campaign revolved round the issue of binge drinking. Of course I recognise the strength of the anxieties of the noble Lord, Lord McNally, about binge drinking and the problems caused by the late-night economy. I do not for a moment do anything except understand his concern. But he must recognise that he is describing not the impact of the Licensing Act, but what is going on here and now under our present licensing regime. The whole point about the licensing regime that we introduced in the Act was to tighten up procedures so far as licensing was concerned. Noble Lords will recognise that we are involved in a major campaign to bring to the attention of the nation the problems of binge drinking. It is important in that framework that we recognise that the police welcome the additional powers that the Act gives them to tackle the issues.

Of course excess consumption of alcohol in an irresponsible way is of concern to us all. The selling in an irresponsible way of alcohol in those terms has caused the problem to a large degree, and the Act increases the constraints on the selling of alcohol. Simply to take the argument of the noble Lord, Lord McNally—it was adverted to by the noble Viscount, Lord Astor—that is why it is important that we concern ourselves with binge drinking, and that the Act come into force. From the second appointed day, the Act will give the enforcement agencies an unprecedented range of new powers to address irresponsible retailing of alcohol. The vast majority of the expanded police powers on closure of premises and modernised offences are expressed in terms which describe events or offences taking place at premises carrying on licensable activities—such as selling alcohol—under the authority of premises licences, club premises certificates and temporary event notices. If the new licences or certificates are not brought into effect, the new powers and offences are without effect too. That is the importance of the order.

I do not have time to expand on the long list of police closure powers, tougher penalties in respect of selling alcohol to children and more effective review procedures, but I assure the House that this was exactly the thrust behind the Bill and the basis of the Government's argument for why the Bill was needed. The House heard that repeatedly when we debated the Bill.

It is not just the licensing powers that some noble Lords opposite would delay. The powers of environmental health officers to close licensed premises that are causing noise nuisance did not exist before the Act. We need to be able to enforce them. They are expressed in the new licences that the Act envisages.

There is no demand for delay from those who will benefit from the powers or from those who are to be licensed under the new legislation. The Association of Chief Police Officers does not want delay on the Act—very much the opposite. It recently confirmed clearly that it did not want implementation to be delayed.

Licensing authorities, which have put enormous effort and good work in to delivering the requirements in the transitional period of the Act, do not want it to be delayed—quite the opposite. The responsible parts of the alcohol industry, which have paid for their new licences and expect to have the benefits of them from 24 November, are certainly not arguing for delay.

Village halls and sports clubs that have met the requirements of the new licences are also not in favour of delay. Local residents have engaged in licensing issues in greater numbers than we have seen before and have put in time and effort on objecting to variations. That would all be wasted if the Act was not implemented. They do not want delay.

So who wants delay? Some sections of the media have contended that delay would be somehow in people's interests. We all recognised that binge drinking—to say nothing of the attendant crime and violence—need to be tackled, but the extent to which the Act is designed to get a grip on the issue has been misinterpreted.

Noble Lords must recognise that one crucial issue that ran through the heart of the Bill was that a large number of people came on to the streets at the set throwing-out time for pubs and clubs, which meant that they were all milling around and competing for taxis and other forms of transport home, causing tension and confusion. The whole point of the flexible hours was to reduce that.

Photo of Lord Avebury Lord Avebury Spokesperson in the Lords (With Special Responsibility for Africa), Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs, Spokesperson in the Lords (Civil Liberties), Home Affairs

My Lords, the Minister's description of what happened at chucking-out time might have been true 10 years ago, but now in the West End, for example, closing times extend between 11 pm and 3 am. The crime figures hour by hour for that period are more or less evenly spread out, so the argument falls to the ground.

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham 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 noble Lord is describing the current situation. He cannot be arguing that we ought to delay the Act and persist with the status quo, which he has eloquently criticised. The whole point about the present situation is that we need licences to be looked at more carefully and we need local representation. The noble Viscount, Lord Astor, with the support of the noble Lord, Lord McNally, introduced some issues about whether councillors could make representations. It is suggested that there is a restriction on councillors if they do not live in the area that they represent. That restriction obtains only if no local resident has raised an objection. Local councillors, local representatives and local people are expected to make representations on licences—and are in the process of engaging in that process, which we have never seen before. I cannot recall the noble Viscount or his predecessors on the Front Bench—he did not have the joy of appearing on the Front Bench throughout the passage of the Licensing Bill itself—emphasising at that stage that they wanted to preserve the status quo because local opinion was so frequently heard with regard to the issuing of licences; very far from it. The whole point is that this Act brings in a greater degree of local representation and involvement.

I hear the point that the noble Lord, Lord McNally, makes about the restriction on local councillors and we will look at that. We may have defined matters too tightly in terms of the concept of "the vicinity". But I want him to recognise that we are bringing local councillors and representatives of local interests into the debate about licences and the role that they can play in licences which just did not obtain before this Act became part of the position.

We are substantially towards the concluding stages of implementing the Act and we had all these actors play their part in the development of the licences. It is suggested that a very large percentage—in the media it has been suggested that as many as 10 per cent—of licensed premises will be trading illegally after 24 November because they will not have their licences. The figures do not amount to a fifth of that. We are talking about a very small number of premises indeed. However, because of the difficulties of meeting the fairly tough requirements in the procedure under the Act, if some premises have obtained a licence and it is known and on the record that they have obtained the licence but the certificate has not been sent to them for display in the bar—where they are obliged under the law so to display—we are expecting that there will be an element of tolerance with regard to the law in those terms. We do not expect the police to be certificate chasing when they are able to ascertain that a licence has been properly applied for and has been gained. That is not a matter of loose interpretation of the law; it is asking for common sense to be applied in what we all recognise is a major change to the arrangements for licensing premises in this country.

The noble Lord, Lord Colwyn, raised the issue of live music—an issue on which he was most eloquent during the Bill's passage. Of course I respect his opinion on that. In the transitional period there has not been a decrease in the number of venues providing live music. We do not think that the Act is bad for live music. We think that abolishing the "two in a bar" rule increases opportunities. As far as we can see in licence applications, there will be increased opportunities for live music in licensed premises. However, as I move from the Scylla of the criticism of the noble Lord I land on the Charybdis of the criticism of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, on the question of noise. But of course we are concerned that the local community will be in a position to make its contribution to the issuing of licences to guarantee that local opinion is taken into account.

I recognise that what we have had this evening is a really rather jolly time in revisiting the Act. However, in the terms of the Motion, there is no intent to stop the second designated day of the Act, because to do so would throw the whole of our licensed premises and the selling of alcohol in this country and the control over selling of alcohol into complete chaos. On that basis, I hope that the House will reject the Motion.

Photo of Viscount Astor Viscount Astor Spokespersons In the Lords, The Family & Culture, Media & Sport

My Lords, the Minister said that we are having a jolly debate on the Licensing Act. However, neither the noble Lord, Lord McNally, nor I discussed the Licensing Act. We were discussing the implications of the Licensing Act because of the guidance that had been published by the Government. That was our debate. I have to say that the Minister has totally failed to answer any of the major questions that we put to him. It was a most disappointing answer. I realise that he has the unfortunate task of being a spokesman for the department without having any responsibility for the policy, but I have to say that he has been let down by his colleagues in another place. He kindly said that he would look at the definition of "in the vicinity" as regards objections, and he also said that the Government would review the ability of councillors to address their licensing sub-committees and objections. However, he did not mention the fact that two Labour councillors in Newcastle have to pay the costs of an appeal on a licence. Is that something of which the Government approve? Is that going to be replicated whenever councillors appeal against a large pub or club operator gaining a licence? He did not address that point at all.

There were a number of other points that the Minister did not address, such as staggered closing times and the problems that that brings. However, environmental health officers already have the power to close noisy premises and it is just not true to say they do not. They do, and I can give evidence in Westminster that shows that they do.

The Minister did not address the point about licence fees being self-financing at all. I was absolutely clear and I gave the Minister statistics showing that they are not. The Government promised that it would be a self-financing regime. He did not address the point about the code of practice for irresponsible drinks promotions. We have not heard anything about that, except that we know it is coming. We do not know who has been consulted or when it will come in. The Minister went on to talk about licences and the police. He said that applications had not been passed or completed. It is not a question of that. In Westminster, 350 licensed premises have not even applied. It is not an issue of finishing those applications; applications have not been made at all. People will be trading illegally because of the Government's policy. It is clear that that is replicated throughout the country. Those are not my statistics: they are statistics from the industry. There might be up to 20,000 people trading illegally when that policy comes in because they have not even applied. Some have, but the majority of them have not.

The Minister also failed to address 24-hour drinking. We already know that more than 600 premises have been granted licences, which was never intended by the Government's policy. We are not debating the Bill. We are debating the guidance and policy of the Government following the introduction of the Bill. That is what we want the Government to review. That is what is wrong. The Minister should have said that the guidance would be reviewed. If the order is delayed, it is not a question of chaos. The chaos will be when the order goes through. If the order is delayed, all those people with existing licences will operate under existing terms, which will give local authorities much more time to get it right.

I am very disappointed with the Minister's answer, which leaves me no alternative but to ask the opinion of the House.

On Question, Whether the said Motion shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 130; Not-Contents, 97.

Division number 3 Private Parking: Ports and Trading Estates — Licensing Act 2003 (Second Appointed Day) Order 2005

Aye: 128 Members of the House of Lords

No: 95 Members of the House of Lords

Aye: A-Z by last name


No: A-Z by last name


Resolved in the affirmative, and Motion agreed to accordingly.