Licensing Bill: Final Stage

Executive Committee Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 8:15 pm on 15th March 2016.

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Photo of Judith Cochrane Judith Cochrane Alliance 8:15 pm, 15th March 2016

I beg to move

That the Licensing Bill [NIA 69/11-16] do now pass.

At the outset, as a representative for East Belfast

Photo of Mitchel McLaughlin Mitchel McLaughlin Speaker

Could you please speak into the microphone because we are having problems hearing you here?

Photo of Judith Cochrane Judith Cochrane Alliance

I would like to express my condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of the prison officer who, we heard, tragically died today. As we complete this Assembly term, it is clear that there is still so much to be done to stamp out dissident republicanism. I know that my colleague the Justice Minister will say more about that after this item of business.

The legislation regulating the sale and consumption of intoxicating liquor is in the Licensing (Northern Ireland) Order 1996. There has been very little change to that legislation over the past 19 years. However, the hospitality industry has seen considerable change in consumer behaviour and demand. Furthermore, the redevelopment of our major sports stadia to become state-of-the-art facilities was not anticipated when the Licensing Order 1996 was introduced.

A significant sum of public money has been invested in upgrading those stadia. They have been, or are being, developed in such a way that means they are versatile in their use and will be fully equipped to host sporting, education, business, tourism and leisure events. As the law stands, however, an application for a liquor licence cannot be made for such premises.

This Licensing Bill will create a new type of liquor licence specifically for our three major outdoor stadia. The sale of alcohol must be ancillary to the normal business carried out on the premises, and that means that an outdoor stadium would not be able to sell or have the consumption of alcohol when it is not in use for an event, sporting or otherwise.

As an additional safeguard, a court is going to be given the power to attach any conditions it considers appropriate to the licence. That would, for example, allow the court to respond to any concerns about the sale of alcohol at certain types of events, particularly those aimed at a young audience. This court could use that power when granting or renewing such a licence or at any time during the life of the licence.

That safeguard was made explicitly clear by Mr Allister's amendment at Further Consideration Stage, which calls for a court to consider specific conditions for under-18 events. Such a condition should aim to protect young people but, at the same time, allow for flexibility based on the specific design of the stadium and how it is being run operationally. When the Schools' Cup final is being held at Kingspan, for example, the sales points under the stands are not in use, but the corporate areas can still operate. I see this as being the type of good practice that a court might endorse on a condition on a licence. I know that the PSNI, which is a statutory consultee for a licensing application, already carries out good work in the planning of stadium events, and I hope that this constructive relationship will continue so that alcohol can be sold in a controlled but family-friendly manner.

Back in October, when I had my first meeting with secretariat staff on introducing this legislation, I think that I was told that I was bonkers and that there was no chance of progressing a private Member's Bill in that time. Those of you who know me will know that, if I am given a challenge, I will find a way to overcome it. Even the person who built the ramp that I tripped over at new year, which resulted in my breaking my arm in two places, did not manage to stop me from getting the legislation through. I was clear in my mind how I wanted to amend the 1996 Order, so my consultation was very focused and clearly defined. Indeed, the Bill before us today has changed only very slightly from its initial draft. Given that I drafted the Bill myself, I think that it is not bad going to have required only a few technical amendments to tidy it up. Given the volume of Executive legislation in the final few months of the mandate, the Bill Office was quite happy that that was the case. I thank that office for its assistance when I needed advice regarding timings, groupings and some wording.

I believe that, against the odds, the Licensing Bill has reached Final Stage today due to my cooperative working with the current and former Minister for Social Development, the sporting bodies, residents, the PSNI and others with an interest in licensing. I put on record a special thanks to the social policy unit team in the Department for Social Development, which has had to put up with my thinking through every eventuality of each clause or potential condition on a stadium licence and for it always being just a phone call away for me to bounce ideas off. My thanks also go to the Chair of the Committee for Social Development, the Committee and the Committee staff. They had a very heavy workload but made sure that they made the time to engage with me and to complete the report. I formally presented to the Committee three times, once after no sleep and wearing the same clothes as the previous day after pulling an all-nighter here, but these things happen when you give yourself tight timescales and are working single-handedly to achieve something. I have learned the lesson that I am now 40 and no longer able to do the things that I did when I was 20, because it took me about a week to recover.

I also take this opportunity to thank my staff members, Matthew McKibbin and Meadhbh Keating Fitzpatrick. They not only met my demands for licensing facts at any time of the day or night but ensured that I did not drop the ball on all the other issues that I was working on in my constituency.

If I may, Mr Speaker, I want to mention one other thing that gave me some added focus as the Bill progressed. Many of you will know that, just as I was launching my consultation, I got the news that Dad was seriously ill. I spent most of the autumn months in the Ulster and Mater Hospitals, often taking calls between visiting hours and drafting parts of the Bill in the relatives' room whilst waiting to hear whether Dad was safely out of surgery. As I progressed through the various stages of the Bill, he too has progressed, and I am delighted that he and my mum are here tonight. I hope that the Bill passes its Final Stage and that, when it receives Royal Assent, he will have finished his chemo and that, next season, he will be able to enjoy a pint with me at a sporting fixture in one of our major stadia. Thank you, Mr Speaker. I ask Members to support the Final Stage of the Licensing Bill.

Some Members:

Hear, hear.

Photo of Paula Bradley Paula Bradley DUP

I am delighted to support Mrs Cochrane and the Licensing Bill. I have known Judith since I arrived here in 2011, and I know her to be extremely studious. She dots every i and crosses every t. When she brought her Bill forward to us in Committee, I knew that it would be absolutely no different. This is the first time that I have spoken on the Bill because, on the occasions that it was in the Chamber, my colleagues spoke because I had other things on. I am delighted to be able to speak on it at Final Stage.

I have to say, Judith, that you worked extremely hard to get this through Committee under extreme time pressures and in extreme family circumstances, which we certainly understand. When you came to us, you went into full detail, listened to all the consultees and took everything on board from the PSNI, the sports clubs, the residents — to absolutely every witness who gave evidence to us in Committee. Through all of that, you always came up with a solution, where possible, and you need to be commended for that. You have worked extremely hard on the Bill, and it is most definitely required. We would, of course, have liked it to be a little broader, but, sadly, that was not to be. I will not even go into the licensing laws in Northern Ireland; I will save that for another day, hopefully when some of us are back here in May. I welcome the Bill today. I know the hard work that has been put into it, and I absolutely commend you for that.

On a personal note, I will miss you greatly. You have been a great friend to me since I arrived here in 2011. We sat on the Assembly Commission together, along with the Speaker, and you have always been there to defend what you believed was right. Not a lot of people see what happens in our Commission meetings, which is probably just as well at times.

[Laughter.]

You were a strong force on that as well, so I want to say thank you for that and for being there for me when I needed you. I wish you every success in whatever endeavours you have ahead of you.

Just in passing, I also want to thank you, Mr Speaker. I know that I thanked you umpteen times last week during International Women's Week for the wonderful work that you did. However, as a Commission member, I want to thank you for being so fair and for listening to us at times when I am sure that you felt like pulling your hair out, but you were extremely fair. You have been a very fair Speaker, and it has been a pleasure to work under you as well.

In finishing, I want to pick up on Judith's first point and pass my condolences on to that family. As someone who wore the uniform of the RUC for 10 years, I remember full well just how hard it was during the Troubles for my family, not only my children but my parents. I remember the times when I was under threat and all the times when it was just so difficult to live a normal life. I know that it will be discussed later, but I just wanted to put on record that I am thinking of them. I hope that we are not going back to those days again. We have a wonderful country here, we are going forward, and so many Members do not want us to go back.

Thank you for your indulgence, Mr Speaker. Thank you, Judith, and all the very best.

Some Members:

Hear, hear.

Photo of Mitchel McLaughlin Mitchel McLaughlin Speaker

Thank you very much.

Photo of Dolores Kelly Dolores Kelly Social Democratic and Labour Party

I also congratulate Mrs Cochrane at Final Stage of the Licensing Bill. We had hoped to amend other licensing laws to drag them into the 21st century, but, no doubt, a future Assembly will look at them, given the loss to the coffers and their impact on the tourism trade.

It is fair to say that the Social Development Committee and, indeed, the House cooperated all along the way with Mrs Cochrane to ensure that the Bill would be concluded before the end of the mandate. It is an example of using common sense and a bit of a collaboration to provide what I hope is in the best interests of the people, particularly the service users of the stadia.

I, too, will use this opportunity to commend you, Mr Speaker, for your service. I wish you and your family every health and happiness in your retirement. Indeed, to all Members of the Assembly who have chosen not to stand again, I wish you well, particularly my good friends Alban Maginness and John Dallat, who will be sorely missed as contributors not only in the Chamber but to our Assembly parliamentary meetings.

I also wish Trevor, the Director General, well. He and I have travelled many roads together, from Craigavon council to the Policing Board to the Northern Ireland Assembly, and I wish him well in whatever he chooses to do in the future. I also hope that he relays my thanks to all the staff throughout the Building for all their efforts to make our jobs easier, because politics is a very tough game, and it helps when people are courteous, respectful, and you can rely on them to play their part in enabling you to fulfil your responsibilities as a Member of the Assembly.

So, Mr Speaker, thank you very much indeed, and, Mrs Cochrane, I certainly wish you well in your future.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP 8:30 pm, 15th March 2016

I declare an interest as a non-playing member of Larne Rugby Football Club, although I am not sure that there are any plans to build a regional stadium there —

[Laughter.]

— so I do not think that this legislation will apply to it.

Like others, I pay tribute to Judith Cochrane for the work that she has carried out in taking forward a private Member's Bill. I am aware of the considerable work involved, so how she managed to condense it into such a short period amazes me, so well done for that.

There are clearly gaps in our licensing laws in Northern Ireland. In 2012, there was a consultation by the Department for Social Development, and, in 2014, there was an announcement that the law would be changed, but that did not happen. What we see here is a private Member spotting that there is a need for change and driving it herself, so well done for that. Of course, other aspects remain to be changed. We are now in a different environment from that of 20 years ago, when the original rules were written in the 1996 Order. Other work requires to be done, and that will fall to the next Assembly.

We have a burgeoning tourism and hospitality industry, and at least this private Member's Bill will facilitate those who come to Northern Ireland to enjoy our major sports venues: what we now have at Ravenhill or Kingspan Stadium, the new Windsor Park that is emerging, and, potentially, the new Casement Park, when planning issues are eventually addressed and development occurs.

It is clear that the customer, the spectator of sport today, has demands different from those of spectators in the past. People expect a comfortable environment, hospitality and a customer experience: food, perhaps a glass of wine or a pint of beer. This legislation fills that void, because there was not legislation specifically covering outdoor stadia. In 2004, when the new Odyssey Arena was built — it is now the SSE Arena — specific legislation was brought in to deal with indoor arenas. This private Member's Bill does something similar for the emerging outdoor stadia. We have to thank Judith Cochrane for driving that forward and for getting this Bill, after considerable effort, to Final Stage. We have listened to evidence at Committee from a range of sources and have come up with a proportionate and balanced Bill. I wish to indicate my continued support, and the support of the Ulster Unionist Party, for it.

I wish Judith well in her future career. I also offer my best wishes to the Speaker and to the Deputy Speaker, John Dallat, who are now standing down as Assembly Members. I wish you both well in your retirement.

Photo of Alastair Ross Alastair Ross DUP

I, too, want to add my name to the list of those who have already congratulated the Member on the passage of her Bill. As others have said, we have had a rush of legislation through the Chamber in the last number of weeks. Sadly, sometimes people outside the House and, increasingly, in the House, judge the merits of this place on how many Bills we pass. I do not think that that is necessarily how we should judge our output. We should judge our output on the quality of the Bills and whether we are actually solving problems.

I remember the meeting of the all-party group on rugby at Kingspan Stadium after the summer break. There had been a court case that summer as well, the outcome of which had unintended consequences for our regional stadia, particularly the Kingspan Stadium, because of its different licensing arrangements and fewer regulations around it than UEFA would impose on Windsor Park. I remember that, at that meeting, saying that we need assistance from the Assembly on the licensing laws. At the time, I suggested, as chair of the all-party group, that we should write to the Minister to see what we could get done, but it was a very tight timescale.

At that meeting, Mrs Cochrane confidently declared, "Oh no, I can solve this; I will bring a private Member's Bill forward." I am not one to ever question Mrs Cochrane's ability — I am quite sure that you would do so at your peril — but even the most optimistic people at the meeting questioned whether she would be able to get it through in the very tight timescale. The fact that we are here at Final Stage, as the penultimate act of this mandate, shows the determination and ability of Mrs Cochrane to get the Bill through. Indeed, it also shows her ability to work with other individuals to make sure that it happened. She did that with some of the residents around Ravenhill whom, I know, were at times quite concerned about what the Bill would mean — she should be commended for the consultation that she carried out — and with officials in DSD to make sure that they assisted her in making the Bill a reality. Fans of Ulster Rugby and other sports for which the Bill will have implications will certainly be very grateful.

I certainly welcome the fact that, from an all-party group on rugby perspective, she has been standing up for the Ulstermen. I am, however, disappointed that she is standing down from the Assembly. I genuinely mean that. She has brought a very sensible contribution to an Assembly that sometimes lacks sensible voices. She has made a really positive contribution in her term of office here, and I am disappointed that she is standing down. I am quite sure that many of us will still have informal meetings at the Kingspan Stadium before games on Friday evenings, but I am disappointed that she is standing down, and I wish her every success in whatever she chooses to do afterwards.

I will certainly support the Final Stage of the Bill.

Photo of John McCallister John McCallister UUP

Like colleagues, I welcome the Final Stage of the Licensing Bill. Following on from Mr Ross, it is a shame that Mrs Cochrane is standing down because we could desperately do with her back here to continue the reform of our licensing laws, although that is looking like quite a big job for anybody to take on.

When Mrs Cochrane first mentioned the crazy idea, to me, that she was going to do this, I tried to remind her that the mandate ended in March of the coming year. She identified a problem that needed to be sorted, drafted the legislation, worked with the Committee, worked with the Minister and the Department, and met all the obligations here and any obstacle that was thrown in the way, with mere things like needing to set Standing Orders aside for the day. She did whatever needed to be done and nothing seemed to be too much trouble or too difficult for her to overcome.

It was very much to her credit that she was able to work and find a solution to an issue that, as we go forward, will allow us to look at different things. Mr Beggs talked about the Kingspan Stadium, Windsor Park and possibly Casement. If we are serious in years to come about developing a product that says that we are in a place that means that we should be able to host the Rugby World Cup, all the other obstacles in our licensing laws should be dealt with. I really commend Mrs Cochrane for doing that.

I have to say also that she did so at a difficult personal time when her dad was so ill. I am delighted that he and Judith's family are here, because that is important. Sometimes, one of the downsides of being in politics is that social media exposes all our lives to some really quite harsh and unkind things. I certainly am delighted that things have improved in that regard, not only with getting the Bill passed but with your father's health improving. That is something that we are all thankful and delighted for.

This is an important piece of legislation. It shows what the Assembly and individual Members can achieve when there is the will and drive of a Back-Bencher to solve a problem and work with others to do that and to overcome those obstacles. That is why it is important.

Like Mr Ross, I am sad that Judith Cochrane will be leaving the Assembly, and I certainly wish her every blessing and every good wish in whatever she decides to do.

I am sure that those informal meetings may well continue over a pint at an Ulster Rugby game, although, I am sure, not with DUP members

[Laughter.]

They will be drinking Coca-Cola. I am sure those meetings will continue.

Given the skills and talents that Mrs Cochrane possesses, I am sure that she has a very encouraging career ahead of her. The best days are very much ahead. I wish her and her family well and wish her every success and good wish. I offer her huge congratulations. I know the work it takes to get a private Member's Bill passed. She said to me a few months ago that I was not getting my private Member's Bill passed, so she does not know everything.

Photo of Mitchel McLaughlin Mitchel McLaughlin Speaker

I call Mrs Judith Cochrane — I am sure you have been waiting for this moment — to conclude the Final Stage.

Photo of Judith Cochrane Judith Cochrane Alliance

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I thank all the Members for their engagement tonight. If they could all write me a job reference, that would be really helpful. If all that is true, I should be very employable. I also thank everybody else who has engaged with me during the stages of my Licensing Bill. It has been a challenge, but it is one that I believe has been worthwhile and has delivered a positive outcome. Whilst I would like it to have gone further as well and to have dealt with a number of other licensing issues, time was not on my side, so it had to remain very focused on our stadia, especially with the bid for the 2023 Rugby World Cup coming up.

This is the last time I will speak in the House. I do so with mixed emotions. I trust that you, Mr Speaker, will allow me a little latitude as I make some closing remarks. First, I thank you for your leadership. It has been a pleasure to work with you from my days on the Finance Committee with you at the start of my term and more recently on the Assembly Commission. You have done so much to encourage women in politics, and my decision to step down is not a reflection of that valuable work. I wish you well in your retirement. I know that we celebrate our birthdays a couple of days apart. On our next milestone birthdays in another 10 years, who knows where we will be?

I also want to mention my colleagues Kieran and Anna. I hope they are looking forward to a well-earned rest. I know that I am certainly looking forward to spending some more time with my family, including my girls — Emma Rose and Jessica. Who knows? I might even manage to deliver on the goal of having a clean, tidy house, although I cannot imagine that Jonny will let me take over the role of cooking again just yet.

When I was elected to the Assembly back in 2011, I came here with the hope that I could make a difference, that my work ethic would not change and that I would get things done. I hope that the people of East Belfast have been satisfied with my work record; it has certainly been a privilege to serve them. I was brought up to be a doer and to get on with people and to realise that, although many of us have differing views on issues, as individuals we can still work together to get things done. I have built strong working relationships with people from every party represented in the Chamber tonight; indeed, I would say that I have made firm friends. I believe that it is through those relationships that I have been able to garner support for the progression of my Bill against the odds. I hope that the new Assembly will see more doers who are willing to work with others and whose focus is on finding solutions and making a difference. That is what the people of Northern Ireland deserve. Remember that the world is changed by your example, not your opinion.

In closing, I thank the House for its consideration of the Bill from the preliminary stages until today, where there seems to be unanimous support. I hope that my work on the issue has brought to the fore the key limitations of the 1996 Order and how it can often be seen to hold us back in tourism and other events. It is incumbent on the next Assembly to move forward with a full review of liquor licensing that is fit for a modern Northern Ireland. I commend the Licensing Bill to the House.

[Applause.]

Question put and agreed to. Resolved:

That the Licensing Bill [NIA 69/11-16] do now pass.