Licensing Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 8:55 am on 8th May 2003.
I beg to move amendment No. 339, in
clause 96, page 55, line 6, at end insert—
'(5) The fourth condition is that the premises are not covered by an existing premises licence or club premises certificate.'.
I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Benton. I shall first set out why I have tabled amendment No. 339. Some time ago, I met a solicitor from a local firm who was in charge of its licensing practice. That was around the time of the World cup. He was the first solicitor to secure a licence for early opening for England matches so that people could watch those matches in the comfort of their local pub. He recently wrote to me to ask how he could achieve a similar licence for a similar event under the Licensing Bill.
That solicitor had looked at clause 171, which deals with the relaxation of opening hours for special occasions. Such a measure was used recently by the Secretary of State to relax opening hours at new year and, I think, during the golden jubilee. However, that was used for special events of national significance and perhaps might not cover the need to open a pub for longer. When I was discussing the matter, I wondered whether the answer was in the operating statement and whether publicans could set out there those occasions on which they might wish to open for longer than their usual hours, or the number of times a year that they might choose to do so.
With that in mind, I examined part 5 of the Bill, which deals with temporary event notices. That is a lighter-touch regime—it is the Government's stated aim to have better and lighter regulation. Temporary event notices will require no time-consuming public consultation. All that will be needed is to issue the notice to the local licensing authority and to the police. If they object, they can give a counter notice. That will offer an ideal opportunity for a publican to circumvent the need for public scrutiny of longer opening hours. What concerns me is that if a pub landlord decides to open his pub late on five occasions a year—later amendments have been tabled to aim to increase the number of temporary event notices that a premises could have to much more than five—he could cause extreme nuisance to his neighbours and dislocation to local residents by using temporary event notices, which escape public consultation and scrutiny, to achieve his end.
That is why I have tabled amendment No. 339, which says that a licensed premises cannot apply for a temporary event notice. I would like publicans to use the operating statement as a means of ensuring that
when they wish to open for longer on an irregular basis that is considered when the premises licence is applied for. It can then be subject to scrutiny by local residents to ensure that people in the vicinity, who have the right to comment and make representations on the premises licence, can comment on those hours before they are introduced. Pubs could not then circumvent the consultation process by using a temporary event notice.
I, too, welcome you back to the Chair, Mr. Benton. I am glad that the hon. Member for Fareham (Mr. Hoban) has raised this matter, because it is important and helps to explain why we have been so careful over such things as the number of temporary event notices and locations.
I hope that I can answer the debate on amendment No. 339 by clarifying how the Bill operates with respect to premises licences, club premises certificates, temporary event notices and the relationship between them.
Clause 96 sets out the meaning of ''permitted temporary activity'' for the purposes of the Bill. It sets out three conditions that must be satisfied if a licensable activity is to be considered a ''permitted temporary activity.'' Those conditions are: that the requirements of clauses 100 and 102(1) are met; that the notice has not been withdrawn by the giver; and, that no counter notice has been issued under part 5 in respect of the notice, for example, if the police have raised objections on the grounds of crime and disorder. The amendment would add a fourth condition: that the premises in respect of which the notice has been given are not already covered by a premises licence or a club premises certificate.
Having listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman, I remain convinced that the amendment is born of a simple misunderstanding of the way in which the Bill operates and that it is unnecessary. I hope that I can help the hon. Gentleman by explaining why.
If premises are covered by a premises licence or a club premises certificate, that does not mean that all licensable activities are permitted by that licence or certificate, much less that the almost infinite variations of licensable activities are permitted. For example, a village hall may have a premises licence permitting the provision of regulated entertainment such as the performance of live music. Under the amendment, it would be impossible for someone to organise an event at that hall under the authority of a temporary event notice if it involved, for example, the sale of alcohol. It would even prohibit the authorisation of the performance of a play at that hall under a temporary event notice. To give another example, a pub, which would have a premises licence authorising the sale of alcohol, could not have a live band from time to time under the authority of a temporary event notice.
I am sure that that is not what the hon. Gentleman intends because he argued the case for live music earlier. I understand his misgivings about the possibility that the temporary event notice might create a problem for neighbours and we shall discuss that issue under subsequent clauses. In the meantime, I
am sure that he does not want to restrict drastically the opportunity for communities to benefit from the light touch—he described that very well—offered by the temporary event notice system. I urge him not to press the amendment.
The Minister sets out his argument clearly, but my concern is that people operating premises may use the provision to avoid public scrutiny of activities that they want to undertake and, particularly if we are successful in making later amendments, that will increase the number of temporary event notices that premises may have during a year. People who apply for a temporary event notice should be encouraged to think through the sort of events they might want to put on in those licensed premises, even if it is a village hall wanting to put on a play. They should be thinking about the issues when they apply for the premises licence. They will know what sort of events they usually host and they should be able to cast the terms of the premises licence sufficiently widely to cover the sort of events they want to hold.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree with what the Minister said earlier about village halls? The village hall network has contacted me regularly about the Bill. They would often not want alcohol to be part of their premises licence because they would not want to have to have a supervisor with a personal licence, but they may want to be able to put on a few events with alcohol under a temporary event notice.
The hon. Gentleman has a valid point and I understand the angle that he is coming from. However, if we examine the relatively small number of temporary event notices that a premises is allowed, it will not take long for a village hall to exhaust its five notices if it wants to put on a range of activities. I would much rather that the operating statement were drafted more widely to allow village halls to say, ''From time to time, we will sell alcohol for particular events and we may put on plays and musical performances to reflect the needs of the local community.'' I would rather that we went down that route than enable some operators to use a system of temporary event notices to circumvent public scrutiny of their activities.
Can my hon. Friend tell me whether the terms of the operating schedule, which are set out in clause 18, would permit his proposal? The operating schedule seems to require clear indications of the times at which proposed licensable activity will take place and the times at which the premises is likely to be open to the public well before the licence is applied for. How can a village hall possibly know in advance of the application for a premises licence all the prospective times in a number of years when it will be open to the public or when a licence may be needed because somebody has decided to have a wedding with a cash bar?
In that situation, my hon. Friend should encourage people to draft in fairly wide terms when a premises may be open for licensable activities.
If a village hall in a small village in the Isle of Wight decides to put on a wedding for up to 500 people, which it can do under the terms of an event notice, surely local residents would have an interest in how that function was handled. If we widen the operating statement rather than using temporary event notices, local people will be able to have a say in how the village hall is operated. They will be able to object if they feel that 500 people in a village hall is too many.
There is a danger that the operating statement will be too restrictive and we should therefore encourage more venues to examine it and to use it more flexibly rather than using temporary event notices as a cover for events to which local people would object if they had the opportunity to raise their concerns as part of the operating statement and the premises licensing process.
We will be debating many of those issues shortly. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that we have given strong additional safeguards? He is sailing a bit close to the rocks given the additional burden that he would impose on the sorts of organisations that my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Jim Knight) mentioned a few moments ago. One of the chief safeguards is giving the police powers to close temporary events on the spot if they become a nuisance to local residents. The hon. Gentleman must be careful about going over the edge by making the type of events that my hon. Friend mentioned almost impossible to organise because of the big bureaucratic burden, which would remove the advantages of light-touch regulation.
I am trying to balance temporary event notices with operating statements. My concern is that the restrictions on temporary event notices are already tight. If anything, the rules are too tight and should be relaxed in some respects—we will come to the specifics later. The quid pro quo to relaxing those rules is that existing locations with premises licences will take advantage of the relaxations. The balance between temporary event notices and operating statements is overly restrictive in the case of temporary event notices.
I want to make sure that existing licensed premises could not take advantage of any relaxation in temporary event notices, which is why I should like to carve them out from any relaxation. I am conscious that there will be other opportunities this morning to discuss a relaxation on temporary event notices, and perhaps we will have more success in persuading the Minister to change his mind. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 96 ordered to stand part of the Bill.