Clause 97 - The relevant licensing authority

Licensing Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 8:55 am on 8th May 2003.

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Photo of Malcolm Moss Malcolm Moss Conservative, North East Cambridgeshire 8:55 am, 8th May 2003

I beg to move amendment No. 236, in

clause 97, page 55, line 11, leave out 'each of those authorities' and insert

'whichever of the authorities is agreed by those authorities unanimously to be the relevant authority, or if no such agreement is reached—

(i) the licensing authority in whose area the greater or greatest part of the premises is situated, or

(ii) if there is no authority to which paragraph (i) applies, such one of those authorities as is nominated in accordance with subsection (2)'.

Photo of Joe Benton Joe Benton Labour, Bootle

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 301, in

clause 97, page 55, line 11, at end insert—

'(2) In a case within subsection (1)(b)(ii) the individual giving the temporary event notice under section 98 must nominate one of the licensing authorities as the relevant licensing authority in relation to the notice.'.

Photo of Malcolm Moss Malcolm Moss Conservative, North East Cambridgeshire

Good morning, Mr. Benton, and welcome back to the Chair. Amendments Nos. 236 and 301 have been tabled in my name and those of my hon. Friends. Clause 97 is, of course, similar to an earlier clause relating to licensed premises. It states that

''where the premises are situated in the areas of two or more licensing authorities, each of those two authorities''

must get involved, which is over-bureaucratic. There could be duplication because two sets of officers will examine such matters. If a sensible arrangement and agreement could be reached, those duties would pertain only to one of the authorities.

Amendment No. 236 would allow whichever authority has been unanimously agreed to be the relevant authority to take responsibility—in other words, the two authorities should discuss which of them should take on the role. If agreement cannot be reached, the licensing authority in which the greatest part of the premises is situated should be responsible. If that does not work, amendment No. 301 would kick in. It states that

''the individual giving the temporary event notice under section 98 must nominate one of the licensing authorities as the relevant licensing authority in relation to the notice.''

The amendments are designed to avoid duplication and two bureaucracies becoming involved. If two bureaucracies are involved, things can go badly wrong if communications between them are not ideal. The amendments are positive and will clarify the situation to allow everybody, including the person giving the notice and the relevant licensing authority, to know who is dealing with whom, which should ensure that serious problems are avoided.

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster

It is essential that the situation in relation to clause 97 be clarified. Without wanting to repeat the debate in the House of Lords, there are a number of instances within London authorities, which are obviously local authorities and therefore licensing authorities, where large entertainment areas straddle boundaries. The majority of Earls Court, for example, is within the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea with a small area across the border—the railway line—in Hammersmith and Fulham. None the less, clause 97 is overly bureaucratic because it would ensure that both parties have a say. As it happens, there is an amicable long-term agreement between the two local authorities, which ensures that the Royal

Borough of Kensington and Chelsea deals with Earls Court. That is partly because the overwhelming majority of the site is in the royal borough and partly for practical purposes relating to the railway and road routes.

It would clearly be over-bureaucratic if similar examples across London were not determined amicably between local authorities. Although I understand that the Minister is trying to implement a belt-and-braces approach, which he explained in relation to the previous clause on licensing matters to which my hon. Friend referred, it would be sensible for a single authority to be involved, rather than the obvious duplication, potential delay, bureaucracy and cost that would entail if we went down the route of clause 97. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend's amendments.

Photo of Andrew Turner Andrew Turner Conservative, Isle of Wight 9:15 am, 8th May 2003

I am interested in the amendments that my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Moss) introduced. My approach to the amendments will depend on the definition of the word ''premises''. I am aware that the Minister told me during the last sitting that ''premises'' means the premises that are the subject of the application and only that part of the premises that is the subject of an application, if I can now use a broader definition of the word. Clause 190 defines ''premises'' not as that part that is subject to the application but as ''any place'' and goes on to say that it includes

''a vehicle, vessel or moveable structure''.

I am not going to trespass on the part of the definition that includes a vehicle, vessel or moveable structure at the moment, but it is clear from that definition that premises include not only an area that is a building or even a field, but could include an area that has no visible definition on the ground. It could include a part of an airfield, for example and in those circumstances I think that it is likely that premises could stretch over a boundary.

I am asking the Minister to consider whether the definition he gave me of premises last time is the right one. I do not want someone to come along and say, ''I am Mr. Wetherspoon. I own a pub in Westminster and another in the Isle of Wight, and I am going to make one application because they are one set of premises.'' [Interruption.] There may well be a lot of water between them.

Let us consider another eventuality. The Red Funnel company is a ferry company—it is actually the Southampton, Isle of Wight and South of England Royal Mail Steam Packet Company—that owns premises at both ends of its operation. Could someone say that those premises are one set of premises because they are connected by a ferry? In such a case, part would be subject to the authority of Southampton city council and part subject to that of the Isle of Wight council. Is it so clear to be not worth discussing that such premises would be two sets of premises for the purposes of the legislation?

I do not want the cities of Westminster or Southampton to be determining applications for

premises that lie in my constituency and I am sure that the Isle of Wight council would not want that to happen either. It is less likely to happen in my constituency because we do not have contiguous authorities as other constituencies do. However, others may enter into an argument about the desirability or otherwise of having decisions about their authority made by a different licensing authority.

Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Labour, North Durham

Is it not also true that in the case of the Isle of Wight there would be a stretch of water between the two authorities? Unless the hon. Gentleman's constituents have come up with the novel idea of walking on water, would that not also be a reason not to class them as one premises?

Photo of Andrew Turner Andrew Turner Conservative, Isle of Wight

It may interest the hon. Gentleman to know that he is right. He is observant: there is indeed a stretch of water between the Isle of Wight and Southampton. At certain times of the year it is possible to play cricket in the middle of that stretch of water. Bramble bank is exposed at low tide two or three times a year and a cricket match regularly takes place there.

Photo of Andrew Turner Andrew Turner Conservative, Isle of Wight

The Minister makes an appalling observation. It is because people of my race and origin were prepared to play cricket in the middle of the sea that we built an empire.

Photo of Mark Hoban Mark Hoban Opposition Whip (Commons)

You will be relieved to know, Mr. Benton, that I will not continue the cricketing theme.

It is not feasible to require a temporary event notice for a wedding on the Red Funnel ferry. One can imagine a situation in which a reception would begin at the company's offices in Southampton. The couple would board the boat and get married on it and then the boat would dock at Cowes for the end of the reception. Such an event would straddle Southampton, the water and the Isle of Wight and would involve two licensing authorities.

Photo of Andrew Turner Andrew Turner Conservative, Isle of Wight

Indeed, I can imagine exactly such a situation, with the possible exception of being married on the Red Funnel ferry. I believe that a separate licence is required for that. You will be pleased to know, Mr. Benton, that it is not one that is covered by the Bill.

On firework night during Cowes week, Red Funnel ferries operate an excursion from Southampton that comes to the island, where people have an opportunity to watch the fireworks, and then returns to Southampton. Therefore, the question is whether premises can be so stretched that they might be held by more reasonable people than the applicant to represent more than one place.

My point about Bramble bank is that it is covered by water most of the year. It is not in the city of Southampton or in any of the adjoining councils of New Forest, Eastleigh or Fareham. Neither is it in the area that is covered by Isle of Wight council. Can the Minister tell me which licensing authority would be responsible for Bramble bank or for any similar part

of the country that is exposed only at low tide two or three times a year?

Photo of Kim Howells Kim Howells Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Culture, Media & Sport

I certainly apologise to the hon. Gentleman's constituents, who may or may not play cricket on Bramble bank. I was simply pointing out that I never cease to be amazed by the inventiveness and quirkiness of the English race.

Photo of Kim Howells Kim Howells Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Culture, Media & Sport

It is a blanket condemnation.

Let me first deal with some of the questions of the hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire. He asked a good question about the difference between a premises licence and a temporary event notice. It certainly makes sense to have a lead authority for premises licences because of the detailed work such as inspections and so on that frequently has to be done for premises. We hear more and more about Earls Court, which is probably the most notable of licensed premises that straddle boundaries.

By the way, there will not be many such cases. We have previously had debates on the matter and are aware of pubs on islands in rivers. Boundaries are often placed midstream along rivers and they frequently go right through the middle of pubs. Those are usually problematic cases, but they occur rarely. The Committee may remember that we also discussed the way in which city and town boundaries follow the centre of roads—not always, but usually.

For temporary event notices, notification is all that is necessary. The whole point of such notices is that they do not involve onerous duties. The person giving the notice simply has to say what will happen. We shall discuss a little later the upper limits on the number of people, as the hon. Member for Fareham reminded us. He has tabled amendment No. 340, which would remove the upper limit of 499 on the number of people who will be allowed to take part in an event. However, we have been very careful about hedging temporary event notices with the type of restriction that will ensure that events will not be burdensome to the people who live in an area or the businesses that operate there.

Photo of Malcolm Moss Malcolm Moss Conservative, North East Cambridgeshire

I have followed the Minister's argument thus far. The process starts with the giving of the notice but if, say, the police in either of the areas—they have to be informed by the two local licensing authorities—want to raise objections, there will be two processes relating to the temporary event notice running in parallel. I am not clear at what point one licensing and police authority take control of the matter, instead of two sets of authorities dealing with the situation.

Photo of Kim Howells Kim Howells Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Culture, Media & Sport

That is a good point; I shall try to explain again. The temporary event notice is a simple document and the notice giver would simply send the original to the licensing authority and a copy to the police. That would avoid the sort of procedures that exist at the moment, which can become pretty protracted. If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I will get away from Bramble bank for a moment; I do not know how far it is from the nearest houses.

Let us say that a temporary event notice was used—that would happen rarely, as I have said—in premises on a boundary between two licensing authorities. Some scurrilous individual—God knows, there cannot be many of them—might decide to approach the local authorities from which they would be least likely to meet any resistance. It may well be that the local authority across the boundary has thousands of houses nearby.

The provision is not a great burden; we simply require that, in such an instance, the notice goes to both local authorities and think that if the police in either of the authorities decide that there might be a problem, they ought to be able to come back to it. That is not a huge step. We are considerably reducing the bureaucracy involved in the present system. We simply ask that notices go out on both occasions, because there are no other controls. Remember, the only other people who can object are the police on the grounds of controlling any criminal activity that may take place.

The notices will be given very rarely. As my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset said, we must be careful that we do not hit all sorts of innocent and very healthy activities simply because we are being overly careful about the exceptions to the rule. However, there will be exceptions to the rule and under such circumstances, given that there are no checks and balances bar the police, it is important that both police authorities should be informed simply by means of copies of the original letter. Surely, that cannot be particularly onerous in our time, in which there are plenty of photocopiers, desktop computers and, if it comes to that, the—I cannot remember what that blue paper that is used to produce a copy under the original is called.

Photo of Kim Howells Kim Howells Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Culture, Media & Sport

Carbon paper! That is what I was thinking of. NCR is a new one to me.

With those reassurances, I hope that the hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire will see fit to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Malcolm Moss Malcolm Moss Conservative, North East Cambridgeshire

I am still not convinced that the Minister has answered my question. Let me go through the various stages as I see them, for my own clarification. Under the clause, if premises straddle two authorities, notices will be given to each of them; I accept that that is a fairly mundane and simple thing to do. Some time afterwards, those authorities will return the second of the two notices—the notices have to be sent in duplicate—to the applicant, who must then send a copy to the police forces in each of the two areas. Objections can then be raised, which go back to the licensing authority, which must hold a hearing and issue a counter notice. Will both police forces object or will they liaise? Will two hearings be held in two licensing areas? It is not clear how things would pan out.

Photo of Kim Howells Kim Howells Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Culture, Media & Sport

The hon. Gentleman describes the system admirably. He has explained precisely what will happen. However, he must acknowledge that objections to flower shows and so on will rarely happen. He is talking about instances that are rare and

he is over-egging the pudding. We should move on to the important points.

Photo of Malcolm Moss Malcolm Moss Conservative, North East Cambridgeshire 9:30 am, 8th May 2003

That is not much of an answer.

We will not solve the problem here and now, but at some point the Government will need to come up with an amendment so that in the instances I was talking about—they may not be a run-of-the-mill occurrences—the people involved know that under legislation there is a procedure to follow. At the moment, the Minister does not know the solution, or the answer to my question—[Interruption.] With all due respect, I repeat that the Minister has not given an answer.

Photo of Kim Howells Kim Howells Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Culture, Media & Sport

The hon. Gentleman is wrong to say that I do not know the answer. I have given him the answer, and he does not particularly like it. If he wants to force a vote, that is fine by me. We have important business to get on to, but the hon. Gentleman is dragging out this trivial matter for some reason. He will complain later, as he has done at every other sitting, that we have not reached the important matters—but that is because of the hours we spend discussing issues like this.

Photo of Malcolm Moss Malcolm Moss Conservative, North East Cambridgeshire

Well, the pressure is coming on now. At the end of the day, I have asked a simple question and have not received an answer. I am entitled to keep probing until—

Photo of Malcolm Moss Malcolm Moss Conservative, North East Cambridgeshire

Fine. All I am asking for is an acknowledgement that a situation could arise that needs clarification.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 8.

Question accordingly negatived.

Clause 97 ordered to stand part of the Bill.