HC Deb 23 May 2000 vol 350 c852
20. Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne)

What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for the Home Department regarding transferring the licensing justices' powers to local authorities. [121894]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Jane Kennedy)

The Lord Chancellor's Department has been fully engaged at both official and ministerial level in discussions between Government Departments relating to all the proposals contained in the Home Offices's White Paper on modernisation of the licensing laws.

Mr. Waterson

I thank the Minister for that answer. Is she sticking up for magistrates in the interdepartmental warfare? Does she agree that there is real apprehension that decisions about licensing will be politicised, particularly when there is great pressure from chains of so-called superpubs? Does she agree that the magistrates and the police, working together, have unrivalled expertise in dealing with applications, not least in knowing the backgrounds of those who apply for licences, as well as the advisability from a public order point of view of granting applications?

Jane Kennedy

The proposals to transfer licensing to local authorities will ensure a more streamlined approach, uniting alcohol licensing with other aspects, such as public entertainment licensing, which are already the responsibility of local authorities. The lay magistracy will continue to have a significant role, with its jurisdiction to hear licensing matters that breach the criminal law and its role at the appeal stage.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath)

Does not the Minister recognise that many justices will feel that their powers are being eroded by the Government? Is there not a danger of corruption? After the Donnygate scandals involving her party, surely she is aware of the great concerns that transferring such powers to local authorities could lead to a serious risk of justice not being done or seen to be done. Is not that another case of the Government rushing ahead with change for change's sake? Would they not be better to say "If it aint broke, don't fix it"?

Jane Kennedy

The lay magistracy has done a very effective job in undertaking its licensing responsibilities. The proposal to transfer those responsibilities does not in any way reflect any criticism of their work. The lay magistracy will continue to perform important roles in hearing criminal cases involving breach of the law in such instances. It is disappointing to hear the hon. Gentleman once again attacking the role of local government in an important area in which locally elected and accountable councillors may properly undertake the role of issuing licences. The proposals in the White Paper should be welcomed. If hon. Members have views to express, we are always willing to listen to them.

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