HL Deb 10 December 1981 vol 425 cc1436-73

3.19 p.m.

The Minister of State, Scottish Office (The Earl of Mansfield)

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(The Earl of Mansfield.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The LORD ABERDARE in the Chair.]

Clause 1 [Application of Parts I and II of this Act]:

Lord Ross of Marnock moved Amendment No. 1: Page 1, line 6, leave out from ("effect") to ("licensing") in line 7 and insert ("with respect to the").

The noble Lord said: It is hard to believe that this Bill was 10 years in preparation. If we look at the first clause, I cannot think of any clause of any Bill that was more uninformative. I may have something to say about that when it comes to the Question that the clause, stand part. Meantime I content myself with trying to reduce the number of words in the clause, and therefore I beg to move Amendment No. 1.

Lord Wilson of Langside

I think this amendment is a very desirable one. Any amendment which uses four words where eight are used in the Bill as at present, is surely to be encouraged.

The Earl of Mansfield

I appreciate the intention of the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, to shorten Clause 1. Whether a rather woolly phrase like the noble Lord suggests—"with respect to the"—is preferable to the draftsman's choice I am not really sure. But bearing in mind that the noble Lord is most ably supported by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson of Langside, and hoping that this will not be taken as a precedent of softness to be displayed through the rest of the Bill's passage through your Lordship's House, I shall be happy to accept the amendment.

Lord Ross of Marnock

The noble Earl has started well. I say that I have shortened the Bill so that it makes room for some of the longer amendments later on which I am perfectly sure the noble Earl will accept.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Campbell of Croy moved Amendment No. 2: Page 1, line 8, at end insert ("and for such other activities, previously subject to licensing under other enactments, as the Secretary of State may prescribe").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 2. I think that the purpose of this amendment is clear, and that is exploration. I hope that it will give the Government an opportunity to indicate what their future policy is in relation to rationalising licensing procedures in Scotland. Let me begin by saying that I applaud thoroughly the intention in the Bill to bring a number of activities under a general licensing scheme, the particulars of which are in Schedule 1. Moreover, that scheme is similar, in regard to the application procedure and other procedures, to the latest licensing system on which we went into detail in 1976 in the Licensing (Scotland) Act 1976.

As noble Lords will remember, that Act dealt with liquor, public houses and kindred matters following the report by the Clayson Committee which, in Scotland, was the equivalent of the Erroll Committee for England and Wales. This House considered that Bill in some detail. Indeed, we went into Committee upstairs—an infrequent thing for your Lordships' House—and spent several days on that Bill. The particulars in Schedule 1 seem to follow the pattern of that licensing system for liquor and associated subjects.

Nonetheless there are still other activities which require licensing under separate systems. Let me give some examples. First, for bingo licences under the Gaming Act 1968 there is a separate procedure; for bookmakers' permits under the Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Act 1963 there is a separate procedure; for cinemas under the Cinematograph Acts 1909 and 1925 there is a separate procedure. I have already referred to the Licensing Act of 1976. In the appropriate section dealing with clubs the procedure requires the sheriffs to take a major part in the proceedings.

It would, I believe, be conducive to efficient administration if, in due course, more activities could be brought within the general licensing system following the principle which the Government are bringing forward in this Bill. Indeed, in this Bill there are a number of activities which will be dealt with under this new licensing system, and it will certainly he easier to operate the system of licensing these various activities in Scotland and it will be much easier for the public to follow what is happening.

Therefore, I would ask my noble friend: What are the prospects for bringing more activities under one general system of licensing? Are the Government proposing to consider whether other licence activities could be grouped with those in the Bill for this same system of licensing? Is it, indeed, the intention that the admirable principle in the Bill should continue to apply?—that is to say, that the system in Schedule 1, once enacted, should be extended to other activities in due course. If that is the Government's intention, then can my noble friend give any indication as to how it is proposed that this should be done? If, for example, in a year or two, two or three of the activities of the kind I have mentioned could be brought within this new general system of licensing, would that have to be done by legislation? Would it need a short Bill or could it be done by a statutory instrument? I beg to move.

Lord Ross of Marnock

I think that this is an admirable amendment but probably not too accurate in wording. I think that what the noble Lord really means is not "previously subject to licensing", but "already subject to licensing". I hope that we do not get that excuse from the Government to turn the amendment down. I am sure that that is what the noble Lord really means.

The noble Lord is quite right. There are so many other aspects of civic administration where licences are required, but unfortunately the one which always springs to mind as soon as one mentions licensing is liquor licensing. In fact we have a large number of Bills—the Licensing (Scotland) Bill of this year, that year and the next year—but as soon as people hear the word "licensing" they think of licensed premises supplying strong and not so strong drink. However, as the noble Lord has said, there are bingo licences, cinema licences and club licences, which are part of the licensing Acts themselves, and there are also football ground licences. It would be far, far better to consider them together. I suppose that one of the difficulties—it is one of the weaknesses of the Bill—is to get a system of licensing which, without very considerable change, could be applicable and could be fair in respect of all these particular cases. It is true that the working party which he set up in 1972 thought that the present system where the licensing of window cleaners, news vendors and shoe-blacks—many of whom have been dropped and who the very wording of the amendment might bring hack if we include the word "previously"—was in a very haphazard way without rights of appeal and a proper examination of the matter.

Of course, in the first clauses of the Bill we have no indications of the situation. We talk about "licensing" but we do not have a clue as to what we are licensing. One of the reasons why I think that this is, in structure, a bad Bill, is that we do not know what we are licensing. We are going to talk about the great long schedule of the kind of administration, the forms and everything else, as well as further powers to the Secretary of State, and we do not know yet what we are licensing. One has to read the whole Bill before one can understand Clause 1. However, the noble Lord is quite right. If we could get, with modifications, a licensing system that would cover the whole lot, then it would be very desirable. I am prepared to support the noble Lord in that respect.

Lord Drumalbyn

I wonder whether we have not already got what my noble friend is asking for and, indeed, to a large extent what the noble Lord, Lord Ross, is also asking for. Am I not right in thinking that we have in Part I a system of licensing that covers all the cases that are required for licensing in Part I and therefore it is, to that extent, uniform? Then, as soon as we get to Part II we reach Clause 46 where we find that the Secretary of State can designate any activity other than the ones specified in Part I, and that that same provision can adapt the system of licensing in Part I to the new activity that is designated. If that is so, then I wonder whether what my noble friend is asking for is not already provided in the Bill. I wonder whether my noble friend on the Front Bench could indicate any other form of activity that is not covered by Clause 46.

Lord Campbell of Croy

Perhaps I could explain again to my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn that, as I said at the beginning, the purpose of my amendment is exploration. I am hoping that the Government can indicate whether there are other subjects which might be brought into this general system. That is why my wording is not of the best, as the noble Lord, Lord Ross, has pointed out. I was hoping that the Government might be able to explain what they have in mind for further activities, rather than trying to redraft the Bill myself.

The Earl of Mansfield

I am aware, as I am sure is the Committee, of the motivation behind the tabling of this amendment by my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy. Of course, it is a probing rather than a pressing amendment. In fact, he is asking whether the Government think it is possible, and whether it is legally possible, for the procedures which are laid down in this Bill to be applied readily, if at all, to other activities for which Parliament has already defined a licensing procedure. This, of course, is a quite different point from the point which was produced by my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn, who quite correctly illustrated, by the use of Clause 46, the power of the Secretary of State in future to "suck in", if that is how I might describe it, future trading activities which it might become desirable to license. But that, of course, is a very different situation from bringing within the ambit of this Bill licensing procedures which have already been set up by statute. So there is a very considerable difference.

The short answer to my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn is: No; Clause 46 would not do for that purpose. If, by the application of this Bill, we were to cover other activities which are already regulated by statute, I think that Parliament would have to look very carefully before giving a Secretary of State, now or in the future, such wide powers to vary existing legislation. I am sure that that is so. Therefore, although I am very attracted by the arguments of my noble friend and, indeed, by those of the noble Lord, Lord Ross, I think we have to move slowly.

First, we have to lay down the correct procedures in this Bill; then we have to ensure that the activities which are set out in the Bill and which are contemplated in the Bill are coped with fairly and properly in the Bill. Only when those existing procedures, so to speak, are seen to be operating satisfactorily can we think of, as it were, dismantling existing licensing procedures where local authorities already have a role to play.

Of course, it does not quite end there, because some of the licensing procedures which I think my noble friend contemplates are not applied only, if at all, by local authorities. In other words, we do not want to involve authorities in areas where, for instance, the licensing is the responsibility of an independent body—and I could quote as an instance the Health and Safety Executive—or, indeed, a Government department. The complications, or the potential complications, do not end there. When my noble friend Lord Campbell instances bingo, cinemas and bookmakers, which he suggests could be brought within the system, I would point out that these activities are already regulated on a Great Britain basis and, therefore, I do not think that it would be appropriate for them to be taken in isolation in Scotland. I think that very careful consideration would be required before that was done.

Therefore, I think that the answer, in short, to my noble friend is that we must look at the workings of the procedures which we are setting up; we must take very close heed of any constitutional arguments which there may be before dismantling existing statutory structures; and, above all, we must ensure that the proposed licensing to be exercised by the local authorities is, in fact, a proper function for a local authority and not an independent board or quango. So I am grateful to my noble friend for tabling this amendment, and I can assure him that this is something which is, as it were, within the contemplation of the Government, and we shall be watching the situation very carefully.

Lord Ross of Marnock

The noble Earl will appreciate, of course, the confusion that will arise under the Bill, because in one area there will be licensing authorities of a different kind. There will be a licensing court, which is mainly for the local authority, to deal with liquor; there will be something called a licensing authority after we have passed this Bill, which must deal with the things which are either mandatory or which, by the optional clause, they will decide to license; then there may be another licensing authority to deal with the odds and ends that are in other legislation, which will be the responsibility of the local authority. We start with the idea of having a great new scheme of licensing, and we finish up with something that may prove to be rather confusing to the public mind. However, I am glad to think that the Government have not shut their mind to this and are prepared to look at it.

The Earl of Mansfield

Of course, the noble Lord, Lord Ross, is now on a different point. He is saying that committees, if you like, of a local authority will exercise different licensing functions according to the particular activity which is to be licensed. I appreciate that that can he confusing in the public mind, but I do not think it need be, because the sort of people who will be affected by the licence, whatever activity in which they either participate or by which they are affected, will be able, quite easily, to find their way, as it were, to the right committee.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for telling us the position as he sees it. I realised that there would probably be difficulties and problems. I recognise as a problem the fact that some of the licensing matters which are not to be included at present under this general licensing scheme are Great Britain subjects. But I think that that is a problem for the future which it may be possible to tackle.

Again, I applaud the rationalisation which is being carried out in this Bill. It will mean that Schedule 1, with whatever amendments are made to it in due course during its passage through Parliament, will bring together a number of activities under a single licensing system, and that surely must be welcome. It will certainly make life easier and lighten the tasks of district and island councils which, on the whole, are the authorities which will be involved in the licensing of these various activities. Any further grouping together of subjects for this general licensing system will help to reduce bureaucracy in general and, as I said earlier, should make it easier for the public to follow what is happening.

I would suggest that it should be an aim for Governments in the future, after this Bill has become law, to try to extend this general licensing system, as they can, to other activities if it proves to be acceptable and, as we hope, better than the previous separate licensing systems. Having given the Government the opportunity to state their position on this, I have no intention of pressing this point. I am glad to hear the Government's views. In this Bill they are carrying out an operation of rationalisation, which I am sure will be welcomed by all concerned in Scotland. I beg leave to withdraw this amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

3.40 p.m.

On Question, Whether Clause 1, as amended, shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Ross of Marnock

Can the Minister tell me what would be the effect of dropping this clause from the Bill? Has it any meaning or substance at all?

The Earl of Mansfield

This Bill, and indeed any Bill, has to set the scene for what it is that the Bill is designed to do. In this particular instance—and I know that at Second Reading my noble friend Lord Selkirk was not over-enthused about it—what the draftsman has tried to do is to set the scene so far as Parts I and II and the first schedule to the Bill are concerned. What Clause 1 of the Bill does is to make provision for the introduction of a licensing system to cover certain activities which will require licensing, and that of course is contained in Part II of the Bill. If one did not have Clause 1 of the Bill it would not set the scene, and therefore nothing could happen in the desirable way in which we hope that it will.

Lord Campbell of Croy

It might help my noble friend if I raised one certain point at this early stage about the activities which, as the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, has pointed out, are dealt with in this short clause. Two of the activities are to be mandatory so far as licensing is concerned, and one of these is public entertainment. I suggest that clarification will be needed at some stage during the Bill, perhaps later in our proceedings, to indicate what "public entertainment" really covers, because there is some anxiety at the moment that it would extend to such functions as village fetes, or highland games, which charge an entrance fee. Normally, these are only one-day events.

I hope that the Minister will consider this point at an early stage. If he can make a statement, perhaps not now but later in our consideration of the Bill, we can then examine whether anything needs to be added to the Bill in order to make it clear that "public entertainment" does not cover the events that I have described.

Lord Ross of Marnock

I think that is a useful contribution. The noble Lord might have added activities in church halls and such areas where they depend on the funds raised for contributions, but of course that is probably much more apt later on. It is my contention that Clause 1 adds nothing at all to the Bill. If it sets the scene, I would ask any noble Lord who happens to have a copy of the Bill to read it. I would challenge him to be able to tell me what scene it is that is being set. If it is so necessary to do this in this Scottish Bill, and indeed to take about four clauses to set the scene, can the noble Earl tell me how in the English Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, which covers exactly the same point, they managed to do this in one clause?

The Earl of Mansfield

I have not got the English Bill in front of me, and if I had I would not attempt to construe it. The Scottish draftsmen, God bless them, take an entirely different view of their duties from the English draftsmen. I, for one, not being skilled in drafting so far as drafts of this kind are concerned —that is to say, public Bills—would not presume to say that they do not know their job.

There are different ways of setting a Bill up so that the various provisions of it come forth in an understandable and harmonious manner. If the noble Lord is saying that it is too long, which I understand that he is, then I suggest that he puts down an amendment for the next stage of the Bill setting out how he would like the Bill to start off in Clause 1. But as it is I cannot, I am afraid, without notice, go into a dissertation on the deficiencies of drafting as alleged in this Bill as opposed to the English Bill.

Lord Ross of Marnock

I do not expect the noble Earl to do that. There must be very few Bills for which we are handed a correction leaflet as we come in. There are corrections to Clauses 6, 17, 34, 41, 51, 90, 131 and Schedule 1. I spent quite a lot of time in respect of, I think, Clause 6 and actually put in an amendment about it, and then discovered that a whole line had been left out. We received the document only yesterday.

I do not think that this Bill adds very much to the credit of whoever did the drafting. Let us remember that they had a draft Bill a year ago, the drafting and structure of which is very different from the one before us, and which to my mind is much more clear than the one we are dealing with at the present time. I just want to draw attention to what I feel has been slipshod. It may be that everything was hurried. It is easier to do The Times crossword puzzle than to work out what some of these clauses mean—especially today, when the puzzle was quite easy.

I do not think that any Minister in the Scottish Office read this Bill before it was printed. I found at least five spelling errors, and in fact I started to put down an amendment in respect of one and then realised that it was an error and a letter had been missed out. Let us not be too happy about this. I hope that somebody will have a look at it, especially if we are going to take up the point that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, made that other provisions could be brought in to generalise the licensing procedures to a greater degree and ensure that the Bill is drafted as well as possible.

I am not going to hold up the Committe in this respect, but it is not good. When I read the start of a Bill, which sets the scene, I want to know what it is about. In the second line of the English Bill we have the words "public entertainment". There would have been an ideal opening for the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, and for myself in view of all the things we want to be concerned about in public entertainment, but we have to go a long way in this Bill before we discover that you are going to license public entertainments. I think that the first mention of anything to be licensed is taxis and hire cars in Clause 10. Setting the scene! Confusing the scene, I call it. Let us do a little better the next time, but at the moment I shall let it go through.

Clause 1, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 2 [Licensing authorities]:

Lord Ross of Marnock moved Amendment No. 3: Page 1, line 11, after ("Act") insert ("with the exception of section 10").

The noble Lord said: Here I seek to change the scene slightly. On page 1, line 9, it says, if anyone can understand it: For the administration of licensing in relation to the activities in connection with which licences are required under Part II of this Act there shall be a licensing authority for each district and islands area". I suggest that after "Act" we insert "with the exception of section 10". Section 10 deals with the taxis and hire cars. I put that in there for the purpose of the next amendment which is to insert that there should be a regional licensing authority to deal with the licensing of taxis and cars, rather than limiting it as it is here to the district and islands area. I beg to move.

Viscount Thurso

We have not been granted a view into the mind of the noble Lord, Lord Ross, as to why he thinks that regions are the only fit local authorities to deal with the question of taxis. No doubt he will wish to make that clear when he comes to later amendments in his name, but at this stage I still believe that districts are perfectly adequate local authorities, as are island councils, to make provision for the licensing of taxis in their areas. Indeed, in many instances they are better authorities to have charge of the licensing of taxis because they are much more closely acquainted with local needs and demands and the different considerations which come before an authority which has to deal with the licensing of taxis. Therefore I cannot follow Lord Ross along his line of reasoning and thus cannot support him in the amendment.

The Earl of Cromartie

I want to join in on this one because I am thinking particularly of the Highland Region, which is a vast area. I do not think the region in that case is suitable for issuing these licences. It is done much better under the districts, for the reasons we have just heard. In the more concentrated regions there might be a case, but for a huge region like the Highland Region such a change is not on and I prefer to see it done by the districts.

Lord Stodart of Leaston

I drew the attention of your Lordships to this subject on Second Reading. It gave rise to an animated discussion when we examined it in our committee on the reform of local government and I think it was the only issue on which the two tiers retreated to their opposite corners and took up extremely vigorous stances. The districts do the licensing at the moment, and that was the starting point. "But", said the regions, "taxis are now virtually part of the public transport system. The police are interested in the licensing of taxis and their stands and we should get greater uniformity of fares if it were done through the regions". The consultative paper mentions the question of the uniformity of fares—a matter which concerned us slightly was what would happen when a taxi went out of its own district and into another—and suggests on page 29: The driver of a taxi who undertakes the hire of his taxi to a destination outwith the area in respect of which his taxi is licensed, where no fare was agreed before the hiring was effected, shall not charge a fare greater than that indicated on his taxi meter". The Bill makes no reference to that—the point exercised my committee—in that the Bill only makes it possible for a district to specify a certain destination outside its area (obviously East Lothian can specify the fare to Turnhouse Airport or Waverley Station), but it is a matter of concern when one considers the large number of taxi journeys that must be made, say, out of Edinburgh into Musselburgh, which is only six miles away and is in the district of East Lothian, and one can think of other examples emanating from other cities.

My noble friend, in reply, mentioned the traffic commissioners and thought they might be of some help, but I think I am right in saying we were told that the traffic commissioners now have nothing to do with the fixing of fares. If so, that is ruled out as a solution. All the same, having, as I say, debated this matter at considerable length, what I think activated the majority of us was that we were most anxious not to have a dual responsibility—one set of licensing done by regions and another set done by districts—and it was that which caused us to come down in favour of the district, and I support the Government in what they propose.

Baroness Elliot of Harwood

I do not speak with great knowledge and experience of this subject because it never came up in the days when I was on my local county council. However, I have with me a letter from the Border Regional Council supporting what the noble Lord has just said. They believe it would be simpler and make for more equal licensing methods, including in relation to charges, if it was the wider area which controlled the licensing rather than the district only. It might be difficult in the Highland area but, on the whole, my feeling is that—bearing in mind that this is a public service and that the public travel widely on these occasions and can easily go outside the districts—it would be better if it were a wider area which was responsible for the licensing. I therefore support the view that the licensing authority for a public service of this kind should be on the widest basis and should be the region rather than the district.

3.58 p.m.

The Earl of Mansfield

I had hoped that the noble Lord, Lord Ross, would give us an insight into his reasons for tabling this series of amendments because as my noble friend Lord Stodart said, these are not easy matters and there are protagonists who are passionately disposed to their particular point of view. There are really two matters here: first, the actual licensing and, secondly, the question of fares. The amendment, as Lord Ross said, would have the effect of transferring responsibility for licensing control of taxis and hire cars from district councils to regional councils. One must first ask what evidence there is, if any, that the district and island councils, which presently control taxis and hire cars, are in some way failing to exercise proper control or are controlling taxis and hire cars in circumstances which are unsatisfactory and would justify the change which the noble Lord proposes by his amendments.

The district and island councils have been carrying out this function since 1975 and, so far as I know, the vast majority of people would say they have been carrying it out perfectly adequately. The Working Party on Civic Government recommended that district and island councils should be the appropriate licensing authority, and I believe there is a lot to be said for maintaining control, as it is now, at as local a level as possible. There is ample opportunity for non-statutory consultation between districts themselves, and this takes place in some cases—for instance, in Strathclyde. Of course difficulties can arise out of cross-boundary journeys, and therefore there is specific provision for liaison between district councils on the fixing of fares for cross-boundary journeys. One has only to look at Clause 15 to see how that is set out.

The question of which tier should be responsible for licensing of taxis and hire cars has been independently reviewed since the working party report. The committee of my noble friend Lord Stodart also inquired into the matter, as he mentioned, and the report of his committee stated that there had been wide support for this being a regional function. The report set out the arguments, but having considered them, and appreciating their significance, it seemed to the committee that it was inappropriate to separate taxi licensing and related matters from other licensing duties, and the committee said that the interests of regions can be met by adequate liaison arrangements at local level. Therefore my noble friend's committee recommended that responsibility for taxis remain with district and island councils.

That is the view with which the Government respectfully concur. We regard the main function of the licensing authority as being to ensure that proper vehicles and suitable people are employed in the taxi trade. We believe that wider issues of transport policy—and here I am taking up the point that my noble friend Lady Elliot of Harwood made—are much less relevant, at least so far as licensing of taxis and hire cars is concerned.

As I have said, in Clause 15 there is provision for cross-boundary journeys as between districts and there is freedom for non-statutory liaison and consultation with regions. The special position of the region as highway authority has been specifically recognised in Clause 18, which requires the consent of the highway authority before a taxi stance can be sited and related site marking carried out on any highway.

Two major committees, or three, if we count the Royal Commission on Local Government, have all looked at this matter in the last few years and have all come to the view that licensing of this nature should be at district level. In addition, I should observe that the Scottish branch of the Taxi Federation also strongly prefers the status quo. It fears that alignment of the function with the regional authorities, which also have public transport responsibilities, could result in a conflict of interest in such matters as approving new licences and fixing taxi fares.

So in the light of very considerable opinion from widely differing viewpoints, all agreeing that the matter should be left as it is, I fear that I do not have very much sympathy for the amendments.

Lord Drumalbyn

Although it is done at present, is it absolutely essential that the same authority should undertake both the licensing and the fixing of the fares?

The Earl of Mansfield

I think that it really goes together. One of the matters that a licensing authority has to consider is the kind of remuneration that the taxi driver, the holder of the licence, should receive, bearing in mind the conditions in which he operates his vehicle. It would lead to bureaucracy and great complication if the role were split.

Lord Ross of Marnock

I think it is true to say that we come to the question of fares later, in a separate clause. The first amendment that I moved was purely a paving amendment for the second one, and I am very glad that everyone understood that what was intended was to give power to the region in respect of this particular licensing. I wanted to hear the arguments. I think it important that, before reaching any decision, your Lordships should know both that there are arguments and what they are. I can appreciate the position about the Highlands, but we must remember that the Acts with which we are here concerned—the Burgh Police Acts—dealt with populous places. They were concerned less with the scattered areas than with the populous areas. Actually there is no obligation on any authority regarding taxi licences at all. Was I right in thinking that the Minister said something to the effect that the authorities already license hire cars? Do they?

The Earl of Mansfield

They can do, as far as I know.

Lord Ross of Marnock

I am not asking for a reply merely as far as the Minister knows. I should like him to find out whether any authority licenses hire cars at present, and whether this is something new, perhaps brought in after the working party suggested that since taxis have to be licensed, hire cars should be licensed, too. Let us get the thing clear.

The argument for the regions relates of course to the most populous areas, the cities. Anyone wishing to go to Glasgow airport from the city of Glasgow will discover that Glasgow airport is not in fact in Glasgow. It is in another district altogether. The situation is even more confusing when one arrives at the airport wishing to go to either Paisley or Glasgow. Taxis are lined up, but the drivers are not too pleased if one wants to go only to Paisley. They are looking forward to undertaking the kind of journey that the noble Lord would probably prefer, into the city. But I only want to go to Paisley. I do not now know what the position is, because I have stopped travelling by air since the fare rose to—what is it? —about £116 return, when as a geriatric I can travel by train for half the price. But the fact remains that there are two groups of taxi cabs, one group licensed in Glasgow and the other licensed in the Paisley area.

I know that there are very considerable objections regarding the obligations involved. A taxi licensed in Glasgow that takes a passenger to Paisley can lift another passenger for the return journey. The same thing happens regarding taxis licensed in the other area. This kind of confusion applies elsewhere. It applies in most of our cities, and that is where there are concentrations of taxis.

The most telling point made by the Minister was that the Taxi Federation itself is satisfied with the position regarding districts. But let no one think that the question is so open and shut. There is a very considerable argument that the licensing should be done in the way that I propose. It will be appreciated that the traffic commissioners come into the matter. If the Taxi Federation is not satisfied with decisions of the licensing authority on fares, the appeal is to the traffic commissioners. That is covered in the Bill in another clause, which we shall deal with later.

I accept that the arguments might well be evenly divided, but let us not forget that there could be very considerable difficulties for the person hiring the taxi. One might arrive in Glasgow wanting to go to Ayr races. One would have to go through three different areas to get there, and there is no fare structure; one has to strike a bargain. The power is there of course, but it is not necessarily laid down. The same is true in regard to the overseas airport, Prestwick. It is in an area different from Glasgow, where the taxi would be registered.

There are considerable difficulties that can lead to confusion over fares for both the passengers and the taxi owners. I would have welcomed consideration of this question from people who have had experience of the situation, rather than those whose experience has been of the wide-open spaces, where perhaps the present arrangement is more justifiable, bearing in mind that in the Highlands the districts are fairly extensive. It is not my intention to press the amendment, but if the Minister wants to say something else I will allow him to do so before I withdraw the amendment.

The Earl of Mansfield

I am much obliged to the noble Lord, who, in his charming way, asked me to obtain a little information about hire cars when he spoke of his habits at Glasgow Airport. I am happy to tell him that some authorities already license hire cars, as I said. They include Glasgow, Monkton and Dundee. So do Renfrew District, actually, whose area includes Glasgow Airport. But I shall be happy to deal with the fares part of this matter when we come to Clause 15.

Lord Ross of Marnock

I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 4 and 5 not moved.]

4.11 p.m.

Lord Ross of Marnock moved Amendment No. 6: Page 2, line 3, leave out subsection (3).

The noble Lord said: This is an amendment to leave out subsection (3). I just want to know why this subsection is here, because here we have the provision, in relation to the authority which itself sets up the licensing authority: a district or islands council shall not be exempt from any requirement to have a licence or any other obligation under this Part or Part II of this Act and a licensing authority shall have power to entertain and dispose of an application by a district or islands council for a licence or in respect of a licence held by them".

I am perfectly sure that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson of Langside, will be up in arms at the thought that a local authority shall be empowered to consider its own licence. Is this right? Is this fair? We should remember what we felt about the parental rights in respect of the Education Bill that we had before us fairly recently; namely, that we must not have the same people deciding in the first instance and then doing the same thing in respect of the appeal. Here we have a local authority sitting on appeal in respect of its own licences and deciding whether it will grant them, change them or do anything else. Perhaps we should have a little more justification for this subsection before we pass it. I beg to move.

The Earl of Mansfield

I think the noble Lord thought he was going to light a fiery cross on the Social Democratic Benches, but it seems to have spluttered out. He lit the blue touchpaper, but nothing has happened. Subsection (3) of Clause 2 is in no way meant to express, or imply even, that there is a need to control local authority activities; and there is a well-established convention that local authorities have to meet the same statutory obligations as the private sector does in some other licensing activities. I can illustrate that by adducing the examples of liquor licensing and in relation to planning. In other words, a local authority has to give itself planning permission in the right instance.

So I think one would have to think quite carefully before exempting a local authority from licensing procedures, which would in fact seem to discriminate in favour of it. That is the explanation of subsection (3). If the noble Lord wants me to go into it in greater detail, of course I can, but perhaps that explanation will suffice.

Lord Ross of Marnock

The noble Earl has not got to satisfy me; he has to satisfy the whole Committee as to what we are talking about. I wanted from him instances of cases where local authorities will have to apply for licences. I think the fairly obvious one is public entertainments in respect of premises—town halls and such places. I expected that he would be able to give me and the world information in respect of all these instances where a local authority has to sit in judgment upon itself. Of course, I really wanted to get the views of the "Shirley/David Play Group" about the justice of this, in view of their past relationship on this kind of thing happening, but nothing has been forthcoming.

Lord Wilson of Langside

My reason for not responding to the invitation of the noble Lord, Lord Ross, to metaphorical fisticuffs is that I have much more consideration for the value of your Lordships' time than I sometimes feel the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, has. To me, the two things are entirely different. I had really forgotten about this earlier event to which the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, has referred. I have been searching my memory, but I have to add a better recollection to my recognition of the many qualities of the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, who, of course, I have known since long before either of us were Members of your Lordships' House or imagined that either of us were ever likely to be Members of your Lordships' House. I understand and listen with fascination to every word he says. I should not like him to think at any stage that if I do not respond to these challenges it is because I am in any sense afraid of them or am concerned with anything except needlessly taking up the time of your Lordships.

The Earl of Mansfield

Far be it from me to tread on the other side of the Chamber. Where I think the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson of Langside, might have come to my aid (as a fellow lawyer, even if in a different jurisdiction) is when the noble Lord, Lord Ross, produced his point about the local authority in effect sitting in judgment on itself—giving itself liquor licences and planning permission in a way which perhaps would not commend itself to the local citizens who might be adversely affected. But there is, of course, the appeal procedure to the sheriff. That, I think, would have been an excellent answer for the noble and learned Lord to produce against his erstwhile friend.

To be serious, I agree to this extent with the noble Lord, Lord Ross. It is in the arena of public entertainment that I imagine the local authorities will wish, as it were, to undertake activities for which licences will be needed, and I have no doubt that they will, as they already do, consider the thing in a proper and judicial manner. Furthermore, as I have said, there is a right of local people to object if they feel that a particular public entertainment activity on local authority premises may have adverse effects on their peace or enjoyment, or even amenity, and that danger cannot be regulated by ordinary planning procedures. So on this basis I hope the noble Lord, Lord Ross, will perhaps see fit to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Ross of Marnock

I shall waste no more words on it. I beg leave to withdraw this amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 2 agreed to.

Clause 3 [Discharge of functions of licensing authorities:]

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Aberdare)

I have to point out that if Amendment No. 7 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 8.

Lord Ross of Marnock moved Amendment No. 7:

Page 2, line 10, leave out from ("authority") to end of line 13 and insert— ("(a) shall hold a meeting in January, March, June and October of each year beginning with a date in each month fixed by the authority at least 8 weeks prior to the meeting; (b) may hold such other meetings as appear to the authority to be appropriate.")

The noble Lord said: I shall be delighted to lose Amendment No. 8. No doubt the Minister of State will be familiar with the words in my amendment, as will every other Scottish Member who has studied this Bill very closely, because they come from the proposals for a code of civic government in Scotland produced by the Government last year. It is suggested that we should include these words in respect of the sittings of the new licensing authorities. The advantage of this is that people applying for a licence will know (as they do with other committees or licensing courts) exactly when their application will be considered.

I think it is better to have these what we may call statutory meetings of the authorities spaced as they are in the amendment and fixed by the authority at least eight weeks prior to the actual day so that everyone will know where they are and even the members of the authority will be able to mark their diaries well in advance in respect of this. I think that it is desirable that you should know well in advance, because, as you read this Bill, you can apply for a charitable collection licence to the licensing authority two years before you want it.

Therefore, since they are very spacious in their ideas of application timings, it is better to get something fixed and that these statutory meetings should be in January, March, June and October. There is power in subsection (b) to hold, such other meetings as appear to the authority to be appropriate". The draftsmanship is impeccable; it came from the Scottish Office at a time when they were not pressed in relation to introducing a Bill and it will be found in the proposals for a code of civic government in Scotland. I beg to move.

Viscount Thurso

While having some sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, in desiring that these authorities should hold regular meetings, I am not sure that I am in agreement with him that it is reasonable to specify the actual months in which these meetings shall take place. It seems to me a little unreasonable to specify January, March, June and October if these particular months do not suit the business or the conditions of the district in which licensing is taking place. I would support the noble Lord if he redrafted the amendment to make it a minimum number of meetings to be held; but it is difficult to support him when the months are so specified.

The Earl of Mansfield

The noble Lord, Lord Ross, as he says, seeks in effect to go back and reinstate the provisions of Clause 3 of the consultation document. Of course, as he will recall, the procedure in Clause 3 was modelled on the provisions of the liquor licensing legislation of 1976, which I think the noble Lord introduced—

Lord Ross of Marnock

No, you are wrong again.

The Earl of Mansfield

—but did not see it end. Perhaps he did not even introduce it. I cannot remember quite when he fell from grace. Be that as it may, we consulted the local authorities on the consultation document and on Clause 3. I am bound to say that the local authorities were virtually unanimous in saying that they found the provisions in Part I of the consultation document much too cumbersome.

They objected to the requirements—pace the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso—for fixed quarterly meetings, either with dates or at all; and they objected to the other timetable requirements about which the noble Lord, Lord Ross, has put down later amendments which we shall come to in due course. They felt that this was an unnecessary institutionalisation of a structure which was perfectly adequately dealt with under present procedures by ordinary meetings of the local authority. This view was not only stongly but widely expressed; and as a result the Government had to reconsider the whole of the proposed Part I of the consultation document. The results are to be seen in the Bill.

Having agreed with the local authorities in what they said, I think the Government were persuaded that the flexible provisions of Part I, as it now is, are in the best interests of the local authorities not only from the point of view of administrative convenience but also from the point of view of the applicants in various trades who, in practice, under the previous provisions, might have had to wait until the next quarterly meeting before an application could be considered. As the Bill is drafted, the provisions enable the local authority to deal with licensing matters in the same way as with other issues which can be of vital consequence to the individual—and planning is an example.

We hope that what we have done is to meet the wishes of the local authority that the new arrangements shall be more flexible than in the White Paper and we believe that—and I respectfully concur with that thought still—while the provisions of the Licensing Act 1976, which the noble Lord, Lord Ross, said he did not introduce, might have been appropriate for dealing with such matters as public entertainment licences, that is far too ponderous a procedure to deal with individual activities such as taxis or car hire operators or street trading licences. If one looks at it from the standpoint of reality, one hopes that these kinds of applications will be dealt with in a brisk fashion within the five- or six-week cycle of local authority committee meetings.

In the face of what would be against the wishes of the convention and, indeed, against the philosophy of this Bill—which is to simplify procedures rather than to ossify ancient licensing procedures from long ago—I hope that the noble Lord, on reflection, will see fit to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Ross of Marnock

The purpose of the amendment was to have the Government explain why they departed from what was laid down in their own proposals under the draft Bill. I am quite satisfied that it may be so. But let the noble Earl appreciate that, where you have the three months, it does not add very much in terms of the expedition of the licence if they have to wait for about three months for it. It might be dealt with even more speedily if we had statutory meetings of the council. Many councils that I know would prefer to have statutory meetings where they know exactly when these things will come up.

The applicants will now be in a position where they will not know; and all that they will know is that it will come up within the next three months. That is not always entirely satisfactory. But it may be, if the noble Earl says so, that this is the way the local authorities want it—and who am I to stand in their way? That is usually something that I leave to the present Government where they think that, if local governments wants something, there must be something wrong with the request. But this time they have seen the light so far as that is concerned. I would propose to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

4.29 p.m.

Lord Ross of Marnock moved Amendment No. 8: Page 2. line 11, leave out ("3") and insert ("2").

The noble Lord said: This is a simple amendment to change three months to two months, so there will be more speedy consideration of the applications as they come forward. I beg to move.

The Earl of Mansfield

I have already mentioned the kind of cycle of local authority committee meetings which are likely to occur in order to hear licensing applications. So in effect I agree with the noble Lord when he says that in the great majority of cases a licensing authority should be able to consider and dispose of an application within three months. One has to bear in mind that what Clause 3 lays down is not a minimum period, nor even a recommended period, but a maximum. I think that a certain latitude, room for manoeuvre, has to be allowed tol ocal authorities.

I have already remarked on the cycle of local authority meetings. There are times of the year when no committee meetings take place; in the summer, for instance. We have to allow for that time of the year. We also have to realise and allow for the possible consultation which is imposed by statutory requirement as between the local authority, the chief constable and the fire authorities. So I do not believe that an unqualified maximum of two months would be sufficient.

If I may give an example: an application might be made at the end of June for a public entertainments licence which might require extensive consultation under the Act with both the chief constable and the fire authorities. Many authorities have few, if any, meetings in the latter half of July and August. It would be unlikely in such an instance that all the comments of the fire and police authorities could be on hand to allow full consideration of all the factors by the licensing authority before it went into its summer recess as it were, in mid-July.

The other drawback—if that is the right word—to the noble Lord's amendment is that, even if we accepted it, even if it was written into the Bill, I doubt whether it would achieve his object of securing faster decision-making than is provided for under Clause 3 as it is presently drafted. If there was a requirement to consider the matter within two months, the reaction of many local authorities in certain instances would be to put the matter formally before a committee within the two months' period and then, again formally, without discussion, to continue the application, to adjourn it, if you like, to a later meeting when the requisite information is available. I doubt whether the noble Lord's intention would be achieved by his amendment.

I appreciate the desire for speed regarding the decisions of local authorities on really mundane matters, particularly as they affect the livelihood of ordinary people. Nevertheless, I think that we have to be realistic and in a statutory period such as is set out we must provide not only for the norm but also for the number of exceptions which may be expected to occur. There is every justification for a three months' period before final consideration.

This desire on the part of the Government for reasonable speediness was the reason why there were imported into the Bill after the specified period of three months the words at the end of subsection (1) at the end of Clause 3: reach a final decision upon it without unreasonable delay". This is an innovation—as indeed both these provisions are—as compared with the consultation document. They go further than the working party recommended. So we have, as it were, made a statutory expression in the subsection concerning the speed of local authorities in dealing with these applications.

I hope therefore that I have convinced the noble Lord that, while there is everything to be said for allowing what I think is a reasonable period—that is to say, three months—for a local authority to get the necessary opinions which it may have to get, and deal with the matter at all times of the year, we have in fact made it a statutory provision of subsection (1) that there should not be unreasonable delay. In those circumstances, I hope that the noble Lord might see fit to withdraw his amendment.

The Earl of Selkirk

On a matter of clarification, the top line on page 2 says: The licensing authority shall he the district". I do not suppose he means that that will be the district council. This will be a committee, I take it, set up for the purpose of licensing by the district council. This would mean the numbers would not be so great and meetings could presumably be arranged at comparatively short notice and would not necessarily depend on the full council meetings taking place, whatever the period may be.

The Earl of Mansfield

; I am obliged to my noble friend. That is perfectly true. Regarding the licensing authority, although it will be a matter for the district council or islands council to decide, in all likelihood it will be a committee of the council. Therefore, it will be able to adopt flexible methods of working as its own particular local circumstances dictate.

Lord Ross of Marnock

It will be the council, in other words. It is up to the council to decide how they exercise their responsibilities and how they administer this function by setting up a committee or otherwise. We cannot give any direct answer to that because the words are "the council" and in the schedule there is no laying down of how many members shall be there, what shall be a quorum, who will be the chairman or anything like that. There is no formalisation of the actual committee or authority that will be set up. I can appreciate what the Minister says. My desire is to get these matters dealt with as quickly as possible. However, he obviously appreciates that we are dealing with the normal and with the abnormal.

Within the ambit of the licensing authority you go from window cleaners, public entertainers, scrap metal merchants and itinerant metal merchants. So it is very difficult to put any figure at all on this which will guarantee speed because some licensing matters may demand very much longer than others. If you must put in anything at all it would be far better to have a reasonable time of two months and then give power to adjourn if something requires longer. If three months is put in then that will determine the way the committee look at it and how long they have before they make a decision. With all due respect, the Minister says we have the expression: reach a final decision upon it without unreasonable delay". Frankly, does that mean anything at all? It is a pious hope. There is no guarantee. There is no way that you are going to be able to get any certainty from that. This is one of the difficulties about putting this in. It certainly shows that the Government and everybody else want to get these matters dealt with without any unreasonable delay but there is no penalty in respect of any hold-up.

I want to get the noble Earl to justify what he is putting in the Bill. Quite frankly, there is not the same justification for this three months and the pious expression of no unreasonable delay as against what was put forward much earlier on. I do not think that it is worth arguing about; we can only hope that this w ill work.

My fear is that we have this idea of this great generalised new licensing authority, but it is not going to be that; it is going to be dozens of different committees. We are not going to get the evenness and speed of treatment which we are all hoping for because of the very nature of the job that we are placing upon them. Indeed, when we come to later clauses we will see that. The Secretary of State is going to be empowered to step in to lay down different classifications and modifications of the licensing rules in respect of different classes of licence that are applied for. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment and I hope the Government are justified in placing their faith upon these words, "without unreasonable delay".

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

On Question, Whether Clause 3 shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Stodart of Leaston

May I ask my noble friend one small question relating to subsection (2) of Clause 3? This deals with the point raised by my noble friend Lord Selkirk. The point I want to raise is that I think there is an amendment to Section 56 of the 1973 local government Act which is down for consideration in connection with a Bill which has just started its progress in another place. May I ask my noble friend whether the reference to the Local Government (Scotland) Act here would take note of the amendment to that if it were carried?

The Earl of Mansfield

Yes, my noble friend is perfectly right. What subsection (2) of Clause 3 allows a council to do, as a licensing authority, is to delegate the decision-taking in a way which commends itself to the council. In other words, they can either sit as a council or they can set up a committee or subcommittees, or they can even delegate the authority to officials in appropriate instances. So there is complete flexibility. Clause 56 is to be amended in the Local Government and Planning (Scotland) Bill and it will therefore amend this subsection in the same way as Section 56 wil be affected.

Clause 3 agreed to.

Clause 4 [Further provisions as to licensing]:

On Question, Whether Clause 4 shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Ross of Marnock

I would hope that we would take Schedule 1 before Clause 4, although that was not the original intention, because I strongly object to passing a schedule that we have not even examined. That is what we should be doing if we took Clause 4 just now. I think we should do far better to look at the schedule and make all the changes there and then say it will take effect, rather than the other way round.

The Earl of Mansfield

There has been an Instruction to the Committee, and under that Instruction we are to examine the first schedule after Clause 3; so suggest that we go on now to Amendment No. 9.

Lord Ross of Marnock

With regard to Amendment No. 9, which I propose to move, we now dash away from the main Bill and go to the schedule, which is on page 82. The first amendment to this very, very long schedule is—

The Earl of Mansfield

I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord: this is entirely through my forgetfulness. The Lord Chairman is perfectly right: we were going to consider Clauses 1 to 4 and then Schedule 1. I apologise to the Committee.

Lord Ross of Marnock

What does the Minister propose we do now?

The Earl of Mansfield

I propose that the Lord Chairman should put the Question, That Clause 4 stand part, to the Committee.

Lord Ross of Marnock

This is the point I was on. I thought it was very unwise of the Committee to pass the schedule—because that is virtually what we do in Clause 4—and then go on to the schedule and seek to amend it. It is as much my fault as anyone else's, because I ought to have raised this when we passed the procedure motion to take Clauses 1 to 4. I should think it would be much more sensible to take Clauses 1 to 3, then do the schedule, and then say that it shall have effect. But I am in the hands of the Lord Chairman as to what is the right thing to do.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord MaybrayKing)

I am advised that we must proceed according to the Instruction, and the Instruction was that Clause 4 should be proceeded with before we came to Schedule I, so I will now put the Question, Whether Clause 4 shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Ross of Marnock

Before we do that, will the Minister tell us what the effect of Clause 4 is?

The Earl of Mansfield

The effect of Clause 4 is to make provision for Schedule I to have effect. Then we go on, as I understand it, to consider the schedule. If I may say so, this is really the normal way of doing things—to consider what I may call the enabling clause and then to consider the schedule which it sets up.

Lord Ross of Marnock

Very well.

Clause 4 agreed to.

Schedule 1 [Licensing—Further provisions as to the general system]:

4.47 p.m.

Lord Ross of Marnock moved Amendment No. 9:

Page 82, line 9, after ("agent;") insert?— ("( ) lodged with the authority not later than 5 weeks before the first day of the meeting of the authority at which the application is to be considered; ")

The noble Lord said: This amendment seeks to ensure that applications to be lodged for the grant or renewal of licences, apart from being made in writing and signed by the applicant, should be lodged with the authority not later than five weeks before the first day of the meeting of the authority at which the application is to be considered. Of course this is to give the authority time in respect of any information it wants to acquire, either from the applicant or from some other source. I beg to move.

The Earl of Mansfield

We had our debate on the flexibility or otherwise of the licensing authority, and I explained that, following the publication of the White Paper, it was the Government's wish to have a more flexible and indeed a simpler procedure. We decided there was no reason why the functions of the authority under this Bill should be any different from the normal committee meetings arranged as and when business requires them.

The noble Lord's amendment really does not make sense now, because even if it were put into the Bill it would be quite impossible to give notice five weeks before the first day of a meeting which would not have been fixed at the time when the matter was lodged; so that cannot happen, and I hope that the noble Lord realises it. But even if it could, it is still not desirable.

Lord Ross of Marnock

It could happen; it depends on how the council or the new authority conduct their business. I have another amendment later which might be helpful to the applicant—and it is the applicant I am considering as well as the council: we should give them some information as to when things are going to be considered. I appreciate the difficulty of time, and instead of "five weeks" we could have said "two weeks" or "three weeks" What I want is to get licences considered by the authority more expeditiously. We want to be as helpful as possible, certainly in respect of the form, so that people know exactly what is required of them. But I am not fussed about this one and so I am prepared to withdraw it. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Ross of Marnock moved Amendment No. 10: Page 82, line 16, leave out ("a") and insert ("an individual").

The noble Lord said: This amendment is put down because my curiosity is aroused. I am sure that your Lordships will be equally concerned, having read that the line I propose to change is: where the applicant is not a natural person". The mind boggles! I suppose that it has some meaning in Scottish law, and I am sure that the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, will rise to the defence of the draftsman. But I warn him that there is a trap here, because we have the phrase elsewhere in this Bill and it is not a question of not being a natural person. What I want to put in is for the purpose of keeping it clear throughout. If you are going to use the correct phrase once, then let us use it right through.

If my amendment, to include before the word "natural" the word "individual", is not accepted, then I shall need to move another amendment later to leave out the word "individual", because the phrase "an individual natural person" is used elsewhere. In my simplicity, I thought that one of them must be right and one of them must be wrong, and that is the reason why I have put down this amendment. So I beg to move to leave out the word "a" and insert "an individual", so that the line will read: where the applicant is not an individual natural person".

The Earl of Mansfield

This is a titillating phrase, and I want to emphasise that I am speaking in legal or drafting terms. By definition, a natural person is an individual human being. There are no other kinds of natural persons. All other persons are of a non-natural kind; for example, companies, local authorities and, to some extent, partnerships. Since there are no kinds of natural persons apart from individual human beings, it is unnecessary to specify that a natural person is also an individual. To do so, indeed, might suggest that there are kinds of natural persons other than individuals. The Licensing (Scotland) Act 1976 speaks of "an individual natural person", but although the licensing system in this Bill is based on the scheme of the 1976 Act, it does not follow it slavishly and the draftsman departed from the 1976 Act style where he saw fit, which was in this paragraph. So I hope that the noble Lord will accept that explanation on behalf of the draftsman.

Lord Ross of Marnock

I am delighted. Of course, the draftsmen have changed their minds since last year, because the phrase "an individual natural person" was in the draft Bill. I should not be at all surprised, as we go through this Bill, if we find that it is also here. It depends on the draftsman's mood as to whether it is "a natural person" or "an individual natural person". I am not going to quarrel, but have I a promise from the Minister of State that if I find the phrase "an individual natural person" later on, he will then remove the word "individual"?

The Earl of Mansfield

I am not normally a betting man but, if the noble Lord turns to Clause 51 (4), I am not sure that he will not hit the jackpot. But be that as it may, the purpose of this is, of course, to distinguish between individuals and corporations. That is the serious part of this. That is why the draftsman has adopted the style that he has.

Lord Ross of Marnock

Yes, but the noble Earl has not answered my question.

The Earl of Mansfield

I think the question was—

Lord Ross of Marnock

I know it is there. I have got it marked in Clause 51 (4). The noble Earl surely does not think that something so obvious as this would escape a teacher's eye. I noticed that the draftsmen used the phrase "a natural person" first, and then, later on, "an individual natural person". We have had the Minister getting up and explaining why they dropped the word "individual". I would rather he did it now. When we come to Clause 51, he will need to explain why they replaced the word "individual". Or has he already promised? Maybe I am a little bit dense on a Thursday afternoon. But later on, when we discuss amendments to Clause 51, are we going to take out the word "individual"?

The Earl of Mansfield

I must not keep the noble Lord in suspense. It is my intention to amend that subsection when we come to it.

Lord Ross of Marnock

I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Ross of Marnock moved Amendments Nos. 11 and 12:

Page 82, line 23, leave out ("and") line 24, leave out from first ("information") to ("as") in line 25.

The noble Lord said: Sub-paragraph (v) of paragraph 1(c) reads: such other information (which may include information in the form of plans) as the authority may reasonably require".

These words are not really necessary and I suggest that we take them out, because the implication is that we may include plans or may not include them. I suggest that this sub-paragraph should read: such other information as the authority may reasonably require", without this specification about plans, which does not mean very much anyway. I beg to move.

The Earl of Mansfield

I am by no means hard and fixed in my approach to this amendment. May I just explain to the Committee that the words which the noble Lord seeks to delete were included for illustrative purposes, and to make it clear that information could be required in a form other than a bald statement of facts or figures. An illustration which comes to mind is the case of a boat hirer. Plans of his boats could be required, so that the fire authorities could make up their minds as to the necessary precautions to be taken. Having said that, I confess that not very much would be lost by removing the words; they did not appear in the consultation document. If, on reflection, the noble Lord wished to press his amendments I would not seek to stop him.

Lord Ross of Marnock

I think it would be sensible to have these words out. The local authority would not be restricted in seeking or getting this information. The words have little relevance to many of the kinds of applications that are going to be received. If a person wants a public entertainment licence for a hall, a licence for a taxi or a licence for something else, he will be told the nature of the information that is required. I do not think that these words add anything. They could confuse somebody, such as someone who was applying for a window cleaner's licence, if he read: which may include information in the form of plans". It is applicable only in particular cases, and the power to require the requisite information is far better stated in the general form, such other information as the authority may reasonably require". So I hope that the Minister will accept the amendments. If he suddenly discovers that we are changing the world too quickly by making these amendments, he has all the other stages, both here and in another place, in which to retract, and he can cane me as much as he likes for having misled him in suggesting that these amendments should go forward.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

5 p.m.

Lord Ross of Marnock moved Amendment No. 13:

Page 82, line 26, at end insert— ("and (vi) the date of the meeting of the licensing authority at which the application is to be considered.").

The noble Lord said: This amendment is designed to give some information to the person who is making an application. If a form is to be filled up it should state the date when the application is likely to be heard. It is a matter of guidance to the applicant. It would also be a matter of guidance to those who have an interest in it from the point of view of making an objection so that they will know exactly how long they have in order to forward their objection to the local authority. It may be that the Minister of State will say that they have not thought about whether the application will have to be made on a particular form, but it will virtually be required to be. The Minister of State may agree with me that that kind of information would be helpful all round. I beg to move.

The Earl of Mansfield

To a very large extent we considered the principle of this amendment when we discussed Amendment No. 11—and more especially when we discussed the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, that there should be fixed quarterly meetings of the licensing authority. Outside that sort of framework—that is, fixed quarterly meetings, or whatever the fixed period might be—it seems to me that this amendment makes relatively little sense.

Bearing in mind that paragraph 1 of the schedule lays down the procedure for an application to a licensing authority, the applicant cannot put in the date of the meeting of the licensing authority at which the application is to be considered unless first it has been decided at the time the application goes in and unless, secondly, the applicant knows the date. I have already said twice now to the Committee that the whole purpose of this part of the Bill is to make the procedures as flexible as possible.

So far as a licensing authority is concerned, the Committee will recollect that in Clause 3 we have the three months' limit. Bearing Clause 3 in mind, I cannot see that there is any useful purpose to be served by requiring a date for consideration of an application to be put on the application, which in effect means that the licensing authority would have to fix its meeting very far ahead indeed in order that this could be done.

There are factors which are outside the control of the licensing authority—consultation with the fire authorities or with the police. And perhaps there may have to be further discussions with the applicant. It would be quite impossible, or certainly very difficult, for the applicant to predict the date of the next meeting at the time he came to complete his application form. Therefore, I should have thought that this is not only unnecessary but undesirable.

In passing and more or less in parenthesis, the noble Lord said that he did not know what form the application form, if I may so call it, would take. May I tell him that we are hoping and, indeed, expecting the convention to encourage authorities to get together and devise a standard form which everybody will conic to expect and understand. But that is something which we must leave to the convention.

Lord Ross of Marnock

I fully appreciate the difficulties which have arisen because of the rejection of what was first thought of by the working party: to have, as of right, statutory meetings. I am concerned about the fact that this application will go not only to the authority. In respect of premises it may go to the people who live next door, or to the people living above them, or to the people sharing the same building. All the information in the application has got to be given to them. I am sure that the one thing they will want to know is how long they have got in order to forward their objections either to the person who is applying or to the authority. If they do not have any idea about the time when the meeting will be held, that may be ruled out to be out of time. Or if they say that they are going to send in an objection and ask that there should be a waiting period until it has been formalised, there may be a considerable hold-up in the consideration of the application for the licence.

This is fraught with difficulties. While I am pleased to hear that there will be a standardised form, it is going to be a peculiar form if it is standardised to suit all the varying kinds of licences that there will be under this Bill, quite apart from the ones which were mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, which they would have liked to include. I appreciate the difficulties, but by leaving the date of the meeting entirely to the local authority the difficulties will be of the Government's own making. However, there is no point in pursuing the matter. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

5.8 p.m.

Lord Ross of Marnock moved Amendment No. 14: Page 82, line 29, after ("and") insert ("where appropriate to").

The noble Lord said: There are quite a few amendments of this kind on the Marshalled List. I do not think there is any need to make it obligatory to send a copy of the application to the fire authority if it does not concern them. If there is an application for a window cleaner's licence, does the fire authority have to know about that? Or do they have to know about an application for many of the other licences which are going to be included: the scrap dealer's licence, the second-hand dealer's licence, the metal dealer's licence. The fire authority do not need to know anything about those. Therefore the appropriate way to deal with the matter is to insert the words, "where appropriate to" before "the fire authority".

If the Minister of State is worried about this, may I ask him to read through the Bill and the schedule. He will find complete justification for it by the use of similar words elsewhere, where it is appreciated that the fire authority may not necessarily have to receive information about an application. If they do not have to receive information, it should not be made obligatory upon somebody to send it to them. This is a very sensible amendment, therefore, and I am perfectly sure that it is one which will be accepted by the Government. I beg to move.

The Earl of Mansfield

I have considerable sympathy with the noble Lord's perfectly laudable desire to reduce paper work, and work of any kind where it is not necessary. The noble Lord has no doubt observed that in the draft of the Bill the only applications automatically forwarded to the fire authority are those in respect of an activity involving premises. I have no doubt that the noble Lord wanted to introduce a somewhat similar limitation on the duty of the licensing authority, providing that they are required to forward licence applications to the fire authority only where they consider it to be appropriate.

The drafting of this sub-paragraph was considered at some length, and, on balance, it was decided that all applications should be forwarded to the fire authority, because there may be cases in which specialised knowledge found only among fire authority staff is needed to judge whether the proposed activity might constitute a fire risk and thus necessitate consideration by the fire authority. Having considered the fat of the noble Lord's amendment put down on the Marshalled List, I am bound to agree with him that, where for instance, the proposed activity relates to a window cleaner's licence, it may seem wholly unreasonable to forward that sort of application to the fire authority.

The trouble with agreeing to the noble Lord's amendment is that it does not really give licensing authorities much help or guidance as to the criteria they should adopt, and in an important matter such as fire prevention it is extremely important that there should be criteria which are clearly laid down and understood by all. I am not at all persuaded that the words "where appropriate to" are in fact appropriate to the difficulty which we are trying to get over. If the noble Lord would in effect leave it with me and agree to withdraw his amendment for now, I will take the whole matter back and re-examine it, to see if it is possible to limit the duties of licensing authorities in this respect, probably, I suspect, by referring to activities, wholly or mainly carried out on the premises forming part of the building". We get on to this form of words in, I believe, Amendment No. 20. I think that this is something we could use as the basis for limiting the duties of the licensing authority in this respect. In effect, I will give the matter further consideration.

Lord Ross of Marnock

I am very glad of that, but, as the noble Earl the Minister of State will appreciate, he has got to give the matter further consideration, because, if he turns his eye to page 87, he will find in paragraph 8(3)(a), in relation to a temporary licence, the words, shall consult the chief constable and the fire authority". In paragraph 8(3)(b), he will find the words, may grant it", and, in paragraph 8(3)(c), shall not grant it if there are any objections from the chief constable or, in a case where the fire authority have been consulted, the fire authority". Paragraph 8(3)c, states, in a case where the fire authority have been consulted", but paragraph 8(3)(a) says that they have got to be consulted. There is a bit of nonsense there somewhere, is there not?

I shall be quite satisfied if the Minister looks at this and finds more appropriate words than those which I seek to put in, and I shall be happy to leave that at this stage. But there has been a lack of checking from page to page in this particular schedule in respect of what is being done and what is being said. The noble Earl will appreciate that this will also arise in the next section. I think I have four or five amendments but this amendment is not yet in the Marshalled List and so it may well be that the Scottish Office has not yet seen it. But the 50 or so amendments which I have put down and delivered this morning will be in print and you shall see them by the time we consider this next Tuesday. However, it is not a case of the Minister having a look at this—he has got to have a look at it if he is going to make sense of paragraph 3 of the schedule. That being so, I am happy to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

I should like to add my voice to that of the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock. I hope not only that this will be looked at but that it will be looked at with sympathy, with the intention of arriving at something like the wording of the amendment. I do not know how many noble Lords are aware of this, but the interference of the rigidities of the fire precautions investigations today may serve a very good purpose in theory, but in practice it perhaps does more harm than good in the way that it is applied, in slowing up actual developments and improvements that ought to take place. I should have thought that the words used by the noble Lord in his amendment were fair enough, and if the amendment is to be looked at again, I hope it will be with a view to strengthening rather than weakening the intentions behind the words in the amendment.

Lord Stodart of Leaston

I believe this is the first time in some 25 years that I have found myself in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock. It is a unique occasion and I am wondering what celebration we might have afterwards. As soon as I saw this amendment I pencilled against it "window cleaners?". My mind really does boggle at the thought of fire stations having their offices filled with files of applications for window cleaners' licences. Therefore, I would add my voice to those of other noble Lords who hope that my noble friend can accept this amendment.

Lord Hughes

I hope that my noble friend is not deterred from well-doing by this belated repentance of the noble Lord, Lord Stodart!

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Ross of Marnock had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 15: Page 82, line 35, after ("owner") insert ("and the occupier").

The noble Lord said: With regard to Amendment No. 15, in this case the applicant has got to send copies of his application, to every occupier and every person appearing from the valuation roll to be the owner of other premises in the building". It may well be that the occupier is already covered but I wanted to make absolutely sure that the occupiers of the premises, who are probably much more in touch with what is happening and much more directly affected by what is happening with an application for a licence, should certainly receive it. If my second-thought suspicions are right, then I will not move the amendment. I take it that that is so, and I will not move this amendment.

[Amendments Nos. 15 and 16 not moved.]

Lord Ross of Marnock moved Amendment No. 17: Page 83, line 16, after ("publication") insert ("timeously").

The noble Lord said: In paragraph 2(5), it states: Public notice of an application shall be given for the purposes of sub-paragraph (4)".

That is what the licensing authority has to do in respect of giving notification to the public about what licences are going to be considered for grant or renewal. I merely wish to insert the word "timeously", (a) because I like the word, and (b) because the Minister of State dearly loved the word when we dealt with the last Bill, and here is a chance to get it in so that we get it into the minds of the draftsmen that wherever possible we should be able to use this fine, fine word. I beg to move.

The Earl of Mansfield

I may be out of order, but I must tell the noble Lord that after our brush over this word in the last Bill I went straight to the Oxford English Dictionary and rejoiced in the fact that we were both right, and I have no doubt that he did too. Nevertheless, attractive as we all find the word to be, I do not think that it would add anything significant in practice. Under Clause 3 of the Bill, as we have already discussed it in Committee, the local authority is under a duty to consider applications within a maximum time which is specified and laid down. The period of objections or representations provided for later in the schedule is determined ultimately by the date of publication of the advertisement rather than the receipt of the application. So I may perhaps refer the noble Lord to paragraph 4(2) of the schedule, where it says: A licensing authority shall not reach a final decision upon an application for the grant or renewal of a licence until at least 7 days after the last date under paragraph 3(2) above for lodging any notice of objections to or representations about the application". So the noble Lord will see that the amendment does not add anything other than a generalised statement of intent so far as the paragraph is concerned. As the noble Lord has, quite rightly, been concerned to cut out surplusage in the Bill wherever it occurs, I hope he will not on this occasion insist on this particular amendment, attractive though the word is.

Lord Ross of Marnock

Since I gave way on the noble Earl's "without unreasonable hesitation or delay" he should surely accept this single and well-intentioned word. But if he has hardened his heart against the word, having looked in the dictionary—I may say that I did not require to look at the dictionary to see what it meant, but then I have a different attitude to words; he, after all, is a lawyer—I will not press it. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

5.22 p.m.

Lord Ross of Marnock moved Amendment No. 18: Page 83, line 25, leave out sub-paragraph (6).

The noble Lord said: I just want information about this one. It is to leave out sub-paragraph (6): The licensing authority shall be entitled to recover from the applicant the cost of giving public notice under sub-paragraph (4)(a) above of his application".

That is to say, if they decided to publish it in newspapers by way of advertisement, then they would be entitled to recover the cost from the applicant. They do not need to but they are entitled to. Bearing in mind that it is a very expensive matter nowadays to publish such an advertisement even in local newspapers, I was wondering whether this was fair. It is really to apprize other people of what is happening so as to allow them to exercise their rights. Why should it be wished upon the applicant? Is it done elsewhere?

I can remember that, when it comes to the question of renewal of a liquor licence, you get whole pages of the local newspaper taken up by the proposals and letting people know what is likely to happen. Are they charged in that way? Is the cost of that passed on to those applying for liquor licences, and, if so, is that the precedent for this? Or is this something new? That is all I want to know. I beg to move.

The Earl of Mansfield

This provision was part of the consultation document and it was not objected to, and that is the reason why it finds itself in the Bill. It is different, of course, as the noble Lord has inferred, from the liquor licensing provisions. I think I am prepared to accept the amendment if the noble Lord wishes to press it. I should say, because I do not want to deceive the noble Lord, that, if one looks at paragraph 16 of the schedule, which relates to fees, the costs of advertising as a whole could be reflected in the fees charged under that paragraph of the schedule. So it would be a matter for the licensing authority to charge such reasonable fees as they in accordance with paragraph 16(2) determine. On that basis, if the noble Lord feels that this would be oppressive or onerous or in any way unfair on applicants, I am prepared to accept the amendment.

Lord Ross of Marnock

I am very glad of that; it may speed up our discussion, because I think my Amendment No. 44 deals with paragraph 16(2). I think it would be worth while leaving it out here. There is no point in being able to cover it twice.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Ross of Marnock moved Amendment No. 19: Page 83, line 28, leave out sub—paragraph (7).

The noble Lord said: I beg to move to leave out sub-paragraph (7). I do this to draw attention to something that is very important and was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy—and mistakenly in respect of what it really meant by the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn—at an earlier stage of our discussion. Here the Secretary of State takes power to, prescribe a class or classes of licences for the purposes of sub-paragraph (4) above, and in that sub-paragraph 'prescribed class' means such a class so prescribed".

What troubles me about this is that here we are giving a power to the Secretary of State, and, if I am reading sub-paragraph (4) right, along with this power to the Secretary of State the licensing authority can ignore it altogether. Is not that the meaning of paragraph 2(4)(b), which states that the licensing authority, may, if they think fit, cause public notice to be given, in accordance with sub-paragraph (5) below, of any application for the grant or renewal of a licence which is made to them hut which does not fall within a prescribed class"?

What happens with the Secretary of State? He takes power to prescribe a class or classes not presently prescribed and it becomes so prescribed. But, despite that, in respect of those that are outside the ambit of his prescription the local authority can apply this requirement of public announcement. Why is that? We have given this power to the Secretary of State to prescribe classes for the purpose of the notifications; virtually, he says, "These are the ones in respect of which notice shall be given"; and yet we give the local authority power to go outside it. It does not quite make sense. I wonder whether the Government do appreciate that.

I think that one of the difficulties about this business of the structure of this Bill is that within the schedule we give quite a number of powers to the Secretary of State that people will know nothing about, because they are in the schedule; people tend to read the Bill rather than the schedule. We tuck away powers to the Secretary of State. Here is one we are tucking in, and it is an important one, because, if he prescribes a class, they have to go through the hoop in respect of the notification, and in respect of that they are going to be charged later on, or could be. Yet the local authority can even step outside that. Despite the fact that the arbiter in respect of the forms of application for licence which have to be so widely publicised, restricts it to what he prescribes, the local authority can step outside that. It is rather strange. I beg to move.

Lord Underhill

When the Minister replies, I wonder whether he could give some indication of his view on the point which I raised on Second Reading? I referred to the fact that there were 1,500 taxi licences in Glasgow and 2,500 taxi-driving licences in Glasgow. Are we to have some guidance as to whether that will be covered by sub-paragraph (7) or could the local licensing authority find itself advertising not only 4,000 applications but 4,000 renewals of applications?

The Earl of Mansfield

I wondered when the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, was going to rise to his feet. The noble Lord, Lord Ross, did not move Amendment No. 16. I am not blaming him for that but it would have led us gradually into this part of the schedule. What sub-paragraph (4) says, in effect, is that where you have a prescribed class of applicant the licensing authority shall cause public notice to be given of every application; where you have an application which does not fall within a prescribed class, then the licensing authority may, if they think fit, cause public notice to be given. Then we go on to sub-paragraph (7) where it says in effect that the Secretary of State in his discretion is the authority who prescribes a class or classes of licences for the purposes of sub-paragraph (4) which I have just gone through.

If the noble Lord had moved Amendment No. 16, which he did not, I would have told him that he was making what we consider to be a good and flexible system into a totally unnecessary and rigid one, because what he attempted to do in Amendment No. 16 was to prescribe that all applications—including all those of the thousands of taxi-drivers referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Underhill—should be publicised as well. However, we thought that that was wrong and I would have said so.

Therefore, what we have done is to lay down, in effect, that there should be power to make advertisement compulsory where applications are received in respect of what I might call certain types of bad neighbour applications—that is to say certain, types of public entertainments licence or possibly late hour catering establishments' licences. And subject to the views of the convention, which we shall be taking into account, the Secretary of State will prescribe compulsory advertisement for these types of activity under sub-paragraph (7). So the point of the whole paragraph is to provide, as I have said, useful flexibility and it is really the best guarantee, I think, that there will be publication of applications in cases where, in the public interest, it is desirable that they should be made.

I come back to the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, and his taxi—drivers. I personally do not contemplate that they would come under that type of activity of which I provided examples a few moments ago. I should have thought that the Secretary of State would be unlikely to make applications by taxi-drivers the subject of a prescribed class order, as it were, under sub-paragraph (7). However, reverting to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Ross, I hope he will see that this is, in fact, a desirable way of going about the publication of certain types of licences and if so he might see fit to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Ross of Marnock

The noble Earl will appreciate from what he has said that it is the intention of the Secretary of State not to include taxis or taxi-drivers—

The Earl of Mansfield

I have not said that.

Lord Ross of Marnock

No, the noble Earl rather thought not to include them within a prescribed class. Am I wrong in assuming that?

The Earl of Mansfield

Perhaps I can interrupt. I said that we would want to consult the convention, and that is absolutely right, and they may very well have ideas of their own. But I did give examples of the sort of activities which the Government feel, as of this moment, are right for advertisement, because it could have certain undesirable consequences upon people occupying premises near or adjacent to where the activity which is to be the subject of the licence is taking place. That is not to say that the convention, for all I know, may come down one way or another so far as taxi-drivers are concerned. But, speaking for myself, I should have thought that they would not fall into that class.

Lord Ross of Marnock

Let us suppose that, according to the Secretary of State, they did not fall into that class. By subsection (2) they could still be put into that class—

The Earl of Mansfield

It is paragraph (b)?

Lord Ross of Marnock

Yes, (b)—by the licensing authority. It is rather questionable as to whether it is worthwhile for the Secretary of State himself to take over this power of prescribing. He might as well leave it with the local authority if he is going to leave them with the ultimate power of going beyond the list that is put down by the Secretary of State.

I deliberately did not move Amendment No. 16 so that we could have this argument much more succinctly, I had hoped, in conjunction with considering the powers of the Secretary of State. I do not think that the situation is entirely satisfactory but I hope that the flexibility that we hoped for will not lead to a certain measure of annoyance as different licensing authorities adopt different procedures. It is quite open to them to do so. It may be that a licensing authority will consider that something not on the prescribed list should be advertised.

I am going to move amendments later in respect of many other matters that I consider come under the heading "bad neighbours". There is a type of shop in respect of which I see protests being made in Paisley, Glasgow and elsewhere, and I may try to persuade your Lordships that the power should be given for them to be licensed and for the licensing authority to make the decision about them. It may well be that the Secretary of State will not put them on the prescribed list, but that many local authorities would love to have not only the power to license them but to make fairly widespread the information that these people have applied for a licence. Let us take as an example a sex shop in the middle of a Borders town. Do your Lordships not think that it would be a good thing for the local authority to have the power to say "No"? They do not have that power at present. All these possibilities are opened up by the Bill.

I am going to give the House an opportunity to discuss these things and it may well be that we shall find a solution to matters which are creating problems in England. If the Secretary of State does not put these kinds of things into a prescribed list, I am glad that the local authority will have the power to ignore the list of the Secretary of State and not to consider that it ties them down. I am glad that they can go beyond the list. It may well be—and I am just warning the Government—that with this power we may get a different approach to different problems in different licensing authorities. So long as the Government know that and are prepared to accept that and say, "Well this is local choice", then I am prepared to support them.

Therefore, on the understanding that now we know the meaning—and even the taxi-drivers, although they are not in the list, are not necessarily safe because the power is given to each individual licensing authority to act as it sees fit in respect of requiring public notice to be given and then charging the people, one way or another, for that—I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

5.40 p.m.

Lord Ross of Marnock moved Amendment No. 20: Page 83, line 39, after ("and") insert (",where premises are involved,").

The noble Lord said: Once again, this raises the question of information to the fire authority. Can I take it that what the Minister said on the previous amendment applies in this case?—namely, that he is looking at this and will look at all the other amendments with regard to seeing what are the right words to include. If that is so, then I beg leave to withdraw this particular amendment.

The Earl of Mansfield

This is a rather different matter from the previous occasion when I said that I would take it back and look at the drafting. Whether the noble Lord wants it or not, the effect of his amendment would be to return to the position in this clause as drafted in the consultative White Paper. As I said before, of course, I am sympathetic to the desire to reduce paperwork and, as I said, I am prepared to consider the possibility of limiting the duty of licensing authorities as regards notification about licence applications.

However, even if we amend to provide for some such limitation as regards notification, we must still safeguard the right of the fire authorities to object in all cases when a licensing authority consults a fire authority informally in, for instance, a case where the interest of the fire authority might seem peripheral but turns out to be considerable. I can give the noble Lord the example—and I am not being facetious—of the case of a mobile "fish-and-chipper", which are very common, certainly in my part of Scotland, and I rather imagine in the noble Lord's too.

Lord Ross of Marnock


The Earl of Mansfield

The suburbs where I live are perhaps not so desirable as the noble Lord's area.

Lord Ross of Marnock

Scone Palace is very different from the part of Ayr where I live.

The Earl of Mansfield

We have mobile fish-and chippers, and a horrible noise they make with their chimes. But I am concerned about the highly combustible equipment that they use in order to prepare the fish and chips. If this was not written into the schedule, the fire authority might not be in the position to give the advice which it should when the mobile trader's licence is being applied for. That is my point. Therefore, I maintain that it is desirable for the fire authority to be empowered to object and to be publicly heard in a case which might involve risk to the public as well as to the operator of the mobile fish-and-chipper.

I know that these cases are probably rare, but IL think that there must be a failsafe. I think that there must be an unqualified right for fire authorities to object to licence applications, and that this right should be retained. That is why I wanted to tell the noble Lord that what lies behind this amendment is very different from what lay behind his last amendment, when I undertook to consider the wording.

Lord Ross of Marnock

Far be it from me to do anything that might endanger Scone Palace and the right of those living therein to object—because this is what we are dealing with—to this kind of licence for the mobile chipper. I shall certainly have another look at this between now and the next stage of the Bill. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Ross of Marnock had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 21: Page 83, line 43, leave out from ("activity") to ("premises") and insert ("consisting of or including the use of").

The noble Lord said: I do not think that I shall move this amendment. I was so horrified at the spelling of the word "carried" that I hurriedly wrote down some words that do not entirely make sense. That being so, I do not propose to move this amendment.

[Amendment No. 21 not moved.]

Lord Ross of Marnock moved Amendment No. 22: Page 84, line 11, at beginning insert ("(i)").

The noble Lord said: We can take Amendments Nos. 22 and 23 together. This is an effort to try to break up into two the indigestible dollop of prose in order to make it easier to read. Having done so, I then discovered that it had already been done in two parts in the draft Bill. Once again, victory is in sight; I can see the gleam in the Minister's eye. I beg to move.

The Earl of Mansfield

The noble Lord is perfectly right to try to achieve what he seeks to achieve. The trouble is that he is not going about it in a manner which harmonises with the drafting convention, which avoids the use of lower case letters followed by small Roman numerals. The difficulty is that the noble Lord's Roman"(i)"and Roman "(ii)" would relate, in fact, to "(c)"if he used them in that way, and "(c)" is on its own and the subsection then runs on. However, having said that, I am quite at one with him that it needs redrafting. As regards both these amendments, I would ask him to withdraw them and I shall ensure that the sub-paragraph is redrafted in, I hope, a much better way.

Lord Ross of Marnock

So long as I have the solemn promise of the noble Earl—after all, I helped Scone Palace in the last amendment so he should help me in my efforts to study the Bill and know exactly what it is all about—that he will do this, then I gladly withdraw this particular amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 23 not moved.]

Lord Ross of Marnock moved Amendment No. 24: Page 84, line 28, leave out from ("at") to ("the") in line 31.

The noble Lord said: This is an effort by me to shorten the Bill without any tremendous power to the Secretary of State or clarity of information to the people involved. Therefore, it will read thus: (c) by leaving a copy of the said notice for him at the address specified as his address in his application". That would leave out a full line and a half. In fact, in the way it is printed it amounts to more than that—to some quite unnecessary prose. I beg to move.

The Earl of Mansfield

Again, I sympathise with the noble Lord in what he is trying to achieve and, again, I shall undertake to take this away. I say that immediately. It is only right that the explanation which the draftsman has given to me should at least be put before the Committee. It was thought that the expression "proper address", which the noble Lord seeks to omit, is a convenient label, although it does not have any other legal significance. When used both in line 26 of sub-paragraph (3)(b) and in line 28, it is a device for avoiding repetition in each of those lines of the rather lengthy meaning given to the expression in lines 30 and 32; that is, the address specified as the applicant's address in his application.

Any other suitable adjective could have been used as "specified" or "chosen", but "proper" is the one normally used in this context. An example is Section 234(3) of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973, where the frequently occurring "proper officer" is stated to mean "in relation to any particular purpose the officer appointed for that purpose by the local authority". Having said all that, I shall take it away and see whether we can achieve something which will be more satisfactory so far as the noble Lord, Lord Ross, is concerned.

Lord Ross of Marnock

That being so, I am happy to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Ross of Marnock: moved Amendment No. 25: Page 84, line 42, leave out sub-paragraph (5).

The noble Lord said: I shall try to deal with this fairly quickly. Paragraph (5) deals with frivolous or vexatious objections to applications. There are two points within paragraph (5). One is that they are so, and have been made, and the other is the question of whether an agent makes an objection which he has no authority to make. It would have been far better to separate them.

What worried me more than slightly was that the licensing authority is given power here virtually to fine the persons involved and then to leave it to the sheriff court to collect the money. This is something the sheriff has nothing to do with at all. This is a decision by the licensing authority, and then it hands over the collection of the monies involved to the sheriff court. I was wondering whether it was wise to bring the sheriff into this when he has nothing to do with the decisions about whether it is vexatious, or whether someone has been misrepresenting someone or other in objecting to some application, and wondering whether this was the best way to deal with it.

If it was so obviously vexatious and frivolous I should have thought that no expense would have been involved. The thing just would not be heard. The support that the Secretary of State has, by the way, in respect of frivolous objections is that he can just dismiss them out of hand. I think I am right in that, and that probably applies to something just as important as this, if not more important. I just wanted to hear the thinking of the Government in this respect. I beg to move.

The Earl of Mansfield

This sub-paragraph has an eminently respectable provenance because it follows the line of the provisions in the Licensing (Scotland) Act 1976, and more especially Section 16(6). It is in no sense a power of administering a fine to be exercised by the licensing authority. What it does is to enable the licensing authority to charge frivolous, vexatious or unauthorised objections for the time and expenses incurred by the authority in disposing of the objections. It enables the authority to recover the cost by bringing a civil action in the sheriff court.

I should have thought that it is both useful and well precedented. I do not know whether the noble Lord thinks that there never will be frivolous or vexatious objections, or whether if there are the frivolous and vexatious objectors should not be made, if I may use the expression, to pay for their fun; or whether he thinks that the licensing authorities are going to be onerous in the way in which they mulct the frivolous and vexatious objectors in respect of the costs. In any of those three instances I should have thought that one could leave it to the good sense of local authorities and trust them to be reasonable about this. If the noble Lord really thinks there is room here for unfairness, for injustice, because I appreciate that there is no right of appeal—and I say that bearing in mind that we are talking in de minimis terms; there are not going to be many cases; the amount of costs that would be occasioned by frivolous objections is going to be very small—I shall take it back and have a look at it.

Lord Ross of Marnock

I think that the noble Earl should take it back and look at it. If this behaviour is all that important, it should be made an offence. Then it should be a matter for the courts, and let them deal with it rather than let it be dealt with by a licensing authority virtually having the power to fine them. To do that and then pass it to the sheriff court for them to collect the expenses is just a bit much. I am grateful that the Minister is prepared to have another look at this.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Ross of Marnock had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 26:

Page 85, line 30, at end insert— ("(i) take into account any objections or representations made in accordance with paragraph 3 above; (ii) make such reasonable inquiries as they think fit.").

The noble Lord said: In the interests of speed I shall not move this amendment.

[Amendment No. 26 not moved.]

[Amendment No. 27 not moved.]

Lord Denham

I think this is probably a good time, unless the noble Lord would find it more convenient to do a couple more—

Lord Ross of Marnock

I am prepared to withdraw the next two, if that is all that is wanted.

Lord Denham

That would be very helpful.

Lord Ross of Marnock

It would bring me to a particular point that would suit me.

[Amendments Nos. 28 and 29 not moved.]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment (Lord Bellwin)

I beg to move that the House be now resumed.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.