HL Deb 11 March 1982 vol 428 cc310-9

3.30 p.m.

Lord Belstead

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.—(Lord Belstead.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The LORD ABERDARE in the Chair.]

Clause 1 [Licensing of public entertainments]:

Baroness Birk moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 1, line 7, leave out subsections (1) and (2) and insert—

("(1) A district council may resolve that Schedule 1 to this Act shall apply to their area and, if a district council so resolve, that Schedule shall come into force in their area on such a day as may be specified in the resolution which must not be before the expiration of a period of 28 days beginning with the day on which the resolution is passed and in any event not earlier than 1st January 1983.

(2) A district council shall publish notice that they have passed a resolution under this section in two consecutive weeks in a local newspaper circulating in their area, and first publication shall not be later than 28 days before the day specified in the resolution for the coming into force of the provisions".).

The noble Baroness said: When we discussed the Bill on Second Reading there was, I think, a feeling among many noble Peers that the provision which gives the powers for licensing entertainment, music and so on entirely to the district councils—in fact, makes it mandatory—was going somewhat too far. It seems to me that there are three possible courses here. First, as the Bill proposes, there could be a mandatory provision that the powers should all go to the district councils. Secondly, there could be a mandatory provision (which I think is proposed in the amendment to be moved later by the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman) that the powers should go to the licensing magistrates. The third course, the one which I suggest, is a more moderate, middle-of-the-road procedure where there would be adoptive powers for the district councils. The councils could then decide whether or not they want to take over the powers.

We believe that the powers ought to be adoptive because that would mean that district councils, instead of having the function forced upon them, would be able to assume it of their own free will. As I mentioned on Second Reading, in Oldham, for instance, the council is very concerned that it would be landed with having to deal with about 200 establishments under these powers. That would mean much extra work and extra expense for the authority, work which at the moment is being carried by the bench of magistrates.

The fundamental point is that at the moment the system appears to be working fairly well, and on Second Reading I suggested that it should be left exactly as it is. In his reply the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, said he would look at the point to see whether anything could be done about it, though he did not commit himself either way. It seems to us that the amendment would meet the objections of both sides and would at least give to the local authorities some degree of choice, which is taken away as the Bill is at present drafted.

I quite see the point of view that the function should rest entirely with the magistrates. Incidentally, that view is not taken by the Magistrates' Association, o which I am a member, and which is not taking a stance in the matter; it is taken by the Justices' Clerks' Society. From speaking to the clerks in my own division of Highgate, in the Greater London area, I understand their view is that we would not want to take over this particular function; we merely grant licences for liquor, and the local authority deals with licensing of entertainment, music, dancing and so on. So different views are held not only by local councils but by magistrates, too.

An advantage of our amendment is that, first, it would give discretion to the local authorities, instead of taking it from them. It would enable those authorities which already have the powers through instigating their own private Acts to be able to retain them. It would also mean that there would be no mandatory "crush" on local authorities from central Government, saying, "You must do this or that", even if they do not want to do it.

There is one feature of our amendment which I think the Government should bear in mind very strongly at present, when there is such a squeeze not only nationally but in particular on local authorities. To foist on local authorities a function which many of them will not want to undertake, and which would involve them in extra expense, which they could ill afford, seems to be the wrong way to go about the matter; and this is certainly the wrong time to do it. By proceeding in the way we suggest, each authority would be able to make up its own mind. If an authority wished to take over the function, it would be able to do so, but if it wanted to leave it with the magistrates, it would still be able to do so. But to leave local authorities without any room for manoeuvre and without any choice in the matter seems to be absolutely wrong.

Whatever view people take on this issue—whether they feel that the magistrates should have the power, or it should rest with the local authorities—I think they would find it difficult to accept a situation where the local authorities are forced to take on the function even where they do not wish to do so. I beg to move.

Lord Evans of Claughton

I should like to say, briefly, that we very warmly support the amendment moved by the noble Baroness. As I said on Second Reading, local authorities are perfectly able to make decisions themselves about these matters. Nearly all the other clauses in the Bill are adoptive; this is one of the very few that are mandatory. As the noble Baroness has said, the question of whether the local licensing magistrates or the local authority should undertake licensing is a fairly open one. There are parts of the country where this kind of work is habitually done by the licensing magistrates; there are other parts where it would be a virtually unheard of procedure and extra staff would have to be taken on. But the basic point is that the provisions of the clause should be adoptive, not mandatory. If one believes in local authorities making their own decision about matters which concern them, then the amendment should be readily accepted by the Committee.

Lord Belstead

I certainly understand the case which has been put very clearly by the noble Baroness, Lady Birk. Like her, I should not wish to do anything that would detract from the vital importance of the work which magistrates do in the United Kingdom. It is vital and very important work. However, in Clause 1 of the Bill there is a point which I am sure the majority of the magistracy have appreciated. Indeed, as the noble Baroness very fairly said, the Magistrates' Association did not raise any objection to the proposal when it was put to them before the Bill was brought to Parliament.

The difficulty is this. At the moment we have in this country a patchwork system of controls over public entertainments. In some areas there are no controls at all; in others they may be exercised by the licensing justices, basically as an adjunct to liquor licensing, or they are exercised by district councils. The purpose of the controls which would be introduced by Schedule 1 (which goes with Clause 1) is threefold. It is to prevent disorder, it is to control noise and it is to impose satisfactory fire and other safety standards.

It is that last one that I would particularly put to the Committee. If your Lordships care to look for just a moment at paragraph 4(2) of Schedule 1, the Committee will notice that there is a requirement there that the licensing authority shall consult the chief officer of police and the fire authority before granting an application. When I say to your Lordships that in 1980, which is the last year for which I have any statistics, nearly 100,000 fires in occupied buildings occurred in this country, with enormous loss financially, your Lordships will realise that the fire and other safety standards of licensing are very important aspects of it.

Indeed, I say this. Were the first two considerations the only or the main ones—that is to say, the considerations of preventing disorder or controlling noise—the Government would be quite happy to leave it to individual councils to decide, in the light of local circumstances, whether controls over public entertainments were necessary. But where the safety of the public attending entertainment is at risk, we really cannot take such a neutral stance. I say that at a time when people are more mobile and more liable to gather, I think it is fair to say, in very large numbers for public entertainments in a way which many years ago they simply were not able to do. People's lives may be at risk from fire, and they really are entitled to know that proper measures are being taken for their protection. The only way we can ensure that such measures will be taken is to insist on a mandatory national system of control.

The noble Baroness, if I may just add this, made some play with the cost and the burden which would fall on the district council if the district council does not already have this system. But entertainment licensing in Clause 1 and Schedule 1 is intended to be broadly self-financing, and councils will be able to charge realistic fees to offset their additional costs. That is the effect of paragraph 5 of Schedule 1. Indeed, the noble Baroness asked why we do not leave alone the situation where magistrates are, in the noble Baroness's words, carrying the licensing function absolutely naturally. Really, if it is as simple as that, may I put it to the noble Baroness that I do not think the burden that would be shifted to the district councils will be as onerous as all that.

Baroness Birk

I wonder whether the noble Lord would give way on that. The point about the magistrates at the moment is that the magistrates are sitting every day. Applications for occasional licences are coming up before them all the time, so it is in the natural round of their duty. It just means that you have an extra case or application on your list This is the point about that. But I had moved (I hope the Minister realises this) from that position, that being one that was not acceptable to the Government, leaving well alone. The Government never do, as we know, ever leave well alone: so I have now moved to a different position, which I thought might be more acceptable.

Lord Belstead

The noble Baroness is very agile, and I shall obviously have to be swift in this Committee to follow her; but if I may put it to the noble Baroness, there is a little more to this than just taking an occasional licence application which comes up on the morning that the magistrates are sitting. The whole kernel and pith of the argument that I am trying to put across is that in modern times it really is important for the protection of the public, not only on disorder grounds and on the control of noise grounds, but also on protection from fire grounds, that proper study should be given to the giving of both yearly licences and occasional licences.

When one gets into this particular country I think it is desirable that a local authority—and the Government decided that they would go for the district councils as being really nearest to the local situation—should exercise these functions and should, during the exercise of the functions, consult both the chief constable of police and also, of course, with the local fire brigade. It is on those grounds that we feel it is necessary to give the function to the local authorities, and to make this one mandatory. If we do that, if Parliament agrees, it will mean that the patchwork of rules and regulations about public entertainments around the country will be brought into some sort of sensible uniformity, not done for its own sake but for the protection of the public.

Earl Fortescue

I speak only as an individual magistrate in this matter, and I do not feel very strongly on it. Licensing justices, before they would grant a licence to premises for singing, music and dancing, would never do so unless they had obtained a certificate from the chief fire officer. It is as easy for a licensing justice to obtain that certificate as it would be for the district council. On the question of cost, because the premises are probably going to be licensed anyhow it is clearly going to be cheaper for the licensing justices to continue to do the job. As I say, I do not feel particularly strongly about it. The only real advantage that I see in the Bill in its present form is that it would provide uniformity throughout the country.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

I think that when we are looking at this amendment we are looking at something much more fundamental than the one aspect that we have just spoken about. I think it was Lord Belstead who, on Second Reading, praised the major role that local authorities played in shaping this Bill. Those remarks were contained in column 461 of the report of the Second Reading debate. I think he explained quite clearly what the reasons were for this Bill, and he cited the criteria. The criteria were that the provisions should be well precedented in recent local legislation, and should be necessary and uncontroversial.

Under previous Acts local authorities had to bring forward their local legislation and make it much more homogeneous, and therefore Private Bills started to come forward from all the large local authorities. Many Members of your Lordships' House have sat on Private Bills upstairs, where provisions that we are talking about today were considered. In exceptional cases the results of those Committees sitting upstairs were brought on the to Floor of your Lordships' House; and in one case, on the West Midlands County Council's Bill, a vote had to be taken, even, upon the measures that they wished.

What worries me continually is that Private Bills coming from local authorities and containing good legislation are being completely disregarded by the first clause of the Bill before us. What concerns me is that, as noble Lords said on Second Reading, to promote a Private Bill costs time—parliamentary time as well as local government time—and it costs a great deal of money for the local ratepayers and the local councils. They bring their recommendations forward, the Government accept them and they are placed upon the statute book. Yet in many instances they have been on the statute book only 18 months, and for the very longest two years, before we come forward with a miscellaneous provisions Bill which takes away those powers from the local authorities that have only just had their legislation placed on the statute book.

So we get ourselves into the position where—and again I quote the noble Lord, Lord Belstead: If individual local authorities want powers which are novel or necessary for their particular area, they need to come individually to Parliament to ask for those powers". [Official Report, 16/2/82, col. 461.] What I am trying to say is that local government brought their Private Bills, which were accepted by the committees, accepted by Government and placed on the statute book, and they are now, under the first clause of this Bill, losing the powers that have already been granted to them. Kent will lose some powers and, according to my research, Cheshire is given powers that it never asked for and there will be changes in the West Midlands Bill. What does a local authority do then to get those powers back? The noble Lord, Lord Belstead, says, "Bring your Private Bills". What a farcical situation! The local authorities have brought them, they have been taken away by this Bill and they are told to bring them back again if they want those special powers.

I would say to the Committee that we must have regard to local government in these measures. I appreciate what my noble friend Lady Birk has said regarding the justices and I would like to point out that there are difficulties that arise with licensing, especially the possibilities of disorder that arise from individual cases of drunkenness and serious offences that arise when crowd control becomes extremely difficult, especially in the cases where the entertainment has been on a particular premises for one occasion.

I am glad that the noble Lord opposite spelt out clearly that magistrates and the local councillors are all what we would call responsible people. Obviously, they will consider the fire and safety regulations and the police objections, if any. Sitting as a magistrate, I can say that, in every application that comes before the magistrates, the magistrates ask, "Are there any police objections?" and the police are in the court and they stand up if they have objections. They then ask, "And are there any objections from the fire service or any other statutory bodies?" The people with the objections are there in front of the court. It is to introduce a red herring to suggest that this is being done on the grounds of safety. The responsibilities of both bodies are carried out by very understanding persons.

I ought to emphasise the point which the noble Lord, Lord Evans, made when repeating what he said on Second Reading: that it is important that local authorities should be given some control over their local legislation because it is local. Therefore, making this part of the Bill manadatory offends, in my view, the general principle of local choice. I want to make it clear that on this side of the Committee we are not against the principles that are contained in the first Part of the Bill. I hope that what I have explained up to the present emphasises that, if local authorities have already got these powers under their local Acts (and I have read through several of them; and all the local Acts on the statute book so far regarding this have quite definite regulations regarding fire and safety), then why should they not be able to hold on to them?

What I would suggest in conclusion is that before the end of the discussion perhaps we could have the reply which was promised by the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, when, in winding up the Second Reading debate, he said: The question of the repeal of existing local Acts is more difficult and the Government are very alive to the feelings of local authorities who stand to lose current powers if no amendment can be made to this Bill. Therefore, although I cannot give an undertaking, I want to say that the Government are doing all they can to try and find a solution to the problem".—[Official Report, 16/2/82; col.500.] All I am saying this afternoon is that, if local government is to remain local, then serious consideration must be given to our amendment unless we can get a reply which satisfies us following what the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, said on Second Reading.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

I should like to endorse the point that my noble friend made about local authorities which already have in existence powers similar to those which they would be obliged to undertake after the passage of this Bill. On the other hand, I take Lord Belstead's desire for universality of endorsement, particularly in relation to fire regulations, which is important. From that point of view, I am with the Government's ambitions in this respect, but I think that, if some assurance could be given to my noble friend on the point about those authorities which have already got the powers, this would be satisfactory from my own point of view and perhaps, too, from that of my noble friend.

3.56 p.m.

Lord Belstead

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, for recognising the desirability of universality as far as public safety is concerned in the licensing of public entertainments. The difficulty is (and perhaps I may reply here to my noble friend Lord Fortescue) that if on public safety grounds one goes for a uniform system, as do Clause 1 and Schedule 1, then, as the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, in her speech made clear, there are many magistrates' benches which would not want to have these licensing powers. In deciding who should have the licensing powers, it really seemed impossible for the Government to go for the magistrates' courts when many benches had made clear that they took that particular view. On the grounds of good administration and common sense, the Government felt that the district councils were the people to ask to take on the licensing powers.

I would say to the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher, that I was puzzled in her speech because I do not think I know of any powers which are going to be lost when Clause 1 and Schedule 1 come into force, except the power (for a very few local authorities) to license pop festivals—and that is something that we shall come to later in the afternoon. The noble Baroness complained that Private Bills are being disregarded. Not so far as Clause 1 and Schedule 1 are concerned. But, leaving that aside, the whole point of this Bill was that local authorities, knowing that, under local government legislation of the early 1970s, they were going to see their Private Bill powers fall within the next two or three years, came to the previous Government, who passed the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act in 1976, and came to the present Government and worked out this second Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, which, if it goes through will be a 1982 Act.

At Second Reading, the president of the Association of County Councils and other noble Lords got up and said that they hoped there would be another Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill before the next three years are out and the rest of the Private Bill powers of local authorities fall. It is a little hard to chide the Government with bringing in a Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill when this is the one thing that local government has been asking for in order to give powers which will relieve them of the necessity of having to bring forward local Bills and will relieve Parliament of the necessity of keeping on having to take local Bills.

The whole reason for Clause 1 and Schedule 1 is that, on the main point of public safety grounds, we have felt that this should be one of the few mandatory provisions in the Bill and that the sensible thing to do is to ask the district councils to undertake the licensing functions.

4 p.m.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

As to Schedule 7 and the repeal of these Bills—I am looking at Merseyside, West Midlands, Cheshire and West Yorkshire—are not the powers which they have under those recently enacted Acts of Parliament repealed under Clause 1? Have I misunderstood the Bill so much that I have misread that completely? Perhaps the noble Lord will tell me that I am wrong, but I concluded that under the first Part of the Bill those parts of the Bill that are before us in Schedule 7 would be repealed. Am I wrong?

Lord Belstead

The noble Baroness is not wrong, but it is not changing the course of the local authorities in this matter. The noble Baroness has quite rightly drawn my attention to the repeals—and I apologise to her and to the Committee for not making it clear that I was taking this into account. Schedule 7 is doing exactly the same job as Schedule 1, except with regard to pop festivals. It is perfectly true that under Schedule 1 the Isle of Wight will have removed from it a power regulating pop festivals. A few other local authorities will have some rather more peripheral powers with regard to pop festivals. They comprise a special subject which we shall be debating later.

Baroness Birk

I see that the Minister is pretty agile, too. When I cited my first example from my own court that our clerks and magistrates did not want to take on these functions, this was a case of choice. I was illustrating the importance of leaving some openness in this matter. The noble Lord will be well aware—but I must emphasise it again—that we are not suggesting in our amendment that any more functions should pass to magistrates. We are suggesting the reverse: that the onus is on the local authority to take on the functions where and when it will. It may be that gradually all of them will do so. I support what my noble friend Lady Fisher has said. She gave us a very good background and foundation to not only this amendment but the amendments that follow it. They are very important.

To come back to this amendment, my noble friend made it clear—as I hope I do—that when these applications go to the magistrates' court it is not just a case of occasional licences; these matters are checked with the police and the local authority. If they want to say anything about it, they do so. I am sure the Minister would not disagree that the fire authorities have a great responsibility which they exercise very properly all the time.

Unless the Minister can give some instances and evidence of catastrophies that have occurred in areas where the magistrates have been responsible for these powers, as compared with areas where the district councils have, then no case has been made out against accepting this amendment. The noble Lord is resting his entire case on the question of safety. This is the first time that I have heard of any doubt cast on safety regulations where the licensing powers have been in the hands of magistrates. If the noble Lord is saying that there is doubt, and if he can give us some examples of where things have gone badly wrong which would not have gone wrong if matters had been handed to the district councils, then the Committee will listen. However, if he does not have that information—and if, as I imagine, that information is not available because it is not the case—then he is projecting forward what he believes may happen in the future.

This is a matter of great importance. This is an extremely moderate amendment. It is not going nearly so far as many of us wanted when we spoke on the matter on Second Reading. The noble Lord will remember that many of us wanted to leave things as they are. Therefore, unless the noble Lord has an answer on these points, I am afraid that I shall divide the Committee on this amendment.

4.5 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 1) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 74; Not-Contents, 124.

Amherst, E. Kilbracken, L.
Ardwick, L. Killearn, L.
Aylestone, L. Kilmarnock, L.
Banks, L. Kissin, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Leatherland, L.
Beswick, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.
Birk, B. Lloyd of Kilgerran, L.
Bishopston, L. [Teller.] Longford, E.
Blease, L. [Teller.] Mais, L.
Boston of Faversham, L. Maybray-King, L.
Brockway, L. Mayhew, L.
Collison, L. Meston, L.
Cooper of Stockton Heath, L. Mishcon, L.
Darling of Hillsborough, L. Noel-Baker, L.
Elwyn-Jones, L. Parry, L.
Evans of Claughton, L. Peart, L.
Ewart-Biggs, B. Perry of Walton, L.
Fisher of Rednal, B. Rathcreedan, L.
Foot, L. Rochester, L.
Fortescue, E. Ross of Marnock, L.
Gaitskell, B. Sefton of Garston, L.
Gifford, L. Segal, L.
Gladwyn, L. Shinwell, L.
Greenwood of Rossendale, L. Stedman, B.
Grey, E. Stewart of Fulham, L.
Hall, V. Stone, L.
Hampton, L. Taylor of Gryfe, L.
Hanworth, V. Tordoff, L.
Harris of Greenwich, L. Underhill, L.
Hatch of Lusby, L. Wade, L.
Hooson, L. Wallace of Coslany, L.
Irving of Dartford, L. Wells-Pestell, L.
Jacobson, L. White, B.
Jeger, B. Wigoder, L.
John-Mackie, L. Wilson of Langside, L.
Kaldor, L. Wootton of Abinger, B.
Kennet, L. Wynne-Jones, L.
Ailesbury, M. Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Airey of Abingdon, B. Luke, L.
Aldenham, L. McFadzean, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Mancroft, L.
Alport, L. Marley, L.
Ampthill, L. Massereene and Ferrard, V.
Auckland, L. Mersey, V.
Avon, E. Montagu of Beaulieu, L.
Balerno, L. Morris, L.
Bathurst, E. Mottistone, L.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Bellwin, L. Moyne, L.
Beloff, L. Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Belstead, L. Newall, L.
Bessborough, E. Northchurch, B.
Birdwood, L. Nugent of Guildford, L.
Blake, L. Nunburnholme, L.
Bolton, L. Orkney, E.
Boyd-Carpenter, L. Orr-Ewing, L.
Caccia, L. Penrhyn, L.
Campbell of Alloway, L. Platt of Writtle, B.
Campbell of Croy, L. Porritt, L.
Clifford of Chudleigh, L. Rankeillour, L.
Coleraine, L. Renton, L.
Cottesloe, L. Ridley, V.
Craigavon, V. Rochdale, V.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Rodney, L.
Daventry, V. Romney, E.
De Freyne, L. Rugby, L.
Denham, L. [Teller.] St. Aldwyn, E.
Drumalbyn, L. St. Davids, V.
Eldon, E. St. Just, L.
Faithfull, B. Saint Oswald, L.
Falkland, V. Salisbury, M.
Ferrers, E. Saltoun, Ly.
Fraser of Kilmorack, L. Sandford, L.
Gardiner, L. Sandys, L. [Teller.]
Gardner of Parkes, B. Seebohm, L.
Glanusk, L. Selkirk, E.
Glasgow, E. Soames, L.
Gore-Booth, L. Spens, L.
Gormanston, V. Stamp, L.
Gray, L. Stradbroke, E.
Gridley, L. Strathcarron, L.
Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.
Halsbury, E. Strathspey, L.
Henley, L. Sudeley, L.
Hill-Norton, L. Swansea, L.
Hives, L. Swinfen, L.
Hunt of Fawley, L. Terrington, L.
Hylton-Foster, B. Thomas of Swynnerton, L.
Ilchester, E. Thorneycroft, L.
James of Rusholme, L. Tranmire, L.
Kemsley, V. Trefgarne, L.
Kinnaird, L. Trumpington, B.
Lane-Fox, B. Vaizey, L.
Lauderdale, E. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Lawrence, L. Vivian, L.
Lincoln, Bp. Westbury, L.
Lindsey and Abingdon, E. Windlesham, L.
Linlithgow, M. Wise, L.
Long, V. Young, B.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

The Earl of Avon

I think this might be a convenient moment to take the Statement. I beg to move that the House be now resumed.

Moved accordingly, and on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.