HL Deb 22 January 1998 vol 584 cc1678-80

7.44 p.m.

Lord Hoyle rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 17th November 1997 be approved [8th Report from the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee].

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this order is designed to streamline arrangements for transferring liquor licences from one licensee to another. Its provisions relate specifically to circumstances where it becomes necessary to replace an existing licensee at short notice. The order is unusual in that its parliamentary consideration has crossed a general election. That in itself indicates the broad extent of the support it has attracted.

The order introduces two new sets of arrangements into licensing law. First, it provides for approval of people as prospective licensees. These are individuals who, in effect, go through the normal process of approval for holding a liquor licence. But instead of being granted a licence for particular premises they are approved as potential licensees should the existing licensee need to be replaced.

The second set of arrangements introduced by the order allows for a form of emergency procedure in order to replace licensees who leave at short notice. The order does that by providing for an interim licence which can come into effect at once. This interim licence is subject to early confirmation by the licensing justices and is dependent on police approval.

These new arrangements have been proposed because of inflexibility within existing licensing arrangements. Under the present law, if someone holding a licence leaves the licensed premises which he or she operates, the owner—whether an individual or a company—has to go through the rather cumbersome procedure of having the licence transferred formally to a new licensee. That process can take a number of weeks, or sometimes a matter of months. So, where a departing licensee does not give sufficient prior notice, a problem arises with the continued operation of the premises.

There is a current form of emergency arrangement—called a protection order—but the procedures for obtaining one of these orders are rather cumbersome. The applicant has to go to the magistrates' court, as opposed to the licensing justices, and, crucially, the applicant for a protection order must be the person who intends to take on the licence on a permanent basis. In other words, the law does not allow for a temporary substitute to step in while arrangements for a new licensee are made. The order before the House allows for temporary arrangements of this kind and allows, in certain circumstances, for clerks to licensing justices to approve interim licences, so cutting out another element of bureaucracy.

A public consultation exercise on the proposed legislation took place between July and September 1996. A proposal for a draft order was laid before Parliament on 3rd February 1997 and was duly considered by the respective committees of this House and in another place. Both committees reported in favour of the proposals, but the intervention of the general election prevented the measure's further progress.

Following the election, the Government decided to support the principle behind the measure, and a draft order was laid before Parliament on 17th November 1997. The draft order has been amended in accordance with recommendations by the committees of both Houses during the initial scrutiny period.

The Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee considered the amended draft order and recommended approval by the House in its 8th Report dated 26th November 1997. The draft order was approved in another place on 11th December 1997. I commend the order to the House. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 17th November 1997 be approved [8th Report from the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committed].—(Lord Hoyle.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.