HL Deb 19 December 2002 vol 642 cc785-843

11.37 a.m.

The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Baroness Blackstone)

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

Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.—(Baroness Blackstone.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


Clause 4 [General duties of licensing authorities]:

Baroness Buscombe moved Amendment No. 86: Page 3, line 16, at end insert "which shall in particular set out the specific reasons which the Secretary of State considers to justify the exclusion of children from free access to licensed premises

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 86, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 112. These amendments relate to unrestricted access by children to all licensed premises. I voiced my concern at Second Reading and spoke in earlier debates about the vagueness of the definition of "harm" in the licensing objectives.

The current provision for children within the licensing system is confused and, we believe, unworkable. The Government's response in this Bill has been to take the radical and, some would say, rash step of allowing children unrestricted access to licensed premises. Allegedly, this is based on a desire to promote a more family-friendly pub environment. In reality, the proposed flexibility will allow children of any age to sit in a licensed premises without adult supervision at any hour of the day. I believe that it has come as quite a shock to many people, both within and beyond your Lordships' House, to know that children can have totally unrestricted and unaccompanied access to licensed premises at any hour of the day.

It is not hard to see the repercussions of this new liberal stance on access for children. Unfortunately, many licensed premises are not the safe, family-friendly pubs we would like them to be. It is not necessary to talk in extremes about 10 year-olds in lap-dancing clubs. A group of 14 year-olds in a rough pub, unsupervised at 10 o'clock on a Friday night, might easily create an undesirable situation.

The Government may argue that the licensed premises holder has a duty to uphold the licensing objective, the protection of children from harm".

Will all licensees uphold that scrupulously all the time? How will it be policed?

The framework for guidance admits that, it would be appropriate to restrict the access of children where necessary for their protection from harm".

That could be achieved, it says, by requiring adult supervision, by restricting the hours during which children (of a certain age) may be present, or by excluding minors completely".

One wonders why the Government omitted from the face of the Bill such important matters as deciding at what time, at what age and from what premises children should be excluded. Will that lead to disputes because of inconsistency between the conditions imposed on premises by different licensing committees?

Our amendment asks for specific reasons laid out in the guidance. At the moment we are told in the framework guidance that examples will be provided about where restrictions might be appropriate. We believe that a handful of examples issued in the guidance on that aspect of the Bill shows an extraordinarily casual approach on the part of the Government. We must have reasons and definitions— not examples. It would be helpful to have clarification that the guidance will not impose more child restrictions than necessary or too few for parents to feel comfortable. I beg to move.

Lord Redesdale

My question on the amendment relates to the fact that at present the licensee determines who should enter licensed premises. I believe that it will be for the licensee to control the actions of children. I doubt that many licensees will allow entry to unaccompanied children late at night. Will the licensee be permitted to include an age restriction, as some pubs do, up to the age of 21 in certain instances? Will that be affected by the legislation?

Viscount Falkland

I agree with my noble friend's remarks, which are addressed specifically, I believe, to licensed premises in the form of pubs. He is right to imply that licensees have long experience of dealing with aspects of under-age drinkers seeking access to pubs. However, the Bill goes wider. It creates licensed premises with all manner of opening hours and all manner of activities, entertainment and so on.

The aim of the Bill appears simple. The noble Baroness has said that it is a simple transfer of powers from the magistrates to local authorities. On the other hand, local authorities will now have to interpret matters to which attention has rightly been drawn—the dangers of over-legislating or under-legislating in regard to young people in a varied number of locations and activities.

The opaqueness of the Bill precludes a sensible debate, particularly as the guidance is in draft form only. We do not know what the Government will recommend to local authorities on this matter. The noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, has been assiduous in teasing out of the Government some clarity—I believe she used that expression with which I agree. I am sure that she would be the first to agree with me that we have not had much clarity so far. This is one example of where we need clarity. Apart from some of the licensing objectives to which I referred in relation to another amendment, the way in which young people will he treated under the new legislation is of great concern to the public.

11.45 a.m.

Lord Avebury

We are confronted with a difficulty faced time and time again on this Bill. We do not have the faintest idea what will be in the guidance. The noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, pointed out two areas where we need to know the Government's intentions as regards the protection of children from harm. She said that licences could be awarded in such a manner as to restrict the hours when children can he present or they may be awarded to exclude children altogether. Until we see the guidance we have no idea what the powers of local authorities will be in those two areas.

This is of extreme importance when one considers the phenomenon of young people drinking in our town centres and in many provincial cities up and down the United Kingdom. As I said on a previous occasion, it is difficult for licensees to distinguish between young people when those under 18 dress to look like someone over that age.

There are two questions. First, will local authorities be able to impose that kind of restriction at their own discretion, if they know that establishments are likely to attract people under 18? Secondly, how can one enforce such restrictions once the local authorities have decided upon them? We need much more information on those matters before we can allow this part of the Bill to proceed.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

There are many grey areas in regard to children drinking alcohol. This appears to be an opportunity to clarify matters. If licensees have to control children, would it help if children had identification cards? Some publicans run voluntary schemes.

Lord Davies of Oldham

We have already referred to this enormously important aspect of the Bill: the protection of children from harm. It is a key element of the Bill. I can assure the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, that at a previous meeting we had a fairly full debate about the issue of identity cards and the limitations of any form of card in solving certain aspects of under-age drinking.

On the question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, it would be permissible for a licensee to restrict entry by age 18, 21 or even 25 if he or she wished. That will be his or her decision. As has been reflected in the debate, licensees of establishments where alcohol is sold have considerable discretion because they have a very responsible role in terms of the nature of the establishments they run. Other licensees in other areas have similar responsibilities.

We fully recognise this important aspect of the Bill rightly identified by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe. However, it is important that the Committee should recognise the starting point of discussion on this matter. Under current law, and at the discretion of the individual licensee, it is already open to any child aged 14 or over to enter a public house or night club unsupervised and to remain in a bar area so long as he or she does not consume alcohol. That is the present position.

Children's certificates were introduced by the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994 to permit, with the approval of the licensing justices, the supervised presence of children of any age in bar areas until 9 p.m. Relatively few certificates have ever been issued. By 2001, only 5,000 out of 110,000 licensed premises obtained those certificates.

The Committee will recognise that licensees will not increase their trade or please their patrons by giving unrestricted access to children over the age of 14, still less to children younger than that. At present at the discretion of the licensee unsupervised children of any age may enter and remain in licensed premises so long as they do not enter the bar area. So they can be in dining rooms, family rooms, pub gardens and other places away from the bar area.

In addition, most restaurants serving alcohol do not have a bar at which customers may be served directly. Alcohol is purchased at the table with a meal from a waiter. In those circumstances, children of any age may enter and remain without supervision. That is our current position. It is therefore not a massive step to say, as the Bill provides, that children should normally be given freedom to enter licensed premises at the discretion of the licensee unless there is a reason to exclude them. Society already relies a good deal on the common sense of the licensee, and the figures which I quoted earlier show the nature of that common sense with regard to applications regarding more extended use of the premises by children.

I have no doubt that Amendments Nos. 86 and 112 have at their heart—the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, expressed this graphically in her introduction—the desire to preserve the principles implicit in the Bill; that children should be admitted to licensed premises unless there is a good reason to exclude or to restrict their entry by requiring that they be accompanied by an adult. That is exactly the Government's position. We are at one on that aspect. Therefore, the issue is how to achieve a common objective.

The amendments reflect the concern that nothing in the guidance to be issued by the Secretary of State or in the statement of policies made by licensing authorities should undermine that approach. In that respect I am sure that the amendments give voice to the anxieties of many within the industry. Like the industry, we want to see licensed premises develop in a way that will be good for families and good for tourists visiting our country. We have matched that approach with clear rules that prevent consumption of alcohol by children on such premises under any circumstances except one. The exception would allow 16 and 17 year-olds to consume beer, wine or cider with a meal when accompanied by an adult.

I give the Committee the assurance that the Secretary of State's guidance will reflect our desire to see much freer access for children to premises. It will also focus on the need—rightly expressed on all sides of the Committee—for vigilance in ensuring that exclusions and restrictions are put in place wherever they are needed. Children of course should not be in premises which provide entertainment of a sexual nature, or in premises where gambling is the main activity; nor should they be in premises where they would be at risk of being drawn into drugs culture.

However, I do not pretend that the guidance can comprehensively cover every eventuality. That is not realistic. That is why local discretion and knowledge will be very important and why this system is based upon local decision-making. The guidance can establish a clear approach to assist the licensing authorities, but at the end of the day the decision will be that of the local licensing authorities. The guidance will also impact on every statement of licensing policy. It will therefore reflect the position that I have described.

The Committee will also note that, under subsection (3) of Clause 5, licensing authorities must consult holders of premises and personal licensees in their areas before making their statements of licensing policy. Licensees will therefore also have a say in what the policy should contain. But, so will the police and, for example, also teachers living locally if they are concerned about this matter.

Amendment No. 419 seeks to restrict the entry of children aged under 14 years to all licensed premises unless supervised by an adult—not any adult, but one aged over 18 years. In other words, at least a 19 year-old. That position would be much more restrictive than existing arrangements.

The term "licensed premises" is defined in Clause 188 of the Bill. It means any premises in respect of which a premises licence issued under Part 3 of the Bill is in force. It therefore potentially includes public houses, night-clubs, theatres, night cafes, cinemas, concert halls, restaurants, shops, stores, supermarkets and hotels. I should be surprised if the noble Earl really wants to deny access to all those places for unsupervised children aged under 14. I presume that the main concern is with places selling alcohol for consumption on those premises.

However, that is not included in the amendment; nor is there a new offence and penalty within the new amendment. I hope that the noble Earl will accept our assurances that the Bill has in place arrangements that can exclude or restrict children's entry whenever it is judged necessary to protect them from harm.

The amendment as drafted is not necessary or desirable. I therefore express the view—

Lord Redesdale

The Minister is speaking to Amendment No. 419. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, is not here. I do not believe that the amendment will be moved.

Lord Davies of Oldham

I apologise for that. I had moved on. The absence of Members of the Committee today seems to be a recurring theme. The noble Earl being such an assiduous attender, I presumed that he was here. Presumably we shall debate the issue later.

I therefore rest the case that I have put on Amendments Nos. 86 and 112. We have two clear objectives in the Bill as to children. We want to promote freedom for children to participate generally with their families in circumstances that improve behaviour and bring a more civilised aspect to many of our licensed premises. At the same time, it is absolutely clear that we need to ensure the safety of children. That is built into the principles underlying the Bill. It will be the duty of local licensing authorities to subscribe to those positions.


Baroness Buscombe

I thank the Minister for his response. I was quite pleased when he responded to Amendment No. 419 tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel. When doing so I think the Minister hit the button. The heart of the problem here is lumping in such premises as supermarkets with pubs and clubs. Of course we want to be able to allow children to enter supermarkets under a certain age. But what about pubs and clubs? That is a very different ballgame. So I think this is a great problem.

The noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, said that publicans cannot have a great deal of experience with regard to how to deal with children. But, as he then quite rightly went on to say, this is a hugely radical change in our licensing laws. I think that it will be quite difficult for publicans to know and to decide, and indeed, in consultation with licensing authorities, what is the best way forward.

I must say that I have yet to come across a publican who wants to have unaccompanied children on his premises. I think that publicans feel that they would be quite an imposition on their other customers. Indeed, most people tend to go to pubs to get away from children.

In some ways, I was beginning to wonder why the Government were making this radical change, because it is a great risk that the Government are taking. In some ways it is laudable. I agree that it is very confusing for tourists to know and to understand our rather peculiar ways, but indeed many of the tourists' countries have extremely peculiar ways. That is all part of the fun of being abroad. But with the best will in the world we should not go too far to suit those visiting our country with regard to the way in which we protect our children from harm.

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, rightly referred to an earlier debate in which we said that there was a real problem with under-age drinking. Many children are looking more mature than they really are these days and that, together with the ease of obtaining a fake identity card over the Internet, is putting huge pressure on publicans. If publicans find that under their local policy they can give children unrestricted access, they will feel pressure to do so. If the pub up the road has got it, they will want it too. It will be an enormous burden on local authorities and the industry to manage that well.

I find it hard to understand how the provision will be good for families, although I understand the underlying purpose behind what the Government seek to do. We should have liked more clarity in the Bill for the benefit of local authorities, the industry and the police, who are deeply concerned about the provision because, at the end of the day, they will have to police it.

I thank the Minister for his full response, but we do not have clarity. It is a great problem that we are treating clubs in which there could be lap-dancing for 10 year-olds in the same light as supermarkets, which hardly seems sane. However, for the present, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Buscombe moved Amendment No. 87: Page 3, line 16, at end insert "which shall in particular set out the specific reasons which the Secretary of State considers justify the prevention of any licensing authority from restricting the number of licensed premises, regulating the type of licensed premises. or imposing a generalised closing time in any part of a town centre or other locality within the licensing area

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 87, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 111. The amendments are designed further to probe the Government's view on whether licensing authorities should be able to take a view on whether a saturation point has been reached in the number of licensed premises in a given area. I know that that runs counter to the Government's declared position that there should be a uniform national licensing approach. To suggest otherwise may also arouse concern among some trade interests, but I ask both the Government and the industry whether it serves their interests or that of the integrity and public acceptability of the policy overall not to allow some local safeguards.

There are areas of our towns and cities in which it is commonly felt that there is an over-saturation of licensed premises, as anyone who has lived in or represented such an area will know. People say that there are too many pubs or restaurants in a given area. That is also too easily dismissed as defensive nimbyism—doubtless, sometimes it is, but such comments are made not only by residents but by visitors to this country who find some streets and districts at times overwhelmed by an all too often aggressive and disruptive culture of over-drinking.

Our towns are not only for those who reasonably enjoy a drink, they are also for the security and enjoyment of visitors and those seeking other entertainments. Sometimes, the balance can swing too far. If so, the local authority is best placed to judge that, embodying as it does the representatives of all local people, with all their diverse interests and coming from all parts of the local authority area. That is at least something to consider. I do not want to undercut the principle of greater freedom in licensing and less bureaucracy, although the more that I read the Bill, the more it appears to be a regulating rather than a deregulating Bill. It is a Bill in which all the costs, but none of the freedoms, are transferred from the Chancellor to local authorities. The whip hand on regulation and guidance stays with the Government—that is certainly the case in the delicate matters probed in the amendment.

Is that right? Let us study the guidance. For now, we must rely on the framework. Amendment No. 87 floats the idea that when publishing guidance the Government should set out with absolute clarity in writing why they think that a licensing authority should not have power to restrict the number of licensed premises or control the type of licensed premises in a given area. In some parts of our town centres, if we are to have a living balance, many argue that such a power is essential. The burden of proof to the contrary lies with the Government if they are to deny that limited local power. Guidance—or, as I would prefer, regulation subject to Parliament's approval—gives them that opportunity.

Paragraph 12 of the framework states that licensing authorities should not adopt, arbitrary quotas on numbers of licensed premises".

What does "arbitrary" mean? Does it mean that a local authority could adopt a reasoned or well-founded limit on the number of premises in a given area? Is there a chink of light here for those who fear total removal of local discretion? Paragraph 16 of the framework states that licensing authorities may demand stricter conditions for late licences, but does not state that they may limit or regulate the number of places with late licences—it is a frequent cause of disorder when people spill out of nearby clubs and brawls ensue. Will the Minister undertake further to explain the Government's thinking on that to the Committee and to local authorities?

Why is a generalised closing time "inappropriate", as the framework puts it, even in a quiet residential area with no problem of binge drinking or disorder to be combated, as the Government hope, by later hours? Will the Minister reconsider the point about saturation and the lack of power to prevent it? That is one of the main sources of public disquiet about the Bill.

There is no reason why the Government should not simply accept Amendment No. 87, but it might be better if they agreed to review the policy as a whole. We do not want a bureaucratic regime that prevents legitimate and popular enterprise, but we ask for consideration of where and how the right balance can be struck to the benefit of local communities.

Amendment No. 111 writes into the Bill a duty on licensing authorities regularly to review the impact of changes on licensing hours and conditions on the incidence of binge drinking, disorder and anti-social behaviour. The Committee will at once understand why. Paragraph 15 of the framework states dogmatically that longer opening hours are, a key mechanism for combating binge drinking, disorder and anti-social behaviour".

The Government state that that is caused by fixed and "artificially early" closing times. We all hope that the Government's analysis is right. Will the Minister set out now, with some care, why she believes that to be so? But what if it is not right? What if a licensing authority finds that, far from reducing binge drinking, disorder and anti-social behaviour in any part of a town centre, the extension of licensing hours exacerbates those problems? Should it not be able to take that into account in revising its policy?

That change in the law, which we all support, will provide late opening on a much wider scale than ever before. We shall experience change on a far wider geographic scale and shall amass far more evidence on behaviour under the new conditions than we have ever had before. With all respect to the Government, it is not sufficient to construct policy for the indefinite future on their perception of what its effect will be. We and the licensing authorities need to be able to study what are the actual effects and to have the freedom to adjust policy accordingly.

Will the Government consider greater flexibility and freedom for local authorities in that important area? There may well be such a thing as saturation. I beg to move.

Lord Redesdale

I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 166 and 312, which are grouped. They are probing amendments that are an attempt to tease out some of the Government's thinking on the effect of new licences and the issue of saturation. That is covered in the guidance, but the guidance does not provide much elucidation of the Government's thinking on that matter.

We understand that it is envisaged that, in the transitional period, licensed premises will have an almost automatic right to the renewal of their licence. So, the position will not change vastly. I was also interested to find out that there seems to have been, recently, a reduction in the number of licensed premises in central London and some of the stress points. Perhaps, that is because saturation point has been reached in the industry and people may be moving away from going into the centre of town of a night, which is such an expensive activity. However, our amendments would add criteria relating not just to the licensed premises but, to a degree, to the effect on the locality.

It is a matter of debate whether the Bill will change this, but, in the past, late licensing has changed the nature of licensed premises. The purpose of a late licence was to attract a younger clientele. Therefore, the premises had to provide music and dancing and ended up with some noise and disturbance. By opening the option up to a wider range of licensed premises, that issue will be addressed, and there will be places where people who do not want to go to a nightclub and do not want to cause a nuisance at night will be able to go for a drink, after, say, a visit to the theatre. They will have somewhere to go because there will be a broader range of licensable activities.

We do not take the position that we should object to any late licence. Some late licences will meet the needs of the community. However, the fact that there will be an increase in the number of pubs and clubs is causing more concern than any other issue, and there is concern that some of the problems associated with late-night activity will spread.

The Earl of Onslow

I seek some information. Am I right in saying that, if area A already has pubs, clubs and restaurants, the number of such premises is fixed by the planning laws? If someone wants to change the use of a building from a clothes shop to a pub, will the local authority, with its planning hat on, take into account the increase in the number of licensed premises in the surroundings? That is the point that my noble friend Lady Buscombe is addressing.

Do we perceive that there will be an increase in the amount of drink that will be sold, or will it just be spread over a wider timescale? That issue may not relate to this amendment, but it came into my head and seems to me to be important. Do we assume that there will be an increase in the general consumption of alcohol?

I would be grateful if the noble Baroness could help me on the planning issue. It might go a little way towards allaying people's suspicions.

12.15 p.m.

Lord Avebury

A councillor from Westminster this morning gave me one answer to the noble Earl. It is possible to have premises on which there is a mixture of eating and drinking during the day but where, at a certain point in the evening, all the tables and chairs are taken away. Thus, the area is, effectively, devoted solely to alcohol consumption, even though entertainment is ostensibly provided, in that people could dance if they wanted to, although that is not the purpose for which they go into the establishment. We have allowed a situation to develop in which people can provide a mixture of activities for people in a pub or club— whatever name it goes under—even though, after a certain point in the evening, it becomes solely devoted to the consumption of alcohol.

My noble friend Lord Redesdale said that there had been a recent reduction in the number of licensed premises in central London. One reason for that may be that the police have been more active in examining the effect of such establishments. The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, shakes her head, but the police succeeded in closing a nightclub called Home, which was between Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square. The police had managed to associate the club with the consumption and sale of drugs. The fact that the police have been more vigorous in detecting an association between certain establishments and the prevalence of drugs may be one reason why there was a reduction in central London.

What has happened in the West End Central and Charing Cross police areas is important as a model for what will occur in other parts of the country, when we allow almost anybody who has a clean criminal record to apply to open up late-night drinking establishments. In the context of the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, we ought to consider the experience of crime in areas in which the late-night economy has already been under way for many years.

I asked the chief inspector with whom I went round the Charing Cross area a couple of Saturdays ago whether such figures were available, and he told me that they were. I have looked for them on the Metropolitan Police website without any success, and I would be grateful if whoever will reply to the amendment could tell us what the experience has been since we have had a late-night culture in Westminster. Have there been more offences of the kind mentioned in the amendment? Has there been binge-drinking, disorder and anti-social behaviour? If so, what are the statistics? I am certain that, if the noble Baroness has the statistics, she will be able to say that there has been a steep rise in the number of offences of violence in those areas and in the other places around the periphery of London—Romford, Ealing and Bexley— to which late-night drinking has spread from the centre, as DAC Trotter mentioned in his presentation to your Lordships. If we find that the police's experience in those areas is that crimes of the kind described in the amendment have increased enormously as a result of the spread of the late-night economy, we ought to take that into account in considering the amendment.

Lord Borrie

I press my noble friend the Minister to respond fully to the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, with regard to Amendment No. 111, which is grouped with Amendment No. 87, which she moved. We should keep licensing policy under review, particularly to see whether the theory—if I may put it that way—that freer licensing hours will reduce binge-drinking, disorder and so on is, in fact, the case. There is a great deal of evidence coming out of Scotland that the theory that binge-drinking and so on would be reduced by longer licensing hours has not been borne out. If we go along the lines suggested by the Bill for England and Wales, we will, in due course, need a study to see whether the theory has worked out.

At the moment, the licensing hours finish at eleven o'clock, and the people living near to a public house must, as it were, put up with car doors being banged, loud noise and all the rest of it for 10 minutes or a quarter of an hour. If closing times are much later, residents may suffer not just between 11 and 11.15 p.m., but at various uncertain and indefinite times—for example, midnight, one o'clock, and later—causing much more difficulty for local residents than at present.

It may be that the technical answer to the noble Baroness is that there is no need for Amendment No. 111 because there is provision in the Bill as it stands for licensing policy to be reviewed. However, it would be good for the Minister to reassure us that the issues mentioned in Amendment No. 111 will be covered, and will be expected to be covered, by the regular review under Clause 5.

Lord Tope

We have had some speculation as to why the number of licensed premises in inner London has apparently decreased. I do not know whether it is a reason or a consequence, but I have not the slightest doubt that both the number and, perhaps more particularly, the nature of licensed premises in outer London has increased considerably in recent years. As I have mentioned in previous discussions, I have considerable experience of that in the town centre ward that I represent. In that particular high street we have seen—I believe that it is typical of many high streets in outer London and, indeed, in most metropolitan areas in the country—the nature of licensed premises change. What one might call the traditional pub has gone through a major refurbishment and has turned into significantly larger premises designed, quite reasonably, to attract a younger clientele—they are very successful in doing that—with consequent and inevitable growth in noise, enjoyment, and so forth. That has been one change in the nature of existing licensed premises. The second change has been the conversion of other high street premises, particularly banks—in my ward a cinema turned into a night-club—into licensed premises.

I have considerable sympathy from experience with what the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, said in moving the amendment. I shall listen with considerable interest to whichever Minister replies. I suspect that we shall be told this is better dealt with through the planning regime and planning laws. I see a nod of affirmation. I agree that that should be the case. I have sat in judgment on innumerable planning applications where we have been told that we cannot consider such matters. In some cases, premises are already licensed, and other licensed premises are in the area which is zoned under the UDP for such entertainment. In those cases, we would not be able to sustain an appeal against a refusal of planning permission.

I hope that the Minister, when replying—if she cannot do so today perhaps she will reply by letter at a later date—will say not just that it should be better dealt with under planning regime, with which I agree, but how. In my experience, that has not preyed possible. There are many high streets in the country that bear witness to that, and many local authorities that regret that their high streets bear witness to that. That is the answer I want to hear.

The Earl of Onslow

I have been given a briefing from Westminster City Council on exactly that point about planning. It might be worth sharing one or two points with the Committee. Night-clubs come under the same D2 planning ratio as a cinema. A cinema can be turned into a night-club without a licence. Bars and pubs use class A3 as restaurants and coffee bars. It appears that the paper has answered the questions that I posed. In addition, it appears that the planning system could be used by changing the categories under planning regulations. If that were to be done, the Government's answer of planning control would have a great deal more validity. I apologise for asking the question previously. I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Buscombe for handing me that piece of paper, which does seem to be authoritative. I thought it would be worthwhile sharing a little of its information with Members of the Committee.

Lord Monson

I warmly support this group of amendments, in particular the last part of Amendment No. 87 which refers to the possibility of imposing a generalised closing time in one or more areas. By decreeing, as they do in the Bill, that everything to do with the sale and consumption of alcohol should be tightly regulated with one solitary exception—namely, closing hours, as the noble Baroness made clear on 17th December at col. 565 of the Official Report—the Government are being wholly inconsistent. If I wanted to go into my local Sainsbury's at 6 p.m. on a Sunday to buy a bottle of their excellent Manzanilla—now there's a plug—I cannot do so. The place will be closed because Sainsbury's, Tesco, Waitrose, Safeway and all department stores, except the tiniest, have to close on or before 6 p.m. on Sunday. What is the reason for that? It is because all governments—this is agreed by both Government and Opposition—believe that residents and amenities should be protected from the noise which is inherent in large stores being open late on what is meant to be a day of rest. It is to protect the general amenities and people in residential areas in particular.

As the Bills stands it will be possible for people to buy alcoholic drinks in clubs and pubs all through Saturday and Sunday nights, and all through every other night as well. That is an anomaly. I should be grateful for an explanation.

Have the Government carried out research into what happens in other countries? They glibly assume that on the Continent everything is open 24 hours a day. As I said at Second Reading, that is absolute nonsense. Have the Government studied the laws which apply in various European countries? We already know that there are tighter restrictions in North America. I guess that in France, Germany, and the Benelux countries—Scandinavia, at any rate—there are quite strict laws about not being open late at night. I do not believe that places that sell alcohol are allowed to be open all night without special permission. It may be different in Mediterranean countries. However, I look forward with interest to the Government's comments.

Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe

I want to speak in support of the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe. In addition, I want to support Amendment No. 111 on which the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, has just spoken. I want to emphasise the importance of having evidence-based legislation. Has the Minister seen the recent article written by Jim Sheridan, Labour MP for West Renfrewshire? The article refers to research undertaken by the Cranfield University School of Management into what has been occurring in Scotland—namely, the changes that have taken place since the liberalisation in licensing laws—where, contrary to common belief, it appears that drinking and binge drinking is now growing.

Research has shown that after midnight public houses generate excessive competitive pressure. There is pricing downwards on the cost of alcohol and, consequently, people are drinking more and more. A whole range of people are complaining now about the consequences. There is more alcohol-related disorder in the streets. Has the Minister had an opportunity to look at the article? Is that type of evidence being taken into account?

12.30 p.m.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville

Members of the Committee have been extremely eloquent on this subject, which was introduced by my noble friend Lady Buscombe. In rising at this stage, I want simply to fill in some of the details about which rhetorical questions have been asked by other noble Lords. I may be able to provide some information. The Westminster figure has already been quoted: 263 premises hold late-night licences. That is a 25 per cent increase since 1995 and, with the change in the licensing hours, the problem will be exacerbated.

The Minister made considerable play with the fall of 11 per cent in inner London licences during the past three years. However, between 1991 and 2001, the figures in Westminster have risen by 33 per cent for bars and pubs. Those are on-licence figures; they take no account of off-licences. Between 1992 and 2002 there has been a 185 per cent increase in entertainment licences in Westminster. I acknowledge that that is in part because the city council has a tradition of not refusing music and dance applications. However, it is an index of how the level of activity has increased throughout that period.

Much hinges on the 3 a.m. figure. There are more people in Leicester Square at three o'clock in the morning than at three o'clock in the afternoon. That has a deleterious effect. Criminals come into the West End stress area—Soho and Covent Garden—at three o'clock in the morning because it is easier to take money from intoxicated members of the public than it is from people who are sober. The crime level rises significantly at that time.

Street crime in Westminster rose by 31.7 per cent between 2001 and 2002. That is partly due to police being moved to anti-terrorism duty after September 11th. But it is still a significant figure. Forty per cent of the street crime in Westminster occurs in the stress area of Covent Garden and Soho. That is 4 per cent of the total area of Westminster. So one can see the astonishingly disproportionate effect of crime in that area.

The University of Westminster and a particular institute within that university published a significant study, which, I am sure, Members of the Committee will have read. It compared locations similar to the West End stress area—Nyhavn in Copenhagen, Temple Bar in Dublin, and Haekescher Marlt, Spandauer Vorstadt and Mitte District in Berlin. All of those areas are much smaller than the West End stress area of Soho and Covent Garden. I have remarked in other places that it would be enormously desirable if some of the pressure could be taken off the West End stress area by opening up similar activities in other parts of London. The South Bank and the City of London in my former constituency are natural places where that might occur.

Against that background of crime in the West End stress area, the policy of the police is to object to the granting of further licences in the designated stress area. They state: In certain instances it may be that a street or sector is provided with liquor licence premises to such an extent that local services and/or residents are perceived to be at breaking point or saturated. It is our view that the area referred to as the Soho stress area falls within the specified criteria, therefore no further licence premises in this area can he contemplated". I give that quotation because the Government take the view that the cumulative issue and that of saturation are not for this Bill and that they should be dealt with under planning. If the Minister comes back again and quotes the planning instance, I am inclined to follow my noble friend Lord Onslow in quoting the specific experience of Westminster in using planning for the purposes which the Minister is contemplating.

DAC Andrew Trotter told the Greater London Authority scrutiny committee of the impact of 24-hour licensing. He was Westminster's borough commander. He explained that if there was a rise in the number of licensed premises, there would be a commensurate rise in disorder and that resources had to be skewed to deal with that. All staggered hours opening does is to spread the troubles right through the night.

I have considerable sympathy with the views of the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, in terms of noise throughout the night. The Minister, responding to previous amendments on amenity areas, said that it was what happened in the pubs that mattered and that what happened outside was not the responsibility of this Bill. The fact remains, as I said in relation to that amendment, that the Noise Abatement Society states that 80 per cent of the noise occurs as people enter a pub and leave it. I do not believe that the Government can merely wash their hands of the consequences of spreading the noise throughout the night. I speak as one who once had a flat above the south-west district sorting office. Alarms went off all night and four-letter words floated up. The one thing that, as a resident, you could predict was that there would be no logic to the moments when your sleep would be disturbed. That is the factor which the Minister in her earlier response took insufficient notice of.

Furthermore, in the context of Westminster, an enormous number of people come in during the clay and are therefore not best pleased if the city shows signs of what happened the previous night. The easiest way of reflecting the statistic is to point out that, as the candidate for that constituency, in shaking the hand of someone on the street I had a one in 15 chance of shaking the hand of someone who had the right to vote for me. That indicates the number who come into the area.

There is no point in prolonging my speech at this stage. If, however, the Minister comes back with the planning argument, I shall want to speak further on the issue. She has more than enough to answer in terms of what has already been said.

Baroness Blackstone

Yes, indeed, I have more than enough to answer. In response to a previous group of amendments, which I thought focused on issues of saturation, I laid out the Government's policy position in detail. I do not believe that it would be helpful for me to repeat everything I said. I gave examples of how Manchester is dealing successfully with these issues. I also explained at length the way in which the Bill provides for a number of remedies to deal with the problems that concern Members of the Committee. However, I shall do my best to answer some of the questions that have been put.

It is always helpful and important to look at international evidence. Officials visited a number of European countries when they were conducting the review of licensing laws in 1998–99, prior to publication of the White Paper. So did the All Party Parliamentary Beer Group. That may not be a particularly popular group with Members participating in the debate. It produced a report which may be of interest to those who want to know what happens among our European neighbours.

First, late licences are all issued to fixed times. It is usually 2 a.m. but 3 a.m. in the West End of London. The point made by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. is therefore a little spurious. The problems relate to the fixed nature of the times resulting in everyone hitting the street at the same time. It is already possible to apply for, and receive, a late alcohol licence.

The Government's position is that fixed closing times are not only the cause of disorder; there is also considerable noise disturbance when large numbers of people leave premises at the same time. I know that I have already expressed that view. I apologise for repeating it, but it is important to the debate. The purpose of having later licences but not having them at fixed times is to allow a slower and more orderly—and, therefore, we hope, quieter—dispersal of people. But if problems arise, licences can be reviewed under the legislation. There is nothing to prevent that happening.

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, asked about antisocial behaviour and alcohol statistics. The statistics on alcohol-related crime are freely available. They show that arrests from drunkenness fell from 54,475 in 1997 to 45,234 in 2000, which is the latest year for which we have these statistics. We need to be sensible in looking at the evidence. Although, obviously, there are far too many arrests for drunkenness, the statistics show that the situation is not getting worse. It is important to note that.

Lord Avebury

Perhaps I did not explain myself properly. I asked the Minister for the statistics for violent crime in the particular areas concerned so that we can compare them with other areas where late night drinking does not take place. For example, she said that in Westminster the drinking establishments are allowed to remain open until 3 a.m. I was asking whether there are statistics comparing violent crime in the Westminster police districts of Charing Cross and West End Central, and how those compared with the averages for the country as a whole. If following the introduction of the late night economy in Westminster there was a huge growth in violent crime, then the two things are obviously connected with one another.

Baroness Blackstone

All my training as a social scientist would lead me to be extremely cautious about making such a deduction. There are many causes of violent crime and you cannot necessarily assume that because there is a late night entertainment culture, and the drinking associated with it, that is the cause of violent crime.

I do not know the answer to the noble Lord's question—I do not have research studies or statistics to hand—but if there are such research studies which suggest the kind of causation suggested by the noble Lord, I shall write and send them to him. But I have not been shown studies of that kind.

Lord Avebury

I am sorry to interrupt the Minister again, but it is for others to look at the figures and to interpret them as they see fit. It is not for the Government to say, "We do not believe that the figures allow these deductions to be drawn". If the figures are available, let the Government produce them and let everyone—whether sociologists or lay people— interpret them as best they can.

Baroness Blackstone

I am perfectly happy for anyone to interpret them as best they can. All I am saying is that I do not have such figures to hand. If they are available I shall be happy to provide them for the noble Lord and to put a copy of the studies and any letter I may send to him in the Library of the House. But I suspect that the nature of causation is infinitely more complex than the noble Lord implies.

The noble Lord asked about the closure of a night club in Leicester Square. There are special powers for the police to ask for the closure of night clubs where there are drug problems—this is the issue to which the noble Lord referred—and they do so by seeking the revocation of the public entertainments licence. This will still be possible under the Bill. There is nothing in the Bill that changes the current situation.

The Earl of Onslow

I thank the Minister for giving way. Would you have to go to the magistrates to get that ban—thereby making it a judicial process and, consequently, a criminal offence—or would you go to the licensing authority? Surely it is difficult to take away someone's livelihood—which this procedure could involve—without some form of due process.

12.45 p.m.

Baroness Blackstone

As far as criminal offences are concerned, such cases would go to the courts. Where there is also a licensing issue, the case would go to the local authority for the revocation of the licence.

As to planning, an issued raised by the noble Earl, the noble Lord, Lord Tope, the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, and several other noble Lords, as I said in responding to a previous group of amendments, the Government see the planning law as being of great significance in relation to decisions about how many licensed premises there may be in any one particular area. I said in a previous debate that we need to look more closely at ways in which we can integrate planning law with licensing law.

All premises have to have planning permission before they can become licensed premises, but there is a problem with the question of the change of use of premises, an issue referred to by several noble Lords. The Government readily concede that. We are examining the issue and undertaking consultations. The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister will report on this in the new year and that report will be available before the Bill leaves this House.

My noble friend Lord Borrie made a good point about the importance of monitoring the impact of this legislation—and, indeed, of any legislation—and I am sure that that will happen. As regards Scotland, however, I should say to my noble friend that he should not anticipate the findings of the Nicholson committee, which is reviewing the licensing laws in Scotland. It will report in the new year but our present understanding is that its findings on hours is very similar to ours at this stage. We shall of course take into account the findings of that inquiry.

I should say to my noble friend Lord Brooke that I have not seen the research to which he refers. I understand that it was paid for by the night club industry, which has a vested interest in preventing the pub industry from breaking into the late night market, and so we must be aware of what perhaps lies behind that particular piece of research.

The noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, referred to the transfer of costs from the Lord Chancellor's Department to local authorities. I remind her that local authorities will recover all costs from the fees that are charged.

As to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, towards the end of the debate, the Licensing Bill, with its provisions for flexible conditions, including opening hours, will support the development of entertainment centres away from the West End. This will help with the problem that he perceives in his former constituency of Westminster. I remind him that Westminster Council is responsible for administering the public entertainment licensing system. So the system operating in the West End at present is one to which Westminster Council has been very much a party and for which it has considerable responsibility.

As to the question of current numbers, the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, and other noble Lords referred to the fact that there has been a reduction in the numbers of on-licensed premises in central London. He is right; they fell by 11 per cent between 1998 and 2001. That is a result of shifts in the market, but the number of premises does not significantly impact on the number of people who are drawn to a vibrant city centre for entertainment purposes, especially on Friday and Saturday nights. Many young people—I have seen them myself—come into London on a Friday night to go to pubs and clubs. There is no easy solution.

The noble Lord, Lord Tope, mentioned outer London. He is absolutely right, as he nearly always is, in saying that there has been an increase in the number of licensed premises in outer London. The number rose from approximately 5,700 in 1998 to approximately 6,050 last year. Outer London has one of the lowest densities of licensed premises by head of population in the country. So perhaps it is merely making up for a relatively small number of such premises in the past, compared with the rest of the country.

Lord Tope

Perhaps the Minister will forgive my intervening. She provokes me. I know she is aware that most of outer London is residential and that the licensed premises referred to are not street corner pubs dotted at the end of each street; they are concentrated in town and district centres. So to suggest that there is not a problem because they are nicely and evenly spread around outer London is slightly misleading.

Baroness Blackstone

I did not say that there was never a problem. I was simply agreeing with the noble Lord that the numbers have grown in these areas; but I wanted to set that in context, in terms of the position in the past, when the number of licensed premises was relatively small.

Lord Tope

I do not want to prolong this debate for too long, but the other point that these bald figures do not take into account is that the nature of the licensed premises has changed significantly. That will not affect the number of licences, but it has a considerable effect on the number of people using the licensed premises, which, while the licence has remained the same, have changed from what might be described as the traditional pub into places of entertainment.

Baroness Blackstone

I shall not dispute what I am sure is correct information from the noble Lord.

The concerns of the Committee regarding saturation are clear from our debates both on this and on previous amendments. I repeat what I said when we were last in Committee: the Government are sensitive to those concerns. I am willing to return to the House on this matter on Report. Indeed, I have set out our thinking on where we might be able to come up with some appropriate amendments. We aim to provide a mechanism that is fair to local residents and to legitimate and, in the overwhelming majority of cases, responsible businesses.

We have to be fair to the industry. It is not the case that the vast majority of owners or managers of licensed premises are unaware of their responsibilities. We must be fair also to domestic consumers within the UK, and to tourists—many of whom visit our city centres because of their reputation as vibrant, dynamic places where they can have a good time. We must not forget that most of them behave responsibly and show respect for local residents.

That said, as I have acknowledged, there is a problem to be addressed. However, I am not sure that the amendments as tabled would have quite the impact that is intended. For example, imposing a blanket closing time in a particular area might perpetuate the disorder that is associated with artificially early fixed closing times and give rise to a new form of disorder as groups of people migrate between zones. This was one of the principal effects of Edinburgh's zoning policy, and for that reason it was abandoned.

We need to get this matter right, and we shall attempt to do so. I shall return to the House at a later date with amendments. On that basis, I ask that this amendment be withdrawn.

Viscount Falkland

Before the Minister sits down, in the debate between herself, the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, and my noble friend Lord Avebury she expressed some scepticism about the view that concentrations of people in city centres and alcohol were clearly a prescription for greater violence and crime. She rightly reminded us that in her distinguished career as a social scientist she had not found enough evidence to persuade her that that was necessarily the case.

In the spirit of being helpful, perhaps I may remind the Minister that in the last days of the Conservative Administration, the All-Party Group on Alcohol Misuse, together with Alcohol Concern, which is a government-sponsored body, under the excellent chairmanship of the present Secretary of State for Health, Mr Alan Milburn, there was a study of alcohol and crime, particularly in areas of high-density population, to which verbal and written evidence was given by every single body and individual whose input might be useful. It included prison governors, probation officers, the police and so on. It was a long and detailed report. In its entirety, it lent a great deal of authority and support to the views expressed by Members of Committee.

Needless to say, that report, which some of my colleagues—in a rather optimistic frame of mind— thought would hit the press with some impact, failed to do so. It now rests in the Home Office files gathering dust. It may be helpful to the Minister and her officials if, between now and Report, they could turn up the report. Not much has changed since then; in fact, matters have probably got worse in terms of crime.

We are talking about crimes of violence. We are not talking about pickpockets—who make very bad pickpockets when they are drunk. We are talking about people who attack others, and who go home— this forms an important part of the report—and beat up their wives, common law wives or girlfriends, attack children and so on. The connection between child abuse and child cruelty and alcohol is well known. It is acknowledged by all who have contact with these problems. I should be remiss in my duty as vice-chairman of the All-Party Group on Alcohol Misuse not to draw the Minister's attention to the report.

Baroness Blackstone

That was a very long intervention "before I sat down"! Yes, of course, I absolutely accept what the noble Viscount has said. There is indeed a relationship between alcoholism, drunkenness and violent crime. That, with respect, was not the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. He asked whether there was any evidence that there is more violent crime as a result of a concentration of premises serving drink in central London, compared with the position in other parts of the country.

There is more violent crime in central London, for many different and complex reasons. There is no simple answer to that question. But of course I am aware of the association between excessive drinking and violence.

Lord Monson

As we are in Committee, I believe I am entitled to put another question to the Minister. She said that if there were problems of noise and disturbance associated with one particular pub or club, the Bill provides that the licence can be reviewed. One accepts that. But if the review finds against the premises in question, all that can happen under the Bill as it stands is that the licence is withdrawn. That is a fairly draconian, "over the top" punishment. There seems to be no power simply to decree that the premises should close at half past eleven, midnight or whatever, which might solve the problem for residents in the area. We are all trying to suggest that to the Government.

The Minister speaks time and again of licensees' responsibility. Let us suppose that all the licensees in a small town or suburb were happy to maintain their present closing hours because they would not do much business after 11 p.m. Do the Government suggest that those licensees would therefore be irresponsible, antisocial and likely to encourage binge-drinking? It will be interesting to have an answer. I suspect that many licensees will be happy to continue closing at the time they do now.

1 p.m.

Baroness Blackstone

I understand that the main force of Amendment No. 87 is that a licensing authority can restrict the number of licensed premises, regulate the type of licensed premises or impose a generalised closing time in any part of a town centre or other locality in the licensing area. That will not be possible under this legislation for the reasons I have set out. But any licensing authority will have up its sleeve a flexible range of sanctions: it can modify the conditions to a licence, revoke a licence or suspend it for up to three months. Before doing any of those, it can issue a series of cautions to any licensed premises that is not adhering to its existing conditions, or that is acting irresponsibly. I hope that that answers the noble Lord's question.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville

I apologise to the Minister for speaking again. I said that much hangs on the Government's view that planning will solve the problems that the Licensing Bill creates. It is desirable that we tease out the issue. I acknowledged in my speech Westminster's role in granting entertainment licences. I do not disagree with that.

I inadvertently misled the House in quoting Westminster as having 263 late-night licences. That is the number in the Soho-Covent Garden stress area. There are 583 in the whole of Westminster, as the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, quoted in an earlier debate.

Today, and in the past, the Minister has made much of the programme that Manchester is running. But noble Lords taking part in these debates have received additional briefing from Manchester City Council. I shall not quote all eight items of supplementary evidence. The council says that there has been a 250 per cent increase over the past 10 years in the number of licensed premises in the city centre, and a similar increase in alcohol-related crime and disorder. The repopulation of the city centre has seen a large increase in complaints from local residents about noise and nuisance, both from within licensed premises and from revellers leaving them. There are also complaints from the universities that Manchester's poor night-time image is adversely affecting enrolment. I do not question anything the Minister said about Manchester, but the story is not as straightforward as she may have suggested.

The Government Front Bench were unable to answer the questions of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. The peak time for offending in the Covent Garden-Soho stress area is 3 a.m. As I said earlier, the attraction of criminals to the area in order to rob people is influenced by the fact that many drunk people will be wandering around. Drunk people are easier to take money from than are sober people. I cannot give figures on violence, but 3 a.m. is the peak time for street crime in Westminster as a whole.

I apologise to the Committee for taking a little time. My point about planning relates to the changes made in 1987. As the Minister will know, bars and clubs fall into the same A3 category as restaurants and coffee bars. It is, therefore, feasible, without further planning application, to change a restaurant or coffee bar into a bar or pub. Similarly, nothing in planning law can prevent a cinema being turned into a night club, which is in category D2, as the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, said.

Planning cannot curtail growth. Planning permission is given for ever, a licence for a much shorter period. The planning inspectorate does not regard crime and disorder as a proper reason for refusing to accept an appeal. I have a long case study that could not make the point more clearly. I shall not read it now; I shall send it to the Minister. Two small restaurants, previously individual establishments closing at around 12.30, were amalgamated. A bar operator knocked the two units into one and opened a bar accommodating 700 people. It applied for a 3 a.m. licence. The police, council and local residents opposed the application before the licensing magistrates. However, in planning law, despite its very different local impact, the operation does not require permission. One of those restaurants has a party wall with a significant block of flats.

The use of the UDP is an alternative way of proceeding. Since all planning decisions must be in line with the UDP, one can change the whole UDP and begin an inquiry. A dynamic night economy needs more flexibility than is provided by the cumbersome process of changing the UDP and a subsequent inquiry. As Wellington said, he beat Napoleon because his harness was made of leather whereas Napoleon's was made of iron. I have a considerable case study that illustrates my point.

The Minister implies that Westminster's decisions on A3 applications, as well as on entertainment licences. had given rise to the problem. The problem is that A3 applications were granted when the council had control of licensing. The power to impose an iron harness in licensing decisions is removed from Westminster City Council. It can do nothing about the fact that, arguably, there are too many licensed premises since it no longer has licensing control.

I have another case history to back my final point. I can send it to the Minister. Breaches of planning law are treated in a much less draconian manner than are breaches of licensing law. In this instance, the case history is of someone who offended in 1998. Four years later, he is still practising, following a series of intervening efforts to reverse the planning breach. Throughout that period, he has been able to continue to trade in alcohol.

I indicated to the Minister during a previous briefing session the history of sex shops in Westminster, particularly Soho. I went to the then Home Secretary, later to become Lord Whitelaw, in around 1981 to say that there were 164 sex establishments in Soho and that there appeared to be no way in which the tide could be reversed. An area of inner London much wider than Soho, which had become attractive, was likely to be polluted by the condition. The Department of the Environment made it perfectly clear that it had no intention of preventing this through planning laws. Home Office officials advised Lord Whitelaw—as he later became—not to move to a licensing system. He accepted my point that the situation would not be reversed without a licensing system. A licensing system was brought in, giving considerable powers to local authorities to decide how many sex establishments they wanted locally, which is what we have been discussing in this debate. Westminster decided to have a maximum of 10 spread throughout the city.

That had a profound effect on the pleasantness of Soho during the 1980s. Many old ladies had previously not been prepared to go down the street past eight sex establishments in order to do their grocery shopping. Once those shops were occupied by butchers, bakers and candlestick makers, they had no hesitation in doing so. It was a complete transformation. The tragedy is that in a sense the Bill will turn back the progress that has been made in Soho by residents and commercial people alike. We already have evidence of what can be achieved. It has attracted an enormous amount of advertising and media industry activity, to the great gain of central London. It would be a great pity if that process were reversed.

Baroness Blackstone

I have already responded to the debate. I recognise that we are in Committee and that the noble Lord is not asking me to respond at length to what he has said. I remind him that the reason for the peak of offending occurring at three o'clock in the morning is that that is when people are thrown out of all the clubs in Soho. The Bill will change that by introducing flexible opening hours. I therefore hope that it will reduce the amount of offending that takes place at that time.

Of course the noble Lord is right that cinemas can become night clubs under change of use laws. That is part of the review of the use class order conducted by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, to which I have already referred. As I have already said, the Government will come up with proposals for reform. We do not intend to address the issue in the planning legislation that will come before the House during this Session. Any action on permissions to change from one use to another will be dealt with by an amendment to the relevant statutory instrument. It will therefore probably be possible to introduce it more quickly than the much larger changes to planning law.

I hope that I have dealt with the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke. I note what he says about Manchester. I am interested in his point about the universities. I suspect that one of the problems that Manchester city centre has to live with is the fact that there are 100,000 students in central Manchester, many of whom turn up on Friday and Saturday nights for a night out and some of them drink too much.

Lord Monson

I know that the noble Baroness has a tremendous amount on her plate with the Bill. I do not want to add to her burdens, but she did not respond to my last question, which was very important. If all licensees in an area decide that they want to go on closing at 11 p.m. as they do now, can she confirm that they will not be accused of frustrating the purposes of the Bill and have their arms twisted to stagger their closing times?

Baroness Blackstone

Of course. This is a deregulatory, liberalising Bill. The whole point is that licensed premises should have the opportunity to decide whether they want to open for longer hours, but if any of them want to close at eleven—or even earlier—of course they can do so.

The Earl of Onslow

Will the noble Baroness address the planning problem in greater detail? As I understand it, she is saying that planning can control congestion and the Government know that the system of classification is wonky. They are going to look at it, but do not know what conclusion they are coming to. That does not seem a very strict element of control.

1.15 p.m.

Baroness Blackstone

I have already said that, under existing planning law, local authorities are able to decide whether to grant permission for licensed premises. Local authorities make these decisions all the time. I have also conceded that there is a problem with changing the nature of premises from one kind to another. The Government are aware of that problem, which has been raised by the noble Lords, Lord Tope and Lord Brooke. There are problems of super-pubs springing up by the back door as a result. I have said that the Government will come up with proposals in the new year to deal with that. I hope that that answers the noble Earl.

Baroness Buscombe

I thank the Minister for her response. I also thank all those who have taken part in this important debate. I shall attempt to be brief. A number of Members of the Committee have been extremely polite in apologising for returning to their feet. No apology is necessary here. I feel strongly that these are all important points that need to be clarified as early in our scrutiny of the Bill as possible.

Our amendments were drafted with the thoughts and views of the Association of Chief Police Officers in mind. ACPO has said: There comes a time when saturation point is reached and the addition of any further licensed premises has the potential to considerably exacerbate existing problems of crime and disorder. We feel that both the police and the local authority, bearing in mind its responsibilities under the Crime and Disorder Act, should be able to raise objections based specifically on the additional and cumulative impact of a new premises on the crime and disorder problems in the area". I shall cover a few areas in response to the Minister and other Members of the Committee. First, the noble Lord, Lord Monson, rightly pointed out that we should be looking for a more evidence-based approach. I asked for that on Second Reading. Most of us are members of the All-Party Parliamentary Beer Group. The group went on its travels to find out what happened abroad. We did not hear much about what they found. I have found that in France nothing is open in the afternoon, so somebody is getting a break somewhere. There are also stringent laws in countries such as Germany. Perhaps we and the Government should look at that further before Report. We are grateful that the Minister will be considering this on Report.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, for his comments. He rightly said that we are dealing with an awful lot of theory. We do not know what will happen in practice. There are opportunities for review under Clause 5, but we are looking for local authorities to focus on the impact of longer opening hours on binge drinking, disorder and anti-social behaviour. The Minister argues that binge drinking is caused partly by everybody coming out at 3 a.m., so it will be far better when we do not have that cut-off time. I find that remarkable. We do not know, but some of us fear that the problems will probably go right through the night. ACPO has said that we may not necessarily find more problems, but they will certainly be spread through the night.

Interestingly, the Minister also said that we should not be concerned about costs, because local authorities will recover all costs from fees charged. That is a wonderful statement for her to have made. I hope that a lot of local authorities will feel extremely assured by that. Costs are not being covered at the moment. This is a new promotion for local authority concerns with regard to fees. Local authorities spend an extraordinary amount of money cleaning up in areas with large concentrations of licensed premises, particularly those with late-night licences. Indeed, there is a huge spend on clean-up and clear-up. Of course, the police will be extending their hours in areas such as Westminster, Soho, and so on. Their peak hours at present run from 6 p.m. to 3 a.m. Presumably, they will now have to be out on the beat right through the night.

We have raised many important issues during today's debate. It was interesting to learn that the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, has looked into research, which is a matter that we must take seriously. Research is always funded by someone. We need to consider it objectively. I shall certainly be studying it with care between now and the new year. I shall find what is now available, and also consider the other research when it is published in full in the new year. From research undertaken on the Isle of Man, we understand from the police that the liberalised laws in operation have not necessarily reduced the potential for crime, disorder, and other such problems; it has just spread it over a longer period of time. I believe that there has been some reduction in crime, because the ability of the police to combat crime has been improved by way of CCTV and other mechanisms. So I am not sure, particularly as it is early days, that the Government can rely on saying that liberal licensing laws are the answer to the problem.

Planning is also a most important consideration in this debate. The noble Lord, Lord Tope, said that following a change of culture in our pubs we need to consider planning. But the question is: how? I have with me a briefing note from the Westminster City Council. In referring to it, I should like to make it absolutely clear that right through the debate we want to be fair to industry, as much as to local residents and local authorities. One of my fears for the industry is that local authorities will feel compelled to reject new applications on the basis that they are afraid of saturation and of detrimental effects.

I shall briefly mention two sentences from the note from the City of Westminster, which says that, planning cannot contain growth … Many A3 uses have been granted in the past on the basis that their hours could be controlled through licensing". The latter is an important point to take into account. I worry that new premises applications will encounter difficulties. That is a great shame. The last thing that we want to see is the industry in difficulty when it wants to open new types of premises. The planning process may be the only opportunity for local authorities to ensure I hat they can "contain" any potential problems, hut, in doing so, they may stifle industry.

I note what the Minister said in relation to the fact that the Government are looking at new planning laws. We are grateful for that, but surely this is a case of shutting the door after the horse has bolted. We are being asked to agree to this—

Baroness Blackstone

This Government are trying to resolve some problems that relate to legislation introduced by the noble Baroness's party when in power.

Baroness Buscombe

I thank the Minister for that intervention, but I am not quite sure how that helps us in this case. I am talking about the need for us to understand where we stand in relation to planning. However, we shall not have that information until the Bill has passed through this Chamber and probably another place, which is a great shame. We do not know how such measures will operate at this stage; and, indeed, we shall not know before the Bill leaves this place. On that basis, we should be grateful if the Minster and her officials would think most carefully about mechanisms that could be put in place in this Bill to deal with the question of saturation.

Many other points were raised in today's debate. My noble friend Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville drew our attention to a number of important issues. I believe that his mention of sex shops is an ideal example to illustrate where local input and local power, coupled with responsibility, can make an enormous difference for the benefit of all. For my part, I find that area of London much more attractive. Thanks to local input, it now has a stronger mix of premises that we can all enjoy. There is also the question of noise, which is one of those issues about which we are all particularly concerned in relation to saturation and the cumulative effect.

All the issues raised are important. Yes, the Minster did respond to some of them in a previous debate, but that was all about "public nuisance". We are now talking about too many premises being in one place, which, as I say, could have a negative effect both on local residents and on industry. We want to see a balance here, and we are looking for mechanisms to find it. We hope that the Government will bring forward the latter between now and the Report stage. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 88 not moved.]

Baroness Harris of Richmond moved Amendment No. 89: Page 3, line 16, at end insert— ( ) section 17 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 (c. 37).

The noble Baroness said: On Clause 4, the helpful Explanatory Notes that accompany the Bill say: Its proposals are intended to ensure that the provision of additional opportunities for licensable activities are matched by additional measures enabling the police and licensing authorities to act promptly to maintain public order and safety".

I believe that my amendment fulfils that intention.

At Second Reading, I reminded noble Lords of my former work as a magistrate—I am still on the Supplemental List—as chair of a police authority, and as a former member of a local authority. However, it is mainly as a former magistrate that I want to speak to this amendment. I hope that Members of the Committee will accept this declaration of my interests throughout the course of the Bill.

On almost every occasion on which I sat in the adult court, my colleagues and I had to dealt with drunk and disorderly defendants. It was mainly young men, often from the large Army garrison situated nearby, who would come into Richmond specifically to drink themselves senseless. I shall not dwell on their appalling behaviour thereafter, but it frequently drew in the local hooligan element—a recipe for disorder, if not always crime. Residents of the town have complained bitterly about the behaviour of some of these young people, and have refused to go into the town centre at night. The police, who perform a magnificent job in coping with such behaviour. with, I must add, occasional support from the military police, have, nevertheless, a difficult time on Friday and Saturday nights in general.

My amendment is explicitly designed to put on the face of the Bill a requirement that Section 17 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 will apply in such circumstances. I should, first, remind noble Lords what that Act says: Without prejudice to any other obligation imposed on it, it shall be the duty of each authority to which this section applies to exercise its various functions with due regard to the likely effect of the exercise of those functions on, and the need to do all that it reasonably can to prevent, crime and disorder in its area".

I am grateful to the Minister for her letter of reassurance dated 16th December, in which she points out, that Local Authorities already are, and will continue to he required to take Section 17 of the Crime and Disorder Act in to account".

It is important for us to remember that there is a need to tie licensing in with crime and disorder. This is an ideal part of the Bill in which to include it. Although we have already touched on the cumulative impact of a number of licensed premises situated close to one another, this can bring the probability of disorder. As the ACPO briefing suggests: The concentration of licensed premises, and the collocation of similar types of venue, within certain areas of a town or city can be associated with crime and disorder. Whilst Government policy is that economic demand may not be a relevant factor upon which to mount an objection, nonetheless, it is the police who must deal with all consequent problems whilst the height of the economic ceiling is determined".

The noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, referred to the following part of the ACPO briefing when moving Amendment No. 87, but it is worth repeating.

It states: There comes a time where saturation point is reached and the addition of any further licensed premises has the potential to considerably exacerbate existing problems of crime and disorder. We feel that both the police and the local authority, bearing in mind its responsibilities under the Crime and Disorder Act, should be able to raise objections based specifically upon the addition and cumulative impact of a new premises on the crime and disorder problems in the area. It should be possible to raise these objections both at the planning stage and, bearing in mind that planing consent is not always necessary, at the time of application for a premises licence".

I believe that it is important that the Government accept this amendment. I beg to move.

1.30 p.m.

Lord Avebury

I warmly support my noble friend in this amendment. I also have to say that I was truly disappointed by the Minister's reply to the question I asked on the previous amendment—that we do not even know the figures for disorder in particular areas, or how they relate, if at all, to the concentration of licensed premises in those areas. However, in quoting the example of the city council in Manchester, where there has been a similar relationship between the level of crime and disorder and the number of establishments, the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, confirmed my subjective impression that there is a relationship between growth in late-night drinking and increased crime and disorder.

I take this opportunity to mention another problem which has not been discussed so far: how local authorities deal with the large number of vehicles coming into these areas when there is nowhere for them to park. In the stressed area of Soho/Covent Garden, late-night car removal vehicles go round picking up and removing illegally parked cars. A large number of traffic attendants are employed by private companies on behalf of the London Borough of Westminster to deal with infringements. Although not a serious crime, parking illegally is an offence which can result in quite severe penalties in terms of the cost associated with recovering removed vehicles.

There is another aspect, however, which I find extremely alarming and unpleasant—the racial attacks on parking attendants which occur late at night and certainly not simply at 3 a.m., although they may peak as people leave clubs and pubs seeking to recover their vehicles. One might ask as an aside how much effort the police can put into ensuring that people do not get into vehicles when they have had too much to drink in these establishments. The police told me, not in relation to that particular offence but in general, that they probably arrest no more than one in 10 of those committing offences in the late-night economy. If they arrested more, they would completely clog up the facilities at the police station and, the following morning, in the magistrates' court.

I hope that in obtaining the figures which she has promised to give to the House, which I am surprised we have not been able to access before this debate, the Minister will pay particular attention to the appalling problem of racial attacks on parking attendants in the late hours.

I am truly surprised to see the noble Baroness giggling as she sits there on the Bench.

Baroness Blackstone

I am just very surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for whom I have the greatest respect, is raising issues about racial attacks on parking attendants when they have absolutely nothing to do with Amendment No. 89. We on this side of the House are rather concerned about the very slow progress. We have five days for Committee stage, and I am worried that we will not get through all the work that we have to do. It is very difficult to allocate more days, and the fifth day is already an extra day. If I was giggling, it was simply because I was surprised that the noble Lord should be talking about something that truly has nothing to do with the amendment.

Lord Avebury

It has everything to do with the amendment. The strategy to reduce crime and disorder in an area must include a strategy for dealing with racially motivated crimes, which the Government purport to take very seriously and on which Parliament has imposed additional penalties under the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 and under various other legislation. As the noble Baroness treats this as lightly and facetiously as she does, I shall not pursue the matter now; I shall find another opportunity to raise it more substantively. However, I utterly refute her allegation that the question of racially motivated assaults on traffic wardens and the strategy for dealing with them has nothing to do with this amendment.

Lord Tope

I feel very slightly intimidated in rising to support Amendment No. 89, but I should like to do so briefly. One of my very much less time-consuming interests, which I have not declared, is as vice-chairman of the community safety panel of the Association of London Government. In that capacity recently, I was reviewing the crime and disorder strategies for all 32 London boroughs. I think that I am right in recalling that every one of them, or certainly the vast majority of them, listed dealing with anti-social behaviour as among its top three priorities.

I expect that, in a minute, the Minister—I always anticipate the Minister's reply—will tell us that the amendment is unnecessary because local authorities already have to take into account the implications for crime and disorder in all that they do, and that is certainly right. However, I agree with my noble friend Lady Harris that it would be appropriate to include in the Bill this simple but very important reminder to the local authority when acting as a licensing authority that it should consider crime and disorder matters, and that we should give local authorities the authority to do so when dealing with applicants for whom that may not always be the highest priority. I am therefore pleased to support this amendment and to do so briefly.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Tope, has answered the debate; I do not really need to say any more. I can give an absolute assurance that Section 17 of the Crime and Disorder Act is obligatory on all local authorities for all of their functions; therefore it covers their functions as licensing authorities as well. The only reason why we have to put it in the Bill at all—as we have done, of course, as one of the four licensing objectives—is that it is not absolutely certain that Section 17 of the Act would also apply to any appeal body considering a licensing issue. The inclusion of crime and disorder as one of the four licensing objectives fills that possible gap. There is no other gap. There is a complete obligation on all licensing local authorities to consider Section 17. The amendment is indeed unnecessary.

Baroness Harris of Richmond

I am most grateful to the Minister for that response. I shall look very carefully at his comments on the appeal body which will certainly require a little study. Nevertheless, II feel that this is an important provision to include in the Bill and I ask the Government to reconsider doing so. As my noble friend Lord Tope suggested, the provision would remind local authorities of their duties under the Ad. I may wish to return to the issue at a later stage, but meanwhile I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 90 not moved.]

Clause 4 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 91 not moved.]

Clause 177 [Guidance]:

Baroness Harris of Richmond moved Amendment No. 91A: Page 98, line 10, after "authorities" insert "and the police

The noble Baroness said: In moving the amendment on behalf of my noble friend Lord Redesdale, I shall be mercifully brief. In view of the significant role of the police in enforcing the Bill's provisions, we believe that the guidance should apply also to the police, and that it should be so stated in the Bill.

I speak also to Amendment No. 103 which is consequential on the amendment to subsection (3) of Clause 4 that was spoken to earlier, the effect of which is to make the local licensing statement the only policy statement taken into account by the local licensing authority in exercising its licensing functions. I beg to move.

Baroness Blackstone

I am extremely grateful to the noble Baroness for the concise manner in which she spoke to the amendments in the group we are discussing.

I recognise the concerns about the guidance, but we have already discussed that in some detail. The framework guidance has been made available. I have put on record that consultation on the detail of the guidance is under way and I have explained that we shall bring the draft guidance forward at some point during the Bill's stages in this House.

I have explained when speaking to previous amendments related to these, as has my noble friend Lord McIntosh, that the guidance to licensing authorities is intended as a functional and user friendly best practice guide, highlighting areas the Secretary of State thinks licensing authorities should have regard to in exercising their licensing functions. This would include determining licensing policy and publishing statements of licensing policy. The Government therefore believe that Amendment No 103 is unnecessary.

The licensing policy is certainly important as it will let everyone know how the licensing authority will go about exercising its functions. But it will already have to have regard to the guidance without this amendment.

Turning to Amendment No. 91A, which would require the Secretary of State to issue guidance to the police, I should remind the Committee at the outset—I am sure that the noble Baroness, who knows a great deal about these matters, is aware of this—that the police are operationally independent. This is an important constitutional position that the Government wish to preserve. The police are under no obligation to have regard to or take into account guidance of any kind. There would be little point in requiring the Secretary of State to issue guidance to them.

That said, the Government can and often do work with the police and sometimes other stakeholders to produce consensual guidance on the exercise oft heir powers. A good example is the guidance that was published to coincide with the police's new powers, which came into effect in December 2001, to close down licensed premises on the spot. The Government and the police worked together to produce a document that many forces found useful and valuable. I wish to say, though, that the preamble to that guidance made the operational independence of the police absolutely clear.

I again emphasise that the Bill, and the guidance, has been and is being developed in consultation with a whole range of stakeholders, including the police. We expect to work with the police on the operation of the new licensing system, and the guidance issued will be available to them if they wish to follow it. However, it would be wholly inappropriate to require the Secretary of State to issue guidance to them. I therefore hope that the amendment will be withdrawn.

Baroness Harris of Richmond

I am most grateful for that response. In the light of the noble Baroness's reassurances and the further guidance that will be issued before the Bill completes its passage through this House, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

1.45 p.m.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville moved Amendment No. 92: Page 98, line 10, at end insert— ( ) Before issuing or revising any guidance the Secretary of State must consult—

  1. (a) all local authorities which are to become, but have not yet become, a licensing authority,
  2. (b) all licensing authorities, and
  3. (c) such other persons as he thinks fit."

The noble Lord said: I hope that I shall speak as concisely as the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond.

In the Bill as drafted the Secretary of State's guidance assumes considerable importance, impinging as it does upon the determination of each individual licence application as well as upon general policy matters. In those circumstances the guidance should be the subject of prior consultation before it is issued, just as a licensing authority rightly must consult widely before determining its policy for each three-year period.

Of course I acknowledge that there is an advisory group comprising representatives of the 25 organisations listed on the front page of the framework for guidance to be issued under Clause 177 and that that list of 25 organisations includes the LGA. But that is a far cry from the local authorities at large, which are being given such important responsibilities under this Bill, being consulted to bring to the department's notice the kind of local circumstances which militate against the doctrine of "one size fits all". I beg to move.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

This amendment is partly unnecessary and partly undesirable. That completes the coverage of the amendment! It is unnecessary in that it refers to the issuing and the revision of the guidance. As regards the issuing of the guidance, assurances have already been given that there will be widespread consultation. As the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, reminded the Committee, there was already widespread consultation on the preparation of the framework document. We are now working on the draft document itself. We have given undertakings about the availability of the draft guidance. The work will have to be speeded up but, clearly, the draft guidance is a consultative document. Consultation will take place with local authority associations and individual local authorities will be free to make representations. Certainly, we would expect Westminster to make representations about its particular circumstances. Consultation will take place with the police and fire authorities.

The amendment states: Before issuing or revising any guidance". Guidance is supposed to constitute a flexible document. It is supposed to be capable of revision as and when necessary without any unnecessary formality. If we had to consult every single local authority, including those which have not yet become licensing authorities, and other persons, that would simply slow down the process of revision. It would ensure that we did not have an up to date and effective schedule of guidance.

Lord Avebury

The Government have been rather reluctant to meet Councillor Simon Milton who gave the presentation which has been mentioned frequently in the course of our proceedings. I thought that he painted a convincing picture of the problems facing the London Borough of Westminster. Does the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, agree that if Simon Milton, among others, wishes to make representations in the course of the formulation of the guidance, he should be given a proper hearing?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

Of course.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville

It constitutes an Exocet to have one's amendment described as both unnecessary and undesirable. I remind the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, of the discussion we had last night in the context of Clause 177 in which he gave me an assurance that the wording that we have already accepted—that is, "have regard to" the guidance issued under Clause 177—would apply to the original licensing policy that a local authority set. Although it would be required to have regard to any revised or subsequent guidance that was given, it could rest on its original position if it chose to do so. Given the significance that the noble Lord placed on the revised guidance last night, I felt that the amendment was not wholly unnecessary or undesirable, although it had obviously already been tabled. However, the Minister has given a reassuring response. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 177 agreed to.

Clause 5 [Statement of licensing policy]:

Baroness Buscombe moved Amendment No. 93: Page 3, line 18, leave out subsection (1).

The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment. I should make it clear that I shall not be moving Amendments Nos. 95, 99, 107 and 110. In each of those amendments, my intended wording of "licensing period" has, for some reason, become "licensing policy", which would not add clarity to the Bill. I apologise for that inadvertent error. As those amendments were designed to accompany Amendment No. 100, which is being debated separately, I shall return at the next stage with amendments to insert "licensing period" in place of "three year period".

Why do I intend to do that, and why do I suggest in Amendment No. 93, which is a probing amendment, that the duty of determination of licensing policy every three years might be removed? I am simply asking the Government to justify to the Committee why there should be any prescription from the centre as to the duration of a licensing policy, and why a licensing authority should be asked to publish a licensing statement after very extensive consultation, as required every three years under subsection (5).

Given that subsection (4) allows a licensing authority the power to revise its policy at any time, there seems no reason to impose a further artificial exercise every three years. What if a licensing policy is operating satisfactorily to everyone's content after the end of a three-year period? Is it really essential for an authority in each three-year period to go through the extensive exercise of a new determination?

The Government keep claiming that this is a deregulating measure. Is the proposal not simply a recipe for unnecessary paper shuffling every three years, which will involve much time and many people who might have better things to do? I should like to understand the reasons for what seems to me an unnecessary piece of mechanistic bureaucracy, and wonder whether Ministers would be prepared to think again on that point. I beg to move.

Lord Williamson of Horton

I did not intervene earlier on the amendments relating to saturation" as I felt that the Government Front Bench was already saturated. However, I intervene here on Amendments Nos. 104 and 102, which are in this group, and to speak to the last point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, on the period. I repeat, as we are involved in such a long Committee stage, that I declare an interest as a non-executive director of Whitbread, which is a very large company in the leisure business but is not a brewer. It has sold many thousands of its pubs and is interested in the pub restaurant side of the business.

First, Amendment No. 104 relates to saturation. Amendment No. 87 relates to the Secretary of State's guidance and Amendment No. 111 relates specifically to the question of disorder or binge drinking. Amendment No. 104 goes wider, as it relates to the whole policy of a licensing authority. I noted carefully that the Minister said that she would consider again the question of saturation. I understand that, but I should like to exercise a note of caution.

In the earlier part of the debate, we heard much about Westminster and the stress areas in the centre of London. I fully understand the reason for that and appreciate the point—I am not criticising it—but while I was sitting here, my vision stretched further afield into the rest of England, where the situation is not entirely the same. Overall, the consumption of beer and the number of public houses are falling, and there is a huge move to the purchase of alcohol in supermarkets. We should bear in mind, when talking about saturation, that in small country towns and elsewhere there is another element to the question. We should not discourage competition in such areas. It would be extremely unsatisfactory if we created a situation whereby the existing pubs defended themselves against the arrival of newcomers on the basis that there would be saturation. If local authorities had to follow Amendment No. 104, that would be an overriding point in relation to their licensing policy.

We need to be a little careful in drawing too widely and encouraging too much the potential noncompetitive effect on many parts of the United Kingdom of applying a saturation clause. I do not refer to Westminster, or elsewhere—that is not my point. I am referring to a situation that will certainly arise in many smaller towns, where there will be a defensive attitude on the part of existing operators if someone else wants to come in. That would not be good for the town or village, or for potential consumers. I invite the Government 'to bear that point in mind when they reflect on the question of saturation.

My second point relates to Amendment No. 102. There is much to be said for it, but we need to be careful how we define, different types of licensable activities". That could be interpreted differently by various licensing authorities and give rise to some difficulty in some parts of the country.

Finally, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, that a three-year period is too short. We have a great tendency in this country to dig up everything that we have established in many areas of public life. I would be happy with a longer period, bearing in mind that there is always a possibility of review, and other clauses that are already in the Bill. The provision of a three-year basic fixed period is probably too short.

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts

I intervene briefly. Since I shall speak to the next group of amendments on the period for review, I shall not address that question now. However, I should like to address Amendment No. 104 and the issue of saturation.

Several Members of the Committee have drawn attention to the increase in the number of high street and town centre licensed premises, which has led to undesirable social consequences. I understand that but, from a practical point of view, an economic readjustment may need to take place, in that market forces will drive several of the licensed premises out of business. Already, with the downturn in the economy and the lesser availability of spending money, those licensed premises are feeling the breeze most severely. If one is a reader of the City press, one will see that profit warnings are coming from the "pubcos", which are predominantly the operators of that type of premises. By comparison, the traditional public house with an established and long-lasting client base is doing rather better, whether it serves food as well or merely alcohol.

For those who are concerned about saturation and its undesirable consequences, the market may come to the rescue, and capacity forces will drive a number of the licensed premises out of business during the next year or two.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville

My name appears below the Liberal Democrat names on Amendments Nos. 96, 97, 102 and 104. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, and other Members of the Committee, that I have no intention of speaking further on Amendment No. 104, save to say, which I have not said before, that there is a degree of irony in the Deputy Prime Minister seeking to encourage more people to live in inner-city areas if the Licensing Bill runs a risk of making matters worse for those who live there.

Amendments Nos. 96, 97 and 102, to which the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, also referred, are probing to determine whether a licensing authority will be allowed to apply different policies to different areas and different types of licensing activity. Much of the debate has indicated why such flexibility would be desirable

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, for explaining how gremlins crept into some of the amendments. I sympathise, as I have had the same experience, and I am grateful for her explanation.

I begin with the three year period; my comments will also apply to the next group of amendments. We set a three-year period for good precedented reasons. The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 already imposes a requirement on local authorities to set out their crime prevention strategy on a three-yearly basis. That seems to work pretty well—there have been no difficulties with it. In particular, there are advantages in co-ordinating the two approaches. In view of the relationship between crime and disorder issues that are recognised in the licensing objectives, it would be sensible for local authorities to time their review of licensing policies with their obligations under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. That is why we set the three-year period.

The noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, asked about what would happen if everything is all right after three years. How would the local licensing authority know that everything was all right unless it consulted local people? The opportunity provided by a review requires local authorities to consult local people and other interested persons. It is a protection. If the response is that everything is all right, the review will be a relatively straightforward procedure.

Amendments Nos. 102 and 103 would allow a local authority to have different licensing policies relating to different types of premises. That appears to raise all sorts of difficulties. What if one had different types of premises defined in different ways under different licensing authority areas? How will applicants for licences know what the criteria are and for which type of premises they should apply for a licence? Of course there are concerns about the different degrees of nuisance that can arise from different types of premises; we have been discussing that for the past two and a half hours.

My noble friend Lady Blackstone made it clear that we will revisit the issues raised by saturation. I do not believe that amendments allowing different licensing policies for different types of premises are appropriate or necessary. It is up to a local authority, if it wants to, to impose different conditions for different individual premises or for different types of premises. A premises licence can specify circumstances that are specific to the premises concerned.

Amendment No. 104 does not take us any further in our discussion of saturation and the aggregate number of licensed premises in any one area. I suggest that we leave that for the review that the Government have undertaken to make of this issue.

2 p.m.

Baroness Buscombe

I thank the Minister for his response. I am grateful for his reference to the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 and the requirement on local authorities to set out their crime and disorder strategy on a three-yearly basis. I appreciate his comments on the advantages of co-ordinating the two approaches. That is one good reason for having a three-year period.

One of our concerns about that period was that a licensing authority may have a view that is different from its stated policy. We therefore thought that it would make more sense to have a review of the licensing policy when there is a new licensing authority, which may have a different policy. We may return to that when we have tabled our amendments correctly.

My noble friend Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville raised an important point about urban regeneration. Many of us believe that one of the best ways to contain crime is to increase people's confidence and to encourage them to feel free, able and confident to walk in—to live in—their local urban area. The more that there is life in urban areas on a 24-hourly basis the better and the more secure people will feel. I agree with my noble friend; there is an interesting and stark contrast between the Bill's policies and those set out by the Deputy Prime Minister.

I turn briefly to those amendments to which my name has not been added. Although I heard what the Minister said about different policies for different types of premises, that returns us to the point that I made earlier; that is, that one of our difficulties with the Bill is that we are dealing with different types of premises and applying a uniform set of rules, suggestions and guidance to them. I gave the example of supermarkets. It does not appear to make sense to ally Tesco with a lap-dancing club or the different types of activities that go on within them. I urge the Government to consider that point—it is of great value. It should be considered between now and Report. We on these Benches will certainly consider it further. The more that we consider the Bill, the more I believe that that is one of the fundamental problems. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts moved Amendment No. 94: Page 3, line 18, leave out "three" and insert "five

The noble Lord said: I shall be brief because, as the Minister said in response to the previous group of amendments, many of the points that I wanted to raise have already been raised by my noble friend.

We return to the statement of licensing policy. In relation to an earlier amendment we discussed who should draw up licensing policies. I suggested that there was some need for scale and that the dangers of what I called a patchwork quilt were considerable. For example, when local authorities abut one another, there might be one licensing policy on one side of the road and another licensing policy on the other. That did not achieve any resonance in the House—rather the reverse. I believe that Members of the Committee have underestimated the trouble that this could cause.

However, this set of amendments does not concern who should draw up the licensing policies but how often they should be redetermined. I agree with my noble friend on the Front Bench that three years is too often. The fact that the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, so easily passed off the patchwork-quilt argument leaves me to believe that the Government do not intend to give much local latitude or local freedom. I believe that they will lay down a clear set of guidelines and that the idea of local freedom is a myth or a mirage. If it is not to be a myth or mirage, then the consultation phase will be substantial.

My noble friend Lady Buscombe referred to Clause 5(3) and the list of people who had to be consulted. That list is lengthy. If proper consultation is to be carried out, it will take time. Twelve months could easily elapse in consulting the groups of people listed in those six paragraphs. One consultation will hardly have finished before it is time to start the next.

I am afraid I do not accept the comparison made by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, with the strategy for crime and disorder. For example, the practical implications of new pubs being opened are considerable. The timescale of acquiring the land, preparing plans for the building and the associated facilities, and obtaining planning permissions could easily to run to 18 months or two years. It may well overrun the end of a three-year period and one might then be operating under a new licensing statement or policy.

Therefore, not only is the provision likely to be extremely bureaucratic; it is likely to inhibit the development of new public houses and licensed premises. In any case—again, as my noble friend pointed out— Clause 4 provides the local authority with opportunities to deal with any important events that emerge in the meantime.

The Minister is always talking about this as a deregulatory measure but she then includes a compulsory three-year review period. I understand the need for a formal review to give members of the general public a formal opportunity to make their views known. But I am convinced that a quinquennial review is quite often enough. I beg to move.

Baroness Buscombe

I rise to support the amendment. Simply, I believe that we are looking for a degree of flexibility here.

Lord Redesdale

My Lords, I also support this idea but not, as this is a probing amendment, on the basis that the cost implications will be extremely high. I know that the Minister will come back and say that it would be advisable to obtain as much local public opinion as possible. However, these reviews will be paid for by local ratepayers and, from my own experience of Camden's review of entertainment licensing policy, I know that it is an extremely expensive affair.

Lord Avebury

The scope for variation of the licensing policy will be very limited, as we can see even from the framework document which has been presented to us. Therefore, I agree with what was said about the lack of a need for complete consultation and revision on a three-yearly basis.

I want to emphasise to the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, the point made by the Minister during debate on the previous amendment. The need to align the review of the licensing policy with that of the crime and reduction strategy could be taken into account if, at a later sage, the amendment could be varied so as to lay down a period of six years instead of five. Then there would be one review of the licensing policy for every two reviews of the crime reduction strategy.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I am rather surprised that Members of the Committee should change sides so rapidly. For two-and-a-half hours, we have been hearing how essential it is to consult local people. Yet, when we provide in the Bill for an obligation on licensing authorities to consult local people and to review their licensing policies on a three-yearly basis— not every six months; not every year; and not every two years, but every three years—somehow that becomes too much of a burden.

We want stability in our licensing policies and we know perfectly well that the breweries and other licensees want stability of policy. I suggest that it is not perverse to provide for a systematic revision every three years in line with the provisions of the Crime and Disorder Act for crime prevention, which, so far as I know, have caused no trouble at all.

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts

I am grateful to the Minister. I believe that he hit the nail on the head when he talked in his response about the need for stability. In an industry such as this, I do not believe that stability is provided by the thought that a formal review process will be held every three years. I believe that the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, of a review every six years is extremely helpful. This is an issue to which we shall need to return but, in the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 95 to 99 not moved.]

2.15 p.m.

Baroness Buscombe moved Amendment No. 100: Page 3, line 24, leave out paragraphs (a) and (b) and insert—

  1. "(a) in the case of a council whose members are wholly or partly elected every four years, a period of four years beginning with the date of coming into force of this Act;
  2. (b) in the case of a council whose members are wholly or partly elected every three years, a period of three years beginning with the date of coming into force of this Act."

The noble Baroness said: I tabled this amendment for separate consideration for two reasons. First, unlike what we have discussed so far, it accepts for the purposes of the legislation that the Government are intent on imposing a regulatory central control of the maximum duration of any local licensing policy or licensing statement. We do not believe that that is a good idea, but we accept, for the purposes of this amendment, that that may well be the Government's intention.

The second reason is that I have the, no doubt, forlorn hope that the Minister may accept the amendment. If local authorities are to be the licensing authorities, surely it is sensible that a licensing period should march in step with the political cycle of the relevant authority. In saying that I do not assert that licensing policy should be political—it should not— but where there is a change in the administration of a local authority it is likely that the new authority may want to re-examine the existing policies across the board.

I shall be brief as, in part, the Minister has already responded to the amendment. I beg to move.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

Indeed, I have in large part responded to this matter. The three-yearly review of the crime prevention strategy under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 does not take account of local elections and should not take account of local elections. As the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, rightly says, this is not a party political matter. Certainly licensing is not a party political matter. There has been no difficulty with the three-yearly review of crime prevention and there is no good reason to suppose that there will be difficulty with the three-yearly review of licensing. I do not know who is behind the amendment, but I understand that it is not supported by the Local Government Association.

Baroness Buscombe

I thank the Minister for his response. The amendment was put to us by local councillors as a good idea. I shall talk to those local councillors to find out their view of what the Minister has said and of his response to the three-yearly policy for a crime and disorder strategy. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 101 to 107 not moved.]

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts moved Amendment No. 108: Page 3, line 30, leave out paragraph (b).

The noble Lord said: I shall take the Government at their word. They want to be deregulatory and wherever possible to cut down "committee-itis" and bureaucracy. The amendment concerns who should be consulted in the statement of licensing policy—not the application of the policy, but the policy itself. The six categories are listed in Clause 5(3). The list is worthy enough, although it contains everyone including—I do not understand why—the fire authority for the area.

The purpose of the policy is to set the framework and to determine the policy with respect to the licensing functions. In my view, there is nothing that the fire service can provide that the police cannot provide just as easily in establishing a framework. Under paragraph (a) the police must be included. That is not to say that fire authorities do not have a role to play in licensing. Clearly, they do. Fire authorities must come into play when one considers licences for individual premises. An individual premises licence requires the approval of the fire authority. Its specialist expertise in public safety in regard to a building is vital. In effect, fire authorities will always have to be involved because without their approval one is unable to obtain a fire certificate and if one does not have a fire certificate one cannot acquire insurance.

I do not seek to downplay the valuable contribution of the fire service or its specialist expertise, but it does not have to be involved in setting the overarching licensing policy, as required under Clause 3(b). We need to minimise the number of people involved so as to minimise costs and the inefficient use of resources. If the Government are serious about deregulation they will find every opportunity to minimise the number of people who are required to be involved at every stage. I beg to move.

Baroness Blackstone

I reassert what I said earlier: the Government wish to be deregulatory, but I think that the noble Lord's amendment goes a step too far.

It is vital that the responsible authorities—the ones that will make the system work—have the opportunity to feed in their expertise when licensing policy statements are being drawn up. That applies to the fire authority as much as to any other body. Indeed, with public safety in mind, one might even say more so.

Public safety is a key licensing objective. Licensing authorities have a duty to promote that in exercising their licensing functions. The fire authority has obvious expertise in that area. It should contribute that expertise. The policy could, after all, have a significant influence on licensing decisions.

No one has disagreed with the policy during the long and extensive consultation in the development of the Bill. I suspect that most ordinary members of the public would not thank us for excluding the fire authority from decisions that could affect their safety on licensed premises.

I do not believe that a requirement to consult the fire authority will impose any serious additional burdens on the licensing authority or on industry, beyond those that are necessary to protect public safety. We made clear in the framework guidance that blanket conditions—for example, capacity limits—are wholly inappropriate. One of the fundamental principles of the new system is that conditions attaching to premises licences will be tailored to the circumstances of the individual premises. I hope that, given what I have been able to say, the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Avebury

Before the Minister sits down, can she say what kind of representations the fire authority could make in the formulation of the licensing policy? I am a little mystified as to what its contribution could be. It presumably is not able to propose that there should be a maximum number of establishments in a given area because of the risk that fire vehicles would not be able to access the fires which might occur within the area. For example, if one wanders around the area of Soho at night one will see that already emergency vehicles would find it totally impossible to get access to a serious fire within the area. I worry about that because it seems to me that if the fire authority has not been able to influence the licensing policy in the past, I cannot see how it can do so by making representations at the early stage of the formulation of policy under the Bill.

Baroness Blackstone

The clause requires licensing authorities to consult fire authorities in order to take into account what they suggest. The issues that might be raised by a fire authority could, for example, concern where temporary licences are being issued for some big event. Where there was a great deal of music, a good deal of extra lighting rigging might be put in place. There could be some risk of fire if the electrical equipment was in some way inadequate or if a venue was decorated with flammable materials. Those are the kind of issues that a sensible fire authority might want to raise with a licensing authority in developing the licensing statements that any licensing authority would put together.

Lord Avebury

Surely those factors would be taken into consideration in the awards of the individual licences. The noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, pointed out that the person who wanted to operate those premises with dangerous materials or inadequate lighting or whatever would be refused a fire certificate. Therefore, he would not get insurance. It is not a matter that would be taken into consideration in the formulation of the policy itself.

Baroness Blackstone

I am not sure that we are not dancing on the head of a pin here. The policy ought to set out what issues need to be taken into account when making a licensing decision. This is one example: when issuing a temporary licence for a large event, one needs to take into account some broad policy considerations in making the individual decision.

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts

I began by being concerned about the provision—this is a probing amendment—but I am amazed by the Minister's response. She gave the game away when she said, "It is about licensing decisions". It is not. Of course, when it comes to individual premises or events, the fire authority must be consulted—it must be to obtain insurance. But we are discussing setting the overarching policy. It will be either so broad as to be meaningless or so specific as to include page after page of statements, which will vitiate the whole idea.

The Minister made two other points, which are always adduced. The first is that no serious additional burden is added by involving the fire authority. Every individual addition to bureaucracy can be justified on the grounds that, on its own, it is not a serious additional burden. None of these things is in itself a serious additional burden. The Government have been piling a series of straws on the camel's hack of industry and all parts of our society for the past five years.

Secondly, the Minister says that there have been no complaints about the matter during consultation. Without being too cynical, there is always a culture that says, "We will consult on this and will not complain when you consult on that as long as you do not complain about this". There is a "you scratch my back" attitude.

The Minister's approach is confused. I understand about decisions on individual events and premises. The fire authority has an absolute duty and a vital role to play. But what the Minister has told us about setting the policy is extraordinary. We want to make progress, so I shall not press the amendment further, but I reserve the right to return to the matter later.

Baroness Blackstone

Before the noble Lord withdraws the amendment, I am saying that licensing policies should consider public safety. That should be part of the policy. One aspect of public safety is the risk of a serious fire in premises full of young people. Aspects of the policy therefore must engage with the issues surrounding public safety and the danger of fire when large numbers of young people are in such premises. I hope that that helps.

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts

I absolutely understand what the noble Baroness says, and I do not want to plough the ground again, but in that case, there will be no variation across the country. What is unsafe for young people in West Bromwich will be unsafe for young people in Westminster. There is no need for variation, because fire safety—access and exits—is the same throughout the country. It depends on the number involved. There is no difference. The idea that fire authorities must be involved in one area as opposed to another and that special conditions must be imposed is outwith the facts of what we are trying to achieve in a licensing statement. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 109 to 113 not moved.]

2.30 p.m

Baroness Buscombe moved Amendment No. 114: Page 3, line 40, at end insert— ( ) In drawing up, keeping under review or revising a licensing policy, a licensing authority must take into account the need to promote such live music, dancing and theatre as it considers to be for the wider cultural benefit of its local community.

The noble Baroness said: I shall speak briefly. I noted a reference in the earlier framework for guidance to advancing music, dancing and theatre for the wider cultural benefit of the local community. That does not seem to appear in the latest copy of the framework, although I may be incorrect about that.

This is an important issue, and it should be in the Bill. It is appropriate that a licensing authority should take into account the needs of different communities when drawing up its licensing policy. The amendment is concerned with considering the interest in live music, dancing and theatre of many different communities of different cultural backgrounds. It is important that local authorities focus on the different interests that local communities may wish to pursue. I beg to move.

Lord Redesdale

I support the amendment. One of the problems with public entertainment licences is that only 5 per cent of premises take out a public entertainment licence. In reply to earlier amendments, the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, said that the Bill was a deregulatory Bill. I take those views on board. In addition, however, the noble Lord always added the caveats of safety and public nuisance. It is important that, if those two conditions are met, as many premises as possible should provide music and entertainment if they want to do so.

It is an important issue. Deregulation should promote a flowering of music and live entertainment. The present system has led to a decrease in the number of venues and a decrease in the amount of live entertainment, even though there seems to be canned entertainment in every venue. I hope that the Government will accept the amendment, and I also ask the Minister whether the issue will be included in the guidance on the cultural strategies to be drawn up by local authorities.

Baroness Blackstone

We must keep reminding ourselves that this is the Licensing Bill. It is concerned with the four licensing objectives, which we have discussed at some length. However laudable its aims, the amendment falls outside the scope of the Bill.

As Minister for the Arts, I want to encourage local authorities all the time to do everything they can to promote the arts in their community. I take the point of the amendment on board to the extent that I can assure the Committee that the guidance to be issued will make clear that we want to see more live music and more dancing as a result of the reforms, and that unreasonable conditions that might discourage that should not be attached to licences. But the licensing authorities should be focused on the licensing objectives rather than on the promotion of something else, however much we might want to see it. I hope that, in the light of what I have said, the noble Baroness can withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Buscombe

I hear what the Minister says about the amendment going beyond the scope of the Bill. However, it reminds us of the many reasons why we had such long debates earlier in Committee about the will and the wish of so many different communities freely to enjoy music, dancing and theatre without the imposition of too many requirements for licences.

That sentiment exists in all parts of the Committee, for which we are grateful. It serves as a good reminder that, although this is the Licensing Bill, it is also a de-regulating Bill. We hope that the Bill will encourage and promote live music, dancing and theatre, albeit through the guidance. On that basis. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Buscombe moved Amendment No. 115: Page 4, line 3, leave out subsection (7).

The noble Baroness said: We have spent all the debate on the Bill so far hearing the Minister sweeping aside our amendments on the basis that— and I believe that I can quote accurately— this is a deregulating Bill and this is a regulating amendment".

I believe that that has been said on a number of occasions by Ministers.

It could be said to be the litany of the Bill, but here is one for the Ministers. We believe that so far this appears to be more of a regulating Bill, and Amendment No. 115 is a deregulating amendment. There is no reason that I can see for the Government to take further unspecified regulating powers to control the preparation of licensing policies. We already have the Bill; we will have the general guidance or regulations under the Bill; we have the requirement to consult under this clause; and we have the requirement to review policy every three years. What more regulations do we need? What is there in the clause that needs to be regulated that the Government do not believe can be satisfactorily covered in the guidance it proposes?

Therefore, will the Minister specify the type of regulations that she has in mind? What will they cover and how onerous will they be? This is an example of entirely otiose zeal to regulate, which completely undermines every comment that the Ministers have made on the Bill so far. I appeal to Ministers to prove the deregulating credentials that they keep claiming, to accept the amendment and to strike out this regulating power. I beg to move.

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts

I support my noble friend. These catch-all clauses are difficult to live with. They provide a means for the Government to block any holes that they feel they may have forgotten. I hope that the Government will accept the amendment.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I am astonished. I was glaring at the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, hoping that he would rise to defend the Government. It is clearly in the interests of everyone, including the general public and applicants for licences, that the process covered in subsection (7)—namely, provision for the determination and revision of policies and the preparation and publication of licensing statements— should be consistent across the country.

If I were a large brewer I would be demanding that. I would be expecting it laid down in regulation and not left to licensing policy. The content of the licensing policy is, of course, deregulated in the sense that it is left to the licensing authority. However, the process should be consistent. The process of consultation, publication and how the determination and revision lakes place is a proper matter for regulation.

Baroness Buscombe

I thank the Minister for his robust response. I am reminded that two years ago today—it was last business before Christmas two years ago—the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, and I spoke at Second Reading of the Regulatory Reform Bill. This is just like old times—here we are again talking about more regulations.

I hear the Minister's comments. I hear his robust response. I am encouraged that the Minister is referring to the need for consistency across the country. My concern is that the clause as it stands is open-ended, as my noble friend Lord Hodgson said. Perhaps clarity would be helpful, although I believe that we have received that in some part from the Minister today. I shall read his comments with care in Hansard. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts moved Amendment No. 116: Page 4, line 5, at end insert— ( ) The licensing authority shall publish the names of all those consulted, any evidence submitted and the result or the consultation.

The noble Lord said: Before the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, leaves the Chamber, perhaps I may say that if his interpretation of what is in subsection (7) is correct, I happily withdraw what I said and accept his strictures.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

All I did was read out what was in subsection (7). I did not interpret it.

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts

With that, I turn to Amendment No. 116. It is intended to help with transparency of the process. It inserts a new subsection at the end of Clause 5, which requires local authorities to give details of those who were consulted, what evidence was submitted and any conclusions that were drawn by the local authority. Under Clause (5)(3), there is a duty to consult widely. However, with the exception of two people—the chief officer of police and the representative of the fire authority—the decision on who should be consulted lies in the hands of the licensing authority. Under paragraph (f), it is, such other persons as the licensing authority considers to be representative of businesses and residents in its area". I understand that it is not possible to be more precise in the Bill than that, but it is possible that particularly under paragraph (f), but perhaps also under paragraphs (c), (d) and (e), the local authority could be partial in its selection of those involved. It could be partial in favour of a relaxed policy or partial in favour or a more restricted one.

It is helpful for the public in each local authority area to be able to discover who has been consulted so that they may draw whatever conclusions they wish. It will be well known who in each area is keen to extend licensing and who is more of the temperance persuasion. It is right that they should be consulted, but there should be a balance in consultation. The way to achieve balance locally is to ensure that it is public knowledge who has been consulted and what evidence they have submitted. I beg to move.

Lord Avebury

I support the noble Lord's amendment, but perhaps not for the reason which motivated him to table it. Of those who are to he consulted, those set out in paragraphs (a) to (d) are concerned with promoting the culture of drinking and the expansion of drinking establishments. Only under paragraph (f) is it possible for organisations that may have a different point of view to be consulted. They may represent the temperance movement or be residents in the area who are opposed to the extension of such establishments into their immediate districts.

It is important that we know who is to be consulted. We can then examine the balance of representations on such occasions. I fear that under such a list all the weight will be on the side of those who want to promote further expansion of the drinking culture and that little, if any, will be on the side of those who represent an opposite point of view.

Baroness Buscombe

I support the amendment. It is important that, as the Government rightly say, there is transparency. It is important that everyone is aware of who has been consulted and who has given an opinion. There is then more opportunity for people to appreciate that a balanced decision has been made. It is for the benefit of all parties involved.

Baroness Blackstone

I understand and support the intentions behind the amendment. It is vital that the system should be both open and transparent. However, Clause 5(7) already contains the power for the Secretary of State to make regulations about the determination and revision of licensing policies and the preparation and publication of licensing statements. I hope that I can reassure the Committee that the regulations will set out rules which relate to the openness and transparency of consultation on licensing policy, including the matters which both noble Lords and the noble Baroness have raised.

I believe that those provisions will be sufficient. In the light of that I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

2.45 p.m.

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts

We come back to this issue again and again. Every time we raise a question about the Bill we are told, "Do not worry about it. It is all in the regulations". When we ask, "Well, what is in the regulations?", we are told "They are not quite ready yet; they will be along shortly". The Government cannot have it both ways. Either they say, "This is an issue that is addressed in regulations, and here are the regulations and you can see them", or they say, "The issue is not addressed in regulations", in which case we are entitled to have more on the face of the Bill. This issue has been raised on many occasions in the proceedings of the Committee by my noble friend on the Front Bench, the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and many others. The Minister simply cannot have her cake and eat it too.

I shall not detain the Committee by pressing the amendment, but I reserve the right to come back to it at a later stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 5 agreed to.

Clause 6 [Licensing committees]:

Baroness Buscombe moved Amendment No. 117: Page 4, line 7, leave out from "of' to end of line 8 and insert "such members of the authority as the authority shall determine

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 117, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 118.

These amendments relate to the size of licensing committees and seek to provide for greater flexibility and discretion in the deployment of councillors to serve on those committees. As it stands, the Bill imposes a straitjacket on local authorities by providing that all local authorities must have a licensing committee of at least 10 but not more than 15 members of the authority.

Given the widely differing sizes of local authorities, both in terms of population and the number of licensed premises they cover, as well as in the number of members, is it entirely wise to specify such narrow minimum and maximum numbers on the face of the Bill? For example, Ryedale Council, in the parliamentary constituency of my honourable friend John Greenway, has 23 members; Rutland Council, in the parliamentary constituency of my honourable friend Alan Duncan, has 20 members. Both councils will, however, be required to establish licensing committees consisting of at least 10 members, half the size of the authority. Equally, Leeds City Council has 99 members covering the best part of 1 million people, yet its licensing committee will be restricted to a maximum membership of 15 under Clause 6.

I was interested that the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, could not answer my Written Question asking her to list the number of members of each local authority falling within the definition of a licensing authority because the information was, not held centrally and could be obtained only at disproportionate cost".—[Official Report, 4/12/02; col. WA 118.] If these figures were not available to the Government, how did Ministers arrive at the figure of a minimum of 10 and a maximum of 15 members? Can the Minister say whether there has been any consultation with local authorities on this point?

Particularly in the transitional period, when local authorities in urban areas such as central London will be dealing with hundreds, if not thousands, of applications for replacement licences and variations of existing licences, it is quite impracticable to place limits on the number of local councillors who can be members of the licensing committee and therefore able to deal with the applications. While it is recognised that a large number of the initial applications could be dealt with under delegated powers by council officers, there will be a huge number of applications for variations which are likely to be opposed by local residents and responsible authorities. If the number of members allowed to sit on the licensing committee is restricted to 15, especially in the transitional period, then huge backlogs of applications are likely to develop, resulting in the deemed refusal of those applications and placing an unwanted and unnecessary burden on the magistrates' courts which would have to deal with appeals arising from the deemed refusals.

Quite apart from the point about the unnecessary burden on the courts, this would defeat the whole object of the Bill, which is to ensure that licensing decisions are taken by the local authority and not by the courts. A council should be able to select as many members as it chooses to sit on its licensing committee so as to be able to cope with the huge burden which will be placed upon it, particularly in urban areas. I beg to move.

Lord Redesdale

I support these amendments but I have a couple of questions to ask the Minister. The Bill sets out that there should be at least 10 members of a licensing committee but it does not state how many members have to be present for the licensing committee to be quorate. I am not sure whether that figure will be set by the council. As I read the Bill, all 10 members would have to be present for the committee to be quorate. I may be wrong; I seek elucidation on the point.

It is very important not to limit the number of members to 15. Concern has been expressed by many publicans and by a number of pub chains and breweries about moving licensing from the magistrates to local authorities. The issue is one of speed—namely, the timing in terms of holding meetings. Situations may arise such as the death of a licensee; or a licensee may run off with a barmaid—these things tend to happen at weekends, just to cause maximum problems! In such situations applications under the terms of the Bill for a variation of the premises licence would have to be dealt with as quickly as possible so as to cause the least difficulty and financial distress to the premises involved. Therefore, not limiting the number of members of a committee to 15, especially in larger councils, could provide a degree of flexibility in this matter.

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts

In support of the amendment, it is worth adding that the experience of obtaining public entertainment licences through the local authority—as happens under present legislation—has not always been satisfactory; the response has not always been as quick and flexible as one would like.

I know that a new system will be set up under the Bill, but the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, are very serious. Speed is of the essence. We are talking about only a matter of hours before public houses have to re-open with a new licensee in position. The local authority must be in a position to respond very quickly indeed if significant damage is not to be done both to those who provide the licensed premises and to those who use them.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville

I reinforce what my noble friend Lady Buscombe said about inner-city councils; and what the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, said about "quoracy", if such a word exists. Westminster City Council has a committee which has in excess of 15 members at the present time, simply because of the problem of quoracy and finding people to sit on particular issues at particular times of day.

Lord Davies of Oldham

If there is one issue that dogs all of us who are concerned with legislation, it is numbers: the size of committees, and what the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, referred to as "quoracy".

These issues have to be resolved on the basis of substantial consultation. I want to reassure the noble Lord, and the noble Baroness—who raised the issue of whether local authorities have been consulted—that over 173 local authorities responded to the consultation on the White Paper; and during the drafting of the Bill we have stayed in close touch with the main local authority associations.

One recognises the necessity for a committee to be broad enough to be properly representative and at the same time to be able to act with considerable speed: as the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, indicated there are anxieties about the problems that occur when a licence needs to considered rapidly, and how adroitly a local authority would respond.

It goes without saying that I have great faith in local authorities, and in the electoral principle generally—I am causing a slight uplifting of eyebrows on the Front Bench opposite, but I am sure that when the noble Baroness hears me complete the sentence and say that I have great faith in democracy, her eyebrows will return to their normal place.

I emphasise the following points. First, it is the case that all members of a licensing committee will have to be present for the committee to be quorate. That is why it cannot be too large. It is also the case that a licensing authority can—as local authorities are adroit at doing— draw up appropriate sub-committees; and in certain emergencies they can even devolve work to officers in order to meet the requirements of particular exigencies.

The powers being vested in local authorities are very important. But local authorities are responsible for many important aspects of our lives, so they have great experience in responding to needs. The consultation extended much wider than local authorities. But, local authorities having been effectively consulted, I think that the range from 10 to 15, which we are adopting, is appropriate. The assurance that local authorities will be able to devolve to sub-committees and officers in particular circumstances gives a necessary flexibility to assuage all anxieties.

Baroness Buscombe

I thank the Minister for his response. I must say immediately that I am not happy with it. I am even more concerned on hearing his response to the sensible question by the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, on how many members must be present to make a committee quorate. If the whole committee must be present, as a former district councillor I cannot imagine how, if I were a member for Ryedale or Rutland, I could cope with attending potentially many licensing committee sittings.

This inflexible regulation is to go into the Bill, yet so many important provisions will not be included. I do not understand the Government's inflexibility. Councils consulted on the White Paper might have been happy with the idea of that number but I wonder how the question was posed. I suspect that the same councillors who thought that 15—perhaps more than 10, or no more than 15—was about right would give very different answers on seeing the Bill in full now with the implications and the responsibilities that will be placed on them on a potentially daily basis.

We shall have to return to the matter on Report unless the Minister feels able to reconsider it before then. As I said in my opening remarks, it simply will not work, particularly during the transitional period. I can see some councils coming to a standstill, applications being delayed and a backlash against local authorities which will already he struggling to gain the hearts and minds of those who do not believe that the transfer from magistrates to local authorities is a good one. It will become an almost impossible task.

I hear what the Minister says in response to the amendments. I regret the nature and content of that response, but for the moment I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 118 not moved.]

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts moved Amendment No. 119: Page 4, line 8, at end insert— ( ) Each licensing authority shall establish procedures whereby individual members of the authority do not participate in discussions on individual licence decisions concerning then own electoral district.

The noble Lord said: This amendment concerns the make-up of the licensing committee. It refers to an issue raised in the White Paper that the Government have not seen fit to include in the Bill. It is a probing amendment. I do not suggest that the wording is precisely right but I wish to raise the issue in principle and to hear the Minister's response.

Some licence applications, particularly for premises licences, will be electoral hot potatoes. There is a potential conflict of interests if the councillor for the ward or electoral district in question participates directly in the decision and determination of that licence application. It could be seen as unfair by the applicant or opponents.

The amendment seeks to require councils to establish specific procedures to prevent councillors involved in the ward or electoral district to which a licence application applies from becoming directly involved in its determination. If I were a councillor I would welcome this, because it would give me some shelter. I could then lobby extensively for a particular point of view, but I would not have my finger on the trigger when the gun fired and the result was finally given.

This was a recommendation in the White Paper and I hope the Government will agree to change the wording. I hope the Minister will not tell us not to worry because the issue will be dealt with in the wonderful regulations that we hear about and will see one day. I beg to move.

3 p.m.

Lord Monson

If the Government indicate general support for the amendment, which I hope they will not, it will confirm my suspicion—which is also held by a great many others—that the Bill will sacrifice the interests of the great majority in almost every residential district in the country for the sake of the interests of the very small minority who want to drink in the small hours of the morning.

Lord Redesdale

I support the amendment. The issue of balance has been raised before. There is a balance to be struck between the needs and interests of the local community and those of the publican and others trying to carry on their business. This is a particularly important amendment. If there is a by-election, I can envisage a local campaign group using the issue of whether a particular pub should be regulated as the basis of a political campaign in favour of one candidate or another. It is important that local councillors are protected from acting on these issues. That seems a right and proper motive and I do not think it affects the rights of local democracy. In fact, it would enhance local democracy in the area, but not on such a local level.

Baroness Buscombe

I do not support the amendment of my noble friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts.

Lord Davies of Oldham

Out of the division of one's opposition comes forth helpfulness.

The noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, is right that it was suggested at the time of the White Paper that any councillor representing the ward in which premises are the subject of proceedings should not participate in the licensing decision. As he has said, it was felt that there was a possibility of elected members coming under undue pressure. The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, also emphasised that.

I join forces with the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, in suggesting that both noble Lords are wrong in their anxieties. The existing mechanisms and measures that we have established for how local authorities discharge the functions vested in them ensure that where it is improper for an individual to be involved in a licensing decision, self-disqualification will take place.

I recognise that local councillors face these issues of real interests on a number of occasions. As we all know, an enormous spate of anxieties have been expressed by parish councillors about the disclosure of interests. District councillors have vastly greater experience of these matters. One of the joys and achievements of British political life is that local government is largely free of those charges that people are pursuing their self-interests in the decisions of the authority. Such episodes are few and far between across the country. That is why I trust the ability of local authorities to handle these matters.

There are obvious advantages in councillors who have knowledge of their local area participating in licensing decisions. That is the whole philosophy behind the move to local authority control from magistrates, which underpins the Bill. It is suggested in the amendment that this is where the line should be drawn in terms of protection of individual local councillors on issues with regard to their wards. However, I do not accept that argument. I hope, therefore, that, on reconsideration, the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts

I am all for local democracy, but I believe that the Bill leaves a slight lacuna in the sense that you can get too close to the decision and become parochial rather than open-minded about the issues being decided. I accept the Minister's point; namely, that local councillors have to face this situation in other areas. I propose to withdraw the amendment at this stage. As I said, it is a probing amendment, and I am by no means convinced that the wording is right. However, I should like to read the Minister's response in Hansard before deciding whether to return to the matter at a later stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 120 not moved.]

On Question, Whether Clause 6 shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville

If I have given the impression of being a mad axeman in seeking to delete Clauses 6, 7, and 9 from the Bill, I must hasten to say that that is not my intention. There is a relationship between the three clauses, which I believe will become apparent. I shall speak briefly on all three clauses.

Clause 6 deals with the requirement to establish a licensing committee, which is a retrograde step in terms of recent local government developments. I have in mind the Local Government Act 2000, whereby legislative obligations to establish particular committees—like, for example, those for education or social services—have been abolished. The internal mechanism for discharging licensing functions should be a matter for the licensing authority to determine.

I also intend to oppose the Question that Clause 7 should stand part of the Bill. Again, this clause appears to have been drafted without any reference to existing statutory provisions relating to the discharge of local authority functions—in this case, I am taking into account the Local Government Act 1972, as well as the Local Government Act 2000—and will, accordingly, create confusion. The clause does not acknowledge that most local authorities now operate with both a leader and a cabinet, so that executive functions, other than licensing functions, will not be discharged by committees.

Finally, Clause 9 has also been drafted without reference to existing legislation and regulations. The latter already make provision about the proceedings of local authorities' committees, public access, publicity, and so on, which is outlined at some length in this clause. In ignoring the Local Government Act 2000, I appreciate that the Government may have felt that they should also even-handedly ignore the Local Government Act 1972.

I declare a mild historic interest in that the first parliamentary achievement of my noble friend Lady Thatcher was a Private Member's Bill to secure public access to local authority committee meetings while in progress. In her memoirs, my noble friend was good enough to pay tribute to the manner in which my late noble kinsman Lord Brooke of Cumnor, as the then Minister of Housing and Local Government, helped her to improve her Bill and thus secure her Act. The public access issue has been around for a long time. I oppose the Question that Clause 6 should stand part of the Bill.

Baroness Buscombe

Following on from my noble friend Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, I wish to speak to Amendments Nos. 129, 130, 131 to 133, all of which fall within this grouping.

Amendments Nos. 129 and 130 raise the issue of whether or not the broad power given to the Secretary of State in Clause 9(2) to, make provision about … the proceedings of licensing committees … public access to the meetings … [public access to] … agendas and records and other information about those meetings", will allow the Government to provide for greater secrecy rather than greater openness in decision making, as they have done under recent local government legislation. At the moment, licensing hearings before magistrates are public court proceedings. What guarantees will the Minister give that these very broad powers will not be used to provide for decision making behind closed doors?

I should particularly welcome the Minister's comments on paragraph 9 of the report of the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform, which states: Clause 9 enables regulations (subject to negative procedure) to make provision about proceedings of licensing committees and their sub-committees. Matters such as public access and publicity for local authority committees are already provided for in primary legislation (e.g. Part VA of the Local Government Act 1972). The House may wish to enquire what use might be made of this power as the regulations could not override primary legislation". Paragraph 31 of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport memorandum submitted to the Committee simply states: Given the administrative nature of these matters and the fact that in many respects the proceedings of licensing committees will be determined by local authorities' own standing orders, it appears sensible and appropriate for these matters to be left to secondary legislation, and for the negative resolution procedure to apply". Yet, if the Government think that these are minor "administrative" matters which can be dealt with at a local level, why do we need the very broad powers of the Secretary of State to regulate the conduct of licensing committees?

Amendments Nos. 131 and 132 have been included to ensure that there is no doubt that decisions of the licensing authority can be taken not just by a single officer but by a panel of officers. Currently, some licensing authorities operate arrangements—for example, in licensing street trading and door supervisors—whereby opposed applications are dealt with by panels of officers. That is what currently happens in reality and practice, and there is no reason why that system should not continue.

I move speedily on to Amendment No. 133. Clause 12 makes provision about which licensing authority would be responsible for the granting of a licence if premises straddle the border of two or more licensing authorities. As it stands, the Bill provides that the licensing authority in which a greater part of the premises are situated would be the relevant licensing authority, and if it is impossible to establish which of the licensing authorities is the relevant one under that criterion, then the applicant itself would be able to choose which authority he or she preferred.

That does not reflect current arrangements in respect of public entertainment licensing, a shining example of which operates in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea in respect of Earls Court, which straddles its boundary with Hammersmith and Fulham. At present, there is agreement between the two boroughs that Kensington and Chelsea deals with public entertainment licensing at Earls Court. The amendment would enable similar sensible and practical arrangements between councils to continue.

Lord Monson

I strongly support Amendments Nos. 129 and 130. I think that these amendments are absolutely vital.

Lord Davies of Oldham

I shall, if I may, wait to address the fundamental issue of the value of Clauses 6, 7 and 9 in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Brooke. In the hope that the clauses will survive, and that the amendments are therefore relevant, I shall first seek to reassure as best I can the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, on the points she raised.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, knows, the memorandum was prepared for the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. It explains that, as she accurately quoted, given the administrative nature of these matters and the fact that in many respects the proceedings of licensing committees will be determined by local authorities' own standing orders, it appears sensible and appropriate for these matters to be left to secondary legislation, and for the negative resolution procedure to apply. That was the Government's case. What the noble Baroness left out was the crucial fact that the committee found those arrangements acceptable.

The regulations may make detailed provision for public access to meetings and to records from the meetings. Occasionally, it may be inappropriate for the public to have access to meetings given that it could inhibit free and open discussion. The inclusion of this measure in the Bill gives important flexibility in the holding of meetings of the licensing committees which I hope will benefit local authorities. I therefore believe that we meet the requirements. Moreover, the committee has accepted that our proposal adequately addresses the issue.

On the issue that the noble Baroness—

3.15 p.m.

Baroness Buscombe

I hope that I may intervene. I made reference to the fact that the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee suggested that your Lordships might wish to inquire what use might be made of the power as the regulations could not override primary legislation. I seek a response from the noble Lord on that matter.

Lord Davies of Oldham

Of course we recognise that the regulations cannot override the primary legislation. We seek to create within the framework a procedure that fits in with local authority procedures. We have provided a framework that we regard as giving the necessary flexibility and one which local authorities on the whole appear to have accepted. On that basis I seek to sustain the present position.

On Amendments Nos. 131 and 132, I believe that we are of common accord in terms of our general objectives but that there is a very fine point of difference between us. The use of sub-committees and officers will create greater flexibility and the Bill intends the licensing committee to use sub-committees and officers to delegate the day-to-day applications and processes to allow decisions on applications to be made quickly. There is absolutely nothing in the Bill to prevent delegation to panels of officers. That seems like plain common sense. I believe that that was the burden of the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe. That matter is not constrained by the Bill. Therefore, I believe that we are of one mind on that matter.

I turn to Amendment No. 133, which would allow licensing authorities to decide unanimously the identity of the relevant licensing authority—I do not believe that our point of difference is very great here either—for premises that straddle two or more licensing authority areas.

We have stated that where this is the case either the licensing authority in whose area the greater part of the premises is situated or, if none, the authority that the applicant nominates would be the relevant licensing authority. This puts the burden of the decision on the applicant and results in less paperwork for the licensing authority. I believe therefore that the amendment is unnecessary and would result only in more bureaucracy and paperwork for the licensing authority.

I turn to the unseasonable coach and horses which the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, seeks to drive through the Bill. At this time of year we normally attribute picturesque characteristics to a coach and horses. We do not view it in terms of an aggressive weapon. However, the noble Lord would like that coach and horses to trample all over the Bill and remove Clauses 6, 7 and 9. Such a course would prevent the establishment and functioning of licensing committees, including delegation to sub-committees and officers. It would place a severe and possibly untenable burden on the licensing authority. I now understand why the word "quoracy" was mentioned with regard to a licensing authority taking certain decisions and not delegating them to a sub-committee or in extremis to an officer. In my view the removal of those clauses would effectively wreck the Bill. It would be totally disproportionate for the whole licensing authority to have to meet to consider every single licence application. It would certainly create logjams in the system and huge pressure on elected members, not to mention the industry. It would also give even more point to the question of where we draw the line on the necessary size of the licensing committee. In circumstances in which the committee included a substantial proportion of the local authority, we would be placing a burden on almost the entire local authority to deal with each licensing application.

That surely cannot be what the noble Lord intends. I hope that he recognises that we have sought to achieve balance on the issue. There are pressures between the proper representation and needs of the community in viewing licensing applications and the needs of licensees to obtain their licences properly and effectively when they have a service they can offer to the community. The pressure at times, in those circumstances, can be great in terms of the necessity for speed.

I give due notice that today's deliberations will shortly come to an end. I hope that we will not conclude on the sour note that the noble Lord would wish to wreck the Bill.

Lord Avebury

I do not want to prolong proceedings but I cannot help drawing the attention of the Committee to the fact that the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, twice asked a perfectly reasonable question to which she has not been given a proper answer. She referred to the suggestion by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee that we should inquire as to the use that could be made of the power to regulate public access to the licensing committees.

With due respect to the Minister, this is not solely a matter for the local authorities involved. They might have expressed an opinion, but the ultimate responsibility rests on us, as Members of the Committee, and on Members of another place to say whether we agree to the powers for which the Minister asks in the Bill. He has not explained why there is any necessity for powers which, as he acknowledged, cannot contravene the access of the public to committees provided for in the Local Government Act 1972 and elsewhere. The noble Baroness asked what the regulations would provide, if not that. It is a simple question to which we have not had an answer.

Baroness Buscombe

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for his intervention. I would like an answer.

Lord Davies of Oldham

I have little to add to the answer I have given. I hoped that I had dealt with each of the amendments in sufficient detail. I am sorry if some Members of the Committee are dissatisfied with the answers, as I should have liked to conclude on a more cheery note. On this occasion, however, I am bound to disappoint them.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville

I owe an apology to the Committee. I am a member of the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform. However, I can plead in extenuation that I was not a member of that committee when I tabled the amendments that would strike Clauses 6, 7 and 9, particularly Clause 9, from the Bill. The issues that arose from the report have come up in the course of debate. At a later stage there may be further inquiries as to why the House as a whole thinks it necessary for Clause 9 and its regulations to be included, over and above what the Minister has already said.

In terms of Clauses 6, 7 and 9, I am happy to take my coach and horses away in the most literal sense. During the Christmas season, I shall reflect on what the Minister said about those clauses. I do not intend to divide the Committee.

Clause 6 agreed to.

Lord Davies of Oldham

I beg to move that the House do now resume.

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

House resumed.