HL Deb 13 January 2003 vol 643 cc96-122

House again in Committee on Clause 17.

Baroness Buscombe moved Amendment No. 168: Page 11, line 5, at end insert— ( ) what provision the applicant proposes to take with regard to children on the premises, and

The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 168 returns to the question of the access of children to licensed premises. We debated this issue in our last outing in Committee. I stressed then and I stress again that we feel there are many potential problems regarding the unrestricted access of children to licensed premises as outlined in the Bill. I was not entirely satisfied with the assurances I received that the Bill would adequately protect children from harm.

Amendment No. 168 proposes that the operating schedule, which is to accompany every application, must outline what proposals the applicant intends to make with regard to children on its premises. While that may be covered by subsection (4)(g), which refers to, the steps which it is proposed to take to promote the licensing objectives",

I do not believe that that is explicit enough. It is important that licensed premises make clear their attitude regarding the access of children. Such clarification will reassure parents, local authorities and the publicans themselves.

I acid that I conducted a straw poll during the Christmas Recess. I understand that as the law currently applies there are situations whereby children have access to premises. I found that the opinion of most people I spoke to from all walks of life and all ages is that unrestricted access of unaccompanied children is extraordinary and surprising and is a matter which should be addressed expressly in the operating schedule. I beg to move.

Lord Monson

I believe that this is a worthwhile amendment, although possibly not for the same reasons advanced by the noble Baroness. Most pubs nowadays are family friendly. That is a good thing and as it should be. But a significant minority of pubs are very much for adults only. There is surely room for both types.

About eight months ago my wife and I visited Chester for the first time. We walked along the length of the famous city walls on two or three occasions and were amused to see a pub with an enormous bold-type sign stating, "Children not welcome". There was an additional adjacent sign stating something like, "No fancy foreign food here. British bangers only". That suggested it was not precisely my cup of tea or my pint of real ale, one might say, but there was definitely a fairly boisterous clientele in the city that weekend for whom it was ideally suited. I think there should be room for both types of pub. I hope that it is not the Government's intention to force all pubs to cater for children because I think that that would not be good for children or for the general community.

Lord Davies of Oldham

I recognise that this amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, is driven by the best of intentions. I also appreciate the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Monson, about the necessity of our recognising that hostelries need to cater for those who are not so fond of children when drinking at the bar. It is quite clear that we need a range of pubs.

It will be for licensees to apply for whichever licence guarantees that they follow one of those objectives. There will be a number of pubs, despite the greatly welcomed move referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Monson, of the growing family friendliness of pubs, which will take pride in the fact that they restrict themselves to adults, because that is how they cater best for the people who patronise them.

This is an important amendment. The Committee will want to be satisfied that arrangements for children on licensed premises are appropriate. As the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, indicated, we have already debated this issue at some length.

Members of the Committee will know that the licensing objectives include the protection of children from harm. The applicant is therefore required to set out what steps he proposes to take in order to fulfil this objective when carrying on licensable activities on the premises. This might, of course, involve exclusion from certain areas. There could be concerns about physical safety or risk of moral or psychological harm. In some places, the issue of anxiety about children may not obtain at all. A small, quiet restaurant may say nothing in its submission for a licence, because it would be entirely appropriate for children and would not give rise to any anxieties. The proposal will be scrutinised by the police, other responsible authorities and interested parties, including local residents, to guarantee that objectives are met.

The problem with this amendment is that it indicates the possibility of a quite broad provision for children. There was some suggestion there might be a play area or a creche or other facilities. We know that one of the reasons why so few licensed premises applied for child and family-friendly certificates after the 1994 Act was because of the substantial costs involved. Now we have the opportunity to put that right—not by obliging the industry to engage in additional costs, but by guaranteeing the protection from harm of our children, which is why the clause is phrased as it is. I hope that noble Lords will recognise the deep commitment on all sides of the Committee, and an obligation on the Government, to ensure that children are protected from harm in any licensed premises. However, we do not wish to put artificial harriers in the way of the development of family-friendly institutions.

Baroness Buscombe

I thank the Minister for his reply. The last thing I intended was to put artificial barriers in the way of a family-friendly policy. I am all for family-friendly premises where accompanied children are welcome. I asked someone what happens in Eire and was told that it is perfectly normal to walk into a pub at 10 o'clock at night and see people strumming guitars, with children, dogs, and adults, all together. That is precisely what we would love to see in bars and pubs in this country.

On a personal level, I, and many people to whom I have spoken, have a problem with unaccompanied children. I cannot think how that promotes a family-friendly pub culture. I am sorry that the Minister is disinclined to respond to our proposal. I will read his comments in Hansard because I feel passionately that there is a need to protect children.

I remember a police officer saying at a meeting before Second Reading that alcohol equals crime and disorder. We all care about future generations. I am not convinced that this radical approach to children in licensed premises is a good idea. Publicans should be able to specify what their intentions are in relation to children. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 169 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

[Amendments Nos. 170 to 172 not moved.]

Clause 17 agreed to.

Clause 18 [Determination of application for premises licence]:

Baroness Buscombe moved Amendment No. 173: Page 11, line 25, at end insert— ( ) The licensing authority is under a duty to act promptly in the determination of applications under this section.

The noble Baroness said: I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 202 and 245. Amendment No. 173 would lay down in the Bill the obligation on the licensing authority to act promptly in determining applications for premises licences. Amendments Nos. 202 and 245 are more stringent. They would impose a maximum time limit within which the licensing authorities must respond to applications for premises licences or variations of premises licences.

I tabled the amendments to probe an issue. Nowhere in the Bill is there mention of a time limit on processing of applications. I suggest 30 days as a time limit merely to provoke debate, but there is a real need to set a limit. Many in the industry have experienced severe delays in processing of public entertainment licences by local authorities. Delays cost money. A small business may be seriously affected by a wait of, say, six months, before its application is determined—especially if it is ultimately rejected.

Some may think that the provision of Amendment No. 173, which imposes, a duty to act promptly", goes without saying. In an ideal world, it would be unnecessary to table the amendments, but we are not in ideal world and the industry needs some reassurance that its applications will be processed within a fixed period. As I said, I do not want to put licensing authorities under undue pressure. Other Members of the Committee may have a clearer sense of what is a realistic maximum time limit to impose, but, in principle, some limit should he imposed.

The Government have frequently assured us all that local authorities will be able to cope with the burden of taking on the role of licensing authority, and that resources and costs will be adequately met by the licensing fees. If so—do not imagine for one moment that I doubt the capability of local authorities to fulfil their role—the imposition of a sensible time limit will not be too much of a hardship. I beg to move.

8.45 p.m.

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts

I have tabled an amendment in this group. I entirely support what my noble friend said about the need to act promptly. There is concern in the industry that local authorities have not always covered themselves with glory in the past in their promptness of response to applications for public entertainment licences. There is concern that as the burden of work rises—as will inevitably be the case with the transfer of responsibilities—that situation will worsen rather than improve.

I entirely support my noble friend's amendment. My amendment, Amendment No. 178, is designed to ensure that authorities get a move on with hearings about representations. I understand that representations can and should be made and must be listened to, but applicants for a premises licence are entitled to a prompt hearing to consider those representations. My amendment would require the local authority or licensing authority to hold a hearing within 14 days after the conclusion of the time for representations to be made.

I do not suggest that 14 days is necessarily the right length of time, but, like my noble friend, I believe that there should be some fixed period; it is a matter for debate what is the right one.

Lord Redesdale

I support the amendments. One of the issues that has caused most concern among publicans to whom I have spoken about the move from magistrates to local authorities is their previous experience of local authorities taking a great deal longer to come to a decision about outstanding grievances than is good for business. Although difficult in some respects, a set period within which hearings should be held would give a degree of financial security to the institution. I therefore hope that the Minister can tell us why a time limit has not been set in the Bill.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

There is absolutely nothing between us on this, except the issue of whether the provision should be in primary or secondary legislation. We agree that there should be appropriate and fair time limits, although whether they should be of 30 days, 14 days or whatever the proposers say is a matter for further consultation with interested parties. It is accepted that there should be time limits. I give an undertaking that appropriate and fair time limits will be included in secondary legislation. The Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee has agreed implicitly that it is right for those details to be in secondary legislation.

There has been huge difficulty during the past 40 years in obtaining changes to licensing regulation because it was in primary legislation and it was difficult to find parliamentary time to change it. We wholeheartedly support the principle behind the amendments.

Baroness Buscombe

I thank the Minister for his response. I am delighted by his assurances and his agreement that this is an important issue. We accept and are reassured by his undertaking that this matter will be dealt with by regulation. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Buscombe moved Amendment No. 174: Page 11, line 25, at end insert— ( ) Where an application for a premises licence is received by a licensing authority but—

  1. (a) it is not made in accordance with section 17, or
  2. (b) the authority is not satisfied under subsection (1)(b),
the authority shall return the application to the applicant indicating its reasons for doing so.

The noble Baroness said: As it stands, Clause 18 provides for what the council has to do if an application is made which complies with all the rules and regulations about the form of the application. It makes no provision for what the licensing authority should do if there is a failure to comply. Clause 18 provides that in such cases the licensing authority must return the application to the applicant. I beg to move.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I agree entirely with the provision of Amendment No. 174. Clauses 17 and 18 set out the basis on which licensing authorities determine any application. Local authorities must conduct themselves in accordance with their own governing rules. It is implicit that in the type of circumstances that this amendment seeks to address, licensing authorities would have returned their applications, giving their reasons for doing so. It is an area that will be covered in the guidance to be issued with the Bill which we shall have an opportunity to debate on Report.

Baroness Buscombe

I thank the Minister for his full response and his reassurance that this matter will be covered in the guidance. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Viscount Falkland moved Amendment No. 175: Page 11, leave out lines 26 and 27 and insert— ( ) In determining any such application the authority shall have regard to its licensing statement and to any other material considerations, and in granting a licence may impose—

The noble Viscount said: In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 176, 177, 180 and 307. As presently drafted, Clause 18(2) would require the licensing authority to grant licences in accordance with the operating plan of the applicant in the absence of "relevant representations" from an interested party or a responsible person irrespective of whether it believed that granting the licence would promote the licensing objectives or whether it would interfere with the rights of individuals in its area. That is unreasonable.

The licensing authority has duties, first, to promote the licensing objectives and, secondly, to refrain from taking decisions that contravene the European Convention on Human Rights under Section 6(1) of the Human Rights Act 1998 to have regard to its own licensing statement, prepared after consultation, and to do everything in its powers to reduce crime and disorder in its area in accordance with Section 17 of the Crime and Disorder Act. It cannot possibly discharge those duties without the powers to do so. This amendment ensures that it has the powers to discharge those duties.

The fact that no relevant representations have been made is surely not always a decisive indicator of the absence of any problems. The licensing authority may know of reasons why relevant representations have not been made—for example, harassment, sheer volume of applications with which the police and the interested parties have to deal.

In the normal course of their business, licensing authorities gain knowledge of all these issues from a much wider range of sources than relevant representations. Councillors receive letters—sometimes signed, sometimes not—and the council receives complaints. There are site visits, newspaper articles, research publications and reports, petitions and telephone calls, all of which can put the council on notice that a problem may exist.

In such circumstances, surely it would be entirely inappropriate for the council simply to grant the application. Doing so may require the licensing authority to act in violation of its obligations of the Human Rights Act 1998. It would be far better to recognise that licensing authorities should be given powers to promote the licensing objectives at all times and to act in accordance with their obligations under the Human Rights Act.

The effect of all these amendments would be to confer on licensing authorities slightly wider powers than those set out in the Bill. In particular, they would allow them to take whatever action they deemed fit to promote the licensing objectives which are at the core of the legislation, and to ensure compliance with their obligations under the convention. I beg to move.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury

I support my noble friend's remarks in relation to this group of amendments. Like him, I believe that this is a core provision. Without these or similar changes, the Bill will be wholly inadequate.

It is no exaggeration to say that unless we have such amendments, which entitle the licensing authorities to form their own views as to the merit or otherwise of licensing applications—in effect to give them discretion—there will be an automatic procedure, as provided for by Clause 18, in which the local authorities are in effect ciphers of central government. One needs to remind the Government that under Clause 4 licensing authorities must have regard to the guidance issued from Whitehall. The framework for guidance already makes it perfectly clear that it will encourage longer drinking hours and encourage a semi-automatic approach to dealing with applications for licences.

Clause 18 as drafted is one of the most complicated provisions to find one's way around that I have encountered in the five years that I have been in this House. That is regrettable. I am not casting aspersions on the draftsman or draftswoman. No doubt, complying with their instructions as they were given them led to this particular combination of subsections. But frankly, for the police, magistrates, local authorities, brewers and publicans to find their way around Clause 18 and the provisions that spin off it will be a daunting task.

Anyone reading Clause 18(1) might think that all is okay. It says: This section applies where the relevant licensing authority … receives an application for a premises licence". Then come the comforting words: made in accordance with section 17". People may think, "That's good. It has to be in accordance with Section 17". But when you look at Clause 17, you see that it is not a qualitative clause at all; it contains a whole series of formal requirements—time limits and what has to be included in the operating schedule. One might turn to Clause 18(1)(b), which says that the licensing authority must be, satisfied that the applicant has complied with any requirement imposed on him under subsection (5) of, Clause 17. Anyone inclined to take solace from that would be severely misled, because subsection (5) deals with regulations as to timing advertisements and the like.

Clause 18(2) tells us that the licensing authority, must grant the licence in accordance with the application"— those are very pregnant words— subject only to … such conditions as are consistent with the operating schedule". Again, the uninitiated might think that this was a solace. They might think, "Oh, well that's all right, it has to be in accordance with the schedule." Then they discover that the operating schedule is the schedule drawn up by the person seeking the licence—so that is no good.

Clause 17(4)(g) looks as if it might give some support for what might be called the wider public interest, such as the interest of residents. It says that the operating schedule must deal with, the steps which it is proposed to take to promote the licensing objectives". But there is nothing there about whether the steps proposed by the applicant are adequate steps or will deal satisfactorily with the licensing objectives—nothing of the sort. Even if that part of the operating schedule was woefully inadequate and provided steps towards the four licensing objectives that were on any reasonable assessment hopelessly inadequate, the licensing authority has no discretion to do anything about it. That will be the case however worried, concerned or distressed the local councillors are and however much they know that it will cause mayhem in their district. They can do nothing.

As my noble friend Lord Falkland said, only a relevant representative can make an objection of a qualitative nature to which the licensing authority must have regard. There again, however, one is trapped in the extreme complexity of the language of the clause. "Relevant representations", as defined by Clause 18(6), are extremely narrowly drafted. If local citizens banded together, they would be interested parties under the Bill. They might say that having the local pub open between midnight and five in the morning would have a severely disruptive effect on the amenity of the village. They might not be referring to people being drunk and disorderly or violent, but simply to the constant to-ing and fro-ing to a pub at all hours throughout the morning. That would not qualify as a relevant representation, however, which is surely utterly bizarre. Subsection (6) defines a relevant representation as one confined to, the likely effect of the grant of the premises licence on the promotion of the licensing objectives". We all know, because we debated it earlier, that Clause 4 defines the licensing objectives in a wholly inadequate way. The only one that comes anywhere near amenity of local residents is the public nuisance test. I shall not repeat the arguments, which were made on all sides of the Committee, that to have public nuisance as the only amenity test gets nowhere near the issues that will concern decent, ordinary folk. It is not even dealing with private nuisance. We are concerned about severe breach of amenity without any nuisance at all.

It is an Alice in Wonderland set of provisions. First, they deprive the licensing authority of any qualitative judgment or discretion as to the satisfactory nature or otherwise of the operating schedule put forward by the applicant for a licence. The proposals deprive the authority of the ability to do the very thing that the Government have led us to believe they are there to do. We have had a lot of talk about how much more democratic and improving it will be to have local councillors rather than magistrates as the licensing authority, because they are nearer to mother Earth and much more answerable and accountable to local citizens, who are their electors. However, they have no discretion or judgments that they can make and, what is more, local residents have no powers even to make a representation that is not confined to "licensing objectives".

As if that is not enough, Clause 18 goes on to rub the point in. The authority cannot have regard to any other matters unless they are, necessary for the promotion of the licensing objectives". That phrase is used twice.

Unless Clauses 4 and 18 are fundamentally amended, the Bill will prove seriously inadequate. It will not give the public the protection that they deserve and it will not strike the balance that the Government repeatedly say is their dearest wish.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My amendments later on deal with Clause 18 to a certain extent. Several of the points have been raised already, and I shall deal with them on this amendment. In particular, subsection (2) says specifically that the licence must be granted and the reasons for not doing so are few and far between. As with planning applications, the weight is in favour of the applicant. It is not evenly balanced.

There is a strict time limit on when representations may be made. There are all sorts of reasons. People might be in hospital or abroad and not know about things. I compare the situation to an employment tribunal, for which there is a strict time limit. Applications must be in by a certain date. However, it is possible to apply for an out of date hearing or consideration of your point of view, as it would be in this case, if you can prove that there is a good reason why you did not bring in your reason earlier. Perhaps you never received the letter. I do not know by what means notification will be given to applicants. It has always been necessary to prove that clearly. If items are sent by recorded delivery, the Post Office receipt can be produced as proof of whether they were received. It is not possible just to say, "I did not get it. I live in a building with other people and someone else might have picked it up". That is not good enough. However, if someone is in hospital—this applies in many cases—it would be very unfair if their representations could not be heard simply because they were outside the strict time limit. I support the amendments.

Lord Borrie

I find it difficult to understand how, under Clause 18(2), any licensing authority worthy of its name can be expected to have to grant a licence except when there are representations. The whole thing is dependent on representations. I do not need to elaborate on the narrow way in which those representations must be made, because the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, has made those points.

Because the turning down of an application is so utterly dependent on representations and for the reasons given by the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, and other reasons, it seems a most extreme form of unsatisfactory licensing policy if licences must be granted whenever there are no representations.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I shall respond to the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, separately from others. The noble Lord hates Clause 4. Nothing we can do will convince him that Clause 4 is right. Any changes that are made to Clause 18 are never going to satisfy him unless we go back and change Clause 4.

So far as other people are concerned, it is true that the Bill provides that if no representations are received the licensing authority is required to grant the licence with conditions attached that are consistent with the operating schedule. However, the whole process is designed to do two things. The first is to allow simple and uncontroversial applications through without a hearing. I hope that those who seek to represent applicants will support that, as it is a major deregulatory provision and a major move away from the unnecessary democracy—whoops! I mean that it is a major move away from the unnecessary bureaucracy and the 50 statutes that govern the hearing of applications.

The system, which relies on relevant representations, is fair, open and transparent. It ensures that there is thorough and focused scrutiny of applications. The police, fire authority, health and safety and environment bodies and others will be statutory consultees on every application for a new licence or certificate, or variations on existing ones. Nothing is going through without consultation. Local residents and businesses will also have the right to a say in all new applications, and to call for the review of existing licences. Under those circumstances, who is being frozen out of the process? Certainly not the statutory consultees, and I suggest not the residents and businesses.

To ensure a balance between the interests of the public and those of the industry, any conditions attached to the licence or certificate must be necessary for the promotion of the licensing objectives. With the exception of the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, we have on the whole had agreement about the licensing objectives.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury

The Minister provokes me by his second attempt to isolate me from my colleagues. When it comes to the next stage of the Bill, he will find that there is widespread if not comprehensive dissatisfaction with Clause 4 and the public nuisance tests.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

Let us wait and see. The objectives of the prevention of crime and disorder, public safety, the prevention of public nuisance and the protection of children from harm follow from much of what was said to us as a result of the consultation on the White Paper. They seem to achieve widespread support, perhaps not among the Opposition but among other people. We have to maintain a balance between the interests of the public and those of the industry. We have to ensure that the conditions are necessary for the promotion of the licensing objectives. If there are objections to that, okay.

The effect of the Bill will be to remove considerable red tape. Licensing authorities have strong powers to take firm action where necessary. They can add to or amend the conditions set out by the applicant in the operating schedule where it is necessary to ensure consistency with the licensing objectives, and attach different conditions to different parts of premises. In the past, licensing authorities have in some cases simply imposed a raft of standard conditions irrespective of whether they were necessary for particular premises. They have been aspirational and, to some extent, arbitrary. Our system is different. It is flexible, and allows conditions to be tailored to individual premises, but the conditions have to be necessary for the promotion of the licensing objectives.

I listened very carefully to the arguments put forward. The noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, talked about harassment or intimidation in order to prevent representations. That is a matter for the police. If there is any suggestion of harassment, the police must be expected to provide protection.

I was surprised at what the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, said about Whitehall. These are not Whitehall directions. It is local police who make representations, local residents who may object and local authority officers who may intervene. This is a local system which involves local people and local professionals. If the local community is content, despite the notification procedures, who are we to intervene and say that we should be involved in limiting local authority discretion?

9.15 p.m.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury

The Minister really cannot get away with saying, as he just did, that we must not interfere with local authority discretion; those were his words. The point about the clause is that there is no local authority discretion.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My point was that we must not intervene with the views of local people and residents, local professionals and the local police. These are local matters and it is not true to say that Whitehall is dominating. It is for the responsible authorities—the experts—to make representations about the effect on the licensing objectives of the application. For example, with the crime prevention objective, the police will have a say and the environmental health authority will have a say in the case of public nuisance.

I appreciate some of the motivation behind the amendments and that it is desired to bring back the regime to some extent so that it is comparable with the current regime. I urge the Committee to consider what would happen if the regime went back so that hearings were a norm and the presence of the police at hearings was a norm; we should also consider the complications of the current system. The system that we propose allows for uncontroversial applications to go through, provided that they have been checked to be in accordance with the licensing objectives. It gives full opportunity for those outside who may have concerns to make representations and for those representations to be heard. We do not want to go back to the existing complex regime.

Viscount Falkland

I do not believe that it is simply us on these Benches or those on the Conservative Benches—this is not a party matter—who support many of the points raised by my noble friend Lord Phillips. We share his concern about Clause 4 and the public nuisance test. We share it with people outside and with Members of the Committee on all sides. It sounds very good when the noble Lord says, as he did on several occasions, that we are making it easier to deal with simple and uncontroversial applications. I am not sure what a simple and uncontroversial application is and I should like to know what a complex and controversial one is in order to get a clearer idea. Perhaps we shall achieve that later.

What the Bill may entail is surprising to Members of the Committee and to those outside—that is shown by our postbags and by reading the letters pages of various newspapers. We should not forget that all of this change is taking place—although we do not oppose the basic proposal—in a context in which 13,000 violent incidents take place in and around licensed premises every week. That is at the worst end. As my noble friend said, other matters do not constitute a nuisance in the understood way, as the term is used in the Bill. He used the expression, "to-ing and fro-ing". I turn to nuisance during the night; there I go again using the word in a wider sense than I should. Perhaps I should refer to inconvenience and disturbance to local residents.

We come back to local residents. We must do everything in our power to protect the interests and right of local residents to lead peaceful and normal lives without a great explosion of activity because the new regime has not taken into account the serious consequences that may arise if licences are not examined and discussed and put to the test in the most severe way. That may sound as though we are going away from deregulation. But the whole Bill creates bureaucracy. The Minister says that it does not; but I believe that it does.

Whether or not that is so, we shall return to this point. It is at the core of the Bill in terms of the probable effect on local residents when we have what is effectively becoming a 24-hour drinking economy. I have no intention of pursuing the amendment at this late hour; it is meant to be probing. It is a complex point. I know exactly where the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, is coming from. I understand what he is saying and the clever way in which he attempted to put to us a simple profile of what will happen. But it will not be simple. It will be extremely worrying for many people. We must ensure that those worries are examined and, where possible, mitigated. I therefore reserve the right to come back to this point at a later stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 176 to 181 not moved.]

Baroness Gardner of Parkes moved Amendment No. 182: Page 12, line 10, leave out paragraph (b).

The noble Baroness said: This group of amendments is so closely related to the previous discussion that I shall not need to go into great detail. It can be seen that the group consists of a large number of amendments. I shall say a few words but this is a matter to which we shall have to return on Report.

There are other provisions in Clause 18 to which we object, particularly subsection (6)(c). That involves the right to object to a person who has been nominated as a supervisor of the licensed premises. According to the Bill, only the police will have the knowledge upon which such an objection can be based. That must be wrong.

A licensing authority may already have relevant information about the nominated person. he or she may, for example, previously have been a licensee or a nominated supervisor in other licensed premises or may have committed misdemeanours in regard to public safety which did not come to the notice of the police because the offence was not prosecuted or was not one that is notifiable to the Home Office as a criminal offence.

It should not be solely the police who have the right to say whether or not a premises supervisor is suitable. It should be possible for a local authority, where appropriate, to use its knowledge. Also, in circumstances where a premises licence is granted, it is granted virtually in perpetuity and therefore it is important that the original granting should be correct. But Clause 18(9) stipulates that only the police will have their evidence taken into account. The same argument applies that it should be wider than the police; that other people should also have the right to make representations.

I have many pieces of paper about this matter, but they are so complicated and the amendments are so massed together that it is impossible to put them all together. Some are consequential to others. The amendment seeks to ensure that an officer of the licensing authority is able to make representations about an applicant for a premises licence in addition to the chief officer of police where the premises are situated.

The licensing officers of the council will be regularly inspecting the premises in the area. They are likely to have knowledge of any persons operating existing premises licences. We must take into consideration that the licences are not coming out of the blue to a completely new group of people who have never been in the trade or involved in any way before. Many of the people applying for licences will be known and will have a definite record, either good or bad, with the local authority of the way in which they have been conducting their premises.

The need for local authorities to have a greater degree of control in applying conditions was debated on the previous amendment. If it is known that nudity is to be allowed on premises, a restriction may be desirable. The issue of children has been raised. A local authority might wish to limit admittance to people of a certain age; whether it should be 18, which is the drinking age, or younger is another point for discussion. There is a need for the right to attach conditions in such circumstances. The local residents would certainly want such conditions attached. I beg to move.

Baroness Buscombe

I support my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes. As Members of the Committee have said on previous amendments, this is an important area. Much representation beyond the Committee has been made to all of us in relation to Clause 18. There is considerable concern and unrest. It makes sense that those on the licensing authority should be involved as well as the police. They often have the ears and eyes of the local community, sometimes from a different perspective from that of the police. It therefore seems wrong to exclude them.

Baroness Blackstone

I will not return to the issues of Clause 18 that were addressed by my noble friend Lord McIntosh. I will respond to the specific amendments, which might help the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner. They would strike at the heart of the Bill, which seeks a workable balance between the rights and interests of local people and businesses and those of licensees and the industry. It seeks to make the system as light touch and simple as possible while providing adequate protection.

The Bill provides for statutory consultees, such as the police, fire and environmental health authorities, as well as local residents and businesses, to have a say in all applications for new licences, in applications to vary operating conditions and to call for the review of existing licences. We must remember that many of those authorities are part of the local authority; we should not see them as totally separate. Where one such body makes a representation, a hearing will be held and the appropriate conditions attached to meet relevant concerns.

We want businesses to thrive and to see employment enhanced. We do not want businesses to be subject to unnecessary burdens or restrictions. That is why where no representations are made no hearing will be required. It is also why representations will not be considered where they are not related to the likely impact of the licence or where the same representations are made frivolously or vexatiously.

Those who make relevant representations will, along with applicants, be able to appeal against any decisions to grant licences or club premises certificates, to vary licences or certificates or to issue provisional statements.

As regards decisions to grant or vary licences or certificates, they will be able to contend that the grant or variation ought not to have been made or that the conditions ought to be modified. So that does offer a real say and a great deal of protection. The requirement that the representation be relevant is still central and offers the same protection to the interests of licensees and also avoids clogging up magistrates' courts with costly and time-consuming appeals which are not related to the objectives. They might be malicious or go back over ground which the licensing authorities have already covered.

We are confident that those with valid concerns will find it easier than before to have a say in licensing decisions. It is of course important that the police and other enforcement bodies, as well as the local community, have a strong voice in the determination of applications. Indeed, it is essential that the police are able to object to the designation of a new premises supervisor where in exceptional circumstances they believe that the appointment would undermine the crime prevention objective.

We have given undertakings to the police that these arrangements will take place. Where trouble does flare up the police will be better able to take the necessary action quickly and, I believe, with a minimum of confusion. At the same time I am alive to industry concerns that the procedures associated with the designated premises supervisor should not become too burdensome. Designated premises supervisors will be personal licence holders and will therefore have had to meet the requirements in relation to training. Therefore, it is right that objections should be limited to those made by the police on the grounds of the crime prevention objective.

By changing the requirement that representations be relevant, these amendments would open up the way for representations from almost anywhere, leading to uncertainty for the industry, drawing out the application process and certainly making it a lot more costly. A major problem with the current system is that all applications for a liquor licence require a court hearing when in the great majority of cases that is not really necessary. This Bill provides for most applications where there are no concerns or implications for the licensing objectives to be dealt with administratively. That will lead to significant savings. It is not clear why we should go back to a system where all cases are decided by a hearing regardless of whether one is really needed. It is also unclear why the net should be widened and the requirement that representations are focused on the licensing objectives and are made for the right reasons be removed.

The Bill gives local people and local businesses a stronger voice than they have had before to comment on local issues. It is transferring licensing functions to bodies with local knowledge and, importantly, who are directly accountable to local people. While ensuring a consistent national framework the Bill will protect local concerns and be responsive to them while at the same time ensuring that industry is unduly restricted or subject to unnecessary red tape or costs. In the light of what I have said, I very much hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

9.30 p.m.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

I thank the Minister for what she has said. I certainly hope that at Report stage we can reduce the complexity of so many amendments. I shall read what the noble Baroness has said. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 183 and 184 not moved.]

[Amendment No 185 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

[Amendment No. 186 not moved.]

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Hooper): If Amendment No. 187 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendments Nos. 188 to 190 because of preemption.

Baroness Buscombe moved Amendment No. 187: Page 12, line 30, leave out paragraph (b).

The noble Baroness said: A personal licence holder who holds a valid licence should not be under challenge under such a vague term as "exceptional circumstances". Exclusion by way of conviction of a criminal offence—more than 40 are already listed in the Bill—is sufficient to ensure that such a further test and obstacle should not have to be overcome. On what basis will a council decide on the validity of a police objection? The Bill reintroduces the vague fit-and-proper test in cases that, by their nature, are exceptional. The police will have sufficient powers through either the review process or powers of disclosure—which they can use when and if the circumstances that they fear are about to occur. The system should be and is robust enough to exclude the need for further powers. I beg to move.

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts

This is an extraordinarily open-ended and vague way of dealing with a problem that does not really exist.

Is the person about whom the statement is made then made aware of it and of who has made it? Is the person left in ignorance and just informed that he or she is not to become a designated premises supervisor—or is he or she entitled to be told that a complaint has been made about them by the police and to be told the nature of the complaint?

In a Bill that the noble Lord, Lord Davies, keeps telling us has to be as precise as possible, this is a vague, difficult and potentially unfair clause. It would give undue power to local authorities, without the proper balance of the individual being able to know about a complaint made against him, who has made it and on what grounds.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I am really puzzled by this amendment, which is the only one in the group that has been spoken to. It would remove the requirement on the police to give a statement when making representations about the specification of a designated premises supervisor on a premises licence, to the effect that in the exceptional circumstances of the case, it would undermine the crime prevention objective to do so.

I do not know whether this was intended, but the amendment would remove the need for the police to give reasons for objecting to a premises supervisor. That is not what I heard the noble Baroness or the noble Lord to say, but that is what the amendment says. I should have thought that the balance that we have—where exceptional circumstances are needed for the police to intervene but where they have to give reasons—is the right way forward.

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts

Are the reasons made known to the person about whom the complaint is made?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

Yes, certainly. What is the point of giving reasons unless the people to whom they refer know about them? They are not secret.

Baroness Buscombe

I appreciate that the Minister is somewhat surprised by the amendment. We do not necessarily want to do away with the power to have a statement where, in the circumstances of the case, the premises supervisor would undermine the crime prevention objective. I should have made it clearer that this is, in a sense, a probing amendment. The wording, due to the exceptional circumstances of the case", is not clear. It sounds vague and broad and does not make it clear that a proper explanation will be given as to why the police are making a particular statement.

I am grateful to my noble friend for asking what the words, due to the exceptional circumstances of the case", mean, given the fear that the police might simply offer "clue to the exceptional circumstances". We are looking for reassurance that there will be more clarity.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I am sorry if I was not clear enough. We are saying that we want the provisions for a change in a designated premises supervisor to be as simple as possible. We want to place as small a burden as possible on applicants and to make sure that it is possible for businesses to continue. It is only in the circumstances that I described when I addressed Amendment No. 154—and those are exceptional circumstances—where the police have good reason to think that a situation is dangerous that they would intervene. They would not just say that that was the case but would give their reasons for intervening.

Baroness Buscombe

I am grateful to the Minister for expanding the point. It is reassuring to me and, I hope, to the industry—which is particularly concerned about the matter—and to members of licensing authorities to know that it is expected that proper reasons would be given, whatever the exceptional circumstances may be. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 188 to 190 not moved.]

Baroness Buscombe moved Amendment No. 191: Page 12, line 36, leave out paragraph (a).

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 191, I wish to speak also to Amendment No. 228 concerning the granting of premises licences.

On coming to subsection (10) of Clause 18 I found myself slightly bemused. It states that, a licensing authority may grant a licence … subject to different conditions in respect of different parts of the premises concerned". Can the Minister shed some light on the reasoning behind the measure? It seems strange that different conditions could be applied to one part of a premises but not to the other. I cannot think of a circumstance where such a situation would be necessary or advisable. To take the matter to the extreme, would it not be possible to have different sets of conditions for one premises? If so, it could easily cause confusion and misunderstanding. I do not see why the provision described in paragraph (a) is required. It appears to me to be both superfluous and troublesome. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure me to the contrary. I beg to move.

Lord Davies of Oldham

I hope that I can give the noble Baroness the reassurance she seeks. The Bill is all about flexibility. I refer to the flexibility that may be necessary when a licensee wants to keep his main premises open beyond 11 o'clock at night. However, he also has a beer garden which is an enormously social place in which to be at lunch time and perhaps also in the early evening. However, it is not such a sociable place, certainly not for neighbours, at two o'clock in the morning. Therefore, the granting of the licence may be dependent upon the licensee making it clear that service will cease in the beer garden and that it will not be open for the consumption of liquor after 11 p.m. However, the hostelry itself may be able to continue serving after 11 without causing any disturbance to others.

Another example in the context of licensed premises in general might be a licensed bar in a cinema. One would not want young people to be present in such a bar very late at night. However, they should clearly have access to the cinema if a late film is being shown. The restriction would be placed on their ability to patronise the bar but not to attend the film. Those are two instances where we argue for flexibility. We believe that that flexibility should be sustained. I hope that the noble Baroness accepts those examples.

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts

Is the measure capable of being interpreted to decree that, if one has a pub with two bars, one could have 100 people in one and 150 in the other, that that would be a requirement of the licensing authority and that the premises licence or the designated premises supervisor would have to ensure that that balance was maintained? If that is the case, unless guidance is given about how the measure is to be implemented, a local authority could make the operation of licensed premises almost impossible by imposing a series of balancing requirements with regard to the capacity and utilisation of different bars. Can paragraph (a) of subsection (10) be used in that way? Potentially it would be complex and difficult to administer from the licence holder's point of view.

9.45 p.m.

Lord Davies of Oldham

I hear what the noble Lord suggests. I do not think that it is conceived that two rooms in the same hostelry should be subject to different considerations in quite that way. But my illustrations surely are the basis on which we would need flexibility. That flexibility needs to be interpreted in accordance with common sense. I was seeking to illustrate that there are areas within the framework of the measure where we would need the necessary flexibility.

The noble Lord is right about two dissimilar rooms in terms of capacity. If one room is used for one purpose—and which clearly has a vastly greater capacity than the other—the licensing authority would say that there is a certain number related to that and a different number for a much smaller room. But we are not looking to make these issues intensely complex, we are trying to create the flexibility within which intelligent decisions can be made in order to meet the four broad objectives of the measure.

Baroness Buscombe

I thank the Minister for his reply. I like the idea of flexibility. I am sure I speak for all Members of the Committee in relation to the need for flexibility. I welcome the intervention of my noble friend Lord Hodgson. As to the example that the Minister gave with regard to shutting off the beer garden at 11 o'clock at night, I cannot imagine being the barmaid who will have to push everyone out of the garden and into the bar and so on. It will be quite difficult to implement that in practice. That said, we welcome the need for flexibility. We welcome the examples. Certainly, we will think about what the Minister has said. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 18 agreed to.

Lord Harris of Haringey moved Amendment No. 191A: After Clause 18, insert the following new clause—

"POLICE REPRESENTATIONS. (1) Where representations are made by the chief officer of police for a police area in which the premises are situated and where those representations contain a statement that, due to the exceptional chrcumstances of the case, he is satisfied that extra policing costs, which in his opinion will be significant, will be incurred as a likely effect of the grant of a premises licence, the licensing authority must take such of the steps mentioned in subsection (2) as it considers necessary. (2) The steps are—

  1. (a) to grant the licence subject to the condition mentioned in subsection (3),
  2. (b) to exclude from the scope of the licence any of the licensable activities to which the application refers,
  3. (c) to reject the application.
(3) The condition is that every year the holder of the premises licence granted in accordance with subsection (2)(a) shall pay to the police authority for the area in which the premises are situated a sum to be determined by the licensing authority to defray the costs of policing referred to in the representations made under subsection (1).

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 191A, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 247A, 441A and 441B. My reason for tabling these amendments stems from my experience over the past two and a half years as chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority. I declare that as an interest. During that time I have spent a great deal of time visiting every London borough to hear how policing issues are working out and what particular problems and difficulties may arise.

In an enormous variety of parts of London the issue of policing implications for licensed premises emerges as a significant problem. That is the reason for the amendment. Amendment No. 191 A is designed to give the police an opportunity to make representations to the licensing authority to the effect—this would not be a routine matter, it would be intended to be flexible and to be an alternative to objecting to the grant of a licence—that, because of the exceptional circumstances of a particular application, there would be extra policing costs, and that those extra policing costs would be likely to be significant.

If such a representation were made—and only if—the licensing authority would be required to consider it. It would then have discretion as to whether to proceed and to place as a condition on the licence that the holder of the premises licence should pay an annual sum each year to the police authority to defray the costs of additional policing. The remaining amendments are designed to ensure that the process would allow an appeals process. If people felt that the licensing authority had acted inappropriately in response to representations, there would be a mechanism for an appeals process and also a mechanism for review at a later stage.

I believe that there is widespread concern in London, and more generally around the country, about specific licensed premises—I refer not to licensed premises in general but to some individual ones—either because of what the licensee hopes will happen in those clubs or because of the number of people likely to attend. The concern could be about the way people are likely to behave inside and outside or about the way in which premises are managed or are likely to be managed.

Quite recently the Greater London Assembly, of which I am a Member, held hearings on 24-hour licensing. Members of the Association of London Government, among others, presented evidence to an all-party delegation. There was concern that there would be insufficient police resources to cope with any anticipated increase in disturbances, resulting from the proposed reforms. That was expressed in terms of the volume of policing needed at one location and the spread of that resource throughout the night. That is a concern, I suspect, shared around the country. It was thought that that would require the police authority to re-think its policing priorities and objectives to ensure that additional policing was available. That would mean police resources diverted from other functions.

Later on in the inquiry the deputy assistant commissioner responsible for the Westminster area presented evidence. He highlighted again the point that if there is a rise in the number of licensed premises, there will be a commensurate rise in disorder which will skew resources to deal with that. If there is a plan to say that this is going to be a place, as he said, that has a huge number of licensed premises, then we need to think how we will fund public services to cope with that. If someone comes in to make a legitimate profit, how do we fund the policing that might be needed?

Officers may be taken away from a housing estate where they are sorely needed in order to go to police late-night drunks. He cited a number of examples where holders of licensed premises voluntarily make a contribution to policing costs. The problem is that that is a voluntary requirement. It is not something that the irresponsible licence holders will necessarily do; nor is there necessarily any agreement about the level of contributions.

For those who may think that this issue applies only to central London, I was particularly taken by representations received from my honourable friend the Member of Parliament for Hornchurch about the problems faced in Havering. The borough does not have a high level of policing resources and, by and large, does not need them. With the number of licensed club premises in Romford Town—I use this as an example—the vision that he conjured up was of large numbers of highly excited young Essex girls and boys congregating in Romford town centre in the early hours of the morning. This clearly presents issues which require a considerable policing input into a borough which, by and large, does not have a very large policing resource.

Where exceptional policing costs are likely to be incurred through a licence application there should be some arrangement whereby, as a condition of such a licence, the police authority receives a contribution towards those costs. I beg to move.

Lord Avebury

I agree with the noble Lord. There should be some provision of this kind. But he is talking about one aspect of additional costs imposed by the late-night economy. It could be extended to other areas such as the effect on health, street cleaning, graffiti and all the things associated with the presence of large numbers of young people in an area where they are not particularly well supervised.

With regard to policing in central London, when I recently had the privilege of visiting West End Central and Charing Cross police districts with the chief inspector, I was told how resources were provided. In the case of Charing Cross, officers were asked to volunteer for permanent night duty instead of the several nights on, several nights off, they had been working previously. It was found that that system was much more acceptable to the officers concerned and that, by having 13 officers on duty all night, they were able to provide a far more effective service. Absence due to sickness among the officers concerned went right down, as the Committee may imagine. When they did not suffer jet lag twice a week they were much more likely to remain on the job.

I congratulate the police on the way they have coped with some of the problems in central London—but at severe cost, as the noble Lord, Lord Harris, mentioned. That will be the case in every area where we have the late-night economy. Inevitably, the more premises are open throughout the night, the more police officers will be required and the higher will be the cost imposed.

When I asked the Minister about the levels of crime in the Charing Cross and West End Central police districts on December 19th, she said, at cols. 784–5, that she would be cautious as a social scientist about connecting any differentials shown by the analysis for which I asked with late-night drinking because many other factors entered the causation of violent crime.

Ideally, what would be useful—I have written to the Minister to suggest this—would be to consider figures relating to a variety of police districts in which there is a concentration of late-night drinking establishments to ensure that there are no local variables peculiar to the West End Central and Charing Cross areas. When the Minister comes to make the inquiries she promised me, I should be grateful if she widens their scope accordingly.

The Minister went on to discuss drunkenness in particular. That is an extremely bad guide to the level of offences associated with the late-night economy because it is so closely connected with the propensity of the police to arrest people for that offence. The figures in Scotland show that clearly. In 1979, there were 13,626 drunkenness offenders; in 1999, there were 478. As a matter of common observation, drunkenness has not been virtually eliminated in Scotland during that period. There is clearly more of it than there was.

So either the offenders are not being charged a t all or, when they commit offences, they are charged not with drunkenness but with some other crime. However, the Scottish figures have been used to "prove" the success of extended opening. The English and Welsh figures show a similar pattern, although not quite so dramatic. It is manifestly absurd to claim that there is less drunkenness in 2000 than there was in 1997, as I am sure the Minister would be the first to acknowledge.

Wherever we have the late-night economy, large increases in police costs will be associated with it. I do not understand why the entertainment industry, which will make vast profits from the extension of drinking hours, should not cough up a little of that money to help the police. I would go much further than the n noble Lord, Lord Harris. I would have a levy on the industry to make it pay for all the costs that it imposes on the community—such as street cleaning and the large increase in the number of casualties in the accident and emergency departments of our hospitals. I am happy to support the noble Lord's limited demand in the hope that it will open up the discussion of all those other areas.

10 p.m.

Baroness Blackstone

My starting point is that the Government want to see the police properly resourced. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary confirmed as recently as 5th December a significant investment in the police. Policing will receive a 6.2 per cent increase in funding for the year 2003–2004 and at least a 4 per cent increase in the two years after that. That will allow an increase in police officer strength to 132,500 officers.

Against that background, we have a number of concerns about what these amendments would mean. First, it is not confined to premises selling only alcohol. It covers every form of premises to which a premises licence might apply. For example, it covers concert halls, theatres and cinemas, as well as pubs and night-clubs. It is very sweeping in its potential impact.

Noble Lords may recall that prior to the introduction of the Police Reform Bill in the last Session of Parliament, the Home Office published a White Paper for public consultation on the issue of police reform. It included the idea of schemes by which certain entertainment outlets might agree to make voluntary payments to the police for the disproportionate costs of policing associated with their premises. We fully support such schemes.

But there is a great deal of difference between voluntary and compulsory schemes. Compulsory schemes could drive a major wedge between the police and the industry at a time when we need them to work together and with others in partnership to defeat crime and anti-social behaviour. Certainly, there would need to be very widespread public consultation on this issue before we could agree to take it forward.

The financial impact on the industry would also have to be carefully analysed. The hospitality and leisure industry is a major part of the wider tourism industry. The well-being of this industry is important to our economy. Since 1997, it has provided one in four of all new jobs created in the UK and one in five that have been created in pubs and bars.

We should also recognise that this would be an additional tax on industry by another name. Under the terms of the amendments, it would be a tax for the benefit of police authorities imposed by the licensing authority and not by the Government with the consent of Parliament. The phrase "no taxation without representation" could come back to haunt us.

Sales of alcohol in this country exceed £25 billion each year. More than £12 billion in alcohol duty and VAT is therefore generated annually. It is paid by the customers of entertainment outlets who cause the alleged policing problems. Those customers are also paying income and local tax, which can be added to the duty and VAT that I have already mentioned. The more people attending licensed premises, the more alcohol being consumed, the more tax that will be paid.

The industry is also paying normal taxation falling on businesses, which also helps pay for the costs of policing, and is entitled to question these amendments.

This is a very complex matter and I would be instinctively against allowing the potential for such blanket charges. However, there may be a case—I put it no higher than that—for a court power to make an order requiring payment to the police where convictions have been obtained for permitting disorder on licensed premises. That would not be a tax but a penalty incurred and applied in appropriate circumstances by a court. Again, I do not think that we should venture down that road without consultation on the issue. In these circumstances, I hope that my noble friend will withdraw his amendment.

Lord Harris of Haringey

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for his comments. I am well aware that other services are also affected by this. Indeed, Deputy Commissioner Trotter, in his remarks, highlighted the problems of toilets, refuse collection and so forth. I am also aware of the permanent night duty experiments in the Charing Cross area, which have had a beneficial effect.

I am somewhat perplexed by the responses that I have received from the Minister. Yes, of course there will be, and there is, a growth in police numbers. Yes, of course the amendment applies to every type of premises; it was intended to do so. There are extra burdens on the police in terms of very large venues—such as concert halls, from rock concerts, film premieres, and so forth. There are costs in regard to policing outside football clubs which would also be picked up as part of this.

The point is that such a provision would provide an opportunity for the exceptional cases or the areas where there are real problems to be picked up on the basis of representations by the police and then to be determined by a licensing authority—which under Bill's proposals will be democratically elected; so the argument that there is no taxation without representation is clearly spurious.

My noble friend made the point that it would be much better to have a voluntary arrangement rather than a compulsory one. Of course it is much better if those who cause the most problems are happy to volunteer to make a contribution. But I suspect that if one asks the communities around the various types of establishments that we have been talking about, one will find that it is those who are least responsible who cause the most problems and who are the least likely to enter into voluntary agreements. For those reasons, I believe that it is necessary to include a provision which can, under certain circumstances, require such licence holders to make some kind of contribution.

Similarly, I am not convinced about the argument that the amendment could create a wedge between the police and the industry. A wedge is created at present by irresponsible licence holders who do not enter into discussions.

The fundamental problem that I have is this: yes, of course this proposal could be interpreted as a tax; but it is proposed that the circumstances should be exceptional; and that the discretion would be exercised by an elected authority. That point deals with the argument that there is no taxation without representation. In any event, taxation agreed by Parliament would necessarily apply across the country.

An issue that arises in regard to many of these establishments is that they are very localised. Havering is a low crime borough, but the problems of Romford town centre and of the clubs in Romford are extreme, and other suburbs have to deal with similar issues. The problems of Westminster are the result of a concentration of licensed premises in the centre of London.

I was interested in my noble friend's comments about the possibility of imposing a court penalty. If she is saying that the matter could be returned to at a later stage, I am happy on this occasion to seek to withdraw the amendment. But I believe that we should not lose the opportunity of this Bill being before Parliament without trying to get some resolution on these matters. While I accept that there should be consultation on the principle, I suspect that if one asks most of the communities in the areas close to the licensed premises referred to, they would want to see a proper financial contribution being made to cover the extra costs— particularly the policing costs—associated with such premises.

Subject to those remarks, and in the hope that my noble friend will consider these matters further, and perhaps also consider further the remarks that she has made about court penalties, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 19 [Mandatory conditions where licence authorises supply of alcohol]:

[Amendment No. 192 not moved.]

Clause 19 agreed to.

Clause 20 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 193 not moved.]

Clause 21 [Prohibited conditions: plays]:

Baroness Buscombe moved Amendment No. 194: Page 13, line 26, after "plays" insert "or adult entertainments

The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 195 and 196.

Clause 21 deals with the conditions that may be attached to a premises licence which authorises the performance of plays. The clause states that no condition may be attached to the licence in respect of the nature of the play to be performed. It is only on the grounds of public safety that conditions may be added to the licence.

My amendment seeks to make the point that plays and performances in a licensed venue may well include what I have described as "adult entertainments"—that is, lap dancing and other sexually explicit shows. When we discussed the issue of unrestricted access for children, it became clear that many of us shared the fear that children might have access to licensed venues that put on such performances. These amendments seek to provoke a response from the Minister. Subsection (1) does not allow any conditions as to the nature of the play in licensed premises to be added to the licence. Perhaps that should be rethought. One would suppose that strip joints might merit a different set of conditions from a community hall that might like to stage a play. If adult entertainment is to be provided in a licensed venue, surely the licensing authority should be able to impose conditions on the licence. I beg to move.

Lord Davies of Oldham

I accept the fact that the clause does not address every form of entertainment that we may think is in questionable taste, but it is clear what we are seeking to achieve. The clause carries forward a provision that appears in Section 1(2) of the Theatres Act 1968. The aim is straightforward —to prevent licensing authorities from attaching conditions that relate to the nature of the play to be performed or the manner of its performance, except when that is justified as a matter of public safety.

The issue that we emphasise is that the Bill does not seek to interfere or intervene in all manner of activities that are better left to other regimes of regulation or left unregulated altogether. The more mature Members of the House recall the situation before 1968 and the attempts at censorship of plays. We remember the extreme difficulties that that created in so many ways, by bringing the law into great disrepute. We would not want to go back to that situation in a licensing measure, or to recreate censorship that has long since ceased.

I recognise the intent behind the noble Baroness's amendment, but emphasise the fact that strip joints, lap dancing and other activities are covered by other restrictions on licensing. We are not prepared to accept a restriction in this measure that would reintroduce censorship of plays in this country. That is why the clause is drafted as it is.

Baroness Buscombe

I thank the Minister for his response. I am not sure whether I succeeded in provoking him. However, as long as the issue of unrestricted access for children remains in the Bill, I shall continue to attempt to provoke the Minister during the Bill's passage through your Lordships' House. On that basis, for now I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 195 and 196 not moved.]

Clause 21 agreed to.

Lord Grocott: I beg to move that the House do now resume.

House resumed.

House adjourned at fourteen minutes past ten o'clock.

Back to