§ 7.52 p.m.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey rose to move, That the draft guidance laid before the House on 23 March be approved [18th Report from the Joint Committee and 2nd Report from the Merits Committee].
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, the guidance before the House is almost 200 pages long and contains more than 2,000 paragraphs. I suspect that the House will not want me to go into detail, but I shall do my best to explain its thrust and effect.
§ Under subsection (2) of Section 182 of the 2003 Act, the Secretary of State may not issue the licensing guidance unless a draft of it has been laid before, and approved by resolution of, each House of Parliament. Noble Lords will recall that the Select Committee on Delegated Powers proposed that the Licensing Bill be amended to provide a mechanism for scrutiny. We responded to that following the persuasive case put by 222 some noble Lords present today. The procedure provides no mechanism for tabling amendments to the draft guidance. The draft must be either approved or rejected. I should also emphasise that the guidance cannot change the primary legislation that was so thoroughly scrutinised by both Houses. I make that point not least because some who have commented on the draft guidance seem to believe that it can override or modify the Act. It cannot.
§ A draft of the guidance was first made available during the parliamentary stages of the Licensing Bill to inform the debates in both Houses. Following Royal Assent in July last year, a further draft was prepared which reflected amendments made to the legislation and many of the points made in Parliament. It was published for consultation in August 2003. A prolonged and detailed consultation followed publication in August.
§ I should like to express my gratitude to the expert bodies and organisations listed at page 12 of the draft guidance which have provided an enormous amount of advice that enabled us to produce the draft being considered today. In addition to those who formed our advisory group, many other organisations provided comments and views, including residents' associations, individual local authorities, trade unions, industry trade bodies, individuals and members of the legal profession.
§ We have also consulted very closely with musicians and performers' groups to ensure that the draft guidance properly reflects their concerns which were much debated during the passage of the Bill. We also turned to a specialist group involving children's organisations such as the Children's Society and the NSPCC and the police for advice about the sections of the draft that deal with the protection of children from harm. And of course, because of the range of issues with which it deals, we have also consulted closely with a range of other government departments, agencies and public bodies. Inevitably, across such a great range of issues and the breadth of the consultation, there has been conflict between some of the views expressed. Where there has been conflict, we have sought to find a balanced position that represents best practice and the broadest possible consensus in the area concerned.
§ If the draft guidance is approved by both Houses, under subsection (3) of Section 4 of the 2003 Act any licensing authority will be required to have regard to it when carrying out any licensing function. The first licensing function to be carried out by any licensing authority will be to make its local statement of licensing policy. The process cannot formally begin until Parliament has made its decision about the draft guidance. The phrase "have regard to" does not mean that licensing authorities must slavishly follow its terms to the letter. In effect, the guidance will set a national policy framework which we expect local statements of licensing policy to complement and reflect. When carrying out its licensing functions, a licensing authority may depart from the guidance where it is justified by individual or local circumstances. But the authority will need to set out good reasons for doing so.223
§ The purpose of the guidance is to promote consistency and good practice, but not at a cost of eroding local discretion. The Act creates a local system under the control of locally elected representatives for the benefit of local communities. Our concern has therefore been to achieve balance between providing sufficient detail and advice and not being tempted into excessive prescription.
§ The draft is primarily directed at the professional and technical advisers of licensing authorities to enable them to assist licensing authorities and their committees in carrying out their role as Parliament intended. It is therefore complex and technical in parts. As a valuable by-product, we hope that it will also assist applicants, the police, other responsible authorities, performers and the general public to understand better the processes involved. But I must stress that it is not a substitute for a proper understanding of the Act itself and must always be read in conjunction with the primary legislation and secondary legislation to be made under the Act.
§ I now intend to touch on three connected issues that have received a good deal of attention in recent weeks: alcohol harm, the position of the police and the cumulative impact of a concentration of licensed premises.
§ It has been asserted by some that the 2003 Act and the draft guidance are incompatible with the alcohol harm reduction strategy and its focus on binge drinking and irresponsible trading of alcohol. However, there is nothing contradictory between the documents. They were developed together. We deliberately delayed the finalisation of the draft guidance until the terms of the strategy were agreed. Both documents were then published in March this year.
§ The 2003 Act and its guidance and the strategy aim to help curb irresponsible trading, alcohol-related violence, public nuisance and to protect children from harm. The 2003 Act provides expanded, more flexible and tougher powers to deal with premises that engage in trading that damages our communities and provokes drunkenness and disorder. The strategy, of course, goes much wider, to cover issues including public health education and so on. However, we have to recognise that while we need to act to reduce binge drinking and alcohol-related violence—and I think that anyone who saw the "Panorama" programme on Sunday night needs no convincing on that point—we also need to ensure that the development of the night-time economy can help to regenerate many areas through investment and the opening up of employment opportunities.
I also want to make clear that there is no dispute between the Government and the police about the value of the changes to be implemented through the 2003 Act. On 29 April of this year, Rick Naylor of the Police Superintendents' Association told Radio Four's "PM" programme:
The Superintendents' Association have always been in favour of relaxing licensing laws and bringing them into the twenty-first century, and it is slightly disappointing we can't get this piece of legislation enacted sooner, because I think it will have an effect on violence in the streets".
Chris Fox, President of the Association of Chief Police Officers, said on the "Today" programme on 11 May 2004:
However, for the vast majority of people the licensing laws will bring a welcome and civilised sort of approach to the world. They can get a drink and they can go and relax and socialise when they want".
§ The police have been constantly and closely involved in the development of the draft guidance. It was said in another place that we are just citing a few policemen when others hold misgivings. Chris Fox speaks for all chief officers as president of ACPO and is not just another policeman, and Rick Naylor speaks for superintendents. Within all organisations there will be dissenting voices—indeed, we heard them from Nottingham on Sunday night—but the president of ACPO represents the consensus, as does Mr Naylor.
§ I turn to the issue of saturation and cumulative impact. During the parliamentary stages of the Licensing Bill, there was much discussion of the need to address the cumulative impact on crime and disorder where there is a concentration of licensed premises. I know that this was a matter of concern in particular to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, but of course, many others shared that concern.
§ We have therefore set out in paragraphs 3.13 to 3.28 of the draft detailed advice for licensing authorities about how these issues should be addressed where they arise. The Act does provide the necessary power to assist local communities in dealing with such matters due to impacts on the licensing objectives. However, the draft guidance also sensibly recognises that it can be only one part of a solution that requires a partnership approach.
We have seen briefing issued by the Local Government Association which says that the draft guidance applies the special policy described only to new applications and not to applications for variation or to provisional statements. If noble Lords will look at paragraph 3.19, they will see that the Local Government Association has failed to note that it says:
The effect of adopting a special policy of this kind—
that is, a policy about saturation—
is to create a rebuttable presumption that applications for new premises licences or club premises certificates or material variations will normally be refused".
§ Applications to vary licences are therefore included. As for provisional statements, the Local Government Association appears to have forgotten that there is no provision in the 2003 Act for refusing to make a provisional statement, and the guidance cannot, of course, amend the primary legislation as approved by Parliament. I have to say that its points on cumulative impact are therefore not well made.
§ The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, will today argue that it would have been better to consider the draft guidance only after the fee levels have been made by the Secretary of State. I say with great respect to the noble Lord, as he played a most valuable part in the progress of the Bill, that I must oppose this Motion. For completeness, I should also mention that Section 178 of the Act is also relevant in addition to those he has cited.225
§ I am afraid that the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, is attempting to have it both ways. Among others, he argued persuasively during the passage of the Licensing Bill that we should respect the view of the Select Committee and provide a mechanism allowing Parliament the opportunity to scrutinise the guidance before it is issued. We accepted the points that he and others made and we made the necessary amendment to the Bill. That is why we are here tonight.
§ We cannot presume that such scrutiny will lead automatically to the approval of the draft guidance today, or, indeed, in any revised form if we were obliged to take it away and return to Parliament. We would certainly be criticised for being arrogant if we sought to do so—if we proceeded with regulations before Parliament had approved the guidance that is related to them. The guidance is central to the processes and activity in which licensing authorities will engage, and indeed particular parts of local authorities. Any changes to the draft guidance can therefore impact on costs and costs in turn impact on fee levels.
§ Fee levels must be set at a level that allows licensing authorities to recover fully their costs of administration, inspection and enforcement. Until Parliament has finalised its scrutiny of the guidance, the Secretary of State cannot finalise the fee levels. I am sure that on reflection the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, will agree that he cannot expect us to put the cart before the horse.
§ I wholly appreciate why licensing authorities and industry are keen to know the final terms of the fees. It is important for planning purposes. I can assure the House that we intend to make the fee levels known to the licensing authorities and other stakeholders as soon as possible following the approval of the guidance. The regulations, which, of course, have to be consulted on, will be in place in good time for the beginning of the transitional period.
§ The minimum time for the beginning of the transitional period after the passage of the guidance is six months. Representations have been made to us that a longer time is necessary. I assure the House that the Secretary of State is considering those representations carefully.
§ The Licensing Act 2003 is important legislation that will provide: radical reform of an essentially 19th century system; greater freedom and flexibility for the responsible parts of industry; greater choice for consumers; opportunities for regeneration, increased investment and new employment; a more democratically accountable system; and tougher and more comprehensive powers to deal with irresponsible licensed traders who cause problems within our communities.
§ The draft guidance that we are scrutinising will provide a national policy framework which will inform and guide the key decisions that licensing authorities will be required to take. I am satisfied that the provisions of the draft guidance are compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights and I commend it to the House.226
§ Moved, That the draft guidance laid before the House on 23 March be approved [18th Report from the Joint Committee and 2nd Report from the Merits Committee].—(Lord McIntosh of Haringey.)
§ Lord Redesdale
My Lords, I wish to speak to this Motion. For the convenience of the House, and for the elucidation of the process for other noble Lords as I had to seek a degree of guidance from the Clerks on this issue, I should perhaps set out the position that we shall take on the two Motions.
It is not the intention of these Benches to oppose the Motion on the guidance. However, I intend to speak in this debate to the Motion of regret in my name. I ask and hope that all noble Lords speak to that Motion in the first debate. Depending on the Minister's reply, when we move to the second Motion I may then be able to withdraw it hastily due to this debate.
I thank the Minister for his comments about the second Motion, particularly for correcting us about failing to include Section 178. That was most helpful. If I were to table the Motion again, I would include it.
§ Lord Redesdale
My Lords, I would never accuse the Minister of anything quite so underhand.
We support the guidance, with major caveats. One problem that we faced throughout the progress of the then Bill was the late publication of the guidance. The Act itself is the skeleton of the legislation, with all the meat having been left off. It seems unfortunate that we were left without draft guidance to look at throughout the process. It was very late in the process—after Committee and into Report—before we could read the draft guidance. The Minister talked about putting the cart before the horse, but it seems unfortunate that while we had the horse we did not know what was the shape of the cart.
The Minister answered on one of the major issues that we raised, and I ask him to make some further points about the first appointed day. As I understood the legislation, the first appointed day was six months from the end of the debate today, from which it could be extended. The Minister said that that was the minimum period in which the Secretary of State could put forward the first appointed day. Considering the major problems that the Act faces, I very much hope that the Minister will, before finalising any set day for the first appointed day, take into account when the fee structure is published.
That becomes the nub of our disagreement with the way in which the Government have put forward the process. We still have no clear indication of the extent of the fee structure. If the legislation had no further consequences outside the House or in the legal framework, that obviously would not matter. However, there are great consequences for many councils, which have already had to set their council tax levels to take account of a fee structure when they still do not have any real basis on which to know the level set. Obviously there is a difference between the £100 and £500 for every 227 licence. Although that is within the guidance, it is not exactly set altogether as staying within the £100 to £500 levels. From the first discussions that we had with the Bill team, it was clear that those were only the parameters to which the Secretary of State was working at that point.
That leaves the councils in the dark. I understand that a number of councils have already raised council tax to meet their expected costs. Although the Minister can speak with a degree of firmness and in a way that is almost irrefutable—only he has that way of putting forward such cases—many councillors are extremely worried that the Government have vastly underestimated the cost of administering the scheme.
There will be added costs. The justices' courts are being moved to the councils, which will place costs outside the licence fee. The magistrates will face costs, because I strongly believe that the Government have underestimated the number of appeals that will go to magistrates. We are not talking about a simple change from one side to another. One side is the industry. I must declare an interest as the owner of an extremely fine pub in Northumberland, the "Redesdale Arms". I can give a map to anyone interested, as I have done before.
§ Lord Phillips of Sudbury
My Lords, besides giving us a map, will my noble friend give us a free drink?
§ Lord Redesdale
My Lords, that goes beyond the call of this debate.
The industry has the right to put forward variations. However, large numbers of residents' associations are also becoming extremely concerned; a large number of them have written to me. They will incur costs in considering whether they can oppose the variation. Anyone who has earned easy money from the licensing area—I have talked to a number of noble Lords from the legal profession who said that they had—will say that the legal profession will get involved in it to a great extent.
The Minister has said that it is the Government's intention that the fees structure should lead to a neutral scheme, so that there will be no further costs. There were issues that were raised earlier in which the DCMS said that councils made a profit of £7.1 million out of the licensing regime. However, that has since been refuted, and it turns out that councils have made a loss of £7.1 million. So councils are already making a loss on the fee structure. If this is a cost-neutral scheme, under the present system they will probably make a further loss. I have a particular question for the Minister on that issue. If a council creates a deficit for dealing with these fees, how will that affect those local authorities which have been capped in their spending? Will central government have to meet that added burden?
Of course, there are other costs, as the Minster stated. Policing is one and having not seen the "Panorama" programme—although I have been told about it by many people—I think that it is extremely unfortunate that the Association of Chief Police Officers' report on 228 the negative impact of the licensing regime was not brought forward and made more readily available at an earlier stage in the proceedings on the Licensing Bill. Everyone should realise that there has been an increased level of violence associated with alcohol—the Prime Minister talked about the misuse of alcohol as "the British disease". We are taking a leap in the dark into an area where it is not just a question of a quiet drink on a Sunday night at the local that might be extended for an hour, there is a real risk that a large number of violent incidents will take place.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ I was going to speak only for four or five minutes, and I have overshot that target considerably. However, I have two further questions. I know that many other noble Lords will raise other issues. I hope that the Minister can give me an answer about circuses, which are unfortunate casualties of the Act. They were given certain assurances by the Home Office when the Bill moved from the Home Office to the DCMS, and those assurances turned out not to be the case. Circuses have been brought within the ambit of the Act to a degree in which it seems that many of them face closure, in the worst case.
§ The Minister will say that the Act has now been passed, so there is nothing that can be done. However, as the Government drafted the Act, I hope that the Minister will not use that let-out and will say that the Secretary of State, through guidance, will point out to local authorities the wide remit that they have to make it as easy as possible for circuses to carry on a great profession. It seems strange that while money from the Arts Council is being pumped into teaching people circus skills, the very circuses that they will work in might be closed down by this Act.
§ I could not finish without mentioning live music. I must thank the Minister for the magnificent amendment that the Government brought forward about morris men at the tail end of the Licensing Bill. The Minister is a hero among morris men. In November of last year 600 morris men gathered in Trafalgar Square just to sing and dance the praises of the Minister. It is unfortunate that he was not there that day—it was quite a day—but I thought that I should bring that to his attention.
§ I have a specific question about live music, about which I have asked many questions during proceedings on the Act. When an entertainment authorisation is required, is it the case that a licensing authority must grant the authorisation without conditions, unless specific shortcomings can be identified in existing legislation covering public safety, noise, nuisance, crime and disorder that relates to the entertainment being proposed?
§ I look forward to the Minister's answers and the points that will be raised by many noble Lords who have spoken throughout our deliberations on this Act.
§ Baroness Buscombe
My Lords, it is extraordinary to think that almost a year following Royal Assent, we are now debating the draft licensing guidelines; and 229 still there is little confidence that local authorities will be able to cope with the new regime—a regime which will, it is feared, have an enormous and often detrimental effect on our communities. Those fears have already been exacerbated by the Government allowing elected Members in the other place precisely an hour an a half to consider 190 pages of draft guidance.
I have been inundated with complaints from many stakeholders in the past few weeks, who were all deeply concerned about the implementation of the Act, with the guidance as drafted. Unfortunately, there is insufficient time to articulate them all. The key is to know how local authorities, the breweries, the police and other emergency services will cope within the guidelines, especially without any firm sense of the fee levels that will be set by regulation. Will the regime be fully funded, we wonder?
Only yesterday in a Written Answer in another place, the Minister, Mr Caborn MP, stated:Fee levels under the Licensing Act 2003 will be set centrally at a level that allows the full recovery of the costs of administration, inspection and enforcement associated with the new system".—[Official Report, Commons, 7/6/04; col. 47W.]That sounds terrific, but what does it actually mean? Does it mean the internal costs of administering the regime, such as serving enforcement notices and dealing with appeals and complaints, or does it include policing our streets, cleaning our streets and providing sufficient transport to see our young home throughout the night—costs of managing the night-time economy? Is that why we are hearing that councils, such as Camden, are already allowing for an additional £800,000 in their next year's budget from council tax payers' money to pay for the knock-on effects of all-night drinking?
The Prime Minister recently stated that the industry must pick up the true costs of binge drinking. Will the Minister confirm that tonight? I think that the industry should be told.
The Local Government Association has made it clear that the conceptual framework of the guidance document is flawed in that there is insufficient distinction in it between interpretation of the statute and guidance for local authorities on the process and local authority good practice, bearing in mind that the purpose of the guidance is to promote consistency and good practice.
Good practice is solely a matter for local discretion, and the inclusion and wording of these suggestions creates an expectation of local authority activity that would be very costly. The Local Government Association understands that that extends to activities that would not be covered by the licensing fees—hence, councils are now considering huge council tax increases to cover what the Government might call "best practice" but what the public would regard as essential services. In essence, the local authorities believe that they cannot realistically develop licensing policies without knowledge of the fee structure.
Now that we have the Act, which I think everyone must accept was seriously ill-thought-through, the Government are concerned with damage limitation. They have 230 published their Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy. It is a shame that, in the words of Professor Ian Gilmore of the Royal College of Physicians, the strategy is,stronger on cleaning up the streets than on preventing physical harm".Even the Prime Minister, at this late stage, decided to turn up to a brewery a couple of weeks ago to give the brewing industry a hard time about the need to confront the culture of binge drinking. I am afraid that that is rather typical of this Government. They create an impending nightmare situation—many will have had the opportunity to witness on "Panorama" on Sunday the kind of scenario that we can expect to be exacerbated in our cities and also an article written by the "Panorama" reporter, Andy Davies, entitled "The booze ruse killing our cities"—and then they blame others, which, in this case, are the drinks industry and the advertising industry. The Prime Minister said that binge drinking could become the new British disease. My Lords, it already has.
Surely, therefore, it cannot make sense to allow some of these enormous city bars to be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, before tackling the culture of binge drinking. As the Institute of Alcohol Studies stated, it is wrong to emphasise the value of extending opening hours without adequately taking into account the context within which such a premises offering longer hours operates. It cites the lack of late-night public transport as an example—an issue which we believe is given insufficient weight in the draft guidance.
The Government state in the guidance that they strongly believe that disorder is linked to artificially early closing and so they urge late hours under certain paragraphs in the guidance. In addition, the cumulative impact clauses have caused considerable concern. The residents of Bath believe that their city is already saturated with licensed premises and have asked me to convey the fact that, according to the draft guidance, saturation policies will extend only to new premises. That said, I am very grateful to the Minister for providing us with some reassurances tonight on this issue. Indeed, they are reassurances that I shall want to read again in Hansard. But that is the kind of reassurance that we need from the Minister.
While liberating drinking hours, the Government chose to regulate live music to the nth degree and have now, rather weakly, stuck something in the guidelines under paragraph 3.47 about a duty to promote participation in the arts. How on earth would anyone have any trust in this Government's commitment to the arts when it will be illegal to play a piano in a bar without a licence?
Live music is a great antidote to anti-social behaviour and should be encouraged much more, not discouraged by petty regulation. Music is a positive force for social, economic, psychosomatic and cultural reasons for all ages. Evidence has verified this and shortly Carling is due to publish its commissioned research which has found that 79 per cent of the population like hearing music in public places. That figure rises to 90 per cent among 16 to 24 year-olds; 100 per cent of 16 to 24 year-olds say music helps them relax and feel better about their day; and 90 per cent of 231 the entire base agree. Live music has the greatest positive emotional impact and power to make people feel good; that is felt by 32 per cent compared with the next favourite way to relax, which is eating out, at 30 per cent. In essence more live music would mean less trouble.
The Minister in another place referred to points raised by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments and in particular the delegation of functions, believing that paragraphs 3.61 to 3.63 lack clarity. I seem to recall there was considerable debate regarding the delegation of powers to the executive within local authorities as the Act was requiring an entirely impractical number of council members to sit on a licensing committee. In some instances this would require the whole membership of the council to sit on the committee. I think that our debates in your Lordships' House on this matter and the amendments that we proposed on this point more readily explain the lack of clarity.
In addition, the transitional arrangements are entirely unsatisfactory, a point amplified by my honourable friend Malcolm Moss MP. He also raised an issue in another place regarding the position of golf clubs. He asked the Minister how golf clubs with large numbers of visiting players who are guests of members will cope with the illegality of selling alcoholic drinks to them. A meeting was due to take place today between the Minister, the English Golf Union and the National Golf Clubs' Advisory Association. Can the Minister confirm whether that meeting took place and say how the issue was resolved?
In addition, the gaming industry remains deeply concerned that it must endure the prohibitive costs of responding to this legislation while awaiting the gambling Bill which will no doubt alter the licensing structure and statutory criteria again. I could go on with so many more issues and suggested amendments submitted to me, if time allowed. While there may have been many consultations between Ministers, officials and stakeholders, the Government must accept that there is, above all else, a strong suspicion in different quarters that the new regime will not work for the benefit of all and that, for example, even where musicians and other live performers may he exempted from licensing requirements, there is insufficient reassurance in the guidance to counter those suspicions. Perhaps some illustrative examples in the guidance could make a difference.
There is also a strong sense of unfairness. Residents will be funding the increased costs of objecting to variation orders, policing and clearing up after extended drinking hours and, further, unlike live performers, broadcast entertainment will be a free for all. Where is the justice in that?
I wish that tonight we were giving our support to legislation that would genuinely encourage a café society, which many of us have experienced across Europe, whereby drink and entertainment go hand in hand, without unnecessary legislation and without turning our cities, towns and villages into living nightmares, but that is not the case. Indeed tonight in 232 my own village of Goring, an application will be considered by the parish council which could, if adopted by the district, make my life and that of my family and neighbours intolerable, all because of our culture of binge drinking, particularly among the young. This draft guidance does not begin to address that; it will probably only make it worse and that is deeply depressing.
I shall support the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, tonight and if procedurally I had been allowed to add my name to the Motion as a member of the Conservative Front Bench I would have done so.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Lord Watson of Richmond
My Lords, the debate tonight on the guidance to police officers and my noble friend Lord Redesdale's Motion puts me in a very unusual position. I think that some of your Lordships will know that I am usually a Euro-enthusiast and believe that the greater integration that we have with Europe, the better for all of us.
However, I am moved tonight to make a somewhat Euro-sceptic speech. I simply do not believe that emulating the more lax licensing laws of continental Europe will transform the hard-drinking culture of England into a café society of open air sipping of the odd glass of Sancerre from dusk to dawn. Sadly, as Sunday's "Panorama" vividly demonstrated, the evidence points the other way. It is a pity, as that programme showed, that the DCMS did not take more account of that evidence.
I should like to refer to the borough of Richmond because it illustrates the problem with which we are confronted: idyllic riverside, the matchless Vale of Thames and Arcadian beauty, but, in the past 10 years, the number of bars and restaurants serving alcohol on the Richmond riverside has doubled to over 100 with a capacity for nearly 10,000 people, against the local population of 8,000. The result has been increased rowdyism, litter and drunken excess, necessitating an increased and costly police presence, which, despite greater resources—and we are grateful for that—is very hard pressed.
It is thus paradoxical—is it not?—that the Government urge the greater control of anti-social behaviour and measures against binge drinking and at the same time are relaxing the licensing regime and limiting the rights of objection.
For the Government the paradox is resolved by optimism that, somehow, despite the evidence from elsewhere from Ireland to Finland, our drinking manners will change and that binge drinking will progressively become a thing of the past. What is the evidence; and how is it that "Panorama" was able to demonstrate how much evidence had been ignored or set aside?
One aspect on which I am particularly fearful is that a great burden will now be placed on councils having to contend with the high-paid lawyers of brewers and 233 drinking establishments pressing, very actively, for massive relaxation in licensing, without in any way being able to match the resources ranged against them.
Lastly, there is one key factor. Paragraph 3.29 in the guidance states:With regard to licensing hours, the statement of policy should generally emphasise the consideration which will be given to the individual merits in an application. The Government strongly recommends that statements of policy should recognise that longer licensing hours with regard to the sale of alcohol are important to ensure that the concentrations of customers leaving premises simultaneously are avoided. This is necessary to reduce the friction at late night fast food outlets, taxi ranks and other sources of transport which lead to disorder and disturbance".I have referred to Richmond. After midnight there is one Tube train. The remaining buses between midnight and dawn have a total capacity to carry 600 people. Thousands of people will be seeking to leave Richmond during these hours in this new situation. How are they to leave in the early hours of the morning? Taxis will not stop. Minicabs will not respond to calls. Why should they? They are vulnerable to violence and to people being sick in the back of cabs. God forbid that people will seek to drive themselves.
So, what is the solution? Why was the evidence of so great and so many risks, as "Panorama" argued, apparently set aside? How will councils be enabled to contend with high-powered, well paid—with great respect—batteries of lawyers arguing for abolishing or relaxing licensing hours? How are residents to cope, and how is the quality of life and the safety of our town centres to be assured? These guidelines do not reassure.
§ Lord Jenkin of Roding
My Lords, I wish to raise a point referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, and my noble friend Lady Buscombe: the fees that local authorities will be authorised to charge for performing their duties under the Act. I declare an interest as a joint president of the Association of London Government and vice-president of the Local Government Association.
The Government have repeatedly asserted, and indeed emphasised, that no local authority will be out of pocket because of the new duties put on them. Last November, Nick Raynsford said:I can confirm the commitment already given by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport that we will ensure that the costs of the licensing system are fully covered by the fees".—[Official Report, Commons, 19/11/03; col. 787.]Richard Caborn said much the same in a Written Answer last December.
Last year the Government indicated the level of fees that were likely to be authorised. There can be no doubt that, if those fees are what ultimately emerge, many local authorities will be substantially out of pocket.
I shall quote some figures, concentrating on the situation in London. From the surveys carried out, it is clear that all London local authorities will face deficits as a result of their new duties under this Act. Nineteen of the 234 22 authorities that responded to an LGA survey estimated minimum deficits of £100,000. The average anticipated deficit from the 22 boroughs was just under £9 million. As an indication, Hammersmith and Fulham faces a deficit of £375,000, Kensington and Chelsea faces one of over half a million pounds and Barnet faces a deficit of almost half a million pounds.
The City corporation, which one might not have thought likely to be affected, receives at present around £280,000 per annum in night refreshment licences. In the first full year of operation, it expects that to fall to £210,000. The proposed reduced annual continuation fee will mean that in following years income will be around half that figure. While the licensing workload that the City corporation faces will increase significantly, the total income that it will be allowed to charge will fall considerably.
The difficulties are even more pronounced in Westminster. Its income projections fall far short of the expenditure that the council anticipates having to make to service the licensing function. At the moment, Westminster's net expenditure on licensing amounts to around £700,000. Westminster estimates that, once the new regime is up and running, that figure will rise by £2 million. It feels, not unreasonably, that without revision of the proposed fee levels, the deficits faced by authorities are bound to add to the strain being placed on the council tax. Although that evidence relates to London, I am advised that urban authorities elsewhere in the country are likely to face similar results.
What has really got under the local authorities' skin was a remark last month in another place by Mr Caborn. He said during DCMS Questions:
We are in discussion with the Local Government Association and others in the industry. I hope to be able to announce the fees in the not too distant future. We have already given an indication and I do not believe that it will prove to be far from the mark".—[Official Report, Commons, 24/5/04; col. 1294.]If the fees that the Government are minded to authorise do not increase substantially above the levels that they have already indicated, there will be very serious consequences for local authorities. If they cannot recover their costs there will be huge problems in carrying out their responsibilities, particularly in enforcement and inspection. Inadequate enforcement of licensed premises and inadequate consultation in administering licences are likely to be a major source of concern for residents. They will have to look to other sources of income, and yet once more it will be the unfortunate council tax payer who will have to find the difference.
There has been much reference to binge drinking. If there is inadequate enforcement of the licences, binge drinking can only get worse. Although the intentions of the Act may be excellent, that would be a disaster for all. I have gone on long enough, but I have some questions to put to the Minister. Do the Government still stand by their promise that local authorities will not be out of pocket, and that the fees that they will be allowed to charge will cover their costs, not just as an average figure, but for each local authority? As the figures so far given do not comply with that promise, will the Government now listen to the local authorities, go through their own 235 estimates of that cost, and adjust the figures accordingly? Will they consider the alternative basis of charge that some local authorities have been putting forward, which would give a rather fairer measure of the costs that they will incur? I know that the 2003 Act has many supporters, but it will be a tragedy if implementation of the Act is frustrated because the local authorities lack the resources to do it properly.
§ Lord Bridges
My Lords, a very few words from these empty Cross Benches. I am not alone in wishing to thank the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, for his characteristically clear and well-constructed introduction to these debates. I also remember with gratitude the help that he gave us in the passage of the Bill over the permission to have music in churches, which was important to me and to many other noble Lords.
It appears that the Government have two objectives: opening up the night-time economy and ending binge drinking at closing time. I am all in favour of ending binge drinking at closing time, but it seems to me that the opening up of the night-time economy casts a different appearance on the whole thing. It is possible that in the remaining hours after normal closing time that a pub stays open it will sell a great deal more alcohol. Therefore, we will end up with higher alcohol consumption spread over a longer period, which is not what we want. I notice that in the document before us there is reference to an alcohol harm reduction strategy. I have not yet been able to obtain a copy, but it seems to me that this should be the overall objective of this Bill; to reduce the excessive consumption of alcohol. Could we have a debate in this House about the strategy for the reduction of alcohol consumption before the Bill comes into force? Your Lordships' experience would be invaluable on this subject. I hope that the noble Lord will be able to give me some reassurance about that.
§ Lord Avebury
My Lords, in her introduction to the guidance the Secretary of State says that the £20 billion cost of alcohol misuse, including £7.5 billion of crime and disorder costs, must be tackled by local authorities under the licensing regime, which she tells us must be applied proactively to tackle all levels of alcohol misuse. She does not explain how local authorities will deal with the phenomenon of binge drinking, which has occupied so much of your Lordships' attention this evening, as on previous occasions when we debated the Licensing Bill.
The Secretary of State undertakes to monitor the impact of the Act on crime and disorder and, if necessary, to introduce further legislation to strengthen or modify its provisions, which does not indicate a great level of confidence that it will work. So far, with 15 months to go from now until the appointed day when the new licensing system comes fully into operation, the Government have yet to decide what statistics they will use to monitor the effects of the Act. I have suggested using accident and emergency attendances, on the lines of those collected as a one-off exercise by Professor Colin Drummond and others; offences of violence against a person committed on or in the vicinity of licensed premises and similarly for 236 ambulance call-outs. Another possibility would be to use the powers in Sections 25 and 44 of the Fire and Rescue Services Bill to keep records of the role of alcohol in fire-related deaths, 39 per cent of which, according to Alcohol Concern, are associated with heavy drinking.
The Minister, Melanie Johnson, said that a full year's baseline data would be necessary and that any preparatory work that needs to be done to collect the data must therefore be carried out in the next three months. Unless we have an effective monitoring system in place, we will have no idea whether the objective of the Bill to reduce crime and disorder is being realised.
The system has to allow comparisons to be made between local authority areas so that any changes in the parameters that are measured can be compared with the corresponding number of on licences or, better still, with the total capacity of on licences in each area to see whether there is a relationship between them. If Ministers think that that is not the way the impact of the new regime should be evaluated, they should explain the alternative and let us get expert statistical advice on the exercise. Is it because the Department of Health, the DCMS and the Home Office all have a finger in the pie that it is apparently so difficult to reach a decision on how the assessment is to be conducted or is there some other reason for the delay in announcing how it will be done? Are the Government paying lip service to the idea of monitoring, while trying to avoid an objective test that would demonstrate a link between the Act and a greater level of alcohol harm?
Complaints have already been made in another place about the inordinate delay in producing this final version of the guidance. From Third Reading in this House, it took them 12 months to make a number of amendments. I suspect that at least part of the dawdling was intended to see that the second appointed day would not be until after the next general election. Any ill effects of the Act would not be felt until after the Government were safely back in office, as they would see it. It could not have been that they were waiting for the alcohol harm reduction strategy, to which the Minister referred, because that was not published until after the guidance. Nor could it be that the paragraphs on cumulative impact, which the Minister also mentioned and a problem much discussed in both Houses, took all that time to formulate.
I am glad to see that local residents are now to be consulted on whether a concentration of licensed premises in any area is nearing the point at which it would have an impact on one or other of the licensing objectives and that local authorities are to be given the freedom to consult anyone they choose in coming to a decision on cumulative impact. In paragraph 3.18, which lists the steps to be followed in deciding to adopt a special policy on cumulative impact, it is now "concern about crime and disorder" without the adjective "significant" that has to be identified.
As the Minister explained, if there is a special policy, under paragraph 3.19, it is now open to responsible authorities, including the police and other interested parties, to make written representations maintaining that 237 it is necessary to refuse applications for the prevention of crime and disorder and referring to information that had been before the licensing authority when it developed its statement of licensing policy.
That appears to imply that if more up-to-date information becomes available, it cannot be cited in the representations. As the Minister explained, in the area to which the special policy applies, there is a rebuttable presumption that applications for new premises licences will normally be refused unless the applicant can demonstrate that the operation of the premises to which the application refers will not add to the cumulative impact already being experienced. It would be absurd if the interested party making the representation was denied the opportunity of presenting current evidence on crime and disorder and had to rely on figures that may relate to events long ago when the original statement was made.
The guidance states that extended licensing hours can be expected to reduce conflict, disorder and antisocial behaviour. Again, we heard that from the Minister in his introductory speech. That is a statement of opinion with which most people strenuously disagree, and it flies in the face of common-sense. In the old days when everyone left the pubs at the same time, anti-social behaviour tended to be concentrated in the hour immediately after closing time. But now that people can drink until 2 a.m. in most cities, there are drunks on the streets for hours on end, creating mayhem and tying up enormous resources of police, ambulance and accident and emergency manpower.
What will happen if the licensees of vertical drink factories decide to open until 4 a.m. or 6 a.m.? Disorder will be extended for another two or four hours, as the police fully expect and have warned will happen. For local authorities faced with the additional costs of restoring the streets after the nightly deluge of vomit and urine in an ever-diminishing time slot before the daytime economy kicks in, and with no chance of recovering those costs, that will be one more headache on which the guidance is completely silent.
For the country at large, this will be a catastrophe. Future generations will look back on our failure to stop the epidemic of alcohol harm as another example to be added to those in Barbara Tuchman's March of Folly of the impotence of reason in the face of greed, selfish ambition and moral cowardice.
§ Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts
My Lords, I rise to support the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale. In the light of the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, I am reluctant to declare an interest as a non-executive director of Britain's largest regional brewer and an operator of 1,500 pubs, of which 1,000 are tenanted and 500 are managed.
The Minister will recall our debates in Committee about the costs of the scheme. They were lengthy, detailed, and it was obvious that there was a great deal of concern both among local authorities and in the industry about what those charges would be. I find it extraordinary and 238 ingenuous even—not a word that I would normally apply to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh—that he thinks he could come as far as this in the process of implementing the new licensing strategy without having provided fresh guidance on what the fees are likely to be, where they are to fall and how they are to be paid.
There is now a clear view that the fees should be cost neutral so far as local authorities are concerned. My noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding is concerned about whether they will be cost neutral, but that has been stated, and therefore they will fall on the industry. My own brewery is on record as saying that the costs of introduction will be £1 million this year—in our budget that amounts to £600 to £700 per pub; and covers only the introduction, not the cost of running the scheme—and we have yet to be given a clear indication of what the running costs and final implementation costs will be.
I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, that while it is easy to look at the industry as if this is the only charge it bears, the pub industry is a huge tax contributor, in billions charged by the Chancellor. Therefore simply to isolate this element is, I think, unfair and inaccurate.
When the charges fall, they will fall on the industry, the customers, the staff and the shareholders or, in the case of tenanted pubs, the tenant, who is the owner of the pub. It is often forgotten that half the pubs in this country are tenanted, being run by self-employed entrepreneurs, a class that the Government profess they are keen to encourage, but given that it is submerged in red tape, one wonders how deep that commitment is. The tenants are running small businesses which are not always very profitable. Remarks around the House during the debate have concentrated on city centre pubs with high volumes, but there are valuable social outlets in marginally profitable pubs in many communities. They have been affected by the take-home trade and as such have not remained as profitable as they once were.
These people are struggling to build up their businesses. What they want to know is: how much will it cost to be licensed; what forms have to be filled in and how does one get those forms? So far, in neither case is there a sensible answer. To be frank, for the Government to argue that neither of those questions can be addressed until this piece of legislation is passed is, I am afraid, ingenuous.
We must add to that the third element: the appointed day. If we are to have the appointed day in the pre-Christmas period, that coincides with the period of maximum stress and strain for local authorities, as it is for the operators of pubs. That may not have occurred to those in the ivory towers of Whitehall, which only goes to show how out of touch they are with the commercial reality of operating in the leisure industry. The run-up to Christmas is one of the most important periods of the year.
There is too the issue of the interval, the time to complete the so-far unknown processes as that interval becomes increasingly short, especially given that the period the Minister envisages will include the holiday 239 months of July, August and September. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us that the first appointed day will be put back to 2005, first to allow the smooth introduction of the new legislation—which is in everyone's interest, whatever their views may be and, secondly, to minimise commercial distraction and disruption. The Government have only themselves to blame. The guidance was issued last August with a tight response date of the end of September; they then sat on the guidance for six months. The Government made no effort to re-run the revised guidance past the interested parties and therefore some six months were lost.
My final remarks follow those of the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, and concern circuses—about which I have no interest to declare. I look forward to hearing the Minister's response to the noble Lord's questions. The position of circuses and the temporary event licence is important and a number of serious issues have been raised in correspondence that I have received. What will happen, for example, if the venue of the circus has to be changed at the last minute because the farmer does not want his field to be used or the ground has become waterlogged? Would another temporary event licence have to be applied for?
What we feared in Committee and predicted would happen has happened. The Government have got themselves into a terrible muddle; they have failed to understand the practical applications of their legislation. There needs to be a fee structure now; there need to be plans and forms now; and we need enough time to assimilate and complete them calmly. In short, the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, is right.
§ Lord Phillips of Sudbury
My Lords, I wish to make two points in two minutes. I declare an interest as the chairman of a small hotel company in East Anglia. As we are talking about circuses, I hope that I am wrong in expecting this Act to become one of the greatest legislative circuses of modern times.
Chapter 3, which is the crucial chapter of the draft guidance, deals with statements of licensing policy. Paragraph 3.29, which was referred to by my noble friend Lord Watson, deals only with city centre pubs; it refers only to fast food outlets, taxi ranks, and thriving and safe evening and night-time local economies attractive to domestic and international tourism. It is quite bizarre that there is no mention in this crucial chapter of guidance about rural pubs—and there are still, thank the Lord, thousands of rural pubs.
Given that the guidance is still in draft form, will the Minister make up for that and draw into this section the statement which appears only in Annex G relating to the prevention of public nuisance? Under the heading "General", the second paragraph states that the options in relation to the prevention of public nuisance must take account of a range of factors,including the nature and style of the venue, the activities being conducted there, the location of the premises and the anticipated clientele".240 Those are crucial matters. If we have to rely on local authorities operating under paragraph 3.29, which refers to the Government "strongly recommending" the extension of licensing hours, we shall be in a terrible mess.
Secondly, my noble friend Lord Watson said several times that this will provide a field day for lawyers. He is absolutely right. The guidance contains 200 pages; the Act contains 250. It is phenomenally complicated, interlocking with common law rules, statutory rules and definitions galore. There are endless complications. Will the Government undertake to help ordinary citizens? They will be lined up against the big battalions of the breweries which backed the Bill; it will not be an equal combat. Will the Minister contemplate what the Government can reasonably do to help support small groups of local residents? Quite frankly, they will be out of their depth unless they have that support.
§ Lord Colwyn
My Lords, in her foreword the Secretary of State lists areas of vital importance and principal aims. They include:the further development within communities of our rich culture of live music, dancing and theatre, both in rural areas and in our towns and cities".But surely the licensing of public entertainment has wider application than the licensing of alcohol.
The public performance of plays and music by children or public performances where alcohol is not sold are illegal unless licensed. A wide range of private events are now also illegal unless licensed when arranged to raise money for charity.
Could it be that the focus on alcohol has caused these illogical provisions? The Secretary of State, Tessa Jowell, for whom I have the greatest respect, says that licensing is necessary for public safety and to protect children. So why should a children's public concert in a school be illegal unless licensed, but exempt if performed in a church?
If licensing is to prevent noise nuisance or disorder, why should a piano in a bar used for an occasional sing-song be illegal unless licensed, but a jukebox or a big match broadcast on big screens with powerful amplification be exempt? Why should a public performance of unamplified music accompanying Morris dancers be exempt, but illegal if there are no dancers?
As we have already heard, another issue of concern is the lack of information about the licence fee schedule. It is a fundamental issue for many licensees and should have been published prior to the guidance, which is full of references to regulations and schedules that do not seem to exist.
§ 9 p.m.
The Musicians Union has had discussions with many local authorities and it is clear that those who recognise that there is a full requirement to encourage live music are not sure how they will fulfil this obligation. It would have been helpful if the guidance could have given examples of the different types of live
performance and how they might be promoted, although I am pleased to see that in paragraph 3.47, the impact of licensing on the,
provision of regulated entertainment, and particularly live music and dancing",
§ will be carefully monitored.
§ Despite assurances during discussion on the Bill, there is a feeling, particularly among small venues that benefited from the PEL two-in-a-bar exemption, that they will have to submit to onerous licensing requirements under the new regime and that the guidance does not go far enough in reassuring them that this is not the case.
Finally, I have heard from the City of Westminster, which says that,
our view remains that the Guidance would be liable to be quashed by a Court if published in its present form",
and that it,
will leave local authorities ill equipped to manage the escalating problems of drunken crime, disorder and anti-social behaviour that blight our town centres".
§ I look forward to the Minister's answers. There are so many unanswered questions.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, I am a sentimental chap, and I love to hear these arguments all over again. It brings back those happy days of the passage of the Licensing Bill. We have not had very many Committee or Report stage speeches, but we have had Second Reading speeches for the original Licensing Bill. Occasionally—and I am grateful for this—flashes of sun came through the clouds and we had a discussion about the guidance before the House tonight. I shall try to respond to the points which have been made about the guidance but I will, I hope, be forgiven if I do not respond to all the points made about the original Bill, which cannot—such is the power of Parliament—be amended by statutory guidance.
I shall deal in order with the issues raised by noble Lords. The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, raised a matter which was echoed by a number of other noble Lords about the first appointed day. The first appointed day—the beginning of the transition period—is not a statutory requirement and never has been. We have suggested that the minimum period should be six months, but we have never suggested that the maximum period should be six months.
We have listened very carefully, and I have been listening very carefully this evening, to the representations made. I heard what the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, said about the dangers of the beginning of a transition period, with applications due in, being in the course of the busy Christmas period. I sympathise with that and understand. As I said in my opening remarks, the Secretary of State will take all these representations into account, and I am sure that she will be sympathetic, in the light of what has been said.
Regarding the period before the first appointed day, I have been asked when we are to publish the fee structure. The answer is that given by Richard Caborn 242 in the Commons—in the not-too-distant future. However, that has to be in the form of draft regulations and draft regulations have to be the subject of consultation, for which a sufficient period has to be allowed. All we can usefully say in response to the question is what I said earlier: we shall publish the draft regulations, including the fee structure; we will conduct the consultation, respond to it and make final decisions in good time before the appointed day. There is no reason why anyone should suffer from that. If that puts back the appointed day, the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, and others will no doubt he happy.
The noble Lords, Lord Redesdale, Lord Jenkin and Lord Hodgson, and others asked about fees and our undertaking that local authorities will not be out of pocket. I repeat the reassurance given by Nick Raynsford that they will not be. I perfectly understand that local authorities are incurring up-front costs, because they are acting before the fee structure has been settled and before they are able to charge fees. However, it follows from that, given our undertaking that they will not be out of pocket, that they will recoup those up-front costs when the transition period starts. I give that undertaking as well.
I was asked what would happen if a council had a deficit and how it would be affected by capping. The whole process of setting licensing fees is intended to be without cost to the local authority. Therefore, the authority cannot be affected by any capping on its other expenditure which it has to meet from its own resources.
The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, asked me about circuses. I had already indicated that because circuses were not included in the original Bill, there was no exemption for them. It is not possible to introduce an exemption which would amend the original Bill in guidance of this kind, but I shall make two points to the noble Lord about that. First, the likely fee to circuses for obtaining licences for the sites at which they are going to perform is, at our best estimate, 2.5p per ticket. It is not a large amount. I admit that there are administrative costs on top of that. Secondly, the noble Lord asked for a wide remit for local authorities to make it as easy as possible for circuses and I can certainly assure him of that. Local authorities that like to accommodate circuses—and there are many—are already starting to make provision for licences to be available for circuses in advance, so that some of the inevitable costs of licensing are met.
However, even if it were legally possible, it would not be right for us to exempt circuses. Imagine what would happen if there were a fire in the circus tent and children were killed. Imagine what would happen if there were a collapse of stands in a tent or if a performer fell. Those are public safety issues and licences are entirely appropriate for that purpose.
A number of noble Lords raised the issue of live music. I am very sympathetic to their views. I agree with everything that the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, said about the social and cultural value of live music.
If we look closely at the guidance, we will see changes which I would have wished to make to the Bill if it been entirely up to me. I invite noble Lords to look 243 at paragraph 5.18 and other paragraphs about the definitions of live and incidental music. For the first time, the issue of the volume of the music is introduced into the guidance. I wish that we had done that in the Bill, but we did not. But it is right that for the protection both of musicians and those living near the place where the music is performed there should be reference to the decibel count, as well as to the issue of whether the music is live, recorded, incidental or central—if that is the opposite of incidental. These are steps forward from the provisions of the Bill and are well worth while.
I move to the other points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe. I ought not to respond to her central point, as it relates to the fundamental point of the Bill—her assumption that we shall be promoting 24-hour drinking, which itself will encourage disorder. I simply cannot accept that assumption. The view of those who advised the Government in introducing the Bill—and the view of the police in particular—was that artificial licensing hours, particularly with a crunch time of eleven o'clock and another crunch time in city centres of two o'clock, encourage rather than discourage binge drinking.
I have heard a lot about the "Panorama" programme and I saw it, but I must remind the House that it was about existing licensing laws, not about the regime that will be brought in by this Bill. I simply cannot accept the assumptions that have been made, particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, who made a very dramatic speech. When I hear words such as "greed", "selfish", "ambition" and "moral cowardice", I am prepared to take it on the chin. However, I do think that he should examine his evidence more carefully. When all-day drinking was introduced into this country in 1988, exactly the same things that the noble Lord is now saying were said about what would happen as a result. What actually happened was that, in each of the five years following 1988, alcohol consumption fell. Let us see what happens as a result of the provisions—but it cannot be taken for granted that the noble Lord's judgment about the effect of the Bill is based on a sound observation of society as I understand it.
The point was raised about golf clubs. I thought we had got rid of that point—it really is a nonsense, although I enjoyed the Conservative research department's piece of paper on it. Guests in those clubs will be allowed to drink, provided that the club frames it rules so that they can be allowed to drink. Guests are not the same as associate members, who are members of other golf clubs. They are not the same as guests introduced by members; one does not have to be signed in by a member to be a guest. If the rules of the golf club say so, a club can accept guests who pay for a round of golf and have a drink afterwards. It is as simple as that—and that is what we shall say to the associations of golf clubs when we meet them tomorrow.
The noble Lord, Lord Watson of Richmond, will not like what I have said, but he is making the same error as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. He is assuming that all sorts of dreadful things will happen as a result of what are—let us face it—local decisions about what licensing hours and licensing conditions could be. We have come a long way from the Liberal Party of my 244 youth, which used to be in favour of local decisions about these things—local democratic decisions by local authorities. The noble Lord is now saying that government should lay down the law to local authorities and forbid authorities such as his Richmond Borough Council from making the kind of decisions that they will be called on to make.
§ Lord Watson of Richmond
My Lords, with great respect to the Minister, I was not saying that. I was saying that councils are going to find themselves in a David and Goliath situation. The Minister would do well to be realistic about that.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, who is the David and who is the Goliath? Is the council the David and are the breweries the Goliath? Tell that to the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson!
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, I enjoyed the "Panorama" programme, but it was not exactly to that effect.
I believe that I have responded to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, and given him the assurance that he seeks that the councils will not be out of pocket. We understand that they are out of pocket now, but that they will recover the money for transition periods. The noble Lord made a particular point about what might happen with each individual local authority, which he may want to raise with me. Or perhaps he does not.
§ Lord Jenkin of Roding
My Lords, I do not. I am grateful for what the noble Lord has said about recouping the costs that local authorities have already incurred, but that has not actually been the burden of their complaint, although it is part of it. Their complaint is that the level of charges that have so far been indicated will not cover, on a continuing basis, the costs that they are going to incur. I hope that the Minister can give an undertaking that these will be reviewed.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, I have just done so. It is our intention that the charges that we set will recover the costs. If necessary and at whatever interval, they will be reviewed. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, for intervening and allowing me to turn off my pager. The noble Lord asked me to look at an alternative basis of charges produced by some local authorities. If he will give me further details of that, I shall be glad to do so.
The noble Lord, Lord Bridges, in a very constructive contribution, asked for a debate on the alcohol harm strategy together with, I would have thought, the wider implications of this legislation, although we cannot go back on the provisions of the Bill. That is, of course, a matter for the usual channels, but I would be very happy to see Cross-Bench time found for such a debate.
245 The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, made other points from those to which I have responded. His main point was about the nature of the assessment that will be made. He made some useful suggestions about accident and emergency attendances, statistics on offences of violence near premises, fire deaths and so on. I am grateful for them. In DCMS, we are talking actively with the Home Office, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and the Department of Health about assessment. We are planning to use the British Crime Survey and the General Household Survey, which give some of the answers for which he is looking, but we are also concerned with the cultural impact. Issues like the cultural impact of live music, which was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, are part of the assessment that we will be making.
I hope that I have responded to the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson. His points were about the introduction costs and the running costs. They are legitimate points and will be taken into account in the assessment of the fee structure. When he called me ingenuous, I rather think that he meant to accuse me of being disingenuous. There you are, you cannot have everything.
The noble Lord, Lord Phillips, referred to paragraph 3.29 on public nuisance. I must say that he ought to have read a bit further because, in addition to that, in the definition of public nuisance in paragraph 7.40, he will find wise words describing the criterion of,The reduction of the living and working amenity and environment of interested parties (as defined in the 2003 Act) in the vicinity of licensed premises".Why are they wise? They are wise because they are the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, which have found their way into the guidance.
I am sorry that I cannot respond to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Colwyn. I enjoyed hearing them again. I love the Musicians' Union's representations. I shall write to him about it, why not?
Finally, I want to come back to the issue of fee levels and the issue of the prayer of the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale. We are considering the material that has been provided by the Local Government Association and the Association of London Government. We prolonged the period of consultation to allow everybody time to build their case, and we are grateful for the assistance that we have been given. I have repeated many times now the public assurance that the fee levels we will set will allow licensing authorities to cover their costs. We have said that at the end of the transition period there will be not just a review but an independent review of the fee levels, and they can be revised upwards or downwards, as necessary. We are not neglecting any of this material.
§ Lord Phillips of Sudbury
My Lords, on the question that I raised with the Minister about giving assistance 246 to individual parties that are interested in these decisions, will he say whether the Government would contemplate trying to help?
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, I am not sure to what type of party the noble Lord is referring. I think that I had better read carefully what he said on that.
I have tried hard not to miss any significant points made in debate. I hope that I have addressed in particular the issues raised in the prayer. I commend the draft guidance to the House.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.