Licensing Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Moss: The amendment would delete subsection (4)(e). Paragraph 6.61 of the guidance, on page 42, says:

    ''Licensing authorities may not initiate their own reviews of premises licences. It would be improper for the authority to lay allegations of its own and then determine the outcome of a hearing to consider them. Officers of the local authority such as environmental health officers, who are specified as responsible authorities under the Act, may however request reviews.''

Subsection (4) says that

    '' 'Responsible authority' means any of the following . . .

    (e) the local authority for the area in which the premises are situated'',

and clause 51(1) says:

    ''Where a premises licence has effect, an interested party or a responsible authority''—

and we know from clause 14(4)(e) that the local authority is deemed to be a responsible authority—

    ''may apply to the relevant licensing authority for a review of the licence.''

So the guidance notes tell us one thing and the Bill—in my humble interpretation—tells us another.

I am not sure what we are supposed to think. Is subsection (4)(e) the result of an amendment in another place? I do not know. It seems, from

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Government amendment No. 120, that the Government recognise that they may have got it wrong.

Dr. Howells: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would like to know that Government amendments Nos. 120 and 121 would restore the Bill to how it was prior to changes made in another place.

Mr. Moss: I am grateful to the Minister for clarifying that point. The Government amendments are restoring the status quo. That implies that local authorities would be judge and jury in their own case and that, of course, would be unacceptable to the Opposition. We touched on that issue earlier. The Government have tabled other amendments on the issue in addition to No. 120 and no doubt we will have a protracted debate on the subject. We will have to wait and see what the Government have to say about their amendments, but as far as we are concerned, the guidance and the Bill contradict each other. Our amendment would change the situation so that the issue was clear to those interpreting the Bill and clear in terms of natural justice. Local authorities should not be judge and jury in their own cases.

Mr. Sanders: I have a similar question, but on Government amendment No. 121. The premises to be licensed might be based in one local authority, while across the road—over a border—there was another local authority that had functions relating to the concerns clearly laid out in the Bill. In those circumstances, the first authority is a responsible authority, but clearly not for determining the licence application. However, it could have a right to make representation to the other authority, which is determining the application. I am looking for clarity on whether such boundary disputes will crop up from time to time, whether in relation to councillors who represent an area that is slap bang next to a ward where an an application, which will impact on that area, is being determined; or in relation to clubs and societies that have defined boundaries and will which have rights as interested parties under the Bill, but not in the area that is determining the application because they are adjacent to it. I wonder how such disputes will be dealt with.

Dr. Howells: The eagle eye of the hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire spotted the contradiction between the words in the Bill and those in the guidance. He is right: our amendment restores our former position by removing the tension between what is in the guidance and what is in the Bill.

On the Bill's definitions of responsible authorities, Government amendments Nos. 120 and 121 will restore the position prior to the changes accepted in another place. The responsible authorities described in clause 14 include the police, the fire authority, the enforcing authority for health and safety law,

    ''the local authority for the area in which the premises is situated'',

and

    ''any licensing authority . . . in whose area part of the premises is situated'',

including the one considering the application. Other authorities include various bodies relating to

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applications involving vessels and other persons prescribed by the Secretary of State.

A responsible authority is essentially an expert body to be consulted on licensing objectives when an application is made. For example, the police will consider carefully the applicant's proposals for preventing crime and disorder on his premises. If they are adequate, the police will not need to intervene. If the police are dissatisfied with the proposals, they have every right to make representations to the licensing authority.

When the Bill was amended in another place, it removed the reference from the original text to environmental health officers. It is important that such officers are consulted because they have vital expertise, for example in noise nuisance. They need to scrutinise the steps an applicant intends to take to prevent nuisance, and Government amendment No. 120 would restore them to the list.

Amendments in another place also replaced environmental health officers with a description of the local authority in which the premises are situated. The local authority is the licensing authority and the effect of including it is to allow it to consult itself and therefore make representations to itself. Although I welcome the fact that amendment No. 171 would remove the local authority from the list of responsible authorities, it does not restore the important status of the environmental health authority and, given the effect of the Government amendments in this group, I hope that it will not be pressed.

A further amendment in another place duplicated our provision by including in the list all licensing authorities in whose area part of the premises is situated. The list originally included licensing authorities other than the one in receipt of the application only in rare cases where premises straddle local authority boundaries. Amendment No. 121 would restore those arrangements.

The amendments raise two important aspects of the Bill. The first is fairness. The local authority is the licensing authority and vice versa. If a licensing authority can make representations to itself, which means generating a hearing to consider those representations, the licensing committee would be prosecution, witness, jury, judge and executioner in the same court. That cannot be proper and it would no doubt generate an array of human rights issues, about which I know the hon. Member for Isle of Wight is concerned. But let us not get technical. In simple terms, it would not be right or fair. We are not hamstringing the licensing authority; where a local authority has a particular statutory responsibility for expert matters, which directly impact on the licensing objectives, it will be a responsible authority.

The environmental health authority is a functioning part of the local authority. The enforcing agency for health and safety is drawn usually from, and organised by, the local authority. The planning authority is a functioning part of the local authority. They are all responsible authorities for the purposes of the Bill. In those narrow and specialised capacities, offices of the local authority can make representations under the Bill

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to the licensing authority. The licensing committee would then consider the representations fairly and properly and hear the views of the applicant on the matter. That is the appropriate way in which to proceed.

10.45 am

Mr. Turner: I am listening with care to the Minister. Is the authority the one in whose area the premises are situated at a particular time, or the premises in whose area the vessel is moored and, thus, the licensing authority for the vessel?

Dr. Howells: It is the premises in which the vessel is situated at any one time. It is a difficult issue in respect of vessels and, more importantly, trains, because they may go through many licensing authorities. We shall be discussing such matters. I suppose it depends on whether the driver is drunk.

I said earlier that two important aspects of the Bill would be affected by the amendments, and the second of those is deregulation. One of the ways in which savings in red tape can be generated is by reducing significantly the number of hearings to which licensing currently gives rise. Almost everything in the six licensing regimes generates hearings in one way or another. The aim of the Bill is to ensure that only disputes give rise to hearings.

Under the Bill, a hearing will be necessary only if one of the expert and professional bodies, a local resident or a local business is dissatisfied with the proposals in the operating schedule. If everyone is content, the application will be granted.

Mr. Sanders: In those circumstances, must the resident be a resident in the local authority area or will the hearing accept a resident who lives in a neighbouring local authority area that is responsible for the area most affected by the granting of the licence?

Dr. Howells: We will be issuing guidance stating that a protocol must exist throughout local authority boundaries. The hon. Gentleman is right to raise such matters. An extreme example is that of the Isle of Wight festival in 1971. We are not sure whether it could be heard in the neighbouring constituency. I bet that many people cannot remember whether it was heard there. Even if they did not hear it, they would probably claim that they did. I would claim that I heard Bob Dylan in 1971.

Mr. Field: The Isle of Wight festival took place in 1970, or Jimi Hendrix would have been playing on a posthumous basis.

Dr. Howells: There is nothing like history!

Clause 13 makes provision for the clarification of the relevant licensing authority in relation to an application for a premises licence. If those premises straddle more than one authority, only one authority is the relevant licensing authority under the clause. The other authority or authorities are afforded the status of the responsible authority, so that they can make representations about the licensing objectives to the relevant authority. The role of the other authority or authorities is not to determine the application. That is the responsibility of the relevant licensing authority, so

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no dispute with the other authority or authorities and the relevant authority will arise. If the determination of the application does not uphold the representations made by the responsible authority, it will have a right of appeal to the magistrates court against the determination.

However, if a licensing authority can generate hearings whether or not the expert bodies and local residents are content, we will have opened the door to the old bureaucracy and red tape. We know that some—not all—local authorities could use the provision to generate hearings at which they would seek to vet applicants. They would revert to the old time wasting and subjective ''fit and proper'' test. If they did not like the applicant, they would immediately look for an excuse to reject the application. The deregulatory benefits of the Bill to industry could be swept away in some parts of the country if such authorities vetted everyone to find one bad apple. That is the old way.

The new way will focus on likely problem premises and target resources there. If the operating schedule is likely to generate problems, interested parties and responsible authorities could be expected to intervene. People not likely to cause problems in relation to the licensing objectives could be left to get on with their business. For two important reasons that I have set out—fairness and a desire to reduce red tape—I ask the Committee to welcome this group of Government amendments.

 
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