Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts: I understand the case for local democracy, which has been eloquently made. I shall withdraw the amendment and start pulling out the arrows that have been stuck into me. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Buscombe moved Amendment No. 63:


The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment, I shall also speak to Amendment No. 64 and consequential Amendments Nos. 120 and 123.

The Inner Temple and the Middle Temple are treated as falling within the City of London for the purposes of the law relating to county courts, commissioners of the peace, justices of the peace, magistrates' courts, sheriffs, juries and connected persons. They are local government areas for the purposes of the Local Government Act 1992, but are neither principal areas nor local government areas for the purposes of the Local Government Act 1972. In layman's terms, the Temples are sometimes local authorities and sometimes not.

In the Bill, the sub-treasurer of the Inner Temple and the under-treasurer of the Middle Temple are to be the licensing authorities for the areas where they act. I am not convinced that that is a good idea. I am open to persuasion, but I need persuading.

First and foremost, one of the main purposes of the Bill is to transfer licensing powers from licensing justices to committees of democratically accountable local authorities. I am a keen supporter of the institutions of the Middle and Inner Temple, especially of the Inner Temple, which is the Bar to which I was called in 1977. However, with great respect, I could not describe either the Inner Temple or the sub-treasurer as a democratically accountable local authority.

The Inner Temple and the Middle Temple are governed by what are called "Benchers". New Benchers are elected by the existing Benchers, not by members of the Inn or those who live or work there. They are self-perpetuating bodies answerable, in effect, only to themselves. If the main purpose of the Bill is to move licensing powers to committees of democratically accountable local authorities, that aim will not be achieved with respect to the sub-treasurer of the Inner Temple and the under-treasurer of the Middle Temple, if they will be the licensing authorities.

12 Dec 2002 : Column 438

Furthermore, we should be told what steps the Inner Temple and the Middle Temple have taken to prepare themselves for carrying out the functions in the Bill. Do they have the expertise to prepare a statement of licensing policy? I cannot imagine that they would wish to do so. Will they really establish procedures for granting premises licences or even personal licences? I doubt it. I beg to move.

7.15 p.m.

Lord Davies of Oldham: I can be fairly brief about this very limited pair of institutions. As the noble Baroness said, she is seeking to remove the ability of the Inner Temple and the Middle Temple to act as licensing authorities. They presently enjoy that role; that relates to the question of competence, which the noble Baroness raised by asking about the preparations that they are making in this regard. We have not sought to inquire whether they are involved in any additional activities to fit them to do this function; they have done it to the satisfaction of everyone concerned to date .

These are not arcane institutions from which privileges should be stripped. As the noble Baroness said, they are in some respects local authorities of a very limited part of central London, and only in a limited way. She will recognise that we are seeking to amalgamate all licensing functions within local authorities; that is a key part of the Bill. They are a specific and special kind of local authority. They have indicated that they wish to continue in their role. They have given no cause for dissatisfaction with the way in which they have discharged it, and we do not see any reason to alter the situation.

Lord Skelmersdale: I hope that the Minister can help me. If local authorities have objections to the non-granting of a licence, they appeal to a magistrates' court. To whom do the Inns of Court appeal?

Lord Davies of Oldham: We are dealing with a very limited and specific group. I have to say to the noble Lord that I have not the faintest idea of the answer to his question! I shall write to him about it.

Baroness Buscombe: At the risk of being a little mischievous, I am sure that the Minister did not really intend to say that the Middle Temple and Inner Temple are a limited pair of institutions.

I accept what the Minister said. If the Inns of Court have indicated that they are content to be included in the proposed way, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 64 not moved.]

12 Dec 2002 : Column 439

Baroness Buscombe moved Amendment No. 65:


    Page 2, line 41, after "Temple," insert—


"( ) the University of Cambridge,"

The noble Baroness said: We have just been discussing exceptional provisions relating to the licensing of what I may call the apex of the legal world; we now turn to the apex of the university world.

Since time immemorial—since 1382, so the White Paper tells us—the University of Cambridge has had responsibility for policy on drinking in the university. Since the university was founded in only 1284, we can safely say that it has had it since the origin of the university. There is no evidence of which I know that Cambridge or Cambridge students are seen as the epicentre of unlicensed and unacceptable drinking in this country. I know of no complaint calling for the ending of a practice that has done no one any harm for centuries.

It may well be that the Minister will cite a statement from the university to the effect that it no longer sees the case for this power. That would hardly be surprising in the climate of fear that has been set for our so-called elite universities since Mr Brown's outburst against Oxford. It may well even be that some in new Labour smack their lips at another blow against what they see as ancient privilege. I hate to think that anyone on Cambridge City Council would like to have a go at the university, as has been known in the past.

This is not a big issue. However, it is symptomatic of something that is, in its way, quite big—a matter of principle. We believe that that is the apparent mania of this Government to sweep away anything that is anomalous, ancient or quaintly illogical in this country of ours. It is what I believe one of the metric martyrs referred to as the drive of the Government to narrow in on anything out of the ordinary and to homogenise, eliminate or abolish it.

I believe that everything is done according to the wish and will to modernise, whether or not it is any good. It is all summed up in that ghastly phrase that runs like a thread through all the failures of this Government and sums up their condescending arrogance: it has no place in modern Britain. I think too well of the Minister to think that he would use such a phrase.

What harm has this anomaly done and what harm does the Minister think it could do? What is the point? Why not leave it alone? Why not allow a little of our historic variety and colour to survive? Will the Minister not show some independence from his brief and think again? I beg to move.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: I rise to declare an interest as a graduate of the aforesaid university but also to plead for a touch of harmless colour. I dissented from the eloquent plea of the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, only when she said that the drinking habits of Cambridge students were anodyne. That is not my recollection.

12 Dec 2002 : Column 440

Lord Davies of Oldham: I appreciated the debate on this limited area of the Bill. The reason that the University of Cambridge enjoys the privilege of being able to operate a licence is because it was granted by Richard II in 1382, which is certainly some time ago. I imagine that this week, when Cambridge scored a rather significant victory over Oxford, it probably took full advantage of the licence during the events following the rugby match.

Although the Government recognise that the Inner and Middle Temples are rather interesting institutions for which to make provision, they do exercise a local authority role, which is the basis of the clause to which the amendment relates, whereas the University of Cambridge does not.

I understand the democratic sensitivities of the noble Lord, Lord Phillips. He always extends a little colour to a point when it immediately involves his own past enjoyment of such privileges. But, for other—

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: I am most grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I cannot let that pass. Perhaps I may ask the Minister how many members of the Cabinet will benefit from the two exemptions that he has just extolled.

Lord Davies of Oldham: I should think very few. I imagine that the number of occasions on which members of the Cabinet find the time to indulge in drinking in the Inner Temple is probably fairly limited. However, I will let that pass. I emphasise that, so far as concerns the Government, the University of Cambridge is not a local authority. This clause is central to the Bill. It seeks to bring all the licensing procedures within the framework of local authorities. Therefore, we believe that modernisation of the licensing laws should sensibly remove this rather obvious anomaly for which there is no clear current justification.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page