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Licensing Bill [HL]

6.58 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into a Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord McIntosh of Haringey.)

Baroness Buscombe: My Lords, before we go further, can the Minister give an explanation in regard to the national guidance notes, the framework for guidance? A rather intriguing situation has arisen. When Hansard sought to ensure that I had been properly quoted in the previous debate, it produced a copy of the framework for guidance that it is working to, which is in the Printed Paper Office, dated 15th November 2002. I have been working from a framework for guidance which I got from the web because it was not otherwise available dated the same date, 15th November 2002. These two sets of guidance notes are different both in format and content. I have taken a long look at them during the adjournment and I think I am correct in suggesting that the copy to which I have been referring is the correct draft guidance. If that is the case, we have the wrong draft guidance in the Printed Paper Office. As this goes to the heart of what we are all debating, can we please have an explanation?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, it would have been very helpful if the noble Baroness had given me notice of her question. That is the normal practice. I cannot give her an answer because I have not seen the document that she has obtained from the web. I can only say that I will investigate the matter and let her know.

Baroness Buscombe: My Lords, we are all suffering from a lack of notice. I have hardly had time to seek out the Minister while I have been trying to understand, working with Hansard, why I have one document and Hansard has another. In the circumstances, because the support systems were not available, I had neither the time, the opportunity nor the wherewithal to notify the Minister.

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, in those circumstances, how can we discuss a Bill when we do not know what we are talking about? I totally concede that this is not the first occasion on which that has happened in your Lordships' House, but perhaps it would be advisable to wait for five minutes while the noble Baroness's advisers get their acts together?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I am perfectly happy to adjourn for that purpose. However, I do not consider it to be necessary, and I should like to discover whether the Liberal Democrat Benches feel that it is necessary. Quite frankly, we do not need the framework on the guidance in front of us while we

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debate the next group of amendments. We have already spent a great deal of time on the Bill and are far behind the point that we had hoped to reach. We should now make progress. While we debate the next group of amendments, I will ask my officials to consider the copy that the noble Baroness has obtained from the web.

Baroness Buscombe: My Lords, I am content with that. Notwithstanding our best efforts, we have clearly taken longer than most of us had hoped, and it is laudable that so many noble Lords have taken part in this important debate. From Her Majesty's Opposition Benches, I am certainly content to accept that we should not adjourn, but may we please have an explanation at the earliest convenience?

Viscount Falkland: My Lords, I echo the noble Baroness's words. We absolutely agree and would not want to adjourn.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House again in Committee on Clause 4.

[Amendments Nos. 69 to 72 not moved.]

Baroness Buscombe moved Amendment No. 73:

    Page 3, line 12, after "children" insert "and other vulnerable persons"

The noble Baroness said: This amendment seeks to make a short but important point. Clause 4(2)(d) states that one of the licensing objectives will be

    "the protection of children from harm".

Within that objective, my amendment would include "other vulnerable persons" and seeks to probe the issue of whether other classes of vulnerable persons may require similar special protection in the context of licensing and licensed premises, one example of which could be elderly persons. I am sure that other Members of the Committee are able to suggest other particularly vulnerable groups that would merit similar protection.

I have no doubt that during the extensive preparation of the Bill by both the Home Office and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the Government have considered whether, in addition to children, other groups might merit special mention in the licensing objectives. They have evidently decided that none do. My amendment gives the Minister an opportunity to place on record the Government's thinking on that point. I beg to move.

Lord Redesdale: I support the amendment and have only one question to ask on this group of amendments concerning children; namely, whether the Government will still make provision for landlords, at their own discretion, to allow children, accompanied or unaccompanied, to be present on licensed premises.

Baroness Blackstone: The four licensing objectives in Clause 4 were developed after extensive, detailed consultation with all stakeholders and a lengthy review of the existing law, conducted between 1998 and 1999. The result was a clear focus on the prevention of disorder and disturbance; the assurance of public

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safety in places where people gather together for leisure purposes; and the protection of children from physical, moral and psychological harm. Amendment No. 73 seeks to add to the objective relating to the protection of children, "other vulnerable persons".

Perhaps we may leave the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, until we debate the group of amendments that focuses on children.

It is very difficult to define the term "other vulnerable persons". I am not quite sure how the noble Baroness would define it. For example, does it include people suffering from mental illness or from alcoholism? Children can be recognised and identified by licensees and other staff in licensed premises. Many now carry proof-of-age cards. But can we realistically expect a licensee or a member of his staff to recognise a sober alcoholic who may be tempted to fall off the wagon? It is a very fine aspiration, but it is not a duty that could be imposed on a licence-holder. Therefore, it would be difficult—

The Earl of Onslow: I thank the Minister for giving way, but she is not answering the question. There is a duty on the licensing authority to consider what conditions it should take into account when it issues a licence. It is not a question whether the publican in the Pig and Whistle in Scunthorpe knows the difference between a drunken paraplegic and a sober professor. It is the duty of the licensing authority. Will the Minister please stick to the point?

Baroness Blackstone: I am doing my best to answer what I understand to be the noble Baroness's amendment, which is to add "other vulnerable persons" to the group. The licensing authority will not be able to decide whether or not it makes sense to grant a licence on the basis that there may be a slight possibility that other vulnerable persons may turn up in any particular licensed premises. I understand that this amendment seeks to protect vulnerable people by the way in which the licensing law actually operates and its effect on the licensee. I assume that that is the point of this amendment. If I am wrong about that, I apologise.

I end by saying that, in framing the objectives, the Committee must focus on the need to translate them into meaningful steps that can be taken by the licensee. They should not be rather vague aspirations, but matters that can become the terms and conditions to be attached by the licensing authority to any licence that is granted to the licensee. I hope that that makes the position a little clearer.

The Bill already provides that a drunken person cannot be sold more alcohol. However, it is both difficult and impractical to have an objective that seeks to go beyond that provision, no matter how well-meaning the intention; and I entirely accept that it is a good intention. The purpose of the objective of protecting children from harm is very clearly focused on a well-defined group—children under 18 years of age—but that cannot be said of the concept of "vulnerable persons".

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Having explained the problems that the Government see, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Buscombe: I thank the Minister for her response. I entirely agree with her: this is an important objective. We are pleased that the protection of children from harm is one of the key objectives for the licensing authority to bear in mind.

As the Minister has said, the amendment points up the difficult responsibility that will rest with licensing authorities when coming to terms with their objectives and deciding what is best, on balance, for the various licensed premises within their locality. Our aim was to gain clarity as to whether the Government thought it important to focus on children, on those who have difficulties with alcohol or, as I suggested, on elderly persons.

It is helpful to have the Minister's response on record so that licensing authorities can appreciate the parameters within which they are working. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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