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Lord Redesdale: The Minister is speaking to Amendment No. 419. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, is not here. I do not believe that the amendment will be moved.

Lord Davies of Oldham: I apologise for that. I had moved on. The absence of Members of the Committee

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today seems to be a recurring theme. The noble Earl being such an assiduous attender, I presumed that he was here. Presumably we shall debate the issue later.

I therefore rest the case that I have put on Amendments Nos. 86 and 112. We have two clear objectives in the Bill as to children. We want to promote freedom for children to participate generally with their families in circumstances that improve behaviour and bring a more civilised aspect to many of our licensed premises. At the same time, it is absolutely clear that we need to ensure the safety of children. That is built into the principles underlying the Bill. It will be the duty of local licensing authorities to subscribe to those positions.

Noon

Baroness Buscombe: I thank the Minister for his response. I was quite pleased when he responded to Amendment No. 419 tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel. When doing so I think the Minister hit the button. The heart of the problem here is lumping in such premises as supermarkets with pubs and clubs. Of course we want to be able to allow children to enter supermarkets under a certain age. But what about pubs and clubs? That is a very different ballgame. So I think this is a great problem.

The noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, said that publicans cannot have a great deal of experience with regard to how to deal with children. But, as he then quite rightly went on to say, this is a hugely radical change in our licensing laws. I think that it will be quite difficult for publicans to know and to decide, and indeed, in consultation with licensing authorities, what is the best way forward.

I must say that I have yet to come across a publican who wants to have unaccompanied children on his premises. I think that publicans feel that they would be quite an imposition on their other customers. Indeed, most people tend to go to pubs to get away from children.

In some ways, I was beginning to wonder why the Government were making this radical change, because it is a great risk that the Government are taking. In some ways it is laudable. I agree that it is very confusing for tourists to know and to understand our rather peculiar ways, but indeed many of the tourists' countries have extremely peculiar ways. That is all part of the fun of being abroad. But with the best will in the world we should not go too far to suit those visiting our country with regard to the way in which we protect our children from harm.

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, rightly referred to an earlier debate in which we said that there was a real problem with under-age drinking. Many children are looking more mature than they really are these days and that, together with the ease of obtaining a fake identity card over the Internet, is putting huge pressure on publicans. If publicans find that under their local policy they can give children unrestricted access, they will feel pressure to do so. If the pub up the road has got it, they will want it too. It will be an enormous burden on local authorities and the industry to manage that well.

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I find it hard to understand how the provision will be good for families, although I understand the underlying purpose behind what the Government seek to do. We should have liked more clarity in the Bill for the benefit of local authorities, the industry and the police, who are deeply concerned about the provision because, at the end of the day, they will have to police it.

I thank the Minister for his full response, but we do not have clarity. It is a great problem that we are treating clubs in which there could be lap-dancing for 10 year-olds in the same light as supermarkets, which hardly seems sane. However, for the present, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Buscombe moved Amendment No. 87:


    Page 3, line 16, at end insert "which shall in particular set out the specific reasons which the Secretary of State considers justify the prevention of any licensing authority from restricting the number of licensed premises, regulating the type of licensed premises, or imposing a generalised closing time in any part of a town centre or other locality within the licensing area"

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 87, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 111. The amendments are designed further to probe the Government's view on whether licensing authorities should be able to take a view on whether a saturation point has been reached in the number of licensed premises in a given area. I know that that runs counter to the Government's declared position that there should be a uniform national licensing approach. To suggest otherwise may also arouse concern among some trade interests, but I ask both the Government and the industry whether it serves their interests or that of the integrity and public acceptability of the policy overall not to allow some local safeguards.

There are areas of our towns and cities in which it is commonly felt that there is an over-saturation of licensed premises, as anyone who has lived in or represented such an area will know. People say that there are too many pubs or restaurants in a given area. That is also too easily dismissed as defensive nimbyism—doubtless, sometimes it is, but such comments are made not only by residents but by visitors to this country who find some streets and districts at times overwhelmed by an all too often aggressive and disruptive culture of over-drinking.

Our towns are not only for those who reasonably enjoy a drink, they are also for the security and enjoyment of visitors and those seeking other entertainments. Sometimes, the balance can swing too far. If so, the local authority is best placed to judge that, embodying as it does the representatives of all local people, with all their diverse interests and coming from all parts of the local authority area. That is at least something to consider. I do not want to undercut the principle of greater freedom in licensing and less bureaucracy, although the more that I read the Bill, the more it appears to be a regulating rather than a deregulating Bill. It is a Bill in which all the costs, but none of the freedoms, are transferred from the Chancellor to local authorities. The whip hand on

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regulation and guidance stays with the Government—that is certainly the case in the delicate matters probed in the amendment.

Is that right? Let us study the guidance. For now, we must rely on the framework. Amendment No. 87 floats the idea that when publishing guidance the Government should set out with absolute clarity in writing why they think that a licensing authority should not have power to restrict the number of licensed premises or control the type of licensed premises in a given area. In some parts of our town centres, if we are to have a living balance, many argue that such a power is essential. The burden of proof to the contrary lies with the Government if they are to deny that limited local power. Guidance—or, as I would prefer, regulation subject to Parliament's approval—gives them that opportunity.

Paragraph 12 of the framework states that licensing authorities should not adopt,


    "arbitrary quotas on numbers of licensed premises".

What does "arbitrary" mean? Does it mean that a local authority could adopt a reasoned or well-founded limit on the number of premises in a given area? Is there a chink of light here for those who fear total removal of local discretion? Paragraph 16 of the framework states that licensing authorities may demand stricter conditions for late licences, but does not state that they may limit or regulate the number of places with late licences—it is a frequent cause of disorder when people spill out of nearby clubs and brawls ensue. Will the Minister undertake further to explain the Government's thinking on that to the Committee and to local authorities?

Why is a generalised closing time "inappropriate", as the framework puts it, even in a quiet residential area with no problem of binge drinking or disorder to be combated, as the Government hope, by later hours? Will the Minister reconsider the point about saturation and the lack of power to prevent it? That is one of the main sources of public disquiet about the Bill.

There is no reason why the Government should not simply accept Amendment No. 87, but it might be better if they agreed to review the policy as a whole. We do not want a bureaucratic regime that prevents legitimate and popular enterprise, but we ask for consideration of where and how the right balance can be struck to the benefit of local communities.

Amendment No. 111 writes into the Bill a duty on licensing authorities regularly to review the impact of changes on licensing hours and conditions on the incidence of binge drinking, disorder and anti-social behaviour. The Committee will at once understand why. Paragraph 15 of the framework states dogmatically that longer opening hours are,


    "a key mechanism for combating binge drinking, disorder and anti-social behaviour".

The Government state that that is caused by fixed and "artificially early" closing times. We all hope that the Government's analysis is right. Will the Minister set out now, with some care, why she believes that to be so? But what if it is not right? What if a licensing

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authority finds that, far from reducing binge drinking, disorder and anti-social behaviour in any part of a town centre, the extension of licensing hours exacerbates those problems? Should it not be able to take that into account in revising its policy?

That change in the law, which we all support, will provide late opening on a much wider scale than ever before. We shall experience change on a far wider geographic scale and shall amass far more evidence on behaviour under the new conditions than we have ever had before. With all respect to the Government, it is not sufficient to construct policy for the indefinite future on their perception of what its effect will be. We and the licensing authorities need to be able to study what are the actual effects and to have the freedom to adjust policy accordingly.

Will the Government consider greater flexibility and freedom for local authorities in that important area? There may well be such a thing as saturation. I beg to move.


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