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Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts moved Amendment No. 94:

The noble Lord said: I shall be brief because, as the Minister said in response to the previous group of amendments, many of the points that I wanted to raise have already been raised by my noble friend.

We return to the statement of licensing policy. In relation to an earlier amendment we discussed who should draw up licensing policies. I suggested that

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there was some need for scale and that the dangers of what I called a patchwork quilt were considerable. For example, when local authorities abut one another, there might be one licensing policy on one side of the road and another licensing policy on the other. That did not achieve any resonance in the House—rather the reverse. I believe that Members of the Committee have underestimated the trouble that this could cause.

However, this set of amendments does not concern who should draw up the licensing policies but how often they should be redetermined. I agree with my noble friend on the Front Bench that three years is too often. The fact that the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, so easily passed off the patchwork-quilt argument leaves me to believe that the Government do not intend to give much local latitude or local freedom. I believe that they will lay down a clear set of guidelines and that the idea of local freedom is a myth or a mirage. If it is not to be a myth or mirage, then the consultation phase will be substantial.

My noble friend Lady Buscombe referred to Clause 5(3) and the list of people who had to be consulted. That list is lengthy. If proper consultation is to be carried out, it will take time. Twelve months could easily elapse in consulting the groups of people listed in those six paragraphs. One consultation will hardly have finished before it is time to start the next.

I am afraid I do not accept the comparison made by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, with the strategy for crime and disorder. For example, the practical implications of new pubs being opened are considerable. The timescale of acquiring the land, preparing plans for the building and the associated facilities, and obtaining planning permissions could easily to run to 18 months or two years. It may well overrun the end of a three-year period and one might then be operating under a new licensing statement or policy.

Therefore, not only is the provision likely to be extremely bureaucratic; it is likely to inhibit the development of new public houses and licensed premises. In any case—again, as my noble friend pointed out—Clause 4 provides the local authority with opportunities to deal with any important events that emerge in the meantime.

The Minister is always talking about this as a deregulatory measure but she then includes a compulsory three-year review period. I understand the need for a formal review to give members of the general public a formal opportunity to make their views known. But I am convinced that a quinquennial review is quite often enough. I beg to move.

Baroness Buscombe: I rise to support the amendment. Simply, I believe that we are looking for a degree of flexibility here.

Lord Redesdale: My Lords, I also support this idea but not, as this is a probing amendment, on the basis that the cost implications will be extremely high. I know that the Minister will come back and say that it

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would be advisable to obtain as much local public opinion as possible. However, these reviews will be paid for by local ratepayers and, from my own experience of Camden's review of entertainment licensing policy, I know that it is an extremely expensive affair.

Lord Avebury: The scope for variation of the licensing policy will be very limited, as we can see even from the framework document which has been presented to us. Therefore, I agree with what was said about the lack of a need for complete consultation and revision on a three-yearly basis.

I want to emphasise to the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, the point made by the Minister during debate on the previous amendment. The need to align the review of the licensing policy with that of the crime and reduction strategy could be taken into account if, at a later stage, the amendment could be varied so as to lay down a period of six years instead of five. Then there would be one review of the licensing policy for every two reviews of the crime reduction strategy.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I am rather surprised that Members of the Committee should change sides so rapidly. For two-and-a-half hours, we have been hearing how essential it is to consult local people. Yet, when we provide in the Bill for an obligation on licensing authorities to consult local people and to review their licensing policies on a three-yearly basis—not every six months; not every year; and not every two years, but every three years—somehow that becomes too much of a burden.

We want stability in our licensing policies and we know perfectly well that the breweries and other licensees want stability of policy. I suggest that it is not perverse to provide for a systematic revision every three years in line with the provisions of the Crime and Disorder Act for crime prevention, which, so far as I know, have caused no trouble at all.

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts: I am grateful to the Minister. I believe that he hit the nail on the head when he talked in his response about the need for stability. In an industry such as this, I do not believe that stability is provided by the thought that a formal review process will be held every three years. I believe that the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, of a review every six years is extremely helpful. This is an issue to which we shall need to return but, in the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 95 to 99 not moved.]

2.15 p.m.

Baroness Buscombe moved Amendment No. 100:

    Page 3, line 24, leave out paragraphs (a) and (b) and insert—

"(a) in the case of a council whose members are wholly or partly elected every four years, a period of four years beginning with the date of coming into force of this Act;
(b) in the case of a council whose members are wholly or partly elected every three years, a period of three years beginning with the date of coming into force of this Act."

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The noble Baroness said: I tabled this amendment for separate consideration for two reasons. First, unlike what we have discussed so far, it accepts for the purposes of the legislation that the Government are intent on imposing a regulatory central control of the maximum duration of any local licensing policy or licensing statement. We do not believe that that is a good idea, but we accept, for the purposes of this amendment, that that may well be the Government's intention.

The second reason is that I have the, no doubt, forlorn hope that the Minister may accept the amendment. If local authorities are to be the licensing authorities, surely it is sensible that a licensing period should march in step with the political cycle of the relevant authority. In saying that I do not assert that licensing policy should be political—it should not—but where there is a change in the administration of a local authority it is likely that the new authority may want to re-examine the existing policies across the board.

I shall be brief as, in part, the Minister has already responded to the amendment. I beg to move.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Indeed, I have in large part responded to this matter. The three-yearly review of the crime prevention strategy under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 does not take account of local elections and should not take account of local elections. As the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, rightly says, this is not a party political matter. Certainly licensing is not a party political matter. There has been no difficulty with the three-yearly review of crime prevention and there is no good reason to suppose that there will be difficulty with the three-yearly review of licensing. I do not know who is behind the amendment, but I understand that it is not supported by the Local Government Association.

Baroness Buscombe: I thank the Minister for his response. The amendment was put to us by local councillors as a good idea. I shall talk to those local councillors to find out their view of what the Minister has said and of his response to the three-yearly policy for a crime and disorder strategy. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 101 to 107 not moved.]

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts moved Amendment No. 108:

    Page 3, line 30, leave out paragraph (b).

The noble Lord said: I shall take the Government at their word. They want to be deregulatory and wherever possible to cut down "committee-itis" and bureaucracy. The amendment concerns who should be consulted in the statement of licensing policy—not the application of the policy, but the policy itself. The six categories are listed in Clause 5(3). The list is worthy enough, although it contains everyone including—I do not understand why—the fire authority for the area.

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The purpose of the policy is to set the framework and to determine the policy with respect to the licensing functions. In my view, there is nothing that the fire service can provide that the police cannot provide just as easily in establishing a framework. Under paragraph (a) the police must be included. That is not to say that fire authorities do not have a role to play in licensing. Clearly, they do. Fire authorities must come into play when one considers licences for individual premises. An individual premises licence requires the approval of the fire authority. Its specialist expertise in public safety in regard to a building is vital. In effect, fire authorities will always have to be involved because without their approval one is unable to obtain a fire certificate and if one does not have a fire certificate one cannot acquire insurance.

I do not seek to downplay the valuable contribution of the fire service or its specialist expertise, but it does not have to be involved in setting the overarching licensing policy, as required under Clause 3(b). We need to minimise the number of people involved so as to minimise costs and the inefficient use of resources. If the Government are serious about deregulation they will find every opportunity to minimise the number of people who are required to be involved at every stage. I beg to move.

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