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Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts moved Amendment No. 119:

"( ) Each licensing authority shall establish procedures whereby individual members of the authority do not participate in discussions on individual licence decisions concerning their own electoral district."

The noble Lord said: This amendment concerns the make-up of the licensing committee. It refers to an issue raised in the White Paper that the Government have not seen fit to include in the Bill. It is a probing amendment. I do not suggest that the wording is precisely right but I wish to raise the issue in principle and to hear the Minister's response.

Some licence applications, particularly for premises licences, will be electoral hot potatoes. There is a potential conflict of interests if the councillor for the ward or electoral district in question participates directly in the decision and determination of that licence application. It could be seen as unfair by the applicant or opponents.

The amendment seeks to require councils to establish specific procedures to prevent councillors involved in the ward or electoral district to which a licence application applies from becoming directly involved in its determination. If I were a councillor I

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would welcome this, because it would give me some shelter. I could then lobby extensively for a particular point of view, but I would not have my finger on the trigger when the gun fired and the result was finally given.

This was a recommendation in the White Paper and I hope the Government will agree to change the wording. I hope the Minister will not tell us not to worry because the issue will be dealt with in the wonderful regulations that we hear about and will see one day. I beg to move.

3 p.m.

Lord Monson: If the Government indicate general support for the amendment, which I hope they will not, it will confirm my suspicion—which is also held by a great many others—that the Bill will sacrifice the interests of the great majority in almost every residential district in the country for the sake of the interests of the very small minority who want to drink in the small hours of the morning.

Lord Redesdale: I support the amendment. The issue of balance has been raised before. There is a balance to be struck between the needs and interests of the local community and those of the publican and others trying to carry on their business. This is a particularly important amendment. If there is a by-election, I can envisage a local campaign group using the issue of whether a particular pub should be regulated as the basis of a political campaign in favour of one candidate or another. It is important that local councillors are protected from acting on these issues. That seems a right and proper motive and I do not think it affects the rights of local democracy. In fact, it would enhance local democracy in the area, but not on such a local level.

Baroness Buscombe: I do not support the amendment of my noble friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts.

Lord Davies of Oldham: Out of the division of one's opposition comes forth helpfulness.

The noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, is right that it was suggested at the time of the White Paper that any councillor representing the ward in which premises are the subject of proceedings should not participate in the licensing decision. As he has said, it was felt that there was a possibility of elected members coming under undue pressure. The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, also emphasised that.

I join forces with the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, in suggesting that both noble Lords are wrong in their anxieties. The existing mechanisms and measures that we have established for how local authorities discharge the functions vested in them ensure that where it is improper for an individual to be involved in a licensing decision, self-disqualification will take place.

I recognise that local councillors face these issues of real interests on a number of occasions. As we all know, an enormous spate of anxieties have been

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expressed by parish councillors about the disclosure of interests. District councillors have vastly greater experience of these matters. One of the joys and achievements of British political life is that local government is largely free of those charges that people are pursuing their self-interests in the decisions of the authority. Such episodes are few and far between across the country. That is why I trust the ability of local authorities to handle these matters.

There are obvious advantages in councillors who have knowledge of their local area participating in licensing decisions. That is the whole philosophy behind the move to local authority control from magistrates, which underpins the Bill. It is suggested in the amendment that this is where the line should be drawn in terms of protection of individual local councillors on issues with regard to their wards. However, I do not accept that argument. I hope, therefore, that, on reconsideration, the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts: I am all for local democracy, but I believe that the Bill leaves a slight lacuna in the sense that you can get too close to the decision and become parochial rather than open-minded about the issues being decided. I accept the Minister's point; namely, that local councillors have to face this situation in other areas. I propose to withdraw the amendment at this stage. As I said, it is a probing amendment, and I am by no means convinced that the wording is right. However, I should like to read the Minister's response in Hansard before deciding whether to return to the matter at a later stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 120 not moved.]

On Question, Whether Clause 6 shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: If I have given the impression of being a mad axeman in seeking to delete Clauses 6, 7, and 9 from the Bill, I must hasten to say that that is not my intention. There is a relationship between the three clauses, which I believe will become apparent. I shall speak briefly on all three clauses.

Clause 6 deals with the requirement to establish a licensing committee, which is a retrograde step in terms of recent local government developments. I have in mind the Local Government Act 2000, whereby legislative obligations to establish particular committees—like, for example, those for education or social services—have been abolished. The internal mechanism for discharging licensing functions should be a matter for the licensing authority to determine.

I also intend to oppose the Question that Clause 7 should stand part of the Bill. Again, this clause appears to have been drafted without any reference to existing statutory provisions relating to the discharge of local authority functions—in this case, I am taking into account the Local Government Act 1972, as well as the Local Government Act 2000—and will, accordingly, create confusion. The clause does not

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acknowledge that most local authorities now operate with both a leader and a cabinet, so that executive functions, other than licensing functions, will not be discharged by committees.

Finally, Clause 9 has also been drafted without reference to existing legislation and regulations. The latter already make provision about the proceedings of local authorities' committees, public access, publicity, and so on, which is outlined at some length in this clause. In ignoring the Local Government Act 2000, I appreciate that the Government may have felt that they should also even-handedly ignore the Local Government Act 1972.

I declare a mild historic interest in that the first parliamentary achievement of my noble friend Lady Thatcher was a Private Member's Bill to secure public access to local authority committee meetings while in progress. In her memoirs, my noble friend was good enough to pay tribute to the manner in which my late noble kinsman Lord Brooke of Cumnor, as the then Minister of Housing and Local Government, helped her to improve her Bill and thus secure her Act. The public access issue has been around for a long time. I oppose the Question that Clause 6 should stand part of the Bill.

Baroness Buscombe: Following on from my noble friend Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, I wish to speak to Amendments Nos. 129, 130, 131 to 133, all of which fall within this grouping.

Amendments Nos. 129 and 130 raise the issue of whether or not the broad power given to the Secretary of State in Clause 9(2) to,

    "make provision about . . . the proceedings of licensing committees . . . public access to the meetings . . . [public access to] . . . agendas and records and other information about those meetings",

will allow the Government to provide for greater secrecy rather than greater openness in decision making, as they have done under recent local government legislation. At the moment, licensing hearings before magistrates are public court proceedings. What guarantees will the Minister give that these very broad powers will not be used to provide for decision making behind closed doors?

I should particularly welcome the Minister's comments on paragraph 9 of the report of the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform, which states:

    "Clause 9 enables regulations (subject to negative procedure) to make provision about proceedings of licensing committees and their sub-committees. Matters such as public access and publicity for local authority committees are already provided for in primary legislation (e.g. Part VA of the Local Government Act 1972). The House may wish to enquire what use might be made of this power as the regulations could not override primary legislation".

Paragraph 31 of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport memorandum submitted to the Committee simply states:

    "Given the administrative nature of these matters and the fact that in many respects the proceedings of licensing committees will be determined by local authorities' own standing orders, it appears sensible and appropriate for these matters to be left to secondary legislation, and for the negative resolution procedure to apply".

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Yet, if the Government think that these are minor "administrative" matters which can be dealt with at a local level, why do we need the very broad powers of the Secretary of State to regulate the conduct of licensing committees?

Amendments Nos. 131 and 132 have been included to ensure that there is no doubt that decisions of the licensing authority can be taken not just by a single officer but by a panel of officers. Currently, some licensing authorities operate arrangements—for example, in licensing street trading and door supervisors—whereby opposed applications are dealt with by panels of officers. That is what currently happens in reality and practice, and there is no reason why that system should not continue.

I move speedily on to Amendment No. 133. Clause 12 makes provision about which licensing authority would be responsible for the granting of a licence if premises straddle the border of two or more licensing authorities. As it stands, the Bill provides that the licensing authority in which a greater part of the premises are situated would be the relevant licensing authority, and if it is impossible to establish which of the licensing authorities is the relevant one under that criterion, then the applicant itself would be able to choose which authority he or she preferred.

That does not reflect current arrangements in respect of public entertainment licensing, a shining example of which operates in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea in respect of Earls Court, which straddles its boundary with Hammersmith and Fulham. At present, there is agreement between the two boroughs that Kensington and Chelsea deals with public entertainment licensing at Earls Court. The amendment would enable similar sensible and practical arrangements between councils to continue.

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