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Lord Peyton of Yeovil: I, for one, believe that my noble friend deserves some support on his amendment. One aspect of the Bill that I do not like at all is moving responsibility for oversight of the licensing law from magistrates to the local authority. That is a backward step. I hope that we shall make much more of that point on Report.

A brief look at the Explanatory Notes shows the relationship between the licensing authority and its committee. I was going to say that the committee would be its child or its servant, but it seems that the licensing committee will be the master of the situation with very little to stem its bureaucratic habits.

I warmly support my noble friend. I hope that the noble Baroness will not draw wrong conclusions from the fact that not everyone on this side of the Committee has been on their feet to say that the amendment deserves very careful attention. It deals with the complex and difficult relationship that will exist between the licensing committee and its parent.

Lord Davies of Oldham: There is no doubt that the Committee will have given the amendment careful consideration. As the Committee will appreciate, the straightforward fact is that there is nothing new in the proposals in the Bill. The Bill does not introduce self-licensing and self-regulation for local authorities for the first time. It is already well established in law. The Local Government (Financial Provisions) Act 1963 and the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982 have given rise to no problems relating to the self-licensing of local authorities. They are well practised in this area. The Bill extends the areas in which local authorities will be asked to exercise a licensing function.

Local government performs a multitude of functions. It is not uncommon under the current regime for one part of the licensing authority to apply to another part about a particular matter. I do not believe that there is a conflict of interest in the proposed system or that the existing legislation governing local authorities gives rise to real concerns in this area.

The amendment would create an unnecessary complication to the licensing system, inevitably introducing additional costs. The licensing committee is required to act objectively under the measures

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provided by the Bill. That is safeguarded in the Bill. On that basis, I hope that the amendment will be withdrawn.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: I promise to read carefully what the noble Lord has said. Perhaps he will correct me if I have got it wrong. I understood him to say that a local authority can presently give itself a licence. That is all right, but he then suggested that giving the local authority the total power over licences was a comparatively minor step. On this side of the House, we do not regard it as such. I think it a major and regrettable step. I hope the noble Lord is clear about that.

Lord Davies of Oldham: I appreciate what the noble Lord says and I understand his anxieties. Local authorities are licensing authorities under existing legislation. That has given no cause for concern, as identified in the amendment, that they are obliged to be objective when exercising this authority and that from time to time other parts of the authority may bring the issue to the fore. Local authorities are used to that activity in their present licensing role. The Bill makes no change in the principle; it simply extends the areas over which local authorities will exercise a licensing function. It does not change the nature of the role they are asked to perform. That role has been performed adequately and effectively under legislation some of which has existed for 40 years. I am merely contending that the anxieties expressed have no substance.

Lord Alexander of Weedon: We are all conscious that in judicial issues the law and the courts have become ever more careful to ensure that there is not only no actual conflict of interest, but no perceived conflict of interest. As I understand what the Minister said, undoubtedly the powers of local authorities to grant licences to themselves will be extended under the Bill. Has the Minister considered situations in which that might be controversial with some members of the public who may oppose the grant of a licence by the local authority to itself? Does the Minister feel comfortable that such members of the public will consider they are adequately protected by having one half of the authority consider another half's application? Does he not think that they may perceive they are engaging in a tough labour and that there is a conflict of interest? This is a serious topic that warrants further consideration.

3.15 p.m.

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts: I am grateful to both noble Lords who have spoken in support of the amendment. I referred to transparency in my opening remarks. Transparency is being lost here because of the way the thing is being structured. As the Minister said, this is an extension. It is an extension into a highly commercial and competitive area. We heard in earlier debates about the social consequences of the sale of liquor and extended opening hours for pubs and social clubs. There are great risks of a perceived conflict of

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interest if the local authority gets involved in such a highly competitive commercial situation. I do not wish to divide the Committee, but I do not find the Minister's response entirely satisfactory. I shall read it carefully and I may wish to come back to the issue. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Buscombe moved Amendment No. 122:

    Page 5, line 5, at end insert—

"(8A) Nothing in this Act shall detract from the right of an elected member of a council that is a licensing authority under this Act to address or write to the licensing committee or licensing authority in order to make representations to them on behalf of the residents of the ward, or other electoral sub-division, or the authority which he represents.
(8B) No elected member making representations on behalf of local residents under subsection (8A) may participate in any decision made by the licensing committee or licensing authority concerning a matter about which he has made representations to them, either in public or in private."

The noble Baroness said: This touches on a similar subject to the previous amendment. We are concerned to confront the situation in which local councillors may feel inhibited from actively assisting residents in making representations on the grant of licences in their ward or electoral district. A local councillor might be constrained from assisting local residents because he or she was a member of the licensing authority that was to grant or refuse the licence. Any councillor worth his or her salt inevitably knows that when discharging a quasi-judicial function one must be seen to be impartial. If one supports one side or another, it will be impossible to appear to be impartial when making a decision to grant or refuse a licence which will have serious financial consequences one way or another for the applicant.

The Bill should make it clear that a local councillor can represent residents. That is what he or she is expected to do. Local residents will naturally look to the local councillor to assist them in all matters concerning them and the local authority. Licensing matters should not be an exception. They must be able to talk freely with the local councillor at his or her surgery and that councillor must then be free to make representations to the licensing authority or committee.

However, if the local councillor makes such representations, we feel it is important that that councillor takes no further part in the decision-making process by the licensing committee or authority. The licensing committee or authority must be impartial and must be seen to be impartial. That will not be the case if one of its members has been making representations on behalf of residents. That should disqualify the local councillor from participating in the decision-making process. I beg to move.

Lord Redesdale: We support these amendments and have added our names to them. The problems of conflict of interest need to be looked at. I hope the Minister will give a satisfactory response.

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I have a question that goes back to a previous amendment about the licensing committee being quorate. If a pub in the ward of a member of the licensing committee came under discussion, would it be possible for the committee to be quorate if that member had to stand down at that point, as would happen under the amendment? The Minister laughs, but I find that slightly worrying. If a board representative could face a direct conflict of interest, they might not be allowed to stand down because the committee might not be quorate. In that case, how would the conflict of interest be dealt with?

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: I want briefly to add to the comments already made, and to support them. One of the important aspects of the Bill that has not been widely or fully understood is the difficulty that it places in the way of objections and objectors. It is drafted in such a way that there are extremely limited grounds for objection. For that reason the need of the local councillor, almost above everyone else, to be able to represent the objections of their constituents is paramount.

Lord Davies of Oldham: Let me clear up my indication of amusement at what the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, was saying. I did not want to be discourteous; I was merely reflecting on the fact that it is his amendment that creates the problem with regard to the quorum. He is asking me whether I feel that there would be difficulties over the quorum, but I will seek to resist the amendment, thereby solving all such problems so far as concerns a particular councillor making representations. I do not have a direct answer to the point that he raises, but that indicates that the nature of the amendment creates difficulties for the legislation. That is why I will resist it.

I share with all Members of the Committee the concern graphically expressed in this short debate on the role of local authorities and councillors. It is entirely reasonable that elected members should be able to write to the licensing authority or raise matters on behalf of the people whom they represent. I merely wish to assure the Committee that nothing in the Bill prevents that. In fact, the Bill defines interested parties in several places, including as local residents and their representatives. That would clearly cover local councillors.

I do not believe, therefore, that there is any need for the first part of the amendment. I seek to give the assurance that we recognise that a proper role is to be played by the elected councillor for a ward in which the issue crops up and for which representations need to be made.

The second proposed subsection, which raises the issue of conflict of interest and would prevent councillors taking part in a decision that they had made representations about to the licensing committee, is also entirely unnecessary. As we have already discussed, elected members are already under certain duties related to conflict of interest.

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The Bill does not raise issues of conflict of interest anew. Local authorities have many powers that relate to the proper action of the councillor when there might be a conflict of interest, which is either declaring it or, in certain circumstances, not participating because he identifies it as of such significance and magnitude that he or she ought to be inhibited from participating. We already have that in legislation. The Bill merely seeks to extend an area of responsibility for local authorities, but does not change in any way, shape or form the role of local councillors or their obligations in such circumstances.

It is not that I do not share the anxieties raised about the proper conduct of local councillors; I merely say that they are dealt with in legislation and in the nature of the roles that councillors play across their activities as local authority representatives. The Bill raises nothing specific on the matter. That is why, although we respect the arguments made, we do not think it necessary to put the obligations in the Bill. That is why I ask that the amendment be withdrawn.

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