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Lord Redesdale: Perhaps the issue that I was trying to enlighten myself about was that of conflict of interest. I am particularly concerned about small authorities with small quorate memberships. The Minister said that he would not address that question, but that is our particular question. If there is a conflict of interest and the licensing authority is small, does that mean that that member cannot stand down? Would they then just say, "I have a conflict of interest on this issue"?
Lord Davies of Oldham: The noble Lord comes back to the point, so I shall address it a little further. Clause 9 clearly identifies a role for the licensing committee and enables it to regulate its own proceedings, and provides for regulations to prescribe proceedings including the quorum of the meeting. In an earlier debate, we identified particular issues where the authority might be so small that the whole authority was the licensing committee. Such a local authority could not conceivably act in circumstances where everyone had to be present and correct in order to form a quorum if it also had a rule that indicated that someone could not be there to count as far as a quorum was concerned because there were proceedings and requirements for a councillor to withdraw and not be present.
The majority of councils will not be in a situation in which the whole authority is the licensing committee, so the issue will not arise for the majority of them in quite that form. It will be necessary for those councils involved to act in such a way to be able to protect their proceedings, to ensure that they can make progress.
Such councils need to do that on a range of other activities. Local authorities are planning authorities, and the issues of conflict of interest can come up in those and a whole range of activities in which local authorities get involved. Where those issues crop up, they have conducted themselves sensibly, intelligently and to the satisfaction of the nation. We pride ourselves that, on the whole, most local authorities are
Baroness Buscombe: I am somewhat disappointed by the Minister's response. As I made clear, we are talking about a quasi-judicial function. I hear what he says in relation to the role of local councillors, and the responsibilities to be impartial that they take on when they become local councillors. However, we are talking about issues that often involve huge financial implications either way. We feel that the amendment would be a helpful compromise, if I may put it that way, with regard to the need to win the hearts and minds of those who feel passionately that we should not move from a licensing system that is dealt with largely by magistrates to one involving local authorities because, as I mentioned at Second Reading, of the need for that "not in my backyard" approach.
From experience some years ago as a district councillor, I know that there were occasions in relation to planning matters where it was perfectly in order and normal for ward members to have not only to declare an interest, but remove themselves from the decision-making process. That is a quite common situation across the country on different councils that choose to take that sensible approach, whereby proper representations can be made.
I am glad that the Minister made it clear that there was no need for our concerns in relation to the amendment, and that those representations could be made by individuals to their local authorities and councillors without fear of any partiality within their own wards. However, we feel that this is a good opportunity for the Government to encourage councillors to consider removing individuals on a committee if the decision in relation to a particular application impinges on an application in their ward. I heard what the Minister said and we shall consider his comments with care.
We feel that the problem is made worse by the Government's refusal to reconsider the need to have all members of a licensing committee present. The Government should consider being more flexible in that regard. As we have already indicated, we will probably return to that on Report. If there was more flexibility in terms of the numbers sitting on a licensing committee from council to council, this sensible compromise could be practically applied. For the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Peyton of Yeovil: I understand that my noble friend Lord Brooke has been restrained by his modesty from repeating his arguments, valid as they were, because he spoke to the point earlier. I should not like the Minister and her advisers to think that objections to the clause have been entirely dealt with in view of my noble friend's shyness.
Amendments Nos. 124 and 125 deal with the register that the licensing authority is required to keep containing all relevant licensing details. My first thought is that the clause is over-regulatory and prescriptive in the extreme. It is obviously important and in the interests of clarity, efficiency and consistency for each licensing authority to have a comprehensive register base that contains certain details by default. Yet we need to strike a balance between imposing an administrative burden on local authorities and making the system run smoothly and effectively.
Amendment No. 124 reflects the principle behind the first group of amendments to which I spoke this afternoon. I believe that personal licences should be held within a central register administered by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. That will reduce costs to the local authority by absolving it of the need to track personal licence holders. With these amendments, we are not trying to take away the authority to run the licensing system which has now rightly been given to local councils. If there is a central authority administering personal licences, it will also ensure that individuals cannot reapply for a new licence when they have suffered sanction or endorsement of their existing licence. The police will have easy access to a nationwide record of licencees.
Amendment No. 125 is also an attempt to limit the administrative burden and paperwork for local authorities. We will later argue that the requirement to display a designated premises supervisor on the face of the premises licence is unnecessary. In mitigation of that, we accept that it is important that all appropriate contact details are available to the licensing authority and police service. Those details should be attached to the local authority register and changed through simple notifications as and when circumstances alter.
I turn to Amendment No. 126. Clause 8 imposes a requirement on licensing authorities to keep a register containing a record of all licences granted and many other matters, including those mentioned in Schedule 3 and such further information as may be prescribed.
On Amendment No. 127, we are concerned about the cost to licensing authorities of the Bill. The expense of carrying out licensing functions is going to be significant. It is very important that carrying out those functions is as cost neutral as possible and, as and when an expense is identified, it is important to give the licensing authority power to recoup that expense in some way or another.
Under subsection (3) of this clause the local authority is under an obligation to provide facilities for inspection of the register by any person during office hours. That will inevitably have a cost because a room must be made available and there must be some person to supervise inspection. That must be paid for and we believe that a local authority should have the power to insist on such payment as is necessary to cover the expense of allowing anyone to inspect the register. We wonder whether the Government have considered that aspect and would be interested in their response to it.
Turning to Amendment No. 128, anyone wanting to know the details of a premises licence must first ascertain the address of the premises, then try to ascertain the relevant licensing authoritythe boundaries of which may be unknown to this personand must then try to find out where the register is. That could take hours of otherwise productive time.
The position is much more difficult in the case of a personal licence because anyone wanting to know the details of a personal licence must find out where the holder of the licence lived when he first applied for such a licence. He will have to search every register. We therefore feel that it is appropriate that the Secretary of State should make the appropriate arrangements for there to be a separate register but trust to her good sense as to the way in which the information in the register will be available on, for example, the Net. If, however, there was a central register accessible online, that information would be available with a few clicks of a mouse. I beg to move.
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