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Lord Phillips of Sudbury: I briefly add to the question raised by my noble friend Lord Falkland. What the Committee hopes to hear from the Minister with regard to the word "representing" is that it means representing not in a formal legal sense, but in a broader sense.
Secondly, how representative? Does the body concerned have to purport to represent all local people or, as I would hope, will it be sufficient for the body, for example, to represent informally a group of local people who have come to a public meeting which has been advertised specifically to mount objection to a particular licensing application? That is quite
I hope that the Minister can assure the Committee that such a meeting, which would be made up of course of one partythose opposedwould nonetheless be a body, and that the person or persons who at the end of that meeting were so charged would be a body representing persons who live in that vicinity within the meaning of this subsection.
Baroness Buscombe: I follow on in support of what the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, has just asked the Minister in relation to Clause 13(3)(b). A great deal turns on the meaning of the word "representing". As a past chairman of the Goring and Streatley Amenity Association, I know that if we had not carried out our function, albeit in a very informal way, of representing that body in relation to some applications within the local area, our lives would not have been worth living. That is why such groups exist, to be the eyes and earsthe bush telegraph or village pumpof local areas. Therefore it is tremendously important that bodies such as amenity associations and local pressure groups should be allowed to represent people within their local area.
Baroness Blackstone: An interested party is a local resident or residents' association, local business or trade group. These may want to make representations on applications for premises, licences or club premises' certificates or to apply for a review of the licence or certificate after it has been granted. I can give the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, and the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, the reassurance that they seek. They do not have to represent everyone in the area, but only those who have requested them to act on their behalf in objecting to a particular licence. However, if we expand these groups too far, we add to the bureaucracy of the system. That places a burden not only on industry but also on the licensing authorities. Simplicity is something we should value.
One of the aims of the Government in bringing forward this legislation is to give a real voice and influence to local people who will be affected by the decisions taken. The industry understands that but has some anxiety about it. Local economies need the investment and employment that the hospitality and retail businesses bring. But these businesses also need some certainties if they are to make the necessary investment. Therefore a balance has to be struck.
Amendments Nos. 138, 142, 145, 285, 289 and 292 focus on the definition of a local resident. The Bill describes such a person as living in the vicinity of the premises but it does not define vicinity. That is a matter for the licensing authority to judge when receiving a representation or an application for a review. This is a matter on which the courts may have to rule if a challenge is mounted against the decision of the licensing authority.
The amendments substitute the broader term "locality" and in doing that, sever the direct link made to premises by the Bill. Their intention is to extend the range of people who might object to those living further away. This again raises the issue of nuisance caused by some customers of licensed premises when they may be hundreds of yards away. Once customers are beyond the vicinity of the premises concerned, it will be enormously difficult to say which venue they were at. They may have come out of a private house drunk and disorderly.
The purpose of the Bill is to give a voice to those living near to the premises who will be more directly affected by what happens on those premises and would be able to demonstrate that concern at a hearing. The use of the term "locality" would muddy the waters and make it more difficult for licensing authorities to decide if a representation was in the frame. Severing the direct link to premises makes much more difficult, if not impossible, the proper consideration of any application on its merits. The focus of a premises' licence is the activities to be permitted on those premises, not the behaviour of individuals half a mile away and beyond the control of any licensee. If people do engage in anti-social behaviour, they have to be dealt with under the law as individuals. There is no sensible substitute for personal responsibility before the law. The Bill sets out the proper duties and obligations to be placed on licensees. If we go beyond that, we reduce the credibility of the licensing system. Other crime and disorder prevention strategies deal with those broader anxieties.
Our amendments in this groupAmendments Nos. 139, 148, 294 and 286take a slightly different tack by referring to persons legitimately or simply affected by the use of the club or licensed premises. As we are dealing with primary legislation, the use of the word "legitimately" must be largely redundant. The arguments are essentially the same. I appreciate that some noble Lords believe that the impact of licensed premises may fall as hard on those living near to taxi ranks, fast-food outlets or, indeed, a bus stop where customers may go after visiting licensed premises. How far away from the premises are we talking about and which premises? If we are talking about cumulative effects of many licensed premises, that is a matter to be addressed more broadly. We have already debated that.
Licensing can be only one strand of a much more complex approach. It is certainly not a panacea. I would be the first to accept that. The right approach is for the licensing authority to judge when an individual lives in the vicinity of the premises and if an objection through representation or a complaint through an application for a review is legitimate under the terms of the Bill.
Finally, Amendments Nos. 144, 146, 291 and 293 seek to expand the term "business in the vicinity" to include any organisation. There are many possibilities; schools, churches, hospitals, perhaps a prison or a trade union, as has already been suggested. Businesses are listed because livelihoods may be at stake. If disorder, disturbance or nuisance drives customers away from another business, jobs may be lost and the business may fail.
I made the point earlier that the more we extend the number of people that may make representations, the more we increase the number of potential hearings. That would make the system more bureaucratic and more expensive and would add to the burdens of both industry and licensing authorities. We must approach with caution any expansion of these definitions. I have great sympathy with the idea that schools should be able to make representations about an application and if that were denied by the Bill, I should certainly agree to consider the proposed amendments. However, in the case of a school, it would not be difficult for the school to encourage a parent, a pupil, a governor or a teacher living in the vicinity or indeed the local residents' association to make the necessary representations. In practical terms, I do not believe any of these organisations or bodies will be inhibited from objecting where necessary.
Baroness Blackstone: They can make representations as governors as long as someone associated with the school, living in the vicinitynormally governors do live in the vicinityrequests them to make such a complaint.
I turn now to Amendments Nos. 140, 143, 287 and 290. Those amendments had been grouped separately but because they put forward the same argument, rightly, the noble Viscount included them in this group. The amendments provide that the Bill would explicitly state that a local residents' body would be one the licensing authority considered was representative. We have made it clear that it is for the licensing authority to decide in the first instance whether a body is representative of local residents. I do not believe that the wording of these amendments adds anything to that. It would be down to the judgment of the licensing authority, and, if necessary, the courts. For these reasons, I hope that the noble Viscount will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: Before the noble Viscount withdraws the amendmentI had misunderstood and thought he was not moving Amendment No. 140 and its associated amendmentsperhaps I may ask the Minister whether a Member of Parliament or a councillor is in her view entitled to act as a representative on behalf of those who want to make complaints. Frankly, there has hitherto been some doubt whether that opportunity will continue to be available to Members of Parliament and councillors, or whether the Bill is intended to take them out of the chain.
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