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Lord Redesdale moved Amendment No. 167:

"( ) the maximum capacity of the premises, and"

The noble Lord said: I speak to Amendments Nos. 167 and 304. This is a brief probing amendment to establish the Government's position on maximum capacity for premises. We do not intend to press the amendment, but to obtain an indication of government thinking at this stage on maximum capacity in premises. I beg to move.

Lord Clarke of Hampstead: We have been debating these matters for four hours and I am beginning to lose my train of thought. I would not say that my Amendments Nos. 193, 304 and 310 are probing because I believe that they are of immense importance for public safety. The proposed new clause will attach a condition to the granting of a licence that specifies clearly the maximum permitted occupancy figure when the premises are being used for a licensable activity. In addition, it states that the figure must be specified on the licence itself.

The amendment also proposes that the maximum permitted occupancy figure must be determined by the licensing authority in consultation with the police, the fire authority and the responsible authority as defined in Clause 13(4)(d).

Concern has been expressed by the Local Government Association that a maximum permitted occupancy requirement is not part of the Bill at present. That concern is shared by the Association of Chief Police Officers and a number of members of the public. A common concern relates to the safety of members of the public who will attend licensed premises. It was agreed in relation to Clause 4 that public safety is one of the objectives. I believe that the new clause would allow the proper examination of premises. I do not suggest that that would not take place; but if a licence included a reference to numbers, proper provision could be made to ensure, for example, that the toilet facilities were adequate and that the requisite number of exits were available.

History shows that panic can ensue in premises where fire breaks out or where other difficulties emerge. There have been recent examples. There is a clear case for a mandatory capacity being part of the licence. I understand that it is already a requirement for clubs to adhere to a mandatory capacity limit. It must surely follow that a similar provision should form part of this Bill.

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It is a question of common sense that in considering the granting of a licence the licensing authority should be able to satisfy itself that public nuisance, crime and disorder are not exacerbated by the kind of behaviour that may result from overcrowding of the premises.

The only people who will worry about the need for a maximum occupancy figure are the minority of operators who routinely overcrowd their premises to dangerous levels. Anyone walking along streets in London, or in university towns, where crowds of people attempt to get into and out of premises will see that such a provision is necessary. The people who would worry would be those seeking to make the maximum profit from the sale of alcohol. I make no excuse for saying that.

Furthermore, I remind the Committee that, in the past, when pubs on one side of the Edgware Road closed at half-past ten, people moved across to the Paddington area, where they stayed open until 11 o'clock. I can envisage that, when other operators are shutting at a reasonable time—reasonable in modern-day terms: midnight or one o'clock in the morning—and others stay open, there will be a move towards the places that are open. They may not have been the first choice of clients at the start of the evening, but when they have had sufficient alcohol they may feel that they want to continue drinking and will go to a place that is already overcrowded.

Public safety should not be put at risk for the sake of profit by those who want to abuse the absence of permitted occupancy figures. These amendments would strengthen the Bill and would provide protection for the public—both those who will use the licensed premises and passers-by. This place should provide the licensing authorities with the legislative tools that they will need when deciding on the numbers of people who can enjoy the benefits of a licensed premises.

Lord Avebury: I have a great deal of sympathy with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Clarke, but having a maximum permitted occupancy figure in a single establishment may not satisfy the requirement that he has advanced of the licensing policy, through the awarding of licences, meeting the objectives set out in the Bill.

If an establishment had the necessary number of technical facilities—the noble Lord mentioned two: fire escapes and toilets—in proportion to the number of people who will fit into the premises, the local authority would have no other reason for declining to grant the licence. What I thought the noble Lord was getting at was the possibility of an overall limit being put on the number of people who would be present in all the establishments within a given area. That is where problems will arise in relation to the licensing objectives of the Bill. It may not be a matter of one single establishment—although some are very large; some premises take 1,500 people and that in itself is a substantial cause of crime and disorder in an area. But when an area has several establishments of that size, it

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is an almost certain recipe for problems in the neighbourhood. Yet there is nothing in the awarding of licences that takes that into consideration.

The noble Lord has put his finger on the lack of powers in the Bill to deal with the overall figure of attendance at all the establishments in a given locality; and even if one one specific licence could be subject to a limit of this kind, it would not solve the problem.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: I support the view that there should be a clear definition in safety terms of the permitted number of people per establishment. There is a precedent in the Greater London Authority's late-night music and dancing licences. The authority was always careful to ensure a limit on the number of people entering a premises. The most difficult aspect is the enforcement of such a limit. It is extremely difficult to enforce restrictions on numbers.

Baroness Buscombe: I have put my name to Amendment No. 167, and I also support Amendment No. 301 to which my name and that of my noble friend Lord Luke have been added. This is a very difficult area. I agree with the tone of noble Lord, Lord Redesdale: we look to the Government to say what their feelings are in relation to this difficult issue—difficult because it is hard to consider a "one size fits all" provision. What might be sensible in relation to a large establishment would not necessarily be so in relation to a small country pub.

As my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes has suggested, the real problem is in terms of how such a provision would be policed, particularly in relation to small country pubs. Is it reasonable to require expenditure on a doorman in order to police the capacity of such premises when they merely have a few regulars in on a Friday night?

I have sympathy with the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Clarke of Hampstead. This is an important safety issue. Safety is the key. We remember all too clearly the dreadful events at Hillsborough. I do not mean to sound over-dramatic. It is important to realise that we are talking about enormously large establishments. There is no comparison between the country pub and some of the large establishments to which young people throng—perhaps that makes me sound as though I am getting old. I understand that there is something rather "cool" about being in an over- crowded, "hip" establishment, which obviously gives rise to safety concerns.

7.30 p.m.

Baroness Blackstone: I recognise that these are probing amendments and that the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, is asking me to set out how we see the issue of capacity operating in licensed premises. Of course, one of the key concerns of the Bill is public safety. It is so important that we have enshrined it in the licensing objectives, at the very core of the legislation. Licensing authorities must carry out their functions with a view to promoting the objectives. Furthermore, in his operating schedule the applicant for a licence must

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describe the steps that he proposes to take to promote those objectives. A club must do the same when applying for a premises certificate.

As my noble friend Lord Clarke says, it is essential that public safety is assured. That was the essence of the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe. The Bill gives expert bodies—responsible authorities, such as fire authorities, the police, health and safety authorities and environmental health authorities—a statutory role of making representations on applications for new licences and certificates and the opportunity to call for existing licences to be reviewed on any ground relating to the licensing objectives. These experts may advise the imposition of a maximum capacity to be attached as a condition to premises licences or club premises certificates to the licensing authority if they believe that it is necessary for public safety. We would expect them not to hesitate to do so wherever it is appropriate.

This closely mirrors what happens in the existing licensing system, where these expert bodies make recommendations to the local authorities and the licensing justices. However, what the amendments would do—I recognise that they are for the most part probing—would be to make a capacity limit compulsory in every case through its specification in the operating schedule or following the receipt by the licensing authority of relevant representations by the licensing authority deciding to impose a maximum occupancy for the premises. That would make the system unnecessarily arbitrary and burdensome.

We recognise that capacity limits are necessary for some premises. The present licensing justices and local authorities can attach capacity limits at their discretion. The system works, and the only complaints that we have received have come from nightclubs, which regard mandatory capacity limits as a way of defending the virtual monopoly on late night drinking that they currently enjoy. We are keen for there to be greater flexibility for licensed premises and for capacity limits to be imposed when they are necessary, but not otherwise. That is why the Bill will reproduce the system currently in place.

We should also be clear that, in most cases, the places will already have capacity limits in force under existing fire certificates. If a fire certificate includes certain conditions, it would be unnecessary to reproduce them in a premises licence. If a fire certificate were granted for premises when their future use for licensable activity was not known, the licensing authority and fire authority may wish to impose a new capacity limit that would apply at any time when the licensable activity is taking place. That is why we are allowing licensing authorities to impose capacity limits when they are necessary.

I should tell my noble friend Lord Clarke that no mandatory capacity figure is imposed on nightclubs under current licensing law. Such conditions are imposed under the discretion of the licensing authority, so nothing will change, but the licensing authority will seek the advice of health and safety experts and the fire authority when necessary. We

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should not lose sight of the fact that health and safety at work regulations require employers to assess the risk for their workers and others, including customers, who may be affected by their business, and identify what measures are needed to reduce or control the risks. That assessment might well include some consideration of the risk of overcrowding in premises, and ways in which that risk can be controlled.

The Bill is intended to be flexible. Licensing authorities will be able to attach capacity limits as conditions of licences when it is thought that expert opinion believes that it is necessary and given the other controls in place. In the light of what I have said, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

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