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Baroness Buscombe: I thank the Minister for his reply. The last thing I intended was to put artificial barriers in the way of a family-friendly policy. I am all for family-friendly premises where accompanied children are welcome. I asked someone what happens in Eire and was told that it is perfectly normal to walk into a pub at 10 o'clock at night and see people strumming guitars, with children, dogs, and adults, all together. That is precisely what we would love to see in bars and pubs in this country.

On a personal level, I, and many people to whom I have spoken, have a problem with unaccompanied children. I cannot think how that promotes a family-friendly pub culture. I am sorry that the Minister is disinclined to respond to our proposal. I will read his comments in Hansard because I feel passionately that there is a need to protect children.

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I remember a police officer saying at a meeting before Second Reading that alcohol equals crime and disorder. We all care about future generations. I am not convinced that this radical approach to children in licensed premises is a good idea. Publicans should be able to specify what their intentions are in relation to children. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 169 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

[Amendments Nos. 170 to 172 not moved.]

Clause 17 agreed to.

Clause 18 [Determination of application for premises licence]:

Baroness Buscombe moved Amendment No. 173:


    Page 11, line 25, at end insert—


"( ) The licensing authority is under a duty to act promptly in the determination of applications under this section."

The noble Baroness said: I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 202 and 245. Amendment No. 173 would lay down in the Bill the obligation on the licensing authority to act promptly in determining applications for premises licences. Amendments Nos. 202 and 245 are more stringent. They would impose a maximum time limit within which the licensing authorities must respond to applications for premises licences or variations of premises licences.

I tabled the amendments to probe an issue. Nowhere in the Bill is there mention of a time limit on processing of applications. I suggest 30 days as a time limit merely to provoke debate, but there is a real need to set a limit. Many in the industry have experienced severe delays in processing of public entertainment licences by local authorities. Delays cost money. A small business may be seriously affected by a wait of, say, six months, before its application is determined—especially if it is ultimately rejected.

Some may think that the provision of Amendment No. 173, which imposes,


    "a duty to act promptly",

goes without saying. In an ideal world, it would be unnecessary to table the amendments, but we are not in ideal world and the industry needs some reassurance that its applications will be processed within a fixed period. As I said, I do not want to put licensing authorities under undue pressure. Other Members of the Committee may have a clearer sense of what is a realistic maximum time limit to impose, but, in principle, some limit should he imposed.

The Government have frequently assured us all that local authorities will be able to cope with the burden of taking on the role of licensing authority, and that resources and costs will be adequately met by the licensing fees. If so—do not imagine for one moment that I doubt the capability of local authorities to fulfil their role—the imposition of a sensible time limit will not be too much of a hardship. I beg to move.

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8.45 p.m.

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts: I have tabled an amendment in this group. I entirely support what my noble friend said about the need to act promptly. There is concern in the industry that local authorities have not always covered themselves with glory in the past in their promptness of response to applications for public entertainment licences. There is concern that as the burden of work rises—as will inevitably be the case with the transfer of responsibilities—that situation will worsen rather than improve.

I entirely support my noble friend's amendment. My amendment, Amendment No. 178, is designed to ensure that authorities get a move on with hearings about representations. I understand that representations can and should be made and must be listened to, but applicants for a premises licence are entitled to a prompt hearing to consider those representations. My amendment would require the local authority or licensing authority to hold a hearing within 14 days after the conclusion of the time for representations to be made.

I do not suggest that 14 days is necessarily the right length of time, but, like my noble friend, I believe that there should be some fixed period; it is a matter for debate what is the right one.

Lord Redesdale: I support the amendments. One of the issues that has caused most concern among publicans to whom I have spoken about the move from magistrates to local authorities is their previous experience of local authorities taking a great deal longer to come to a decision about outstanding grievances than is good for business. Although difficult in some respects, a set period within which hearings should be held would give a degree of financial security to the institution. I therefore hope that the Minister can tell us why a time limit has not been set in the Bill.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: There is absolutely nothing between us on this, except the issue of whether the provision should be in primary or secondary legislation. We agree that there should be appropriate and fair time limits, although whether they should be of 30 days, 14 days or whatever the proposers say is a matter for further consultation with interested parties. It is accepted that there should be time limits. I give an undertaking that appropriate and fair time limits will be included in secondary legislation. The Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee has agreed implicitly that it is right for those details to be in secondary legislation.

There has been huge difficulty during the past 40 years in obtaining changes to licensing regulation because it was in primary legislation and it was difficult to find parliamentary time to change it. We wholeheartedly support the principle behind the amendments.

Baroness Buscombe: I thank the Minister for his response. I am delighted by his assurances and his agreement that this is an important issue. We accept

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and are reassured by his undertaking that this matter will be dealt with by regulation. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Buscombe moved Amendment No. 174:


    Page 11, line 25, at end insert—


"( ) Where an application for a premises licence is received by a licensing authority but—
(a) it is not made in accordance with section 17, or
(b) the authority is not satisfied under subsection (1)(b),
the authority shall return the application to the applicant indicating its reasons for doing so."

The noble Baroness said: As it stands, Clause 18 provides for what the council has to do if an application is made which complies with all the rules and regulations about the form of the application. It makes no provision for what the licensing authority should do if there is a failure to comply. Clause 18 provides that in such cases the licensing authority must return the application to the applicant. I beg to move.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I agree entirely with the provision of Amendment No. 174. Clauses 17 and 18 set out the basis on which licensing authorities determine any application. Local authorities must conduct themselves in accordance with their own governing rules. It is implicit that in the type of circumstances that this amendment seeks to address, licensing authorities would have returned their applications, giving their reasons for doing so. It is an area that will be covered in the guidance to be issued with the Bill which we shall have an opportunity to debate on Report.

Baroness Buscombe: I thank the Minister for his full response and his reassurance that this matter will be covered in the guidance. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Viscount Falkland moved Amendment No. 175:


    Page 11, leave out lines 26 and 27 and insert—


"( ) In determining any such application the authority shall have regard to its licensing statement and to any other material considerations, and in granting a licence may impose—"

The noble Viscount said: In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 176, 177, 180 and 307. As presently drafted, Clause 18(2) would require the licensing authority to grant licences in accordance with the operating plan of the applicant in the absence of "relevant representations" from an interested party or a responsible person irrespective of whether it believed that granting the licence would promote the licensing objectives or whether it would interfere with the rights of individuals in its area. That is unreasonable.

The licensing authority has duties, first, to promote the licensing objectives and, secondly, to refrain from taking decisions that contravene the European Convention on Human Rights under Section 6(1) of the Human Rights Act 1998 to have regard to its own

13 Jan 2003 : Column 102

licensing statement, prepared after consultation, and to do everything in its powers to reduce crime and disorder in its area in accordance with Section 17 of the Crime and Disorder Act. It cannot possibly discharge those duties without the powers to do so. This amendment ensures that it has the powers to discharge those duties.

The fact that no relevant representations have been made is surely not always a decisive indicator of the absence of any problems. The licensing authority may know of reasons why relevant representations have not been made—for example, harassment, sheer volume of applications with which the police and the interested parties have to deal.

In the normal course of their business, licensing authorities gain knowledge of all these issues from a much wider range of sources than relevant representations. Councillors receive letters—sometimes signed, sometimes not—and the council receives complaints. There are site visits, newspaper articles, research publications and reports, petitions and telephone calls, all of which can put the council on notice that a problem may exist.

In such circumstances, surely it would be entirely inappropriate for the council simply to grant the application. Doing so may require the licensing authority to act in violation of its obligations of the Human Rights Act 1998. It would be far better to recognise that licensing authorities should be given powers to promote the licensing objectives at all times and to act in accordance with their obligations under the Human Rights Act.

The effect of all these amendments would be to confer on licensing authorities slightly wider powers than those set out in the Bill. In particular, they would allow them to take whatever action they deemed fit to promote the licensing objectives which are at the core of the legislation, and to ensure compliance with their obligations under the convention. I beg to move.


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