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Baroness Buscombe: I support my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes. As Members of the Committee have said on previous amendments, this is an important area. Much representation beyond the Committee has been made to all of us in relation to Clause 18. There is considerable concern and unrest. It makes sense that those on the licensing authority should be involved as well as the police. They often have the ears and eyes of the local community, sometimes from a different perspective from that of the police. It therefore seems wrong to exclude them.

Baroness Blackstone: I will not return to the issues of Clause 18 that were addressed by my noble friend Lord McIntosh. I will respond to the specific amendments,

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which might help the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner. They would strike at the heart of the Bill, which seeks a workable balance between the rights and interests of local people and businesses and those of licensees and the industry. It seeks to make the system as light touch and simple as possible while providing adequate protection.

The Bill provides for statutory consultees, such as the police, fire and environmental health authorities, as well as local residents and businesses, to have a say in all applications for new licences, in applications to vary operating conditions and to call for the review of existing licences. We must remember that many of those authorities are part of the local authority; we should not see them as totally separate. Where one such body makes a representation, a hearing will be held and the appropriate conditions attached to meet relevant concerns.

We want businesses to thrive and to see employment enhanced. We do not want businesses to be subject to unnecessary burdens or restrictions. That is why where no representations are made no hearing will be required. It is also why representations will not be considered where they are not related to the likely impact of the licence or where the same representations are made frivolously or vexatiously.

Those who make relevant representations will, along with applicants, be able to appeal against any decisions to grant licences or club premises certificates, to vary licences or certificates or to issue provisional statements.

As regards decisions to grant or vary licences or certificates, they will be able to contend that the grant or variation ought not to have been made or that the conditions ought to be modified. So that does offer a real say and a great deal of protection. The requirement that the representation be relevant is still central and offers the same protection to the interests of licensees and also avoids clogging up magistrates' courts with costly and time-consuming appeals which are not related to the objectives. They might be malicious or go back over ground which the licensing authorities have already covered.

We are confident that those with valid concerns will find it easier than before to have a say in licensing decisions. It is of course important that the police and other enforcement bodies, as well as the local community, have a strong voice in the determination of applications. Indeed, it is essential that the police are able to object to the designation of a new premises supervisor where in exceptional circumstances they believe that the appointment would undermine the crime prevention objective.

We have given undertakings to the police that these arrangements will take place. Where trouble does flare up the police will be better able to take the necessary action quickly and, I believe, with a minimum of confusion. At the same time I am alive to industry concerns that the procedures associated with the designated premises supervisor should not become too burdensome. Designated premises supervisors will be personal licence holders and will therefore have had to

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meet the requirements in relation to training. Therefore, it is right that objections should be limited to those made by the police on the grounds of the crime prevention objective.

By changing the requirement that representations be relevant, these amendments would open up the way for representations from almost anywhere, leading to uncertainty for the industry, drawing out the application process and certainly making it a lot more costly. A major problem with the current system is that all applications for a liquor licence require a court hearing when in the great majority of cases that is not really necessary. This Bill provides for most applications where there are no concerns or implications for the licensing objectives to be dealt with administratively. That will lead to significant savings. It is not clear why we should go back to a system where all cases are decided by a hearing regardless of whether one is really needed. It is also unclear why the net should be widened and the requirement that representations are focused on the licensing objectives and are made for the right reasons be removed.

The Bill gives local people and local businesses a stronger voice than they have had before to comment on local issues. It is transferring licensing functions to bodies with local knowledge and, importantly, who are directly accountable to local people. While ensuring a consistent national framework the Bill will protect local concerns and be responsive to them while at the same time ensuring that industry is unduly restricted or subject to unnecessary red tape or costs. In the light of what I have said, I very much hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

9.30 p.m.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: I thank the Minister for what she has said. I certainly hope that at Report stage we can reduce the complexity of so many amendments. I shall read what the noble Baroness has said. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 183 and 184 not moved.]

[Amendment No 185 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

[Amendment No. 186 not moved.]

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Hooper): If Amendment No. 187 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendments Nos. 188 to 190 because of pre-emption.

Baroness Buscombe moved Amendment No. 187:

    Page 12, line 30, leave out paragraph (b).

The noble Baroness said: A personal licence holder who holds a valid licence should not be under challenge under such a vague term as "exceptional circumstances". Exclusion by way of conviction of a criminal offence—more than 40 are already listed in

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the Bill—is sufficient to ensure that such a further test and obstacle should not have to be overcome. On what basis will a council decide on the validity of a police objection? The Bill reintroduces the vague fit-and-proper test in cases that, by their nature, are exceptional. The police will have sufficient powers through either the review process or powers of disclosure—which they can use when and if the circumstances that they fear are about to occur. The system should be and is robust enough to exclude the need for further powers. I beg to move.

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts: This is an extraordinarily open-ended and vague way of dealing with a problem that does not really exist.

Is the person about whom the statement is made then made aware of it and of who has made it? Is the person left in ignorance and just informed that he or she is not to become a designated premises supervisor—or is he or she entitled to be told that a complaint has been made about them by the police and to be told the nature of the complaint?

In a Bill that the noble Lord, Lord Davies, keeps telling us has to be as precise as possible, this is a vague, difficult and potentially unfair clause. It would give undue power to local authorities, without the proper balance of the individual being able to know about a complaint made against him, who has made it and on what grounds.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I am really puzzled by this amendment, which is the only one in the group that has been spoken to. It would remove the requirement on the police to give a statement when making representations about the specification of a designated premises supervisor on a premises licence, to the effect that in the exceptional circumstances of the case, it would undermine the crime prevention objective to do so.

I do not know whether this was intended, but the amendment would remove the need for the police to give reasons for objecting to a premises supervisor. That is not what I heard the noble Baroness or the noble Lord to say, but that is what the amendment says. I should have thought that the balance that we have—where exceptional circumstances are needed for the police to intervene but where they have to give reasons—is the right way forward.

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts: Are the reasons made known to the person about whom the complaint is made?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Yes, certainly. What is the point of giving reasons unless the people to whom they refer know about them? They are not secret.

Baroness Buscombe: I appreciate that the Minister is somewhat surprised by the amendment. We do not necessarily want to do away with the power to have a statement where, in the circumstances of the case, the

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premises supervisor would undermine the crime prevention objective. I should have made it clearer that this is, in a sense, a probing amendment. The wording,

    "due to the exceptional circumstances of the case",

is not clear. It sounds vague and broad and does not make it clear that a proper explanation will be given as to why the police are making a particular statement.

I am grateful to my noble friend for asking what the words,

    "due to the exceptional circumstances of the case",

mean, given the fear that the police might simply offer "due to the exceptional circumstances". We are looking for reassurance that there will be more clarity.

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