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Baroness Blackstone: One of our themes in these debates has been to strike a balance between three broad sets of interests: first, the general public interest; secondly, the interests of the industry; and, finallythis is a point that perhaps gets lost in this kind of debatethe rights of the responsible consumer to enjoy his or her leisure time with the minimum amount of interference from local or central government.
The amendments strike at the very heart of that package. The Bill gives a clear voice to interested partieslocal residents, businesses and their representativesand responsible authorities, such as the police, fire and environmental health authorities and so on. All applications are required to be brought to the attention of these groups, either through notification or advertisement, so that they have ample opportunity to comment.
Where they have a problem with an application, it is open to them to make representations. Indeed, in the case of the responsible authoritiesthe statutory consultees under the Billwe would consider them bound to make representations whenever it is necessary in the interests of promoting the licensing objectives. Where such representations are received, the licensing authority must hold a hearing to consider them. As a result of the hearing, the licensing authority may take any one of four steps, including refusing to grant the licence, to modify the conditions attached to it or to exclude licensable activities from its scope.
That represents a fair, open and transparent system. These amendments seek to give the licensing authority the power to make its own pronouncements on applications, even where no representations have been received. While I understand the sentiments behind the amendments, surely local residents and businesses and responsible authorities are the appropriate parties to assess the impact of the application on their interests and responsibilities. Surely where those living nearby or those with responsibility for ensuring public safety, preventing public nuisance and crime and disorder are all satisfied with an application, the licensing authority would be acting beyond its mandate to impose its own view.
Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: I believe that there remains between these Benches and the Government the feeling that local authorities are being given responsibility for running the system but are not being given any degree of discretion in terms of exercising it. It will be interesting to see how far local authorities up and down the country are able to persuade their electorates that, in fact, the reason that they could not prevent something happening was that the power had been taken away from them by the Bill and that they were therefore not allowed to provide that protection. However, it casts some doubt on how far it is fair to say that responsibility has been transferred to local authorities. Therefore, I believe that the issue will remain with us as long as we discuss the Bill. However, I am conscious of a desire to make progress in terms of today's proceedings.
The Earl of Onslow: It appears to me that the Government are saying that the local authority has no power to say, "We do not want a lap-dancing club next door to a nunnery". If we are to have local democracy I believe that local authorities should have such a power and should be able to make those kinds of decisions. Local authorities should take into account matters of morality and taste.
Baroness Blackstone: The nunnery can make representations to the local authority, as can any business in the vicinity or any resident in the vicinity if they consider that a particular place is inappropriate for a pub or a night club. That is how the system will work. Moreover, the local authority, through its fire department or through its environmental health department, for example, can also decide that it would be inappropriate for a licence to be granted to any particular applicant.
Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Onslow for intervening and, in the process, soliciting a response from the Minister. I am genuinely grateful for his support. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 212 deals with timing in relation to determining applications for provisional statements. Under Amendment No. 174, we discussed the need to impose some kind of time restriction on licensing authorities within which they
Lord Davies of Oldham: As the noble Baroness indicated, we have discussed this matter already in Committee. We are at one with her on the need for a reasonable time limit. The only difference is whether it should be on the face of the Bill. We do not believe that it should be because we need the flexibility to be able to alter a time limit in the light of experience. The noble Baroness will recognise that in our White Paper we indicated a time limit along the lines she has suggested. So in terms of the objectives we are at one.
The Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform agreed with us that this matter should be subject to secondary legislation. Purely for the purpose of flexibility, we would not want the figure on the face of the Bill, but we agree that the noble Baroness puts forward a reasonable proposition.
The Earl of Onslow: Will the Minister put a figure somewhere? It is all very fine to say that it is hoped that it will be 28 days. When I misbehaved as a little boy I used to say to my mother, "I didn't mean to do that", to which she would reply, quite justifiably, "The road to hell is paved with good intentions". Unless a figure is put in the Bill, as night follows day, it will not be applied and there will be a flock of Ministers travelling down that road to hell. It is as simple as that.
Lord Davies of Oldham: I assure the noble Earl that it would be necessary for us to issue guidance that indicated our requirements and expectations on time limits. We are seeking to avoid the rigidity of placing time limits on the face of the Bill.
Baroness Buscombe: I thank the Minister for his positive response. I am smiling to myselfI am sure that he will forgive me for saying sobecause when we get into government, as we surely shall, every time we do not want something put on the face of the Bill we shall say that it is because we want to test the matter in the light of experience. That is a good phrase and I blame him not for using it. I thank the Minister for assuring the Committee that at least the time limit will appear in the guidance. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Lord said: Having re-read the Explanatory Notes, I have seldom seen a case where what the Minister says at the Dispatch Box is exactly contrary to what is stated there. The Explanatory Notes state:
The noble Baroness said: Amendments Nos. 214, 215 and 216 are consequential to those discussed on Monday in Committee concerning the designated premises supervisor. They remove the references to the designated premises supervisor from Clause 32 in relation to notification of change of name or address. I have no wish to plunge your Lordships back into a heated debate about the desirability of such a role. I made it clear on Monday that the functions of the designated premises supervisor seemed illusory to me and the role itself unnecessary. For a similar reason I gave notice of my intention to oppose the question that Clauses 36 and 45 stand part of the Bill.
We heard what the Minister had to say in response to my wish and that of a number of noble Lords that the Government reconsider the role of supervisor and return to the original suggestion proposed in the White Paper. I intend to read thoroughly those comments in Hansard. There seemed to be inconsistencies and some confusion over the matter of the designated premises supervisor on both sides of the Committee. I hope that I shall not be alone in giving the matter much thought before we return to it on Report. I beg to move.
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