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Viscount Falkland moved Amendment No. 243:

The noble Viscount said: I have no intention of pressing the amendment, but seek enlightenment from the Minister. The powers given to the police during applications for transfers of premises licences are hardly appropriate in 99 out of 100 cases. They interfere with what is essentially a commercial transaction between two businesses. In the spirit of cutting red tape and bureaucracy—in which, we have been told many times, the Bill has been drafted—they are superfluous. That is why we are pressing for their removal.

In the event that a new premises licence holder does not meet the obligations, surely the police have powers to tackle him as soon as necessary. As I said, the vast majority of commercial transfers will not cause problems, so the process outlined in Clause 41(5), (6) and (7) seems unnecessarily bureaucratic. It will cause a great deal of uncertainty about commercial decisions that must be made—either an individual sale of premises or the transfer of an undertaking that may involve many premises, even thousands of them. I look forward to the Minister's help on the matter, because I seek clarity. I beg to move.

Baroness Buscombe: I support the amendment moved by the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland—my name and that of my noble friend Lord Luke are attached to it. The subsections provide a power of

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objection for the police during applications for transfer of premises licences. We feel that such a power is inappropriate, because it interferes with what is essentially a commercial transaction between two businesses, which may be independent units of large companies.

In the event that a new premises licence holder does not meet his obligations, the police have sufficient powers under the Bill to tackle him as soon as is necessary. The vast majority of ownership transfers will not cause problems, so the process outlined in subsections (5), (6) and (7) is, as the noble Viscount said, unnecessarily bureaucratic and, as he also said, creates a great deal of uncertainty for businesses in their commercial decisions about either an individual sale of a premises or the transfer of an undertaking, sometimes involving many thousands of premises.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I hope that I can assure the Committee that the clause contains the absolute minimum of bureaucracy—as it is being described. The Bill requires only that when a person applies to a licensing authority for a premises licence to be transferred to him, he must give notice of the application to the police. No further notification is required. I should imagine that a photocopy of the application to the licensing authority would do the trick. The police can object to an application only in exceptional circumstances, on the grounds that to grant it would undermine the crime prevention objective.

We have discussed this several times before. It involves not just the designated premises supervisor but the premises licence holder—which need not necessarily be a business, it could easily be an individual. In the case of a small pub, it will be the same person, who may under certain circumstances be worthy of investigation by the police. If someone had previously been considered inappropriate to be a premises licence holder, there had been problems with drugs, violence, noise or whatever, or the police knew something else about him relevant to whether he was a suitable person, surely the protection of local residents requires that the police should know about that and, in exceptional circumstances, be able to do something about it.

In any case, even if the licence holder is a business, the fact that a business buys a property does not mean that it is an appropriate person to hold a premises licence. Nothing in the Bill prevents such a sale or purchase, it is just that if a new purchaser—it could be a business—comes along, in exceptional circumstances the police ought to have the power to say and do something about that. That is the minimum protection for local residents that is called for.

Lord Avebury: Does the Minister consider that the premises licence holder should be someone with a clean criminal record? Will there be any uniformity in these matters? If it is proposed to transfer a premises licence to someone who has a criminal record, will the same attitude be taken by police forces across the

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country? If not, may not the policy of allowing the local police discretion to object in exceptional circumstances lead to a lack of uniformity in provision around the country?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The whole point about the guidance is that it will seek as much consistency—I shall not say uniformity—as possible, subject to the need for a degree of flexibility, which is expressed in the licensing authority's licensing statement. Businesses do not have criminal records. They can and will frequently be premises licence holders, but they cannot have criminal records. Perhaps they can, in certain circumstances, but I doubt that they would be relevant criminal records.

Viscount Falkland: I made my remarks with as much humility as I could muster. I did not really know the answer, and I sought enlightenment from the Minister. I think that, to some extent, I got it. I shall read Hansard to see whether I am correct in coming to that conclusion.

It was my impression that the main concern of the industry was that the Bill gave an unnecessary opportunity for police powers to be used, as they could sometimes be used, without proper understanding of the transaction that transferred the premises. There was a fear that there would be an enormous bureaucratic hindrance to the commercial activity of large groups doing a major transaction involving complicated procedures and a large number of outlets. Having said that in all humility, I shall examine what the noble Lord said and seek advice as to whether to proceed. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Clause 41 agreed to.

1 p.m.

Clause 42 agreed to.

Clause 43 [Determination of transfer application]:

[Amendment No. 244 not moved.]

Clause 43 agreed to.

Clause 44 [Notification of determination under section 43]:

[Amendment No. 245 not moved.]

Clause 44 agreed to.

Clause 45 agreed to.

Clause 46 [Interim authority notice following death etc. of licence holder]:

[Amendment No. 246 not moved.]

Clause 46 agreed to.

Clause 47 [Cancellation of interim authority notice following police objections]:

On Question, Whether Clause 47 shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Redesdale: I shall not press the matter, but I shall ask the Minister for clarification. As we read the clause, it appears that an interim authority notice can be cancelled because of police objections. If the police

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object to the person taking over the premises and that person is the holder of a personal licence, on what grounds would the police object? If the person qualifies for a personal licence to run premises, on what grounds could the police say that he is not a fit and proper person?

The clause seems to reintroduce the "fit and proper person" criterion. The Minister will give us reasons why we should support the clause, but I would be grateful for an answer to that question.

Baroness Buscombe: The loss of a licence should not affect the premises licence. As the premises are still fit to trade, it should be possible to install another personal licence holder to keep the business running, at least for the period of the interim authority notice. If a person possesses a valid personal licence, there is no reason why he should be prevented from working. It does not happen with driving licences, and it should not be the case here either.

The new licensee can simply register with the police. The introduction of additional police powers of objection into the interim authority procedure is, once again, unnecessary and bureaucratic.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: There are, of course, provisions for a transfer of licence to take effect immediately, so that there is no gap and the business need not close in the mean time. Clause 47 applies when an interim authority notice has been given, in accordance with Clause 46, and the police have been properly notified.

The police would intervene when the chief officer believed that, in the exceptional circumstances of the case, a failure to cancel the notice would undermine the crime prevention objective. The chief officer must then notify the licensing authority. When he does that, the licensing authority must hold a hearing, unless the police and the person who gave the interim notice agree that it is not necessary to hold one. The licensing authority decides the matter. If it agrees with the police, it is empowered to cancel the interim authority, but it must give reasons.

The clause relates to the unusual circumstances that arise when the holder of a premises licence dies, is made bankrupt or becomes incapacitated. Other people with an interest in the premises may be greatly affected by any period in which trade stops. For example, the clause will ensure that, if the premises licence holder is a tenant and the freeholder has been supplying him with beer, the premises cannot be run for up to two months—which would otherwise be the case—by a person who has an interest but turns out to be an unscrupulous criminal. For example, if the laundering of drugs money were to carry on for two months—that is what could happen otherwise—serious damage would be done. It is important that we give the police the powers to intervene in exceptional circumstances.

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