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Baroness Buscombe: I should neither add to nor detract from that. I thank the Minister for his reply and for agreeing to revisit the grammar. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 113 agreed to.

Clause 114 agreed to.

Clause 115 [Application for grant or renewal of personal licence]:

[Amendment No. 379 not moved.]

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville moved Amendment No. 380:

"( ) An application for the grant or renewal of a personal licence must be accompanied by a list of licensed premises at which the applicant has been employed, or in respect of which he has played a part in the management in the five years preceding the application."

The noble Lord said: Under the Bill as it is currently drafted, applications for a personal licence are made to the licensing authority in the area in which the applicant is ordinarily resident. In the absence of a centralised, computerised database of personal licence holders, the licensing authority in those circumstances may have little or no information about the applicant or his qualifications and experience. The amendment would ensure that an applicant was required to disclose the licensed premises at which he has been employed or in respect of which he has played a part in the management in the five years preceding the application.

I point out that the pub in our hamlet in Wiltshire was rated the best pub in Wiltshire two years ago and has been rated the second-best in the county for the past two years. However, its management has changed four or five times during the eight years that we have

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been its customers. Its reputation is such as to bestow glory and credit on anyone who has managed it. I do not in any way suggest discredit. That is an index of how rapid mobility is in the trade. I beg to move.

Baroness Harris of Richmond: I rise to speak to Amendment No. 383, which deals with a "fit and proper person". I again refer briefly to an ACPO briefing. It states:

    "We have significant concerns over the way in which it is proposed that the 'criminal element' is prevented from becoming involved in the licensed and public entertainment trade and using the opportunities which these businesses afford to further their illicit pursuits. We recognise that the 'fit and proper' test is no longer appropriate within a modern system of regulation, however, its replacement must operate as effectively".

I have also received notification from the North Yorkshire Magistrates' Courts Service, which sent me a copy of the good practice guide of the Justices' Clerks' Society, which refers to "fit and proper" persons. It states:

    "The form is completed by the applicant for a licence and handed in to the court. This is then used as the basis on which magistrates ask questions to establish his/her fitness. The Justices' Clerks' Society has recently suggested that the form should be amended to make it clear that the applicant need not refer to convictions which are spent under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974".

I am of course very happy about that. It goes on:

    "In addition to the pro-forma, the magistrates will also usually have available a report from the local Police Licensing Officer setting out the result of the Police's enquiries into the applicant's background".

At Second Reading I said that, having been a former licensing magistrate some years ago—I declare that—we took very seriously the fitness of an applicant when trying to determine whether a person was suitable to hold a licence.

I shall give the Committee an idea of the kind of questions that we were looking at. The criteria for the granting of a justices' licence were: the age and experience in the licence trade; the training that was undertaken or proposed to be undertaken and any qualifications arising therefrom; the character of the applicant; knowledge and understanding of the licensing law; knowledge and understanding of any conditions and undertakings to which the licence may be subject; an expressed intention in the case of a protection order that the applicant intends to apply for the transfer of a licence; an assurance that the applicant is not in any way disqualified from holding a licence; and that the applicant exercises effective control and supervision over the premises. Those are the criteria which we used as licensing magistrates and which I hope will be used in the future. I very much hope that the Minister is able to address that matter in his response.

In Amendment No. 383A we seek to shorten the time limit to three years from the five years proposed. Where the clause states,

    "no personal licence held by him has been forfeited in the period of five years ending with the day the application was made",

we propose to substitute a period of "three years".

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7.15 p.m.

Baroness Buscombe: I support the amendments and everything that the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, said. The issue here is the credentials of the holder of a personal licence. The "fit and proper person" test has been removed, doubtless because, much to the relief of those who feel that it is too vague and variable, there may be different judgments as to what constitutes "fit and proper" and that may lead to unfair refusal.

However, with the removal of the "fit and proper person" prerequisite, we lose the personal element. Someone may meet every requirement on paper but may be a particularly unsavoury character. The responsibility of selling and providing alcohol is, as we are all aware, not something to be lightly entrusted to an individual. Alcohol brings with it a great many potential dangers, which noble Lords have spoken about again and again in relation to this Bill.

That brings me to my first amendment—Amendment No. 382. I wish only to air the idea that perhaps the age limit for personal licensees should be raised from 18 to 21. A problem with that might arise for those who work in the off trade, many of whom are under the age of 21. This only serves to point out, as I shall assert when speaking to a later amendment, that many problems are associated with having a one-size-fits-all piece of legislation which covers supermarkets and retail outlets as well as clubs.

I shall not continue to speak at length on these amendments. I am sure that a great many—perhaps there are not that many; that is a shame—Members of the Committee are waiting to disagree with me. I wish merely to provoke debate. The question of credentials for personal licences deserves discussion.

Lord Davies of Oldham: We have listened carefully to the debate on these amendments and have seen some merit in them. But I am having difficulty with some of them. Amendment No. 380 carries the extraordinary dimension of increasing significantly the burdens of administration on those concerned with administering the Bill, when it becomes an Act. The noble Lord will recognise that, while we are seeking throughout to simplify matters, his amendment would increase significantly the burdens in terms of the information required.

Also, I ask the noble Lord to consider whether his amendment would be fair to personal licence-holders. That is all. The only possible use to which licensing authorities could put the information which it is suggested should be provided to them would be in seeking to exert an increased and possibly arbitrary degree of control in deciding whether or not to grant a personal licence to individuals, depending on whether or not they have been associated with problem premises during their careers. They may have been associated with problem premises but have had absolutely no responsibility of their own. They could have held quite a limited role with regard to the activity

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and the failure may have been at a much more senior level of management . Here we have the suggestion that such people should bear the full responsibility.

Baroness Harris of Richmond: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. It is the responsibility of a licence holder and someone looking after a public house to be responsible and to run a good house; otherwise, the licence can and should be taken away.

Lord Davies of Oldham: But we are not talking about the designated premises holder; we are talking about the personal licence holder with potentially fewer significant responsibilities in respect of the role they play. There is no doubt that Amendment No. 380 would create a circumstance in which people would be tarred with the same brush because of the establishments where they had worked when they had not been the sole responsible person for such establishments. They may have played a significant part because of the privileges enjoyed as the licence holder to sell alcohol, but they are by no means the creator of, nor are they responsible for, the environment in which difficulties may have occurred. Yet here we would have a circumstance in which their licence may not be renewed because of those facts.

On the amendment that suggests that the minimum age qualification should rise from 18 to 21, I can think of no responsibility in this country that we deny to 18 year-olds, except being able to stand for election to another place. I would be surprised if noble Lords considered that that is the comparator for this role. These days the age of majority is 18 for a whole range of enormously responsible roles in our society. Therefore, I have great difficulty in seeing the advantage of moving the responsible age in this case from 18 to 21.

Amendments Nos. 383 and 385 seek to introduce what was graphically and well described by the noble Baroness as the fit and proper person test. The problem with that test is that there is a widespread judgment that it is opaque and that it can be subjective and unfair because it varies from time to time and across the country. It will be recognised that we have considered the way in which licences have been administered and granted in the past; it is not just an administrative change from magistrates to local authorities.

Is there a more transparent and open system by which people can be judged on their fitness to play this role? Clearly, we have set out the criteria in the Bill for the basis upon which individuals will qualify for a licence. The criteria will work for the industry, for individuals who want to work in the industry, for the licensing authority and for the public. The system gained widespread support during the long period of consultation that was undertaken on this matter. We could not possibly have arrived at judgments on how we set out to replace a tried and trusted system, but one that everybody recognised had weaknesses and disadvantages, without the widest consultation. The Bill enshrines what we have developed on the basis of

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that consultation and what is acceptable across the area. Therefore, I hope that noble Lords recognise that at this stage we cannot accept what appears to be a relatively minor amendment but which actually challenges an important element of the Bill.

Amendment No. 383A would reduce the period for which an individual would be prevented from obtaining a personal licence—because of forfeiture of a previous personal licence—from five to three years. I am sure that we could play the seeking game. I think the noble Lord corrected me earlier when I talked about the subjective aspects of some of these figures, but they are much more a question of judgment. The industry would like a much shorter period than the one in the Bill. In fact, it probably would not want any time limit. Others, and noble Lords, say that it should be extended. The Government have reached a position that we think strikes the right balance. Therefore, I hope that this amendment will not be pressed.

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