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Baroness Buscombe: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her full reply to the amendments. This important area was raised by several noble Lords on Second Reading and debated at length in Committee. It is interesting to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Clarke of Hampstead, the view of local authorities that the Bill and the draft guidance do not go far enough to assist local authorities.

We are all trying to find ways to provide local authorities with sufficient information and guidance—of course, we should like more of that in the Bill—to assist them in their difficult, tough task, especially in those areas with an already high density of premises. We are concerned to ensure that applications for new premises, which may genuinely contribute to the quality of life and enjoyment of an area, are not outrightly or flatly refused at the planning stage without serious consideration on the part of the local authority. Creating the right balance is difficult. We therefore hope that the earlier amendment whereby we sought to balance the enjoyment of those visiting the premises against the living and working amenity and environment of interested parties in the vicinity of the premises will assist local authorities.

As the guidance suggests, that judgment will be made case by case. We appreciate that it is a difficult area on which to legislate; we have discussed it again

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and again. Noble Lords have said much in common about the need to strike a careful balance. I also appreciate what the Minister has reaffirmed about zoning. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 30 not moved.]

Clause 5 [Statement of licensing policy]:

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts moved Amendment No. 31:

    Page 3, line 18, leave out "three" and insert "six"

The noble Lord said: My Lords, there are three amendments in this group. As I have not spoken before on Report, I again declare an interest as a managing director of a regional brewer, an operator of about 1,500 public houses. The amendments all relate to the statement of licensing policy—Clause 5. They are all designed to cut the red tape that has built up around the statement of licensing policy. The Government have constantly re-emphasised during proceedings on the Bill that they want it to be deregulatory. The amendments are designed to help them in that task.

The first issue is the timing of the revision of the licensing statement—the licensing functions. At present, the Bill requires the statement to be reviewed every three years. I made the point in Committee that if we want a fair balance between local residents' views and a stable framework for the development of entertainment facilities, three years is too short a period.

The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, replying to the debate, referred to the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. He pointed out that the Act required a crime prevention strategy to be revised every three years, arguing that the amendment that I proposed, to insert the words "five years", was inappropriate because it was not contiguous with or a multiplier of the three-year period required by that Act.

I have therefore tabled the amendment, following on from the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, to provide for a six-year revision. In other words, at the end of every two periods of a crime prevention strategy, there would be a revision of the licensing policy. That in no way undermines people's right to have a proper say in licensing policy in their area. It provides a better framework for the development of new entertainment facilities. I shall not repeat what I said in Committee, but it is easily two to two and a half years from the inception of a new facility to completion, and it would not be fair for the goalposts to be moved by a licensing function in that way. The first amendment would achieve a balance between local democracy and commercial reality.

The second barnacle that I wish to remove from this part of the ship of state is the provisions that relate to those who must be consulted before policy can be determined. The list includes the fire authority. I have no problem with the fire authority having a role, but it need not have a role in the establishment of overall

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policy. As I said in Committee, the fire authority will have to be involved because no one will get insurance without a fire certificate. That is nothing to do with setting overall policy. In reply to the amendment in Committee, the noble Baroness gave the game away. She said:

    "One aspect of public safety is the risk of a serious fire in premises full of young people".—[Official Report, 19/12/02; col. 828.]

She was right, but that matter relates to the premises licence and has nothing to do with licensing policy.

We will establish a situation in which everybody and his brother get involved in determining licensing policy. The fire authority does not need to play a role. The issues of public safety relating to a premises are the same whether it is in Newcastle, London or Truro. They will be considered by the fire authority and discussed with regard to the premises licence. In the interests of creating a less bureaucratic framework, the fire authority should not be mentioned in the Bill. In the guidance that we received after the Committee stage, paragraph 4.6 makes it clear that the licensing authority can decide whom it wishes to consult. The guidance says:

    "it is for each licensing authority to decide the full extent of its consultation".

If a local authority suddenly thought that it wanted to have fire authority input, it could do so.

The last amendment proposes the publication of the names of those who have been consulted. Clause 5(3) requires the licensing authority to consult such persons as it considers to be representative of holders of premises licences, holders of club premises certificates, holders of personal licences, businesses and residents. Whether one is on the side of the operators of entertainment facilities or of the residents, it is only fair that what consultation has taken place and who has been consulted are made public, so that other people—operators of entertainment facilities or members of the general public—know who has been consulted and the results of the consultation. It is a question of openness and transparency and would allow people to be clear about what is going on in their area.

For those reasons, the amendments are important. They would revise and tighten up the statement of licensing policy. I have no problem with the principle, but the process is over-elaborate, over-bureaucratic and over-cumbersome. I beg to move.

Baroness Buscombe: My Lords, I support the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts. Amendment No. 31 relates to the revision of licensing policy. We discussed the subject at some length in Committee. I shall not take up your Lordships' time to repeat what my noble friend said or what was said in Committee, but it is supposed to be a deregulatory Bill.

I have written down, "Give the industry a chance". It is difficult for the industry. As the Bill stands, local authorities are able to revise their licensing policy on a three-yearly basis, which could completely alter the whole approach that that particular local authority

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may take with regard to policy for various kinds of premises. There must be a fair balance. Throughout the stages of the Bill we have heard much from the Minister with regard to the importance of consideration for everyone who wants to enjoy deregulated measures in relation to alcohol and entertainment laws—both in terms of the time that facilities will be open, as well as access and the number and kinds of facilities that will be available.

If the industry is to find itself responding on a three-yearly basis when, as my noble friend said, so many of the premises when introducing new facilities will need time in order to both develop those facilities and get them off the ground, it will be hard for them if they then have to react to what could be a radical change in policy. There is a need for a fair balance between what local authorities should be able to achieve and what my noble friend has referred to as reality on the ground.

I support Amendment No. 36. It is important that there is proper open and transparent consultation. It is only fair that everyone should know who has been consulted and involved so that those involved—whichever side, if they must take sides—know where they stand.

9.30 p.m.

Lord Redesdale: My Lords, we, too, on these Benches hope that the Minister will reconsider the three-year policy. It is such a short period of time that the licensing authority will be perpetually reviewing licensing policy. There is some weight in the amendment. I do not believe for one second that the Minister is about to accept a six-year period. However, there is a degree of merit for it.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, for being so candid in his introduction of these amendments. He said that it was an issue of local democracy against commercial viability—an issue of the brewers against the people. The Conservative Party and Liberal Democrat Party have chosen to cast their lot with the brewers against the people. That is their problem, not mine.

Amendment No. 31 reduces the frequency of consultation from once every three years to once every six years. The argument in favour of a three-year period was partly that it coincides with the period for crime prevention policies. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, did not greatly care for that argument and he has made that clear. However, it also strikes a balance between the provision of a stable operating environment for business on the one hand, and the flexibility that licensing authorities need to address changing local circumstances on the other.

In Committee, it was argued that the Government do not intend to give much local latitude or freedom to licensing authorities in determining their licensing policy. That is not the case. It would be the case if we agreed to the amendments, or it would be closer to being the case. What we are requiring is that local

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licensing authorities should have regard to the statutory guidance in carrying out their licensing functions. Opposition parties are in favour of turning that into regulation. In other words, they are in favour of reducing the scope for local differences and local responsibility for licensing authorities. They are in favour of increasing the power of the Secretary of State. Again, so be it. That is their position. I hope that they do not have to defend it in public.

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