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Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, I apologise and ask noble Lords' indulgence for saying a brief word on Amendment No. 50, which we have already debated. The Minister, and indeed noble Lords who have been following these proceedings, will recall that Amendment No. 50 was placed in the middle of a previous group. In my innocence as a novice in your Lordships' House, I felt that it would be wrong to speak to the amendmentwhich embodied the Government's commitment in Committee to bring forward an amendment at Report stagein advance of the Minister speaking to it herself. As soon as she sat down, my noble friend Lady Buscombe withdrew the lead amendment, which she had moved. It was therefore not possible to comment on government Amendment No. 50. I shall speak very briefly to it. However, as it was a central issue in Committee, I should like to have the opportunity to react to it.
The draft guidance was a big step forward in recognising that cumulative impact is a valid consideration for licensing policy statements and in the determining of licensing applications. Licensing authorities can consider if the granting of further premises licences would undermine the licensing objectives.
Cumulative impact would have to be addressed in the context of the individual merits of the application. That is the opposite of the way in which a local authority might wish to consider it; that is, the local authority might wish to consider the individual merits of a case in the context of cumulative impact.
Saturation policies are not regarded as grounds to remove existing licences. The stress area policies of a local authority such as Westminster, and the way in which they are applied, very generally conform to the view of saturation areas in the guidance, but they
The responsibilities of a local authority are many and varied. It is necessary that they are organised into departments and sections where the required specialist knowledge to carry out those responsibilities resides. A detailed understanding of licensing policy will not always be part of the knowledge base of officers in planning departments, environmental health departments or the council officers who are responsible for the day-to-day routine of processing licence applications.
It is a matter to which we can obviously return on a future occasion, but it would be helpful if the Bill could allow for local authorities to operate as they do at present, with an officer of a licensing authority who takes no part in processing or determining the application advising those who do perform those functions what the authority's licensing policy has to say about an application. That has operated successfully for many years and it would be helpful if it could continue to do so.
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for apologising for returning to the matter at this point. It would, of course, have been open to him to speak to any amendment in the group when the group was discussed. As regards the point he made, the Government believe that they have made a considerable concession both in terms of the way in which the guidance has now been drafted and in making local planning committees one of the groups that can make representations. I have no doubt that, in taking on that function, planning officers will acquire the expertise that is needed. They will also work closely with officials responsible for licensing with regard to a planning issue and questions of saturation that may need to be discussed. I am confident that the system will work perfectly well.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 51, and Amendment No. 53 which is grouped with it, are important amendments if local democratic accountability is to be preserved. The Bill provides in Clause 18 that applications are to be granted in the absence of relevant representations made by an interested party or a responsible authority. The Bill requires licensing authorities to promote the licensing objectives as set out in Clause 4, and to have regard to the licensing statement and, as the Bill stands at present, any guidance issued by the Secretary of State.
It ought to be the case that a licensing authority should have the power to refuse an application for a premises licence in a case where the licensing objectives would not be promoted by a grant and/or where to grant the application would be contrary to the licensing statement or the guidance issued by the Secretary of State.
The licensing authority should therefore be entitled to take into account the licensing objectives, its policy and guidance, even where there are not relevant representations from interested parties. As the Bill was originally drafted, the licensing authority itself could make relevant representations only in its capacity as an environmental health authority under Clause 13(4)(d). Although we welcome the fact that the Government listened to representations made in Committee that the provision was far too narrow, and recognise that under government Amendment No. 50 a planning officer from a local authority will be able to make representations, we still feel that this is unnecessarily restrictive. Thus, either Amendment No. 51 or Amendment No. 53I refer to the Minister's helpful remarks on Amendment No. 50 in this contextwill enable the licensing authority to draw to its own attention, by means of making relevant representations, the impact of a grant upon the licensing objectives, its policy and central government guidance. I sought to illustrate the manner in which that might be done in my remarks on Amendment No. 50. I beg to move.
Baroness Buscombe: My Lords, I support Amendments Nos. 51 and 53 in the name of my noble friend Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville. This is an important issue. It must be right for the local authority to have a say, even where there are not relevant representations from interested parties. It would be otiose of me to repeat all that my noble friend said. However, I make it clear that we support very much Amendments Nos. 51 and 53.
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, the promotion of the licensing objectives underpins the Bill. The duty on a licensing authority is to carry out its functions with a view to promoting the licensing objectives. By way of general comment on these amendments, it is difficult to see why reference is made to enhancing the duty when the duty is an absolute obligation.
Judgment of the merit of an application against the licensing objectives should be left to the experts. The experts on crime and disorder, and the protection of children from harm are the police, and so the police have a voice. The experts on public safety are the health and safety and fire authorities, and so they have a voice too. The experts on public nuisance are the local environmental health authority. It follows that they should have a voice too, and the Bill provides them with one. The experts in what it is like to live and do business in a particular area are local residents and businesses. As I have said on a number of occasions, we are providing them with a voice in the licensing regime for the first time.
What we are not doing, however, is allowing the licensing authority to make representations in its own right. One of the fundamental principles of the Bill is that applications should be granted administratively where the experts have not raised any concerns about them. Where those circumstances apply, there is no reason for the licensing authority as regulatory authority to give a second opinion to those experts, and it would be wrong to give it that opportunity. These amendments would turn that state of affairs on its head, and the Government cannot accept them. That said, we recognise the need for licensing authorities to be able to address local issues effectively, and, as noble Lords know, we have brought forward a package to do just that.
First, to give a further expert voice on the licensing objectives, particularly on issues relating to cumulative effect, we have added the local planning authority to the list of responsible authorities that the licensing authority must consult on an application. Under the Bill therefore, the relevant experts will have a voice, and the notion that the licensing authority will ever be in the position of being powerless to address a pressing local circumstance is, frankly, unrealistic.
Furthermore, we have made it clear in the guidance that a licensing authority may include in its licensing policy statement reference to the cumulative effect of licensed premises, where such an effect can be demonstrated to exist on the promotion of the licensing objectives, and the fact that this will be taken into account in determining applications. It will then be open to, for example, the police and the environmental health authority to make representations concerning cumulative effect and its impact on the licensing objectives in relation to an application.
If we accept these amendments, we drive at the very heart of the Bill, and there is no reason to do so, particularly in view of the additional measures that we have provided. We must remember that many people affected by the Bill are concerned, to say the least, by their fearswhich I hope are largely unfoundedof local authority officers acting over-zealously or with scant regard for the real world. The amendment would exacerbate those concerns, and I very much hope that it will be withdrawn.
Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for what she said. However, she did not explain precisely why, if local authorities have had such an officer fulfilling that role and therefore becoming expert in it with great effectiveness over many years, it is sensible to throw away that particular virtue. I will not go back to arguments about conservatism, but the fact remains that it is a tried and proven part of the licensing process that historically has worked well.
I shall not engage the Minister in a Socratic dialogue about the particular kind of expertise that an officer who had historically fulfilled that role would have. However, I am quite certain that Socrates, in dialogue with her, would do an admirable job in regard to whether it was sensible to dispose of the person who had that expert quality.
I have not consulted anyone else in the House before saying what I am about to say. As the resource is valuable under the existing system, is known to work well and does not seem, at least to me, to have any down side or disadvantage, it would seem sensible to test the opinion of the House.