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Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I recognise the genuine concern that because of the exploitation of the current A3 use class, "superpubs" have been allowed to spring up by the back door. That is why, in a statement made today, my honourable friend Tony McNulty, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, announced his intention to change the use classes order so as to put pubs and bars into a separate class. The effect of that will be to require planning permission for such a change, closing the ability to exploit the planning development position.
The remaining amendments relate to Schedule 8 to the Bill which makes provision for transition from the current licensing system to the new one. Where a licence exists, an application may be made to convert it to a premises licence. The licensing authority must grant such an application subject only to possible objection from the chief officer of police. The Government agreed to include these provisions in the Bill following representations from the industry expressing concern that, without them, the industry would face damaging uncertainty about continued trading.
Schedule 8 also provides that a conversion application can be accompanied by an application to vary the converted licence. The Government hope that the majority of applicants will use this to take advantage of the opportunities which the Bill offers. Once the new regime is in operation, there will be potential for a review of the premises licence.
Amendment No. 270 would require that an application would also need to be accompanied by an application to modify the planning consent for the premises. The application would need to incorporate any conditions or undertakings on the existing licence or licences which would not be transferred to the new premises licence. Amendment No. 271 would further require the relevant authority not unreasonably to withhold planning permission for any such applications.
I have already stated that the conversions of existing licences will provide assurance to licence holders that they will, as a minimum, retain the authorisations enjoyed under their existing licences. The "two in a bar" exemption contained in the Licensing Act 1964, which we have of course previously debated at length, will not be continued. That exemption does not represent an authorisation under the terms of the existing licences, but is a freestanding provision in the 1964 Act. But the conversion will not affect other existing legally binding conditions such as planning conditions. On that point, therefore, the amendments are unnecessary.
The position on undertakings is a little more complicated. Undertakings are usually provided by applicants for licences in order to obtain their licences in circumstances where they might otherwise be refused. For instance, a pub might undertake to ensure that no customer leaves the premises with a glass after 10 o'clock at night. Such undertakings are a way of assuring licensing authorities that the licence holder will behave in a certain way, and thus dissuade them from refusing a licence application or granting it only with certain restrictive conditions.
However, these undertakings do not have any legal force. They may be considered now by licensing authorities when licences are being renewed. If the undertakings have been broken, that could lead to renewals being refused. But they cannot of themselves lead to a criminal prosecution as would be the case with licence conditions.
Therefore, should it be mandatory for applicants for licence conversions to provide information on these non-legal obligations? There is one key reason why I do not believe that it should. Under the Bill, interested parties and responsible authorities can request the review of any premises licence on a ground relating to the licensing objectives. This gives ample opportunity for residents, for instance, to seek recourse if any premises give rise to problems of crime and disorder or public nuisance.
I can assure the House that the Bill provides ample protection. It also provides more opportunities than at present for residents and others to seek a remedy if a premises causes a particular problem. I therefore see no need to require all applicants for licence conversion to face the additional hurdle of a mandatory
As to the amendments standing in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, we have already debated the merits of the transfer of undertakings to premises licences at some length but I shall rehearse some of our reasons for resisting these amendments again.
The attaching of existing conditions to a new licence under the conversion arrangements is already addressed by the Bill. Undertakings are a different matter. They do not have any legal force unless they themselves form conditions on the face of existing licences. They may be considered by licensing authorities when licences are being renewed and, if the undertakings have been broken, this could lead to the renewal of licences being refused. But they cannot of themselves lead to a criminal prosecution, as would be the case with licence conditions.
The question is therefore whether it should be mandatory for applicants for licence conversion under paragraph 2 to provide information on these non-legal obligations. There is one key reason why I do not believe that it should. Under the Bill, interested parties and responsible authorities can request the review of any premises licence on a ground relating to the licensing objectives. That gives plenty of opportunity for residents and others to seek a remedy if a licensee does something, or fails to do something, which was previously the subject of an undertaking, provided of course that the act or omission relates to the licensing objectives.
As we have said before, there is nothing to prevent the applicant providing additional material in his conversion application if he wants to. This could help assure local residents of his intentions in a similar way to an undertaking.
I can assure the House that the Bill provides the protections needed. It also provides more opportunities than at present for residents to seek a remedy if a premises causes a particular problem. There is nothing to be gained in transferring undertakings to premises licences and I therefore hope that these amendments will not be pressed.
Baroness Buscombe: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that full response. I am grateful that the Government have expressed a genuine concern about the current A3 use class. We are surprised and delighted by the statement from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, which may well have been made while we have been busy in your Lordships' House. We are pleased to learn that the Government intend to change use class orders and put pubs and bars in a separate class. We welcome that and appreciate the Government's move on the issue.
I heard what the Minister had to say about Amendments Nos. 270 and 271. I am sorry that there is to be no movement on them but I accept in large part what the Minister said in relation to them. As to Amendments Nos. 268, 272 and 273, I defer to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, who spoke on behalf of the
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for his support for the amendment and his welcome for the Government's statement today. These are important issues. As regards undertakings, I shall speak further with noble Lords before deciding whether or not to return with an amendment at Third Reading. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I cannot remember starting a speech in this way before. I hope that I shall enjoy the goodwill of the Government when I say that I shall be brief. If they are equally brief in reply I shall more than understand.
My position can be briefly stated. It is this. When the Report stage of the Bill started I was somewhat disappointed and surprised that more had not been made of one of the important moves initiated by the Billthat is the replacing of licensing justices with local authorities. I believed that there was bound to be an occasion during the Report stage when noble Lords would have a chance to put their views very clearly and to seek the opinion of the House. That did not happen.
I must accept that in some ways it was my own fault. I had tabled two amendments, the purpose of which was to preserve into eternity the licensing justices and to remove the peril of their being replaced by various local authorities. Unhappily, on the particular day that I was here, waiting with bated breath to take part in the debate, your Lordships suddenly made a bound forward with such speed that I was taken totally by surpriseI believe I can perhaps be forgiven for being surprisedand I failed to move the amendment. Amendment No. 263 is not very important. It seeks to preserve the definition of licensing justices and is key only when matched with the earlier amendment to Clause 3.
I have the greatest admiration for the way in which my noble friend on the Front Bench has conducted proceedings on the Bill. She has done so with great distinction, intelligence and eloquence. I appreciate that she is under some constraints from which I am comparatively, if not totally, free.
My worry is that the Government are removing licensing justiceswho are experienced, trusted and efficientand that local authorities will have to learn. They will have to start in a painful way by stating their policies. I expect that will be a muddled and confused affair. I promised to be brief and I shall therefore resist the temptation to quote from the guidance which the Secretary of State has graciously offered to local authorities on how to conduct their new roles. But that guidance will require a great deal more guidance, and
The point is that the Government are replacing what is known and works with what is new. Moreover, genuine fears are awakened among family brewers and licensees. I shall not quote figures because they will indicate only who is in favour of what. But suffice to say that there is a sufficient and genuine volume of anxiety on this point which concerns smaller businesses in the industry and individuals whose livelihoods are dependent on it. They are worried that proceedings under local authorities will be slower, and who can doubt that when looking at the evidence of planning procedures? They are also concerned that decisions are likely to be extremely varied in quality and that they may come up against bias, and that there will be more expense.
It is simply no good for Ministers to say that there is a right of appeal. That ignores the simple basic fact that appeals are an expensive procedure. I shall not dwell at length on the guidance so kindly offered by the Secretary of State. I shall turn to that at a later stage. Briefly, I refer to the colourful speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, when he referred to my noble friend Lord Hodgson as Scylla to match the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, as Charybdis. I do not see any similarity between my noble friend Lord Hodgson and a whirlpool.
However, in that speech, the Minister tiptoed with the utmost delicacy around all the real points of the Bill. He did not satisfy me in any way. Nevertheless, he proceeded with the utmost delicacy and did not put his foot on any particularly delicate plants.
I am being intentionally brief, but, in my opinion, there should have been an opportunity during the passage of the Bill for your Lordships to express a clear view on this issue of whether the licensing justices should be replaced by local authorities. It is my intention to table an amendment at Third Reading which will comprise the two amendments which I had proposed on Report. They are of fundamental importance to the Bill and noble Lords should have an opportunity to express their views. To ask anything tonight would be completely hopeless, but I give the Minister notice of my intention to table those amendments at Third Reading. I beg to move.
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