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Baroness Buscombe: My Lords, I shall be brief. First, I thank my noble friend Lord Peyton of Yeovil for his extremely kind words in relation to the Bill. I remind your Lordships that this is a subject on which I spoke at some length at Second Reading and in Committee. I asked then that the Government consider an evidence-based approach—something which they applauded when discussing earlier Bills. It is important that we understand the issues behind the reasoning for the move from magistrates to local authorities. I believe that the response I received in Committee fell short of all the issues. As my noble

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friend Lord Peyton of Yeovil said, the Government appeared to be tiptoeing—a fitting expression—around the most important issues.

This is an important issue. As previously said, it is a hearts and minds issue that needs to be won. There is concern in some areas of the industry that the Government have not given enough reasons as to why the move is being made.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I support Amendment No. 263 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Peyton of Yeovil. I, too, had hoped to contribute at Report, but found that the amendment was not moved—or if it was, it was not debated.

I declare an interest as a justice of the peace, although now on the supplemental list. I was out of action during the earlier stages of the Bill but I read the Hansard report of Second Reading and Committee. I was considerably surprised at how little attention was given at either stage to the change of licensing authorities from licensing magistrates to local authorities. I should mention that the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe—whose speeches at Second Reading and in Committee I have read—made a gallant effort to elicit a satisfactory response as to why such a change was felt to be necessary. But she received little support from any Benches; nor, in my opinion, a convincing or informative answer from the Ministers. One reason given by the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, was that it would be considered as going to the heart of the Bill and would, therefore, be seen as a wrecking amendment.

Having checked that point with the Public Bill Office, I understand that their view is that that is not the case. I confess to not being a lawyer, but the amendment—both the original and this one—moved by the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, appears to replace local authorities with magistrates as the licensing authorities. If it was Parliament's wish, the rest of the Bill could remain the same. So why is it a wrecking amendment?

As the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, said, there are other important issues. Why replace well-trained, well-trusted bodies with people who will need to be trained? There probably will be more costs involved than anyone has taken into account. Perhaps more significantly, but more delicately, the greater objectivity and even transparency that justices bring to their judicial decision-making is important. Without wishing to cast dispersion on local authorities, your Lordships are all too aware of the pressures that constituencies with certain axes to grind can bring to bear.

Again, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, and apologise to your Lordships' House for raising the issue at this stage. However, I hope that the noble Lord will be allowed to raise it again at Third Reading in order that a more satisfactory answer will be obtained. I fully understand if we do not receive an answer now.

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8 p.m.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, as the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, indicated, the House should not expect much of an answer now because the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, is to table amendments for further debate at Third Reading, irrespective of what I say. That makes for a most interesting debate. I am replying to a debate in which no one will listen who has actually contributed thus far.

However, I shall speak briefly into the void. I recognise the inadequacies of the debate in Committee. I have no doubt that there will be inadequacies at this stage, not least because I fear that we are speaking to a thin House about an amendment which may not be wrecking but goes so much to the heart of the Bill that it totally transforms the legislation. The Government propose that the new licensing authorities should be local authorities, and here is an amendment saying, "No. Why don't you stay with the people who have been administering licences for pubs and for the sale of alcohol over the past decades?" If that is not fundamental to the Bill, I do not know what is. It seems rather strange that we are being asked to debate this substantial issue at this late stage in our considerations. But so be it.

Let us be absolutely clear. Of course we pay tribute to what licensing authorities have done in the past. Magistrates have done an excellent job. But times change. Let me say straight away to the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, that, if he has his wishes, magistrates will be invested with continuing responsibility not only with regard to alcohol licensing but for all the other licences for which local authorities are presently responsible. Responsibility for five other categories of licensing regimes will be placed upon magistrates. I do not think that anyone has suggested that that should be the way in which the issue should be resolved.

It is a common misunderstanding that magistrates, in their capacity as licensing justices, sit as a magistrates' court. That is not so. They were established as an administrative committee elected by the magistrates in the relevant petty sessions area because the job that they do is not a judicial job, although the role has certain judicial aspects to it; predominantly it is an administrative role. The reason why we say that that administrative role should now be vested in the local authorities is simply that there are two important practical considerations to take into account.

First, since 1998, the local authorities have given the lead locally on crime prevention strategies and partnerships. We all recognise that the public good requires a real consideration of the relationship between alcohol and crime, and the local authorities are well placed to give that lead.

Secondly, local authorities are now overwhelmingly the licensing authorities for five of the regimes that we seek to integrate. This is a deregulating Bill to reduce the burdens of red tape on the industry. It aims to bring the licensing authorities into one complete entity to deal with the range of issues. Only local authorities can conceivably be expected to undertake that responsibility.

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Thirdly, as an administrative concept, in principle—I ask the noble Lord this, because he has a long record in democratic politics which we all respect—to whom does he think the magistrates are responsible when they carry out their role? The answer is that they are responsible to each other and the way in which they have been selected for the Bench. To whom does the noble Lord think the local authorities are responsible? He knows very well that they are responsible to their communities.

Surely it is only right, when dealing with a regime that so affects the local community, that we should seek to make the licensing authority responsible to the local community rather than to a select group within it. That is a further principle which I hope the noble Lord shares with me. He may well disregard everything that I have said, regard this as an inconsequential response from the Government Front Bench and table his amendments. But I assure him that they will be resisted, on principle and in practice, because this is the fundamental basis of the Bill.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, I shall resist the temptation to reply to the noble Lord at considerable length. I hope that I shall have an opportunity to do so at a later stage.

The only point I want to make is that he is not entitled to saddle the Opposition with acceptance of the Government's intentions and the validity of those intentions. The Opposition, too, has its convictions; it has its notions and ideas. I have given voice to them only briefly. I have done so because I am profoundly disturbed that we have arrived at this stage of the Bill without having had an opportunity to challenge the Government on this particular step and to get them to give their reasons in full. That will do. In the circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 8 [Transitional provision etc.]:

[Amendments Nos. 264 to 266 not moved.]

Lord Avebury moved Amendment No. 267:


    Page 155, line 27, at end insert "which shall include a supplement to recoup local authority costs of preparation and implementation of the requirements of this Act"

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I move this amendment on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, with his approval, as before. I shall not say that I shall be brief, because I shall be—unlike those who say so and do not carry out their undertakings.

This is a probing amendment. It arises out of an anxiety expressed by the City of Westminster to the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, concerning the start-up costs of the new regime. The council does not want to impose any additional burdens on the entertainment industry, but it would like an explanation from the Government as to what funding will be available from central government to enable local authorities to cover the start-up costs for the new licensing regime. At

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present, the council says that it has not received any kind of answer from the department on this vital matter.

The council has done some assessments of the start-up costs that it will face. These are in the region of £100,000. That includes: training for the additional staff that it will have to take on; equipment; office accommodation; and the cost of transferring data from magistrates and for the policy and consultation work that will have to be done within the authority.

Those are preliminary estimates at this stage, but it is a fact that most local authorities will face substantial additional costs in terms of starting up and getting the new regime under way. I should be grateful if the Minister would clarify whether there will be any supplement on the fees or, if not, how the Government expect local authorities to be able to fund the start-up costs without transferring money from other essential services. I beg to move.


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