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Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. I repeat the apology that I have already made for my careless mistake. My only excuse was that there was a jump at incredible speed in our proceedings, which took me quite by surprise.
Lord Redesdale: My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord. I was waiting for him to rise at that time. But perhaps proceedings on a Statement gave an indication that we were moving more slowly than we actually were.
I believe that Amendment No. 1 is, if not a wrecking amendment, in the spirit of a wrecking amendment, although the noble Lord has denied that. It would go to the very heart of what the Bill is about. It has been our party policy for some time to remove the ability to deal with licensing issues from the magistracy to the local authority.
The debate that has taken place on the matter in this House is worth repeating, especially if the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, is to take this amendment to a Division. Magistrates have done a wonderful job, but there is a change in the nature of magistrates. The noble Lord, Lord Brooke, expressed concern to me that some magistrates dealing with licensing in Soho did not live in Soho. Therefore, he found the argument that magistrates can be local somewhat surprising in that instance. He felt that they did not represent the views of local people.
Lord Redesdale: My Lords, of course I cannot. I would be incredible if I could tell your Lordships how many councillors live in each borough. In a survey of 1,000 publicans, 90 per cent said that they were unhappy at local authorities taking over as licensing authorities. We have some sympathy with that point of view. The issue of public entertainment licences has been raised many times in this House. It has caused more unhappiness among publicans and the public than almost any other issue. Music is the issue that we have addressed vociferously throughout the stages of the Bill. However, the fact that 90 per cent of publicans would oppose the change was addressed when the Government discussed setting time limits and clear guidelines which would regulate the time that it would take for licensing decisions to be reached. We were happy that the Government put that viewpoint forward.
There is much in the Bill with which we are unhappy. The Government have been on the receiving end of many Divisions. However, if we were to support this amendment, it would be to try to kill the Bill in all but name, and I believe that there is some merit in the Bill.
Lord Carlisle of Bucklow: My Lords, I want to speak briefly in support of my noble friend Lord Peyton. It has been said by Members on the Government and Opposition Front Benches that this is, indeed, an important Bill. It is the first serious attempt to reform the licensing laws so far as they relate to the sale of alcohol or the provision of entertainment for many years. It provides many new powers.
Equally central, simple but important, is the decision of who is best able to be the licensing authority to implement the powers given by this Bill. Is it to be the magistrates who for years have had that responsibility as regards alcohol licensing? Or is it to be the local authority? For four simple but important reasons, I believe that the magistrates are the right people to remain the licensing authority.
The first reason is the experience of the magistrates. I declare perhaps a past rather than a present interest as someone who appeared from time to time in licensing applications. I have never heard any serious criticism made of the conduct of licensing magistrates. Nor, indeed, do I believe that the Government have advanced, during the course of the Bill, any such arguments against them. They have experience which a local authority does not have.
The second reason is that it is inevitable that the Bill will lead to a great many public hearings. By their knowledge and their experience, magistrates are well versed in conducting public hearings. Local authorities have not had that experience. Public hearings will be necessary when anyone who is a relevant person takes objection to an application that is made. Throughout the years, magistrates have built a consistency in this matterby knowledge, by experience and by their ability to hear witnesses and evaluate evidence. That knowledge and experience is not open to local authorities.
The third reason is that an application, or the importance of an application, will often go wider than the areas of a single local authority. I believe that the magistrates have a greater knowledge of a wider locality than that which is open to the individual member of a local authority.
Fourthly, and most importantly, is the recognised impartiality of magistrates. I believe that the recognised impartiality of the magistrates is inevitably far greater than that of the local authority. The local authority, which, by its very nature, is subject to election and to votes, is bound to be liable, or accused of being liable, to pressures which cannot be put on an independent judiciary.
For those four reasons, I hope that the House will support the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, today. I do not believe that Amendment No. 1 is a wrecking amendment, as the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, said. Clearly, it will require consequential amendments.
Lord Taylor of Blackburn: My Lords, I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, on this matter. I served as a licensing magistrate for 25 years. I also served as a member of a local authority for 25 years. I look at issues no differently when adjudicating as a licensing magistrate or when sitting as a member of the local authority. The same person is looking at the issue with the same set of eyes and listening to the same evidence.
During the 25 years that I served as a magistrate, their role and duties changed greatly. Therefore, magistrates do far more now than when I first sat on various Benches. It is more sensible for local authorities to undertake this responsibility because it would fit well with the rest of their licensing duties. In proposing this, I am sorry to say that the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, is completely out of date as regards the current situation.
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, but alas without his humour and wit. I, too, want what I would regard as a more satisfactory explanation of why this change is being sought. I hear what the previous speaker has to say, but it is certainly not my experience, nor the experience of many of my friends who are magistrates. They are not so overworked that they could not continue in this role as well as taking on any extension of duties required under the Bill.
I must reinforce my apology. I am afraid that I was in hospital when the debate on Second Reading was held. I hope that the House will forgive me for not being present. I read all the speeches and was particularly impressed by the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe. She made the point extremely clearly but rather to my surprise was not supported. That allowed the Minister off the hook somewhat when he came to reply.
I turn to what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Carlisle. It is the merits of independence, objectivity and what magistrates bring to their local communities that are so important. The point made that magistrates are not local people is absolutely not the case. Perhaps they do not live in Sohothey may live just around the cornerbut it is certainly my experience that magistrates are local people and much affected by their local communities. I was surprised by the extraordinary comment of the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, in his response to the debate that magistrates are accountable to no one but themselves and to the system by which they are appointed. I should have thought that they were very accountable to local communities and, indeed, accountable to the law they administer.
If judicial functions are to be introduced, such as the prevention of local nuisance in a community, I should have thought that this was yet another reason why the judicial role of magistrates would be most effective, working in, as it were, the field situation. I understand that appeals can be made against what is proposed.
I shall listen to the Minister's response before deciding which way to vote if the matter is pressed to a Division. I should like to think that more consideration will be given to this proposal. We hear that consultation has taken place. What was the reaction of the Magistrates' Association to the proposal? Does it welcome the change with open arms? Have the Government made any estimate of the extra cost likely to be incurred as a result of this change? Comments from local magistrates' Benches that I have heard indicate that local authorities are likely to face a considerable increase in costs for premises, new staff and training. I shall repeat a point made by many noble Lords on Second Reading; the exercise may well take a great deal longer than the six months originally proposed.
Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, did not take my name in vain. The fact that I am on my feet presumably indicates that. But he did refer to me and therefore I seek to add a footnote to his remarks. In conversation with my noble friend Lord Peyton, I have advised him of the particular circumstances.
I indicated in Committee that residents in the West End, when appearing before magistrates, have been told by those magistrates when coming to their conclusions that anyone who chooses to live in the West End should know what they are going to experience. Such remarks were hurtful to those who appeared at the hearings. They have lived in Soho all their lives and therefore had not in fact lived anywhere else. It was not a decision on their part to come and live in Soho.
I am conscious that, in many of our debates on the Bill, I have concentrated on the Soho experience and the experience between Covent Garden and Bayswater, but I am also conscious that the Select Committee in another place is taking evidence from residents in Soho to find out what their experience has been like on the ground and in their own homes.
My noble friend Lord Onslow asked whether any councillors live in Soho. Some time ago there were two independent councillors in Soho, both of whom lived in the ward. An accusation was levelled that the party I represent in this House was not adequately representing residents in the West End. Latterly, ever since that intervention back in the 1970s, Westminster City councillors for the West End ward have lived in Soho or in Mayfair, the other constituent part of the ward. Although certain boundaries were recently
By contrast, I think I am right in saying that only one magistrate who takes part in the hearings in Westminster actually lives in the City of Westminster. It is clear that he is living outside the inner city experience. That is what makes so deeply wounding the comments aimed at residents of Soho to the effect that they should not come to live in Soho if they do not want the noise; the magistrate himself has not had the experience.
I wish to say to my noble friend Lord Carlisle of Bucklow that, when contested, a large number of hearings are held on entertainment licences in Westminster. So it is not the case that the local authority is without experience of carrying out such hearings.
Finally, I have conducted an extremely civilised correspondence with one brewer, but I am not conscious of having received any representations from the Magistrates' Association. Therefore it does not seem to me to have been an issue quite so central to the Bill as perhaps has been suggested.
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