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Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, when the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, introduced his amendment, he said that it was not a wrecking amendment. Of course he is absolutely right, although it would radically alter the Bill. I think that it would probably alter it for the better and therefore I shall support it.
I must apologise to the House that this is the first time that I have intervened on the Bill. I have been active on other Bills and thus have not been able to take as much interest in this legislation as I would have liked.
My reason for speaking today is that I have received a letter from Arkells Brewery, a small, independent brewing firm based in Swindon, a constituency I once had the honour to represent in another place. The brewery was established in 1843 and thus has been operating for 160 years. It has expressed serious concerns about the transfer of licensing powers from magistrates to local authorities. The brewery, along with many others, fears that the local authority will not be as fair and impartial as the magistrates have been. Furthermore, local authorities are subject to electoral pressures as well as pressures from large organisations.
Arkells and other small businesses fear that local councils will be judge, jury and chief witness for the prosecution, and that they will ride roughshod over the interests of the little man. I think that those fears may be justified. They have not been assuaged by debate so far. Arkells and other breweries still feel that the Bill will injure their interests. This last ditch attempt by the noble Lord, Lord Peytonin this House anyway; another place can, of course, consider the matterto revert to licensing by local magistrates deserves proper consideration. Indeed, it is receiving it: the debate so far has been enlightening and interesting.
I appreciate that it has been the long-term aim of the Home Office and the Lord Chancellor's Department to phase out the lay magistracy. They deny it; but I was so concerned about this being the aim of the previous government that I went to see the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, to remonstrate with him on what I believed to be a threat to the local magistracy. He assured me that there was no such policy and that the government at that time believed in the lay magistracy. But he failed to convince me that I was wrong.
Events since then have confirmed what I said to the noble and learned Lord, and what I still believe. There has been the centralising process in regard to magistrates' courts and magistrates' courts committees, the transfer of functions to magistrates' clerks, the discouragement of people from joining the Bench by loading magistrates with training schedules which senior paid judges do not have
Lord Redesdale: My Lords, I apologise for interrupting the noble Lord's dissertation on magistrates, but in Committee we on these Benches welcomed the fact that the magistrates will act as the court of appeal for any licensing decision. So the idea that magistrates are being removed totally from the loop is perhaps unfortunate. Magistrates will have a central role in the implementation of the Bill's provisions, given the many disputes that will probably arise. They will play a full and active role in adjudicating on disputes.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, has pointed out, one of the problems will be the transitional arrangements. The breweriesI have mentioned Arkellsare not satisfied that they will receive a proper hearing in the first place; and they are concerned that in the last analysis the magistrates will not be able to overturn, or perhaps will not wish to overturn, the decisions arrived at by the local authorities. So, in spite of the discussions that have taken place in this House, businessessmall breweries in particularare not satisfied that they will get a fair hearing.
Lord St John of Fawsley: My Lords, I was totally silent, but someone of greater daring than myself called out "Why?". While I would never have dared or presumed to ask the question, I should be interested in the answer.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, the answer will have to be given by the small breweries themselves. Indeed, that is the answer that I have received from Arkells brewery: it is not satisfied with the arrangements under the Bill, which it believes will not assist it in its processes in the future. I hope that that helps the House.
The Earl of Liverpool: My Lords, I add my support to that received by the noble Lord, Lord Peyton. I very much hope that he may yet persuade my noble friend Lady Buscombe to support us. I know that she is in some difficulty over this matter, but she did speak on it with some feeling at Second Reading so we shall hope for the best. Certainly, my noble friend has support from those on the Benches behind him. I am sorry that the Liberal Democrats do not at this point feel able to support the amendment. They may yet be persuaded.
The Government's only justification for council control of licensing seems to be local accountability. But the draft guidelines now leave councils with very little discretion, and controversial cases will be appealed to the magistrates anyway. They will have the final say.
My noble friend Lord Peyton made a further important point; namely, that 94 per cent of licensees want to keep the control with the magistratesand with good reason. Magistrates already hold records of every licensee and every pub in the country. They have the knowledgeand they are apolitical, whereas local councils most certainly are not. There is a dangerous journey into the unknown. This provision could cause chaos in the six-months setting up stage. The only certainty is that licensing fees are guaranteed to increase at least tenfold. I believe that "if the system ain't broke, don't fix it". I very much hope that my noble friend will receive support for his amendment.
The Earl of Mar and Kellie: My Lords, the noble Earl has just described this as a "journey into the unknown". He need only go north of the Border to find that what the Bill proposes is very similar to the status quo in Scotland.
I completely agree with the Government on their aim; namely to deregulate and make pub licensing easier. How that can be done with a Bill which is 170-plus pages long, I do not know. Surely all they needed to do was to produce a Bill with a one-line clause stating: "Magistrates shall provide 24-hour licensing unless there is a reason not to do so". Then all the problems would have been dealt with simply. The magistrates do the job quite well at the moment.
To take up the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, I intervened on the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, about magistrates not living in Soho because I wondered whether he knew the number of councillors. It was a question of seeking information, not of making a political point against one or another. The magistrates have carried out the task well up to now. I know that there is the wonderful story of Captain Bunbury, whose forebears invented the Derby. He slept on the Bench after lunch and said: "Take six months"; and the man was carted down to the cells. The clerk told him that all the man was doing was applying for a half-hour extension to his licence on Sunday afternoon. That was in the 1930s, and things have moved on a little since then.
On the whole, the system has worked well. Of course we want to liberalise, but I do not think liberalisation will have an effect on yob drinking. The Nordic races have been into that for a long time: Garibaldi sent back his English volunteers because they insisted on getting drunk in Campania. I cannot see that the Naples kings ran a licensing system to which people adhered.
Liberalise by all means, but leave licensing with the magistrates because it makes more sense. Having a Bill of 170 pages containing all the stuff about licensing and music licensing is not liberalising but complicated and expensive to administer.
Lord Selsdon: My Lords, I had not intended to speak but suddenly I remembered my inglorious past. I was involved in pop music and licensing when I had two jobs. I worked for six years as chairman of the Greater London Council and South East Council for Sport and Recreation. I also chaired a body called an arena to which about 12,500 people came in the evening.
I spent a lot of time dealing with licensing, often with special licences for sporting events. As your Lordships will know, the United Kingdom has 85 governing bodies for sport and each sport has to be treated differently. I found to my surprise that often I would be in a private room with the police, including the drugs squad, local authority environmental health officers, sometimes carrying their machine for measuring noise, other local authority representatives, the promoter and the ownersall representing a range of interests. Dealing with so many interests is difficult. Local authorities have a lot to do anyway, such as dealing with the enhancement of people's enjoyment of their dwelling place and health issues, but they do not have the sort of experience that has been gained by magistrates.
My first involvement was with a group called Duran Duran. It was something to do with my friend Sir Edward Heath, because they used to sing something called "Sailing". They arrived at one event; all the licences were in place and the police were trying to stop drug dealing and prevent alcohol from getting to those under age. Suddenly, halfway through, everyone lit candles. I did not know that when that group reached a certain point in their act, everyone in the audience would have a candle in their hand. The group would sway backwards and forward on the stage, which looked like it was threatening to collapse. I was then asked what group was on next. It was called something like Take That, and I said "Who?", and they said "No, not The Who, it's Take That".
I also found that because certain sporting events had water nearby, we had to have lifeguards, which the local sailing club would provide. But the local authority did not know anything. As this broadened out to cover Mecca, with ice-skating rinks around the country, I found that the people who knew about it were the magistrates. As the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Blackburn said, it would be wonderful if magistrates and councillors could have that dual schizophrenic knowledge.
I understand what the Government are trying to do, and ultimately it would be sensible for these matters to be covered by local authorities. There is a very steep learning curve and that learning curve is not possible. There will also be, as I found, conflicts of interest between a local authority wishing to promote or stop something and other bodies wishing to advance it.
The noble Lord, Lord Peyton, has raised an important issue. I believe this should be left with the magistrates unless and until the alternative can demonstrate that it has the ability to follow duty of care through. Your Lordships must consider the personal liabilities that often arise when an event takes place and there is an accident. It is a minefield and we do not have enough minesweepers in local authorities.
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