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The noble Lord said: This is a technical amendment to the existing clause. It does not change policy, aims or the ways of achieving those aims. It is merely, as I understand it, a drafting measure proposed by parliamentary counsel. I beg to move.
The noble Baroness said: This is another amendment suggested, although not sponsored, by the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, the British Retail Consortium and the Association of Convenience Stores. We had a canter around the edges of this with Amendment No. 88 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Addington. As the Bill currently stands, under subsection (8) of Clause 13, the local authority can make an order designating a locality even if the eight-week period following the publication of the action plan has not expired.
My amendment would ensure that a local authority cannot act in a pre-emptive way. We would argue that an action plan should be allowed time to work and for its effectiveness to be monitored and assessed. I am not looking at the situation, as the Minister did earlier, in which nothing is happening; I understand that it is not getting worse. I am looking at a situation in which local businesses have signed up to the action plan and are working with good will to deliver it. I do not want
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us to be in a position in which the local authority can then simply ignore all the work that is being done and say that it will go ahead and jack in the period of waiting and designate the area.
The Government have emphasised that they hope that the action plan would itself be the means to solve the problem of alcohol disorder and that the action plan should be allowed to work its course. That underpinned the arguments made by the Ministers in the other place. That would give local businesses involved in putting the plan into effect the chance to ensure that they can co-operate with each other and with the local authority to contribute to reducing the problems, and give them the chance that they want to avoid having the extra charges placed on them at the end. My amendment means that, if they are making a real effort but have not got as far as finishing the work that is supposed to be done in that period, do not clobber them by going straight into designation. I beg to move.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: This is another debate about process, but an important one. Amendment No. 89 covers implementation of the action plan and would provide that a local authority could not designate an alcohol disorder zone if the whole action plan is, or the majority of its steps are, being implemented. As we have made fairly plain from the start, the action plan is the real prize here and the core of what we are trying to achieve. I cannot see that there would be a case in which a local authority would wish to move to designate an ADZ when all the steps in the action plan were in the process of being carried out.
What about when the majority of steps in the action plan were being put into effect? I can see that there may be some cases in which the local authority may decide that, if this was the case, designation was unnecessary. On the other hand, what if the remaining steps were absolutely critical? In such circumstances, the local authority might well decide, perhaps reluctantly, to move to designation.
We believe that the Bill is drafted to provide a robust and flexible framework within which those affected can work. When it is clear that designation is not appropriate, when steps are being taken to implement the action plan, and there is sufficient flexibility to manage situations where the action plan falls short on some of the steps, I do not think that we want to tie local authorities' hands in these cases. So the spirit of what the noble Baroness proposes is already there in the Bill's drafting, and the flexibility is there to proceed as she suggests. Like her, we do not want to see businesses being overburdened with unnecessary costs, because things are moving along as we want them to. That goes back to a point that I have made on several occasions before that ADZs are a last resort and that we hope that before we get to that point local authorities can work with the police and those businesses involved to secure the outcome that they all want to mitigate or deal with the problem.
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: I am grateful to the Minister for the way he has tried to set out the answer
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to show that the Government expect local authorities to behave in the way I want. The trouble is that that is not what the Bill allows local authorities to do.
The amendment is all about processhe is quite correct about thatbut it is important. He says that he cannot see that there would be a case where the local authority would go ahead if all the action plan was being put into effect. I agree that it would be extraordinaryI am trying to use parliamentary languageif it did go ahead with the plan in those circumstances. He also says that the Bill allows the authority to do it. It can just finish and say "Right, that's it. We'll designate".
The Minister then asks: what if most of the action plan is being implemented, but the parts that are not are the essential partsthat is, those that would sign, seal and deliver the whole action plan? I rather suspect that this is exactly what will have to happen. If one has a period of eight weeks during which an action plan is to be put into effect, it will take some time to hit the ground running to be able to get the initial stages set up. I suspect a lot of the essential work will be crammed into the latter part of the period of the action plan. If, therefore, a local authority decided at any time, say halfway through, that it really wanted to go ahead and designate, it might in fact be pre-empting the ability of traders to put into effect the essential steps. They would not have had the chance to do so in the first part.
I know the Minister says that the spirit is there in the Bill. I agree with him 100 per cent when he says that designation of alcohol disorder zones is the last resort, but that is not what this specific part of the Bill says. It does not have that rigour. What he has said is right, but that is not what the Bill says. The licensed trade feels strongly about this, so I do not think the Minister will be too surprised if on this particular issue I wish to test the opinion of the Committee.
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