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The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth: Amendment No. 91 and Clause 3 are key here. The word "safeguard" comes to mind. There is great concern in the Committee about the nature of this legislation. I hope that these amendments are given careful consideration.
Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: I have sympathy for my noble friend in bringing forward these amendments given where we are at this stage of the Bill and at this hour of the night. I do not intend to sound patronising, but the Government redeemed themselves considerably in the Minister's response to the last grouping.
Given that we are not making rapid progress on the Bill, I ask myself why the Government are so consistently in trouble on it. I have taken the egotistical liberty of going back to the National Lottery Bill, a measure not dissimilar in terms of breaking new ground and being pressed on us in part
The Government have shown great stamina in pursuing this issue since 1998. But they have been a little infirm of purpose in not ploughing an absolutely straight furrowI do not use the word "straight" in any sense implying intellectual dishonestyover those four years. Thus they left the total constituency, everybody involvedthe industry and the local authoritiesin some doubt as to their ultimate intention.
On the National Lottery Bill we sought to be utterly transparent. I was not present for Second Reading. I know the Minister had a problem with her voice. Perhaps because of that she was not interrupted. When I moved the Second Reading of the National Lottery Bill in the other place, I spoke for one hour and gave way every other minute. We did so deliberately to show that we had absolutely nothing to hide. I do not blame the Government. I simply say that the difficulties we are experiencing are partly attributable to suspicions about some aspects of the Bill. A considerable element of resolution therefore exists on this side of the House to get at what the Government's real intentions are.
To revert to the lottery, the consequence of the manner in which we played it was that the guidance to the lottery distributors had regard to exactly the same principle to which the noble Lord referred a moment ago. We did not have any difficulty at all. I know the Government may be troubled about the length of time it is taking us, but there is a desire to get this Bill right. If we do not get it right, we are sleep-walking into trouble.
Baroness Blackstone: Of course, I take the issues raised in this short debate by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, and others, seriously. The noble Baroness asked me to do so, and I do. I can say to the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, that I have absolutely nothing to hide. It is in the interests of neither the Government nor this Committee to try to hide things. Far from it.
Clause 177 of the Bill allows the Secretary of State to issue and revise guidance to licensing authorities on the discharge of their functions under the Bill. Clause 4 requires licensing authorities to have regard to any such guidance in carrying out their licensing functions, as my noble friend Lord McIntosh of Haringey spelt out several times with regard to the previous group of amendments.
Amendments Nos. 35 and 91 are intended to replace the guidance that the Secretary of State may issue under the Bill with regulations. The regulations could be issued or renewed only with the approval of both Houses of Parliament. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State would have to come to Parliament every three years to renew the regulations. The guidance that the Bill provides for my right honourable friend the Secretary of State to issue will be
There are two issues. One is whether the guidance should be subject to scrutiny by Parliament. I have certainly noted the recommendation of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee that a mechanism should be made available for guidance to be debated by each House. Of course, I take that recommendation seriously and will consider how we ought to proceed.
We must consider what scrutiny is appropriate, but I doubt that the full panoply of secondary legislation renewable every three years is the most useful way to proceed. For a start, it would make for an extremely inflexible system. In the light of the licensing authorities' experience of the new regime, it may be necessary to revise the guidance. That happens from time to time, when governments provide guidance for local authorities and others. The revisions might be minor, but they might need to be made quite frequently.
The power in the Bill for the Secretary of State to issue guidance to the licensing authorities is designed to provide those authorities with an accessible and readily usable best practice guide. It will inform them of the types of matters that the Secretary of State considers likely to need to be taken into account as they reach their decisions and exercise their licensing functions generally. It is not intended to set out prescriptive rules that must be adhered to in all cases by all authorities, when they take decisions and exercise their general functions. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Renton, is not now in his place, but I think that that is what he was referring to, when he spoke on the previous group of the undesirability of having such rigidity. My noble friend Lord McIntosh of Haringey then explained that the guidance would not be rigid but flexible.
Regulations would be rigid, and that would be inappropriate, as the system must be responsive to local conditions and needs, which will differ from authority to authority and application to application. It is not an area for prescription of the degree of detail and scope of application. That would be the case if the guidance were replaced by regulations, as the amendment would provide. I must tease the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, as she teased the Government for being too prescriptive. The noble Baroness is now asking, in this group of amendments, that the Government should be more prescriptive. She is asking for regulations, instead of guidance.
I hope that noble Lords will agree that approaching guidance through regulations would not be appropriate. We must think of a way that would give a genuine opportunity for scrutiny but, at the same time, allowed the Government and the licensing authorities sufficient room for manoeuvre to adapt to emerging experience and changing conditions.
The other issue is certainty about what the guidance will contain. Of course, I understand that there is anxiety about that. I understand the concerns that have been expressed about the guidance which the Secretary of State would issue were the Bill to become law. There would be advantages as we consider aspects of the Bill if that guidance were already available in full. I appreciate that.
For that reason, we have already provided Parliament with a framework document which makes clear what the guidance will contain and its rangealthough, admittedly, not all the detail. We are prepared to address this concern and to enable scrutiny if the framework has not fully met the point for some noble Lords.
There are two reasons why the guidance itself is not yet available. First, as the framework makes clear, a lot of it is technical material that requires detailed preparation. Secondly, some of it raises important issues on which it is vital for us to consult stakeholders. I understand the wish to see the guidance in its full form. However, it is equally true that we would have been accused of being rather presumptuous if before today we had completed the technical work and consulted stakeholders on guidance for a Bill that had only just received its Second Reading.
Today I am unable to undertake to produce guidance of this complexity in a couple of weeks. Indeed, I cannot commit Ministers in other departments which are involved to consider the guidance in a few days and set aside the usual conventions of collective agreement. However, given the strength of views on this point, I am willing to undertake to examine what can be done, while respecting all the points that I have made, and to examine whether an early draft can be exposed for consideration by noble Lords before the Bill completes its stages in this House.
Clause 177 provides that the Secretary of State may issue and revise guidance to licensing authorities on the discharge of their functions under the Bill. Subsection (2) provides that the Secretary of State must arrange for guidance issued or revised to be published in such a manner as he considers appropriate. The guidance issued under this clause will be provided for licensing authorities, but, by providing that it must be publicised, it would be widely available to the police, operators of licensed premises, their legal advisers and the general public. It will be a key mechanism for ensuring consistent application of a licensing regime across England and Wales and for promoting fairness and proportionality. Licensing authorities will be required by the provisions of Clause 4 to have regard to this guidance.
Perhaps I may briefly turn to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold. A single premises licence can cover all the activities to which the noble Lord refers and it would last for the life of the business involved. Equally, a temporary premises licence can be obtained under Part 3. That licence could be time limited and cover any number of people. However, I look forward to listening to the amendments that he put forward when we reach that stage of the Bill.