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Lord Williamson of Horton: I did not intervene earlier on the amendments relating to saturation, as I felt that the Government Front Bench was already saturated. However, I intervene here on Amendments Nos. 104 and 102, which are in this group, and to speak to the last point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, on the period. I repeat, as we are involved in such a long Committee stage, that I declare an interest as a non-executive director of Whitbread, which is a very large company in the leisure business but is not a brewer. It has sold many thousands of its pubs and is interested in the pub restaurant side of the business.
First, Amendment No. 104 relates to saturation. Amendment No. 87 relates to the Secretary of State's guidance and Amendment No. 111 relates specifically to the question of disorder or binge drinking. Amendment No. 104 goes wider, as it relates to the whole policy of a licensing authority. I noted carefully that the Minister said that she would consider again the question of saturation. I understand that, but I should like to exercise a note of caution.
In the earlier part of the debate, we heard much about Westminster and the stress areas in the centre of London. I fully understand the reason for that and appreciate the pointI am not criticising itbut while I was sitting here, my vision stretched further afield into the rest of England, where the situation is not entirely the same. Overall, the consumption of beer and the number of public houses are falling, and there is a huge move to the purchase of alcohol in supermarkets. We should bear in mind, when talking about saturation, that in small country towns and elsewhere there is another element to the question. We should not discourage competition in such areas. It would be extremely unsatisfactory if we created a situation whereby the existing pubs defended themselves against the arrival of newcomers on the basis that there would be saturation. If local authorities had to follow Amendment No. 104, that would be an overriding point in relation to their licensing policy.
Finally, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, that a three-year period is too short. We have a great tendency in this country to dig up everything that we have established in many areas of public life. I would be happy with a longer period, bearing in mind that there is always a possibility of review, and other clauses that are already in the Bill. The provision of a three-year basic fixed period is probably too short.
Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts: I intervene briefly. Since I shall speak to the next group of amendments on the period for review, I shall not address that question now. However, I should like to address Amendment No. 104 and the issue of saturation.
Several Members of the Committee have drawn attention to the increase in the number of high street and town centre licensed premises, which has led to undesirable social consequences. I understand that but, from a practical point of view, an economic readjustment may need to take place, in that market forces will drive several of the licensed premises out of business. Already, with the downturn in the economy and the lesser availability of spending money, those licensed premises are feeling the breeze most severely. If one is a reader of the City press, one will see that profit warnings are coming from the "pubcos", which are predominantly the operators of that type of premises. By comparison, the traditional public house with an established and long-lasting client base is doing rather better, whether it serves food as well or merely alcohol.
For those who are concerned about saturation and its undesirable consequences, the market may come to the rescue, and capacity forces will drive a number of the licensed premises out of business during the next year or two.
Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My name appears below the Liberal Democrat names on Amendments Nos. 96, 97, 102 and 104. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, and other Members of the Committee, that I have no intention of speaking further on Amendment No. 104, save to say, which I have not said before, that there is a degree of irony in the Deputy Prime Minister seeking to encourage more
Amendments Nos. 96, 97 and 102, to which the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, also referred, are probing to determine whether a licensing authority will be allowed to apply different policies to different areas and different types of licensing activity. Much of the debate has indicated why such flexibility would be desirable.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, for explaining how gremlins crept into some of the amendments. I sympathise, as I have had the same experience, and I am grateful for her explanation.
I begin with the three year period; my comments will also apply to the next group of amendments. We set a three-year period for good precedented reasons. The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 already imposes a requirement on local authorities to set out their crime prevention strategy on a three-yearly basis. That seems to work pretty wellthere have been no difficulties with it. In particular, there are advantages in co-ordinating the two approaches. In view of the relationship between crime and disorder issues that are recognised in the licensing objectives, it would be sensible for local authorities to time their review of licensing policies with their obligations under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. That is why we set the three-year period.
The noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, asked about what would happen if everything is all right after three years. How would the local licensing authority know that everything was all right unless it consulted local people? The opportunity provided by a review requires local authorities to consult local people and other interested persons. It is a protection. If the response is that everything is all right, the review will be a relatively straightforward procedure.
Amendments Nos. 102 and 103 would allow a local authority to have different licensing policies relating to different types of premises. That appears to raise all sorts of difficulties. What if one had different types of premises defined in different ways under different licensing authority areas? How will applicants for licences know what the criteria are and for which type of premises they should apply for a licence? Of course there are concerns about the different degrees of nuisance that can arise from different types of premises; we have been discussing that for the past two and a half hours.
My noble friend Lady Blackstone made it clear that we will revisit the issues raised by saturation. I do not believe that amendments allowing different licensing policies for different types of premises are appropriate or necessary. It is up to a local authority, if it wants to, to impose different conditions for different individual premises or for different types of premises. A premises licence can specify circumstances that are specific to the premises concerned.
Amendment No. 104 does not take us any further in our discussion of saturation and the aggregate number of licensed premises in any one area. I suggest that we leave that for the review that the Government have undertaken to make of this issue.
Baroness Buscombe: I thank the Minister for his response. I am grateful for his reference to the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 and the requirement on local authorities to set out their crime and disorder strategy on a three-yearly basis. I appreciate his comments on the advantages of co-ordinating the two approaches. That is one good reason for having a three-year period.
One of our concerns about that period was that a licensing authority may have a view that is different from its stated policy. We therefore thought that it would make more sense to have a review of the licensing policy when there is a new licensing authority, which may have a different policy. We may return to that when we have tabled our amendments correctly.
My noble friend Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville raised an important point about urban regeneration. Many of us believe that one of the best ways to contain crime is to increase people's confidence and to encourage them to feel free, able and confident to walk into live intheir local urban area. The more that there is life in urban areas on a 24-hourly basis the better and the more secure people will feel. I agree with my noble friend; there is an interesting and stark contrast between the Bill's policies and those set out by the Deputy Prime Minister.
I turn briefly to those amendments to which my name has not been added. Although I heard what the Minister said about different policies for different types of premises, that returns us to the point that I made earlier; that is, that one of our difficulties with the Bill is that we are dealing with different types of premises and applying a uniform set of rules, suggestions and guidance to them. I gave the example of supermarkets. It does not appear to make sense to ally Tesco with a lap-dancing club or the different types of activities that go on within them. I urge the Government to consider that pointit is of great value. It should be considered between now and Report. We on these Benches will certainly consider it further. The more that we consider the Bill, the more I believe that that is one of the fundamental problems. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.