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Baroness Buscombe: I support Amendments Nos. 205, 217 and 246, to which my name and that of my noble friend Lord Luke have been added. I feel that I am at a distinct disadvantage as I am unable to say that
I refer to the surrender of premises licences. As has been said, Amendment No. 205 would provide protection for any party with a registered interest in the property against any unscrupulous behaviour on the part of the personal licensee, particularly with regard to managed or leased pubs.
I turn to Amendment No. 217. An owning company will often be able to be in a position to promote the licensing objectives through its contractual agreement with the tenant or lessee. Notification of breaches of the premises licence would allow the registered party to enforce the terms of such an agreement to the effect that the terms and conditions of the premises licence must be complied with. The registered interest would want to protect its rights in the property whose value is linked to the possession of the premises licence. That situation is particularly prevalent in the pub sector where many thousands of pubs are owned by pub companies or brewers, and leased to tenants.
A right to register such interests already exists in Section 32(2) of the Licensing Act 1964. This needs to be preserved in the proposed legislation and linked into all sections where the investment of the party with the superior interest is threatened by the actions of the designated premises supervisor, the premises owner or other circumstance. The ability to register an interest will enable the owning company to secure its reversionary interest in the event of the demise of the tenant. That can be useful to both parties in the event of death or incapacity. It is also beneficial where a tenant absconds leaving the business adrift. The owning company by virtue of its interest can step in, appoint a personal licence holder and maintain the business quickly and efficiently.
I turn to Amendment No. 246. The ability to register an interest will enable the owning companysubject to the contractual relationship between the partiesto protect its reversionary interest in the event of the demise of the tenant. That again can be useful to both parties in the event of death or incapacity. It is also beneficial where a tenant absconds leaving the business adrift. The owning company by virtue of its interest can step in, appoint a personal licence holder and maintain the business quickly and efficiently.
Baroness Blackstone: Like the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, I have no interest to declare. I do not own a pub or even a chain of pubs. I shall also try to be objective but I shall reach the opposite conclusion to the noble Baroness, which just shows that objectivity does not always lead to the same answers. I look forward to having half a pint at the Redesdale Arms at some stage with the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale.
This Bill has been developed in close consultation with the industry as well as many other stakeholders. We are well aware of industry concerns, particularly about situations where premises are owned by one company but operated by another or by a tenant, but
The Bill provides that each licensing authority must keep a register recording all the authorisations it issues and notices and applications it receives. These are listed in Schedule 3. The information contained on the register will be available for inspection by anyone who wishes to see it. To require licensing authorities to inform anyone with an interest of any application or notice, as Amendment No. 217 suggests, would greatly increase both the costs and the complexity of the system. The Bill provides protection for those with a commercial interest and others employed there. For example, following the death, insolvency or mental incapacity of a premises licence holder, an interim authority notice can be given, within seven days, by a personal representative of the former holder or someone with power of attorney. The effect of such a notice would be to reinstate the licence for two months, during which time a transfer application could be made. Giving notice would be a simple matter of dropping a note to the licensing authority to let it know.
We must not forget that the underlying purpose of the Bill is to simplify and streamline the current system, which is too complex and unwieldy. To allow anyone with any interest in a premises to apply for an interim authority notice could open the door to long and possibly acrimonious contests, which we want to avoid. To require a premises licence holder to have the consent of anyone with a registered interest before he can surrender a licence, as Amendment No. 205 suggests, would reduce the flexibility the Bill seeks to achieve, and make the system unnecessarily complicated. Similar provisions are made under existing legislation which, apparently, work perfectly well.
The Bill also provides a simple and quick procedure for the transfer of licences. Applications can even be given immediate effect, pending police consideration, or, if the police object on the grounds of the crime prevention objective, pending the determination of the licensing authority. Applicants must show that they have the consent of the holder or that all reasonable steps have been taken to secure it. This would cover circumstances in which there may be a dispute between a pub-operating company and a tenant, for example. The Bill sets out a simple system for licensing premises which sell alcohol or provide public entertainment or late-night refreshment that is simpler and cheaper than the current system and is more transparent and more consistent. These amendments would undermine that.
A licence brings with it duties and responsibilities enforceable at law. An individual must have the right to give up that responsibility by giving appropriate notice to the licensing authority. The licence holder's responsibility to the owner is a matter for his or her contract with them, as I think I have made clear. If they require notice, it should be a provision of that contract. If a tenant is in dispute with the owner or lessee of the property, that is not a matter for licensing law. A licence holder's responsibility in respect of his licence is to the licensing authority. The industry cannot expect to have it both ways. By requiring a tenant to take out the premises licence, it can distance itself from the consequences of breaches. But at the same time it seems to want to preserve a degree of control over its interests. If it does this, it must accept that it must use non-licensing procedures to ensure its interests. In the light of that explanation, I very much hope that the amendments can be withdrawn.
Lord Redesdale: Before the Minister sits down, I seek some clarity. The purpose of the amendment we are discussing is to introduce a safeguard and some form of security. The Minister said that a pub company could be a designated premises supervisor. I have no difficulty with that and consider that it is a right and proper safeguard. However, tens of thousands of pubs throughout the country are run by small operators. In such cases a licensing company would not undertake the onerous role of premises supervisor. A landlord with one or two pubs probably would not have the knowledge to fulfil that function. Do the Government consider that this is simply a matter of a change in the lease arrangement? That might have financial consequences if the pub lease were sold on. If that is the case, is the Minister suggesting that the landlordif he constitutes the landlord of a single pub rather than a companyshould take on the role of premises supervisor? Do the Government believe that that would be the best way forward?
Baroness Blackstone: I believe that the answer to that question is "Yes", in the case of the Redesdale Arms, for example. However, I want to emphasise what I have already said. It is not for the Licensing Bill to plug deficiencies in contractual relationships between the owner and tenant of the premises, when licensable activities will be carried out. That is my main point.
Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts: Will the Minister clarify this matter? I understand that it is not for the Licensing Bill to plug deficiencies in the Landlord and Tenant Act. But what we are talking about here, and what the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, is talking about, is the additional responsibilities that the Bill imposes on landlords and tenants, which clearly cannot be covered by the Landlord and Tenant Act because it is not the Licensing Bill. I support the noble Lord's point about the potential gap between the two pieces of legislation. The Landlord and Tenant Act will not cover the gap because it does not deal with licensing
Baroness Blackstone: I find it difficult to answer the question because I do not know enough about the Landlord and Tenant Act. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, could write to me on that matter, and I shall write to him and to the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale.
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