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Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, I spoke to similar amendments both in Committee and on Report and I am delighted to support the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. The Minister set out on previous occasions the Government's rational explanation of why the Bill is as it is. I simply want, in illustration and in support of the noble Lord, to give some idea of what it is like at the coal face in terms of dealing with the Bill as it is currently written.
The Minister explained, most recently on Report, how it would be possible for a person within an organisation that was not a business who was entitled to make representations to do so on behalf of that organisation. I put the matter in a local context within the West End. It may constitute a particular problem in the West End. Some 40,000 people work in the West End. A large number of organisations in the West End are not necessarily commercial or profit-making and are directly affected by the legislation. The West End is the most highly licensed area in the country. As we said in Committee, it constitutes a much larger area than similar areas in other western European cities which have been studied by the University of Westminster.
Under the present legislation an individual within the local community in Westminster picks up 150 licence applications simultaneously in a sheaf from the magistrates' court. It is reasonable to assume that the same level of licence application will be made in future as has been the case in the past, although I agree that
When the Government announce through guidance precisely what their policy will be on the advertising of licence applicationsWestminster City Council has over a long period developed an extremely good system which is highly visible to local residents and local organisationsthe problem may diminish. But at the moment we do not know precisely what the Government will announce in guidance in that regard. Anyone who reads the local press in any inner city will be aware that anyone can satisfy the statute totally to the letter but in a manner which does not reach the people who are directly affected by it. The fact that at the moment the documentation from the magistrates' court is a critical factor in the absence of guidance on the advertisements means that people have limited time in which to object.
The reliance on a person to whom I shall refer as a bystanderbecause although he is obviously an interested party within the particular organisation, he is a bystander to the processwill further dramatically complicate the process of identifying someone who is prepared to become the person who makes representations on behalf of the organisation. Having identified that person, there will also be considerable difficulty in persuading him to make representations.
I do not want to exaggerate these matters but in Committee I said that when there were 164 sex establishments in Soho they were collectively known, and still are, as the Vice, with a capital v. That nomenclature was not bestowed upon them by accident. There is a habit of communicating to objectors the message, "We know where you live". Given the smallness of Soho as a community, that is a real and genuine threat. As I say, there is not only a problem as regards identifying a relevant person but an even bigger problem as regards finding someone who is willing to make representations.
In the previous debate I alluded to the fact that the Select Committee in another place, which is taking evidence on the night economy, is talking to residents in the West End in order to get from their lips a clear picture of the situation. That involves looking out of people's windows to see what it is that they are complaining about so that it has the ipsissima verba of the people involved.
Despite the Minister saying that there is a perfectly satisfactory remedy for problems created by the Bill, I cannot help feeling that people's human rights are being diminished by the complication which is now being introduced. Those rights will be reduced as a result of the Bill and it is less likely that relevant representations will be made. We all know that many people up and down the country say, "If only I had known that that was going to happen, I would have made objections" but find that by the time they do so it is too late.
The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Baroness Blackstone): My Lords, I believe that there is unnecessary concern about this issue. The Bill defines an interested party as a local resident or a body representing residents or local business or a body representing such businesses. An interested party may make representations on applications for premises licences or club premises certificates or may apply for a review of the licence or certificate after it has been granted.
We exercised great care in selecting the terms in the Bill as originally drafted to ensure that there was a balance between deregulatory gains on the one hand and proper and fair representation on the other. We chose the terms,
At this point, I should restate my answer to a question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, during debate on this matter at Report stage. Employees of a particular business in the vicinity of particular licensed premises will be able to make representations through their employer, even if they do not live in the vicinity of the premises themselves. The point is to give all those with a legitimate interest a fair hearing while preventing those individuals or groups, some of whom may have ulterior motives, from making trivial or spurious representations which have absolutely nothing to do with the licensing objectives, and undermining the smooth operation of the system. The use of the word "business" rather than "organisation" places this balance as near to the ideal as it could be.
I hope that the House will let me illustrate this argument by way of a couple of examples which were mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. The noble Lord referred to schools. Local residents, and bodies that represent them, will be able to make representations. This is likely to include parents, teachers and governors. So schools will have the ability, in one form or another, to get their views heard.
The noble Lord also mentioned hospitals. Hospitals constitute another category of organisation that he and other noble Lords have suggested should be added to the list of interested parties. Here the position under the Bill is even clearer. Most hospitals are operated as trusts which fall within the broad use of the term "business" in Clause 14 of the Bill. Such organisations will therefore be able to make representations on licensing matters. There will be no distinction, as contended by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, on Report and just now by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, between private and public healthcare providers. In addition, where appropriate, patients, doctors, nurses, hospital administrators and members of hospital
I turn to charities. Interested parties already include a person involved in a business in the vicinity. We have not restricted the breadth of meaning of "business" for these purposes. A charity with an outlet in the particular vicinity, or having its offices in that vicinity, would come within the broad scope of the term. So there is no reason to extend the views of interested parties in respect of charities.
I turn to residents' associations. Representations from residents associations will clearly be allowable. Indeed, Clause 14(3)(b) refers specifically to a body representing persons who live in a vicinity as an interested party. Residents' associations are explicitly provided for in the Bill.
The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, said that I in some way contradicted myself earlier. I am not quite sure how I did that, but if I did I apologise. I hope that what I have said on the subject is now absolutely clear. He also asked about written authorisation. A person representing local residents must be authorised by the residents, but that does not necessarily require authorisation in writing. A residents' association has the right to make representations if, as a matter of fact, it represents residents in the vicinity of the premises concerned without any further authorisation. I hope that that adds clarity to the intentions behind the Bill.
Much was made of the human rights implications of the Bill during the debate on similar amendments on Report. The noble Lord, Lord Brooke, has raised the matter again. Our amendments on Report resolved any residual questions that the Joint Committee on Human Rights might have had. The Government are absolutely confident that the Bill is entirely compatible.
The amendments are unnecessary. The Bill allows for representations from those affected by decisions on individual premises. The noble Lord mentioned intimidation, so I add that residents can ask the police to make representations on their behalf if they are afraid to raise their heads above the parapet, so I do not think that there is a problem. The police are not restricted in terms of the issues that they may raise with the licensing committee.
The amendment adds nothing to the Bill that helps to expand the definition of interested party. At the same time, it could increase the bureaucracy involved and distort the focus of the regime away from the licensing objectives, as well as providing an opportunity to some peopleperhaps very few, admittedlywho might seek to frustrate an application for commercial, political or other reasons. On that basis, and in the light of my further explanation, I hope that the amendment can be withdrawn.
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