Licensing Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Moss: I briefly add my support to my hon. Friend, who tabled the amendment. The amendment adds the words,

    ''section 107(3) (public performance of a work, knowing that it will infringe copyright);''

to those offences already listed in schedule 4(12) under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. The amendment would simply add to the list of relevant

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offences that have to be taken into account in relation to a personal licence application. We have received considerable lobbying from people who say that there are people who have knowingly transgressed that section of the 1988 Act over a period of time, and they would like to see the addition to the list of offences in paragraph 12.

Dr. Howells: Copyright and intellectual property rights-related offences are very serious. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster for reflecting the concerns of the music and film industries in tabling the amendments.

In response to concerns from industry, the Government have amended the Bill to make certain offences under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 relevant offences for the purpose of the Bill. One can tell that I was once a Department of Trade and Industry Minister by my pronunciation of the word ''patents'', which was drummed—beaten—into me. Such offences include those in section 198(2), which covers the broadcast of a recording of a performance made without permission, and section 297(1), which covers the fraudulent reception of a transmission. As the hon. Gentleman hinted, the matter will become more serious as digital projectors become more available and cheaper and as it becomes possible to broadcast films by satellite. The film industry is very worried about piracy.

The offences that were included deal with particular concerns of the industry. Like the hon. Gentleman, I am grateful to British Music Rights, which, I believe, was keen to add an offence to schedule 4, for stimulating debate on the issue.

I am not yet ready to accept the amendment, but I shall consider it further and return to the matter on Report. Therefore, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the amendment at this stage.

Mr. Field: It has been a sensible, albeit brief, debate. It is clear that the Bill goes beyond licensing into the regulation of entertainment, in particular live and recorded music. The amendment was tabled with the latter category in mind. I hope that after giving the matter consideration the Minister will be able on Report to go some way towards alleviating the concerns that the Music Business Forum has expressed. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 4 agreed to.

Clause 112

Spent convictions

Mr. Turner: I beg to move amendment No. 436, in

    clause 112, page 63, line 3, at end add

    'or, where it is a foreign offence which is not covered by that Act, if a similar offence under English law would have been spent.'.

The amendment is designed to find out what the Minister thinks the clause means. If he says the right things, it will be withdrawn. The clause provides for spent offences under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, but clause 118(5)(b) provides for

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    ''a foreign offence which the chief officer of police considers to be comparable to a relevant offence''.

I am seeking to find out why there is provision in clause 118 but not in clause 112 for a comparable offence. My amendment would provide for a foreign offence that is not covered by the 1974 Act, if a similar offence under English law would have been spent.

Dr. Howells: Amendment No. 436 would provide that if a foreign offence is similar to an offence in what the hon. Gentleman calls English law—those of us who are Welsh should not worry about the amendment—that would be treated as spent under the 1974 Act, the foreign offence should also be treated as spent. Although I understand and commend the sentiment, I believe that this is a slightly dangerous road to follow.

The 1974 Act focuses primarily on sentences—for example, the length of a sentence of imprisonment. It does not simply list offences. Therefore, it becomes enormously difficult to achieve what the hon. Gentleman would like to achieve. Comparisons of offences and sentences with those given in other jurisdictions are notoriously difficult.

Under the Bill, individuals with convictions outside the jurisdiction will be unable to show that their offences are spent for the purposes of the 1974 Act. The days of the empire and imposing our law outside our jurisdiction are long gone. I am sure that the hon. Member for North Devon (Nick Harvey), who is an expert in that field, could tell us whether those days had disappeared entirely from the world; perhaps they still apply in some areas—Lundy, maybe. I shall withdraw that statement: he is clearly not an expert. It is appropriate that the police should have the opportunity to examine the convictions and decide whether to raise an objection based on their experience. That is the appropriate way to go and although I recognise that that may not be ideal, we must err on the side of public protection.

The police will, if they think it is necessary, contact their counterparts in foreign jurisdictions to check on the offender's history. However, there will be times when they are not able to do that and they will have to make a judgment on the basis of the individual's account of his past convictions. This is not an area in which we can lightly afford to be generous, so I ask the hon. Member for Isle of Wight to withdraw his amendment.

Mr. Turner: As I understand it, the police will take account of foreign offences and, on the basis of those, they are permitted to object; but they do not have to do so and they would accordingly exercise their discretion. I accept that and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, that the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Moss: The police have made some representations about the clause. I shall share those

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with the Committee and ask the Minister some questions.

All hon. Members agree that the police's ability to object to unsuitable applications for licences assists in the crime prevention objectives set out in clause 5(2)(a). However, the police have put it to us that the wording of clause 112 would severely curtail that ability. Indeed, there would be no police involvement in the process at all if the licensing authority considered irrelevant and unspent convictions. A decision made about an application by a licensing committee would be made without police intervention.

An applicant for a licence may have many convictions which, although spent under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, cumulatively amount to their not being ''fit and proper'' to hold a liquor licence in the view of the police. Clause 112 and other parts of the Bill have changed the definition of a ''fit and proper person'', as contained in the 1974 Act. Relevant offences might include various minor assaults, drug or drink-related convictions, or sex offences, and those may have been accumulated over many years. In such cases, the police might argue that a person's conduct over a long period would show him or her to be unfit to hold a licence.

Sections 6(3) and 7(3) of the 1974 Act allow proceedings before a judicial authority, which includes a licensing committee, to consider convictions that are otherwise spent. Furthermore, case law has established the process to determine the relevance of those convictions to the application. Adamson v. Waveney District Council in 1997 provided for a three-part procedure that has been used successfully with regard to door supervisor, hackney carriage and private hire appeals before local authority panels. The police would like the provisions of sections 6(3) and 7(3) of the 1974 Act and the case of Adamson v. Waveney District Council to continue to be used, so that objections to unsuitable applicants can still be raised. Changes to the clause would enable that to happen. We have not tabled any amendments to the clause. The police tell us that they would like it to be entirely removed. I am simply telling the Minister that those are arguments that we have heard, and they require consultation and investigation with the police authorities so that we can make absolutely certain that the police are on side with regard to the proposals.

11 am

Dr. Howells: The hon. Gentleman may table amendments on the issue at a later stage if he wishes, but perhaps I can reassure him. This is a definitional clause; it sets out the meaning of ''conviction'' for the purposes of part 6. The clause states that a conviction for a relevant or foreign offence, as defined in clause 111, must be disregarded if it is considered spent for the purposes of the 1974 Act.

If the clause were not to stand part of the Bill, it would mean that a relevant or foreign offence could never be disregarded for the purposes of part 6. That cuts across any concept of rehabilitation, and would certainly give rise to human rights questions. The hon. Member for Isle of Wight has just tested the water on

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an important part of that issue. He asked whether, if we accepted that there can be spent convictions in the United Kingdom, we could also accept foreign convictions as spent. I tried to explain that it might be up to the police to decide whether to raise an objection because of a conviction abroad some time ago, but that we could not incorporate that into the Bill, because we have to err on the side of caution.

A person convicted of assault at 21 might well turn 51 without having committed an offence in the intervening period. In fact, he or she may be a totally reformed character—many of us are—and an upstanding member of the community. If clause 112 did not stand part of the Bill, we would be writing such people off without any consideration of the merits of their case, regardless of the efforts of the person, and of the probation service and the Prison Service, whose staff work with offenders during, and sometimes after, their prison sentence. That would be detrimental, and would be a big loss to the Bill.

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