|Licensing Bill [Lords]
Mr. Moss: That is a positive way forward. I thank the Minister for alerting the Committee to it.
I hear what the hon. Gentleman says about the limited role of the licensing authority in terms of the licensing objectives—it cannot go beyond its remit. However, the authority may receive an application for an entertainment licence and make that known to the fire officers locally. If a fire officer returned a report to the local authority insisting that major changes had to take place, that would surely have a bearing on whether the licence was issued and on the cost implications for the premises licence holder. That is true, is it not?
Dr. Howells: All those things would, of course, be costs. However, the hon. Gentleman would have to concede that in most cases there would not be great changes. He talked about two musicians becoming three, for example, or two becoming four. I hope that the model working practices in the statutory guidance will not involve much expenditure for those who own or maintain the venues. As the hon. Gentleman has hinted, my saying that that will not happen is, in some respects, a statement of faith. That is, however, a consequence of my extensive discussions with all the parties involved and my saying that that is the best way forward, if we are to change the way live music is staged.
Mr. Moss: I am grateful to the Minister for clarifying some of those issues. It is a pity that we do not have the guidance—I do not suppose that it will be available before Report and Third Reading. I know, however, that there is still concern out there that will not go away. Perhaps when the Bill returns to another place there will be a strongly defended rearguard action to tackle the issues yet again.
Jim Knight: I am looking at the draft guidance the Committee has received. Section 4.45 says:
The hon. Gentleman referred to the fire authority imposing substantial costs. Those would be imposed for public safety. I am sure that none of the applicants would want to put on events that were unsafe. There is, however, a concern that unnecessary conditions would be placed upon them, and the guidance suggests that that should be avoided.
Mr. Moss: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. The key word there is ''substantial'', as in substantial costs. Costs of any degree are unwelcome, particularly for people running small businesses. We heard what the hon. Gentleman and the Minister have said. We take on board his assurances that he is working closely with the people involved to find good working practices. The Minister used the word ''model'', which is a useful one. We need clear guidance on those matters so that the fears that are still being expressed are fully allayed. We shall return to the matter on Report and I am sure that it will be returned to in the other place. The sooner that the Minister can issue his detailed guidance and have his consultation
Column Number: 665the better for all concerned. We wish him luck in that and hope that he achieves it sooner rather than later. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Mr. Moss: I beg to move amendment No. 224, in
'applicant for a premises licence has served a copy of the notice of application on the last known address of the existing licensee or licensees.'.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Amendment No. 315, in
(c) it is made by or on behalf of a person having an interest in the premises registered under section 32(1) or (2) of the Licensing Act 1964, who shall produce written evidence of such registration.'.
Mr. Moss: These amendments refer to paragraph 2 on applications for conversion of an existing licence. The industry has been to see us and has expressed concern about having to obtain the consent of the licence holder for an application to convert an existing licence, as set out in sub-paragraph (3)(b). Amendment No. 224 is designed to protect businesses from unscrupulous or malcontent individuals who leave their employers with massive costs and uncertainty for the security of their licence. Even when precautions have been taken to ensure that one store has numerous licensees on site, in a trade with high staff turnover, some may find that only one individual remains when the Bill comes into effect. Furthermore, that is not an option for many smaller businesses. Therefore, the Government's previous assertions—I believe in the debate in the other place—that internal disciplinary procedures will sufficiently ensure that on-site managers approve all applications may prove to be wholly inadequate.
Current practice deems that applications for interim authorities and protection orders require the service of notice only upon the court and police. No notice is required to be served on existing licensees as it would be redundant to do so. The new system of transfer of justices' licences will require notice to be served on the licensee. That is understandable. If granted, the transfer application has the potential to deprive the licence holder of their right to sell or retail alcohol. So the licence holder ought to have the opportunity to appear in court to oppose the application, although there is no legal requirement for the consent to transfer the existing licensee. In the example given in the Bill, the transfer will not deprive the licence holder, who will be granted a personal licence under the transitional provisions. Service of notice of application upon the existing licensee can be proved by providing a simple signed certificate to the licensing committee, asserting that the licensee was served notice at his or her last known address.
The amendment provides that only the applicant for a premises licence serves a copy of the notice of application on the last known address of the existing licensee. There are 25,000 independent grocers and
Column Number: 666shops representing half of the off-trade licences. They are responsible for about a tenth of the sales. Is the Government expecting that in all circumstances disputes can successfully be dealt with by normal disciplinary procedures? It is likely that in some cases the manager may have disappeared, walked out or, under the powers invested in him in the new law, is able to hold the business owner to ransom by withholding his consent. Businesses cannot be expected to relinquish power over their own future in such a manner.
Amendment No. 315 deals with the operation needs of multi-site retailers. For example, in the pub sector where premises are managed, the manager, who is an employee of the company that owns the premises, holds the licence. Under the new system, it is highly likely that companies that own or have a significant business interest in the premises might want to hold the premises licence, while the pub manager will be the personal licence holder. Under the transition provision in the Bill, the application to convert the licence can be made only by existing licence holders or with their consent.
It is unacceptable that companies running managed pubs, supermarkets, off-licences and so on will not be able to apply for their premises licence without the consent of all their managers. In the case of the pub sector, that means obtaining the consent of thousands of individuals, which is likely to prove difficult. It would be more effective if provision was made for a company to register its interest as a superior landlord. The amendment clearly indicates the existence of a registrable interest, which already exists in legislation.
Dr. Howells: As the hon. Gentleman has informed us, the intention of amendment No. 315 is to protect the interests of companies that have disagreements with licence holders at the time of transition, which result in the licence holder either refusing to co-operate or leaving without providing a forwarding address. In those circumstances, the consent of the existing licence holder would be impossible to obtain and the conversion of the licence could not take place. The Government do not accept that the wording of the clause will present any problem in most circumstances. I am sure that it is not being suggested that an employee will do anything other than what his employer requires. For instance, the owner of a pub chain can take action in respect of the individual under his employment contract if the employee acts against his instruction, or actively seeks to damage his employer's business by refusing to give consent.
I remind the Committee that the Bill will not prevent applications for justices' licences or for their transfer during the transitional period. A pub company with a licensee who will not give his or her consent to an application for a conversion of a licence would be free to recruit a new licensee and seek their consent to conversion. Committee members may consider that to be an onerous process, but I remind them that the provisions are for preserving special rights and are based on judgments that have already been made about individuals who have satisfied the licensing authorities or licensing justices on any points of concern. It is therefore right that they should either
Column Number: 667make conversion applications, or give them their consent.
Amendment No. 315 would add to the list of those eligible to apply for conversion any person who has registered an interest in the premises under the terms of the Licensing Act 1964. We are talking only about justices' licences and breweries and pub-operating companies that do not hold the licence themselves. In most cases, an employee—a manager or a tenant—will hold the licence. It should be noted that the amendment would provide that the consent of the licence holder would not be needed if a person or business decided to apply. That is a recipe for confusion. What if both the licence holder and the person with a registered interest applied? How is a licensing authority to decide which applicant should be given precedence? Is the intention that it should be first come first served and are we expecting licensing authorities to decide disputes between tenants and landlords? I think not.
Confusion aside, grandfather rights are being afforded because, in the case of justices' licences, particular individuals—the licence holders—have shown themselves to the satisfaction of the licensing justices to be fit and proper people to sell alcohol. It is therefore unnecessary to ask them to go through the tests set out in the Bill. Those with registered interests under the 1964 Act have not satisfied any licensing body of their fitness to sell alcohol, and the right therefore belongs to the individuals holding the licences. We have been flexible by providing that where the licence holder is prepared to give his or her consent another individual may apply. That prevents confusion and would allow a person with a registered interest to make an application for conversion, but there can be no automatic right for such people.
With that explanation, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the amendment.
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