|Licensing Bill [Lords]
Mr. Field: Surely the Minister must appreciate that although he was talking about the distinction made by his noble Friend in another place, none the less undertakings are very powerful—particularly within a local area. If an operator deliberately flouts those promises, those personal undertakings, that has a major effect upon future licence applications, both for that premises and the other premises within the same area.
Dr. Howells: Yes, indeed. I acknowledge that—
It being twenty-five minutes past eleven o'clock, The Chairman, pursuant to Standing Order No. 88 (Meetings of standing committees), deferred adjourning the Committee.
Dr. Howells: Thank you very much, Mr. Benton. That is a wise decision. I shall try to be brief—[Hon. Members: ''Get on with it.''] Right, I will.
The question is whether it should be mandatory for applicants for licence conversions under paragraph 2 of schedule 8 to provide information on non-legal matters and whether we should give those undertakings new legal force. However, there is one key reason why it should not be mandatory.
Under the Bill, interested parties in responsible authorities can request the review of any premises licence on grounds relating to the licensing objectives. That gives ample opportunity for residents and others to seek a remedy if a licensee does, or fails to do, something that was previously the subject of an undertaking, provided that the act or omission is relevant to the licensing objectives. I hope that the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster accepts that. I assure him that the Bill provides ample protections and it provides more opportunities than exist at present for residents and others to seek a remedy if a premises causes a particular problem. There is nothing to be gained from transferring undertakings to premises licences. I therefore hope that the amendment will be withdrawn.
Mr. Field: I must confess that I remain unhappy, but I appreciate that the Minister has been clear and we shall return to the issue on Report. I hope that he will be open enough to take on board some of the concerns that have been raised in Committee.
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The concern that I have above all is that the Minister said—I paraphrase—that the undertakings should be in keeping with the four key objectives under clause 5. Surely, those undertakings in accordance with the Bill's objectives would be covered under the licensing matter anyway. The sorts of undertakings that take account of localised factors require protection for residential populations or other traders, but they will fall foul of the provisions and probably will not be covered by the main objectives. With that in mind, we have expressed our grave concern that the whole patchwork of undertakings can be done away with. That gives a further weapon in the armoury of those unscrupulous operators whose plan is to run roughshod over the interests not only of the residential population but of the smaller, independent family operators in central London—for whom in many ways I have greater concern—many of whom provide brilliant service in wine bars, restaurants and a range of other licensed premises.
My concern is that the next time that there is an economic upturn, it will be all too tempting for operators in my constituency, such as those in Soho, to sell out because they realise that the ambience of the area is diminishing. No choice will be left for the residents or any other users of our central London entertainment industry and only large operators will remain, appealing to the lowest common denominator. I do not suggest that all large operators are like that; many have sensible policies. There is a concern, however, that we will see a McDonaldisation and Starbuckisation of the whole district to the detriment of the charm that we retain in many of our inner cities. I appreciate that the Minister has not been persuaded by my words on the amendment or, dare I say it, any of my words during the past six or seven weeks of the Committee.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will seriously consider this matter because we will return to it on Report. I hope that in the interim—during the next two or three weeks—he will try to find some means whereby we can at least retain the best of the undertakings regime. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendments made: No. 33, in
'sections (club premises certificate authorising supply of alcohol for consumption off the premises) and 73'.
No. 34, in
'sections (club premises certificate authorising supply of alcohol for consumption off the premise) and'.—[Dr. Howells.]
Mr. Moss: I beg to move amendment No. 299, in
'licence', insert ', or a person who within the last 12 months prior to the appointed day has held a justices' licence which has not been subsequently revoked,'.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Amendment No. 300, in
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', or is a person who within the last 12 months prior to the appointed day has held a justices' licence which has not been subsequently revoked,'.
Mr. Moss: Thank, you, Mr. Benton, for using your discretion to extend our proceedings. I am sure that we can finalise things quickly. I shall be brief.
Under the current proposals, only those actively holding a justices' licence on the appointed day will be entitled to receive the new personal licence. Anyone who has been in the trade without being specifically responsible for a premises will not get that benefit. We believe that that would be grossly unfair on those who, through no fault of their own, are not at present listed as a licence holder. There could be various reasons for that. A company may have gone into receivership and a manager may have lost his position; a supermarket manager may be in between positions and a tenant may be in the process of acquiring a new tenancy.
The industry and the trade organisations have long argued that transition should allow people who are for whatever reason temporarily without a licence on the appointed day to obtain a new-style licence without the need to get a qualification. Some of those affected may have many years' experience in the trade and it would be more than insulting for them to have to sit an examination. Indeed, many of them would already have obtained all the necessary qualifications that are available.
Dr. Howells: The amendments would go beyond the rights given to an individual currently holding a justices' licence, even if the law did not change. It cannot be assumed that a person who has been considered fit and proper in the past can automatically be considered fit and proper now—that is the same as the current law. We do not know what the justices would make of those people. The grandfather right as a privilege should be applied only to those who are considered fit and proper by the justices. Those who fall outside the privileged group will have to apply for a personal licence during the transitional period and must meet the qualifying tests in part 6 of the Bill.
Hon. Members will no doubt argue that that approach is harsh or unfair. The hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire hinted at that. We are, however, obliged to draw the line somewhere. The hon. Gentleman did just that in choosing a limit of 12 months. I ask hon. Members to remember that under paragraph 23(2), any individual in the kind of circumstances that were described would have at least six months—the so-called transitional period—in which to obtain a justices' licence if they had recently surrendered one. If they were successful, they could, within that period, use the licence to secure a grandfather right. The justices will still be functioning throughout that period and an application will carry appropriate eligibility as long as it is made in the transitional period. That arrangement is not unreasonable or rigid; it is pretty fair and I hope, with that undertaking, the hon. Gentleman will withdraw his amendment.
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Mr. Moss: I am grateful to the Minister for that explanation and for a way forward for those who seem to be caught in this in-between situation. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Schedule 8, as amended, agreed to.
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