Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

The Earl of Mar and Kellie: I should like to thank various noble Lords who have spoken on this amendment. It was of course designed to produce a debate and it has done so. Might I reassure the noble Earl on the Treasury Bench that, apart from my experience in the Bishop's Bar, which has helped perhaps, the majority of my experience was learnt while working on an intensive probation project--on the staff, I hasten to add, because it is not first-hand experience.

To be slightly more serious, I am concerned about the resistance of the noble Earl to under-age drinking. He said that the licensing committee can take a hard line on this but I actually do not think that is what is needed. I think it is important that we actually get to work with under-age drinkers and persuade them not to do it, rather than just close the pubs which they are currently using. These days drug workers go to raves and work with people who take controlled drugs. They give information about drugs and what they are doing. Occasionally they give advice, there being a substantial difference between the two. Presumably they also ensure that water is available and they notice if anyone begins to go under. People can be picked up there and then and the health problems which might arise are prevented. Perhaps I see the problem too much as a health and safety issue and not enough as a licensing issue. I appreciate that there is a problem with the rule of law and that we are bringing forward a Bill which takes into account illegal activity. Perhaps the noble Earl wishes to reply.

The Earl of Lindsay: I am grateful to the noble Earl. The Bill seeks specifically to deal with the problem of misuse of drugs by young people. We have a basket of other measures and initiatives specifically aimed at under-age drinking. I should not like the noble Earl to think that, because we are not convinced of the benefits of his amendment to this Bill dealing with the misuse of drugs, we are therefore in any way slack in our

26 Jun 1996 : Column 941

commitment to prevent under-age drinking. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State regards the misuse of drugs and alcohol by young people as an absolute priority.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie: I am extremely grateful to the noble Earl for that. I did not know it and I look forward to the legislation which will be proposed. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 6 not moved.]

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove moved Amendment No. 7:

Page 2, line 8, leave out ("may") and insert ("shall").

The noble Lord said: This is a simple amendment. It is a famous Scottish amendment going back to the days of Willie Ross, George Willis and all those great characters. Every Scottish Bill contained an amendment saying "omit 'may' and insert 'shall'". However, there was usually a reason for it.

Amendment No. 7 is to ensure that the Secretary of State shall by order prescribe certain conditions applicable to raves. The Bill currently allows the Executive discretion on the issue of conditions. The amendment removes or curtails that discretion and requires mandatory action by the Secretary of State.

Raves are fairly new. They are not necessarily harmful but can easily go over the edge. Therefore, we believe that firm minimum conditions should be prescribed by the Secretary of State which can act as a basic standard countrywide. Then in response to local conditions and the local climate, there can be alterations. I was amused, when we were listening to the earlier debate, to hear that a person aged 16 can drink with a meal. The noble Earl may remember the famous Scottish bona fide traveller. If you travelled a certain distance in a bus, coach or train, you could go into a public house, order a meal and then get a drink, although it would not be allowed in your local area; you had to be a traveller. The definition of a traveller was someone who dropped in for food. There was some truth in the myth--it was not just a joke--that the traveller got the same pie every week. It lay on the table until he had finished eating and then it was taken away and brought back the next Sunday.

I seek certain parameters. That kind of thing can happen and much more dangerous things can occur with events like raves. Therefore, the Secretary of State should lay down much more precise rules and then local people, with his permission, can add to them or adapt them. I beg to move.

The Earl of Lindsay: I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, for moving his amendment. I endorse the story of the bona fide traveller: it seems mad to throw out a good pie unfinished if it can be used again the following Sabbath.

The question of whether the Secretary of State should exercise immediately his power to prescribe minimum conditions was debated at length in another place. The

26 Jun 1996 : Column 942

conclusion of that consideration was that his power should remain discretionary. Let me take this opportunity to explain the rationale behind that decision.

The Secretary of State's power to make an order prescribing certain conditions was introduced in response to concerns that boards might not act reasonably and responsibly in the way they discharge their obligations under the new measures and that there may be inconsistencies throughout Scotland.

We are, of course, committed to issuing guidance to licensing boards on the nature and terms of conditions that may be attached to licences. But we cannot guarantee that the guidance will be followed consistently by each board. The health and safety of the young and vulnerable are important enough to require certain minimum standards to be applied across the country as a whole. Giving the Secretary of State a power which he can exercise, if required, to prescribe minimum conditions which boards must attach to relevant licences, will ensure that the basic policy underlying Clause 1 will not be undermined through inconsistency of approach.

However, this is very much a precautionary measure. There is every reason to believe that licensing boards will act responsibly and implement the policy fully. There is every reason to believe that that will be the case.

To impose mandatory conditions immediately would fetter the important element of local discretion and knowledge which boards can exercise when taking local decisions.

The Scottish Office will monitor practices closely. If it appears that licensing boards, supported by detailed guidance, are unwilling to impose appropriate conditions, then the means are available to enable the Secretary of State to move swiftly to put matters right. The detailed guidance of which I speak will also include model conditions which will give boards an idea of the type of issues to be addressed. However, I should say that a good number of licensing boards already impose those kinds of conditions on public entertainment licences and are therefore familiar with the concept.

Those model conditions will illustrate minimum requirements such as the maximum number of people who can attend the event, the provision of rest areas away from the main activity and that there should be adequate security and support staff of both sexes. The noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, was concerned about that point.

I hope that the noble Lord will agree that unless it proves necessary to take formal action, reliance on co-operation and the full exercise of local discretion provide a better way of achieving our objectives. I imagine that the noble Lord will read the response I have given in Hansard and ponder on it and I hope he will understand that there is little between us. We feel that ideally the exercise of discretion in response to local conditions should be the prime response of local licensing boards before the Secretary of State seeks to impose mandatory minimum conditions on them.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove: The Minister will be aware that I always read Hansard to check on what

26 Jun 1996 : Column 943

was said. I thank him for the assurance he has given; it is a big improvement. His explanation clears up a number of problems. I only hope that local licensing boards will take careful note of what he said. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 8 to 10 not moved.]

Lord Macaulay of Bragar moved Amendment No. 11:

Page 3, line 28, after ("licence") insert ("or his representative").

The noble Lord said: This is a technical amendment which I have discussed with the Minister. Under the Bill at the present, if the holder of the licence does not appear, the proceedings fall. The reason for the amendment is so that the holder's representative can appear. Perhaps the Government can find a suitable term such as "authorised agent" instead of "or his representative", whatever the wording might be. We wish to widen the scope of representation before the board. Under the Bill as presently drafted, only the holder of the licence can appear, but, taking a strict reading of the Bill, he cannot do so if he happens to be in America. The amendment is to introduce a degree of flexibility in representation. On that basis, I beg to move.

4.30 p.m.

The Earl of Lindsay: I am grateful for the explanation of this amendment by the noble Lord, Lord Macaulay. The amendment proposed would, effectively, enable a representative to attend in place of a licence holder at a licensing board meeting where consideration is being given to whether a current licence should be varied so that conditions may be imposed on it in cases where the premises will hold events attracting the provisions in Clause 1.

This issue was extensively debated when the Bill was considered in another place. Indeed, the matter was taken away for further scrutiny. However, after careful consideration it was concluded that the change was both unnecessary and potentially damaging.

I believe that my honourable friend the Minister of State in the Scottish Office wrote to the honourable Member for Dumbarton explaining the Government's decision. I could easily make a copy of that letter available to the noble Lord, Lord Macaulay.

I welcome the opportunity to offer the same explanation to the Committee as to the reasoning that led to that conclusion. When this point was debated in another place it was suggested that this issue was precedented in the Licensing (Scotland) Act 1976.

I acknowledge that there is express provision at Section 15 of the 1976 Act for an applicant or his representative to attend a statutory meeting of the licensing board when an application for a new licence or the renewal of a licence is being considered. That is an entirely separate issue and not directly relevant to the matter under review today.

Section 15 gives a board the discretion whether or not to proceed to consider an application for a new licence or renewal of a licence if neither the applicant nor his

26 Jun 1996 : Column 944

representative are present. Presumably, this statutory provision was made in order to prevent an applicant being unnecessarily disadvantaged through an inability to present himself at a particular meeting.

If we are looking for comparisons in the existing legislation then I suggest that Section 31 of the 1976 Act provides a more suitable example. Section 31 details the procedures for suspending an existing licence on receipt of a complaint. In these circumstances, the board must hold a hearing in the same way as is envisaged in the new arrangements to vary a licence. There is no express provision for the licensee to field a representative or to bring another person to the hearing to assist him in pleading his case. Nevertheless, the exercise of these options is accepted standard procedure which licensing boards use as appropriate.

There is nothing in the Bill as drafted to prevent a licensing board from exercising the same discretion where appropriate in relation to the procedures set out for varying current licences.

We feel that the amendment proposed is unnecessary on that basis. But it is also dangerous because it could call into question the legitimacy of existing arrangements under the Licensing (Scotland) Act 1976 and in other legislation where a representative or agent may attend in the place of, or to assist, the licensee without there being any express statutory provision.

There is potentially more to be lost by conceding this amendment than could possibly be gained. I imagine the noble Lord will want to consider the explanation that I have given. However, I hope that in the light of this response the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment today.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page