Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, again, I welcome the welcome for this Statement. The noble Lord's comments about "salami slicing" as regards approaches to licensing are well thought through. Indeed, the noble Lord reiterated the point I made

10 Apr 2000 : Column 32

about the importance and validity of placing special emphasis on the concerns of local residents. The noble Lord is right to say that we need to balance the interests of local residents against those of consumers and businesses.

I was particularly taken by the noble Lord's notion that we might wish to publish a Bill in draft form so that it could go through a process of pre-legislative scrutiny. That would be a useful contribution. It has helped considerably in respect of other pieces of legislation that have come before this House and another place. I shall take that point away and reflect upon it. The noble Lord has a wealth of experience in this field. Therefore, his point about having regulatory impact assessments published and made clear is most sensible. I shall also consider that matter most carefully.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, I have two questions for the Minister. First, without repeating the reasons, will the noble Lord take quite seriously the proposals put forward by my noble friend Lord Cope as regards magistrates continuing to grant personal licences? Secondly, I welcome the broad thrust of the proposals; indeed, there is no question about that. However, if the decision is to be made by the local authorities for the reasons given, can the Minister say whether the Crown Court hearing an appeal will sit with a jury? I should like to have a specific answer to that question.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his questions. As I said earlier, we believe that it is right that both personal and premise licences should be considered together. We believe that to be rational and logical; indeed, they are interconnected. After all, the whole purpose behind these proposals is to create an integrated approach.

I turn now to the noble Lord's second question. When appeals are heard by the Crown Court, they will, I imagine, be considered by a judge sitting with at least two magistrates drawn from the local magistrates' bench, not with a jury. As I understand it, that is the usual approach for the consideration of appeals and it is the one that we favour.

Baroness Sharples: My Lords, as the owner and licensee of a pub a few years ago, I welcome this report. It is a great step forward. Most noble Lords are probably aware that in the 1980s, along with Viscount Montgomery and others, we had a great battle to make the authorities take any steps forward in this respect. As I said, I welcome the report but I am concerned that the cost will be borne by small businesses and owners of free houses who will have to take on a number of extra staff. However, that is perhaps a matter that can be dealt with at a later date.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, under our flexible approach it will be for the operator or manager to determine how best to make use of his premises, and how best to make provision to match the demand from people who want to take advantage of this flexibility.

10 Apr 2000 : Column 33

That is part of the beauty of the whole approach. I should also point out that the approach adopted here has been endorsed by the Better Regulation Task Force, which sees the measures as being strongly deregulatory and as removing red tape. The approach is very much to the benefit and interest of small-scale licensees and licensed premises. There is much benefit here, especially for small businesses. No doubt that will be broadly welcomed across the country.

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Alexander was kind enough to invite me, as a representative of my local authority, to appear in front of the deregulation committee on licensing. It is important to draw attention to a few of the points that we made; they reflect what the Minister said about residents.

For the following reasons, I welcome the proposal that this responsibility should come within the ambit of local authorities. On the whole, residents find it difficult to go to magistrates' courts to object in such circumstances. It is easier to approach a local authority with which they are more familiar. It is easier to organise a group of people for this purpose, but it is much more daunting to go to a magistrates' court.

I appeared in front of the deregulation committee because of the Sunday licences and the restaurant licences. I have not yet had an opportunity to study the White Paper, but I remain concerned about the hours of closure of such establishments. The borough that I represent has the greatest number of licences in any part of the country. It would be fair to say that every restaurant lies cheek-by-jowl with residents--they live above such establishments, beside them, or behind them. Therefore, what happens at the end of the day when restaurants and pubs shut matters a good deal to residents.

I should like to raise just one further point; it is one to which I shall return and I look forward to taking part in the debate on the White Paper. I have in mind the effect that closure time has on the peaceful life of residents in the surrounding area. There must be ways of ensuring that that peace is maintained. If I may say so, I am not sure that the police are able to cope with the problems and rowdiness that arise at closure times. It is the noise level as people leave such premises that causes the difficulties. I believe that point will need further consideration.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the noble Baroness speaks with great local government experience. Like her, I have shared the pain and pleasure of being in local government. I have had to put up with legitimate and quite understandable complaints from local residents who were concerned about licensing matters as regards entertainment licences. However, as leader of the council, I was also approached by local people complaining that there were too many of these establishments; that they were open for too long; that they wished they closed earlier; and, indeed, asking me why they could not trade somewhere else. I received the usual range of complaints.

10 Apr 2000 : Column 34

However, the flexibility established by this White Paper, the benefits that it will confer on local residents by enabling them to put forward their views, and the fact that people with local knowledge will be accountable for such decisions, are all strong points. The noble Baroness is right to see this as an important debate for the future.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, when the Minister consults the Welsh Assembly, will he bear in mind that the history of licensing in Wales since the 1880s has not been a happy one? The tourist trade still complains about the divergence that occurred then when Sunday closing was introduced in Wales. It was introduced as a blessing which would shortly be extended to England, although of course it never was. Does the Minister agree that, whatever happens as regards the consultation, he should endeavour to secure a uniform system of licensing with a uniform system of appeals where necessary throughout England and Wales?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the noble Lord with his distinguished record of service in Wales is knowledgeable in these matters. I am not sure whether he is a "wet" or a "dry", but he is absolutely right to say that we should have a uniform system and a uniform system of appeals. That has emerged so far from the consultations. I should be extremely surprised if that is not reinforced in the processes as they unroll. We seek to make the system uniform for England and Wales, subject, of course, to the careful consideration that we shall have to give to the views of the Welsh Assembly, Welsh local authorities and others across the communities of Wales.

Lord Gladwin of Clee: My Lords, I, too, welcome the White Paper and declare a former interest as a member of what came to be known as the Erroll committee on liquor licensing. I have not yet had the opportunity to read the White Paper but I believe that some of the recommendations of the Erroll committee have finally come to fruition. I speak also as a former member of a licensing Bench. I support the idea that the licensing of premises should be transferred to local authorities and the sooner we dispense with the idea of magistrates poring over maps on a magistrates' Bench to try to determine whether a property should be granted a licence, the better.

However, I question the wisdom of transferring the granting of the personal licence from magistrates. In my experience, the interrogation of applicants for licences has been carried out effectively by magistrates. It impresses upon applicants the importance of keeping a proper house, as does the practice of visiting premises to ensure that they are being looked after properly and are servicing the public. A public house exists to service the public. I wonder whether the task that I have mentioned is not better left to licensing

10 Apr 2000 : Column 35

magistrates. I agree that there should be uniformity in the system, but the task of ensuring that proper behaviour is maintained both inside and outside licensed premises is best left to licensing magistrates. However, as the White Paper is "greenish", perhaps we can continue to discuss this matter.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am grateful for the noble Lord's contribution. As a former member of a Bench he obviously speaks with much knowledge. I was grateful for his observation as regards the importance of visiting premises to make an assessment. We all like visiting premises, not least for the odd pint or two! The point that the noble Lord made about interrogation is a valid one. However, with my knowledge of local government, I am aware that local councillors are good at asking awkward questions. Many local councillors have, of course, served as distinguished members of Benches. Although I may take issue with the noble Lord's observations about personal licences, I reinforce the point I made earlier in paying great tribute to magistrates who have performed a difficult task for a long time. We must make good use of their experience and build on it in creating a more modern system for modern times. I believe that that strong message emanates from the White Paper. However, as I said, we shall continue to seek views and actively consider them. No doubt we shall reach a final view at the end of the consultation period.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page