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Lord Rooker: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. However, we do not regard this as a battle. We genuinely want a solution. We have enormous respect for the Fire Service but the fact is that the dispute must be settled around the negotiating table. It would be much better settled without a strike. There is money on the table and more money is on offer. It is much better to talk about that rather than to lose money by going on strike.

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Licensing Bill [HL]

Second Reading debate resumed.

5.4 p.m.

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, I rise to speak in this Second Reading debate about two issues. However, before I do so, I would like to declare an interest as a consultant to the Co-operative Group. In fact, I do not intend to address my remarks to the implications of the Bill for retailers; I will leave that job to my noble friend Lord Graham, who is much more knowledgeable and able.

The Government deserve to be congratulated on the introduction of this comprehensive Bill, and the proposal to provide a coherent and simplified code for licensing. I agree with the noble Viscount, however, that the notes are indeed weighty, but they are also easy to follow and written in plain English—more so than usual.

In July 2000, I had the pleasure of and responsibility for piloting a Bill through your Lordships' House. That was probably the last time on which the Licensing Act 1964 was amended. It was the Licensing (Young Persons) Bill and it sought to close an important loophole in the 1964 Act concerning young people's access to alcohol through purchasing it from off-licences.

The problem that my Bill sought to address was that prosecution of staff in off-licences who had sold alcohol to young people was denied to the authorities because those people, although employed by the off-licence chain, were not actually the licence holders; the staff in question were, in the somewhat antiquated language of the Act, the licence holder's "servants". The licence holder could be a regional manager 10 miles down the road and the law could not be applied to the staff in his shops.

With support in both Houses and the Government's assistance, we prevailed. I would like to be assured by the Minister that the newly fashioned and streamlined Bill will also address that issue. I suspect that it does so because the Government have made it very clear that the principle that lies behind and at the heart of the Bill is the protection of the young. The details contained in Clauses 143 to 150 strengthen the duty on the sellers of alcohol to be sure that they are not selling to under-age young people. That is to be welcomed.

I wish to address the second area from the perspective of a Londoner. I have a special interest in the way in which the Bill will "play" in London, having lived in Soho and Fitzrovia and now I live in Camden. How will the Bill affect inner London boroughs and their residents?

I welcome the proposal to transfer responsibility for licensing to local authorities because I believe that that fits extremely well with a range of responsibilities that boroughs have, from dealing with crime and disorder issues to their responsibilities for dealing with nuisance, public safety, regeneration and the environment.

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There is great merit in seeking to update the existing laws that have now become outdated and bureaucratic. However, a number of issues have been identified that have particular implications for London councils, which will play a vital role as the licensing authorities in our city. That is an important issue in terms of the general context of the Bill because more than 20 per cent of all licensing decisions are currently made in London. I am sure that we will all be keen to ensure that working practices can operate as effectively as possible under the new proposals. I would like to see the following issues addressed to ensure a workable and enforceable regime.

Clause 4 of the Bill states that local authorities should consider the prevention of crime and disorder, public safety, the prevention of public nuisance and the protection of children from harm as part of their general licensing objectives. Neither the Bill itself nor the framework for guidance issued by the Secretary of State makes it clear, in developing a licensing policy, whether the explicit wider facilities should be taken into account in influencing the granting of a licence or the conditions of a licence. Due to the mix of residential and commercial properties in many London areas, residents' concerns must be a key consideration in decision-making. Anti-social problems caused by people leaving premises with late licences affect residents over a wide area.

I hope that my noble friend will address the question about whether local authorities should be able to consider the impact in the "surrounding area" and not just the immediate vicinity, and confirm that "cumulative nuisance" problems can be considered. Local authorities must be allowed to take into account local circumstances and look at the impact of granting a licence on the wider community. Boroughs must have the right to consider the cumulative impact of premises on residents in mixed commercial and residential areas, particularly where extended licensing hours are sought.

Cumulative nuisance can be measured in a number of ways; for example, with crime statistics, noise complaints, litter incidents or admissions to accident and emergency departments. I had not considered the example of nudity, which was mentioned by the noble Viscount; I was wondering possibly whether he should tell me where he lives!

Secondly, I would like to raise the issue of financing the new system. It is correct that the new system should be self-financing and cover issuing and enforcement costs. It is likely that fees will cover the costs of processing applications, enforcement and some inspections. However, at present the fee will be set centrally by government. No formula, review period or premium for London has been agreed as yet. I believe that there is some merit in the view that fees should be set locally to cover the costs of policy development, pre-application discussions, processing applications, adequate consultation, mediation, inspections and enforcement. Such costs should be met

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by the licence applicants rather than by the whole community, possibly on the principle that the polluter pays.

If the process for calculating fees is to be decided by the DCMS, then I believe that it must be transparent and open to scrutiny. However, it is possible that an alternative fee regime should operate in London which fully reflects the city's special circumstances, including high living costs, the high density of entertainment establishments and high wage costs. I am sure that the Minister recognises that the granting and supervision of licences in Leicester Square or Covent Garden are not likely to be of the same order of magnitude or, indeed, to have the same costs as a system which operates in, say, Shipley, near where I come from in Yorkshire, or, for example, Swaffham in Norfolk.

Finally, I want to raise the issue of the transition period. It has been mooted that there will be only a one-year transition period for the new issuing process during which existing licences will be transferred to the new system. It is estimated that for many authorities the number of premises to be regulated will increase 10-fold. The existing regime will have to run in parallel during the transition period.

It is possible that one year will not be long enough. Such a period assumes that applications will be made properly and that local authorities will have enough trained staff and members available to process them. It is possible that we shall need to consider a minimum of two years as the period required for local authorities to prepare for the additional administrative responsibilities. It would be a shame if the new system were overwhelmed and could not operate in a satisfactory manner from the start. However, in conclusion, I am convinced that those are all soluble issues. I welcome the Bill and look forward to working on it during its passage through your Lordships' House.

5.12 p.m.

Lord McNally: My Lords, my interest in the Bill stems from my place of birth—Blackpool—and an upbringing which accompanied giving people fun and entertainment in their leisure time as that was the staple industry of the area. That interest continued in that, in both another place and here, I have continually supported what I referred to in the debate on the gracious Speech as the move away, over recent decades and under successive governments, from legislation which was morally prescriptive on how people spent their leisure money and leisure time to legislation which, in the main, left those decisions to the individual.

Therefore, I say from the start that both I and my party welcome this legislation. Indeed, our party statement on the issue says:

    "The liberalisation of our licensing laws is long overdue. The liquor licensing laws and the public entertainment laws are hopelessly out of date and too bureaucratic".

That is certainly our starting point. But, as noble Lords will have seen from the List of Speakers, one in three of those taking part in the debate will come from

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these Benches. I believe that that reflects the broad span of expertise and experience on these matters that is to be found on these Benches. That will be demonstrated as the debate unfolds.

Now that the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, is back in her place, perhaps I may say that, when she delivered her speech, I was a little worried that she had been testing 24-hour licensing herself. However, I am assured that that is not the case. I hope that her throat bug will soon clear up.

The other interest on these Benches may come from the fact that our draconian licensing laws were introduced by a Liberal-led government in 1915. It is interesting to note—I carried out a double-check on this point—that, in his English History, AJP Taylor stated that the bringing in of these draconian laws due to failures of munitions supply was probably a cover-up for bad management and bad planning by the government of the day. Although munitions supply improved after the legislation was brought in, it is AJP's opinion that the introduction of factory canteens, which came in at about the same time, probably had a greater impact than the legislation.

I want to flag up that in a piece of legislation such as this—in the view of many people the time has come to modernise and update the existing legislation—the Committee stage of the Bill will be particularly important. We are entering unknown territory in its likely outcome and its likely impact deserves careful consideration.

Today, for example, I returned from the CBI. I was impressed by the literature that the Government are promoting there about employers educating their workforce on alcohol and alcohol consumption and on the dangers to health, work performance and productivity. We know that part of the gracious Speech dealt with anti-social behaviour. In liberalising these laws, the Government seem to be going in two directions at once at a time when in other guises, such as health, education and policing, they are concerned about alcohol consumption by schoolchildren and the impact of such consumption on the workplace and in relation to anti-social behaviour. I believe we must ensure that there is genuine joined-up government in the measures in the Bill.

I know that Ministers place great emphasis on the fact that longer licensing hours will reduce binge drinking. So they may, but I am not so sure that I am as confident as was the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, when he replied to our section of the debate on the gracious Speech. I am not sure that simply changing the hours will alter what is a peculiarly English attitude to alcohol consumption—that is, consumed in large quantities, standing up, with the objective of getting drunk. That is a very different cultural attitude from that of the cafe society of the Continent, where long drinking hours are often cited as not causing bad behaviour.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, indicated, in looking at the impact of drinking hours, we must give proper and thorough consideration to examples such as the Isle of Man. I also understand that places

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that have had a long tradition of open-all-hours drinking, such as Amsterdam and Dublin, are now becoming worried about the impact of the stag-party culture on the normal life of those cities. I gather that they are looking for measures to control the situation. Therefore, as I said, in Committee we must consider these social concerns carefully and see whether the measures that the Government propose in the Bill and in other legislation deal with the problems that could be created.

I turn to one or two other points. Many assurances are given in the Bill about the community benefits and about consultation with local communities. The Open All Hours? group, which represents communities, is extremely doubtful whether the protections in the Bill are sufficient. It believes that the Bill is tilted against local communities. I shall keep back its brief until the Committee stage. However, I think that we must look at these protections for local communities and see whether they match the concerns that are being expressed.

I have two small but important points with which to finish. As to intellectual property, complaints have been made to me by the campaign against copyright theft that many clubs use pirated cards in order to gain access to televisions to show football matches and other programmes; that many clubs use music, DVDs and others that are sold for private use for general entertainment. Stealing of intellectual property is not covered in the Bill as one of the conditions of bad behaviour that could be used as a sanction against clubs. Again, that is something that I shall with an amendment—

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