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Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts: I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way. It is not a question of selling alcohol; it is a question of selling food. The Forecourt Service Association is concerned about alcohol, but in the letters that have been circulated, which I am sure the Minister's department has received, two distinct issues are raised. One is alcohol and the other is whether more regulations will be placed on an already heavily regulated sector in relation to the sale of a coffee or a sandwich to people who fill up with petrol in the middle of the night on some A-road in the country. I am happy to return to the matter, but this issue does not concern alcohol. I am driving at non-alcoholic sales which are incidental to petrol sales but in the middle of the night. Are those caught?

Baroness Blackstone: I understand that they would be caught by the amendment but not as far as the legislation is concerned. If I am wrong about that, I shall write to the noble Lord.

On a rather different note, Amendment No. 45 seeks to exempt premises when they are used for the exhibition of films under a premises licence. That is odd. If premises already have a premises licence for the showing of films, why would not late night refreshment be covered under the same licence? Under the Bill, unlike the existing regime, all those activities can be covered by a single licence. Therefore, the terms of the amendment do not appear to make much sense. As I made clear, we do not consider that there is justification for extending the late night refreshment house regime beyond the terms in the Bill. I hope that the amendment can be withdrawn.

Lord Skelmersdale: Throughout the day I have become more and more confused. My most recent confusion is that the noble Baroness has just said that a single licence will be required. However, we heard earlier from her noble friend Lord McIntosh how easy it was to get a supplementary licence for various events. Surely, she cannot have it both ways.

Baroness Blackstone: There must be a misunderstanding. The position is clear. Under the Bill it will be possible to get a single licence, but that licence will have to specify what it covers. I believe that that is what was meant by my noble friend Lord McIntosh of Haringey.

Lord Luke: I thank the noble Baroness for her reply. Like many others, this amendment is a probing amendment. We seek clarity. Some of us find it rather difficult to achieve that. No doubt by the end of Committee stage we shall have a great deal more clarity than appears possible at present. In any case, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 33 to 60 not moved.]

Schedule 2 agreed to.

Clause 2 agreed to.

Clause 3 [Licensing authorities]:

The Principal Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Grenfell): Before calling Amendment No. 61, I must advise the Committee that if that amendment is agreed to, I cannot call Amendments. Nos. 62 to 66.

Baroness Buscombe moved Amendment No. 61:

    Page 2, line 33, leave out subsection (1).

The noble Baroness said: We now come to Part 2 of the Bill, which relates to licensing authorities. I make clear that in Amendment No. 61 and in any debate on the question that Clause 3 stand part, we are probing what the Bill proposes. We do not have any intention of wrecking the Bill. However, having said that, I wish to return to what I said at Second Reading. I said then that we were not convinced that the case had been made by the Government for this radical change of procedure from magistrates' courts to local authorities. We have nothing but praise for the magistrates who give up their time for no reward and for their clerks, without whom the magistrates' court system could not operate.

We believe that the Government are determined to introduce this change, but we are concerned, as we have been on earlier occasions during the proceedings today, to probe the Government in relation to the evidence and the reasons for making this change. We are doing so in response to approaches from many outside organisations, including the Magistrates' Association and many publicans, who want to know why the Government are making this change.

The Government support the evidence-based approach to drafting legislation. That being the case, we should like to have the evidence from the Minister today as to why this change is being made.

We are confident that local authorities, controlled by elected councillors, are well placed to take on the responsibility, and in so doing represent the interests of their respective communities, but we shall want to consider carefully whether this new system will work in practice.

Under Clause 5 each licensing authority must publish a licensing statement setting out its policy with respect to its licensing function. The licensing statement must cover a period of three years. In preparing that licensing statement the authority must consult with the police, the fire authority and various representatives of the industry in the locality and representatives of residents in its area.

As I said at Second Reading, the difficulty that might arise is the pressure on those elected councillors. As residents all have votes, any local authority ignoring their views, one might suppose, would do so at its peril.

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There has been widespread anxiety among local authorities that the guidance described in Clause 177 may fetter their discretion to respond to local concerns. The role of residents and councils will, they fear, be diminished in the process. Conversely, industry representatives understandably fear that the process will be politicised and—again, as I said at Second Reading—that the "not in my backyard" syndrome might work unfairly against local businesses and consumer choice.

As I have already said, we have been inundated with letters and representations from different quarters. I quote one or two publicans who are concerned about this change. One said:

    "I am concerned that, if the licence is derived from the local council, the power vested in me [as a publican] is bestowed with far less authority and far more political consideration. This alone will devalue the responsibility for the licence and its associated responsibilities".

Another publican's concern was:

    "The magistrates have been performing the task of licensing for many years now in a fair, impartial and knowledgeable manner. Publicans do not wish to see local politics creeping into what is part of our National Heritage . . . Why do we need to change a proven system, which from what we read and hear in the media will cost over 1 billion? Who will pay for this? The poor old publican we expect".

Further concerns have been raised time and again by the various quarters to whom I have referred. There is the question of delay and of how this will all be implemented. Also there is an important question of consistency.

The Secretary of State, Tessa Jowell, in a "dear colleague" letter dated 13th November 2002 said:

    "Existing public entertainment licensing law lays down no procedures for the processing of applications and local authorities have been left to create their own. This has produced inconsistency between one local authority area and another and uncertainty for operators".

Surely, inconsistency will continue. Noble Lords may say that that is not a problem. Do the Government accept that there will be inconsistency across the land? If one goes into one pub, which may have a well-known name, will it have a different licensing regime in one area from that of another pub with the same name in another area?

Different policy statements by different authorities in pursuit of their interpretation of the licensing objectives under Clause 4(2) may cause real problems, bearing in mind that one of the Bill's objectives—which we accept—is to encourage tourism and an understanding on the part of those entering this country of what they can do in a blanket manner. Will that happen in practice if local authorities have those powers and responsibilities?

We are also concerned about the question of fees and consistency. Again, we shall return to this at much greater length later. Publicans, in particular, ask about the costs of moving the system from magistrates' courts to local authorities. A question understandably raised at length by local authorities is that of resource implications for them. Do the Government intend to transfer resources from the Lord Chancellor's Department budget to local authorities to cover the

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additional costs of the alcohol licensing regime currently administered by magistrates' courts? Do they intend the additional costs to be met from fees or from local council tax payers' pockets? The Bill is unclear about that.

At the end of the day, magistrates will still need a system in place to respond to appeals—which will arise. We understand from the Bill that where there is a problem at local authority level, applicants can appeal to magistrates' courts. In that case, can magistrates' courts afford to reduce the costs and resources that they apply to the licensing system if they are to be ready and able to sit wherever and whenever necessary to consider appeals?

Many more questions are being asked. On behalf of those asking them, we look to the Government for clarity and confirmation. For example, many magistrates feel passionately that they have a unique local knowledge of questions of crime and disorder—they are dealing with it, they are dealing with the local problem individuals and areas day to day; they have that knowledge. We therefore ask again: is it right that responsibility for the system be moved to local authorities?

We also ask those questions and have tabled the amendments to highlight one of the most important concerns—raised at length by noble Lords at Second Reading—to which we shall return later in Committee, when we reach Clause 177. So much of the nuts and bolts of the new regime is not written into the Bill. That is why so many questions have been asked today about what are the real implications of the Bill. So much is left to what is to be called the national guidance, which at Second Reading the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, told us will not be published until the spring. Of course the definition of "spring" allows for a broad period. My definition of spring is probably May or June, in our current climate.

We shall return to the matter, but we are being asked to accept so much, including a radical change to the licensing system—to which we do not necessarily object, but for which we must ask for the reasons—without clarity as to how it will be administered, because that will be in the national guidance. I beg to move.

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