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Lord Phillips of Sudbury: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. Since he is addressing the important question of fees, has he any idea as to the cost that is likely to be incurred by a typical district authority, given that the demands of the Bill are very particular and will be very demanding of the bureaucrats who will have to be deployed? Have we any idea what kind of sum we are talking about?

Lord Davies of Oldham: I am wrestling with the concept of a "typical authority". These are district councils, with a whole range of licensed premises in their areas. I cannot give a flip answer in terms of what this would involve for a typical authority. I am seeking to give an assurance that the fees will be strictly related to the costs involved. That is a cardinal point that we seek to emphasise, and in regard to which we seek to reassure people.

So I am seeking to convince the Committee. I recognise that this is a significant change. Clause 3 is as important as any clause in the Bill. But we are bringing together under one authority all licensing requirements. It will reduce bureaucracy. It will make it possible for a licence application to be considered by one body, and an applicant will know where to go. There is a proper appeal to the magistrates. At Second Reading there was a slight suggestion that the Government hold magistrates in less regard than they ought. That is not so, and the fact that the appeal system involves the magistrates is proof of that. The reason for the transfer is not in any way, shape or form a matter of loss of confidence in magistrates. It relates to the advantages of bringing licensing under one set of auspices and at the same time ensuring democratic responsibility.

There are anxieties that councillors may come under undue pressures. It is a function of councillors to come under undue pressures in all aspects of their lives. I do not under-estimate the licensing dimension. I am all too well aware that, as a local feature, it can loom quite large in terms of local complaints. But a whole swathe of local complaints are being sharply articulated by an

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ever more demanding electorate, and local authorities, we trust and know, respond to those demands. That is why we have the quality of councillors that we do.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness for introducing a probing amendment at this stage. I hope that I have met the major points raised. I emphasise that this is quite a significant change. It is, therefore, bound to create some anxieties outside this place. All my interests are engaged in this transformation of our licensing regime. But it is based on firm principles. On that basis, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel that we can move on to the more detailed amendments that follow, including one relating to the Inner Temple.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: In speaking after the Minister has replied to the amendment, I give him an absolute assurance that I do not seek a response to anything that I say. I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Buscombe for having provided us with the opportunity to revisit some of the issues that were raised at Second Reading. The noble Baroness who is in charge of the Bill knows that I was not able to speak at that stage. I give the Committee a categorical assurance that I am not about to make a long Second Reading speech now, but I want to resile in one regard from the alliance that I formed with the Liberal Democrats during the course of the morning.

I do not disagree with them about the way in which the magistrates fulfil the historic regime, except that there was a problem in one regard in inner London. Magistrates might be sitting on cases in inner London where residents came to explain what it was like to be in the vicinity of the relevant licensed premises. The magistrate, who was not from inner London and had no experience of living there, would say, "If you live in London, that is what you might expect". That is not the most sensible or friendly thing to say to someone who has lived in inner London for 60 years, who was born there and has never moved from his own street.

The regime removes that problem and transfers the issue to councillors. I rise only to say that that will be an improvement on the condition that I have just mentioned if councillors have the opportunity to exercise genuine discretion in their own areas. There are signs, in parts of the Bill that we still have to discuss, that there will be a high degree of central prescription and that the substitution of a councillor for a magistrate will not necessarily make any difference.

Lord Avebury: I wish to reinforce what the noble Lord has just said by reference to the Framework for Guidance To Be Issued Under Clause [177] of the Licensing Bill. The Government have presented this debate to the effect that we are enhancing local democracy. They say that we are giving councillors—elected representatives of the people—the opportunity to make licensing decisions on their behalf. It is a smokescreen for the fact that local authorities will be given very limited discretion, as the noble Lord has just said.

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I shall refer to two sections of the framework document. First, on personal licences, it says,

    "the norm should be for the vast majority of these registrations to be automatic".

Secondly, on page 5, on premises licences, it states that the document will,

    "comprehensively detail the Government's recommendations in terms of best practice".

Do your Lordships, on reading that, think that local authorities will have much scope to make decisions in the best interests of their residents? Or will they be hedged about with such severe restrictions under the framework that they will get all the blame for things that happen in the neighbourhood that residents do not like, but will have no power to remedy objections made to them by local residents suffering severe hardship and distress because of the late-night economy?

I have a letter from people who were constituents of the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville. The letter is from the South East Bayswater Residents' Association. They are apprehensive, to say the least, about what will occur in their area. They will go to the local authority and say, "You have been given this job. It has been taken from the magistrates and now you, our elected representatives, must deal with the nuisance and distress caused to us as a result of the licensing policy". The local authority will have to have a licensing policy. It will go through the motions of making decisions on what kinds of licences they will award and what kinds they will refuse. All the time, they will be constrained in the procrustean bed of this guidance, which will be issued after the Bill has completed its passage through this House.

I object to that most strenuously. The Government have got into a most pernicious practice of waiting until after all the stages of the legislation in both Houses before introducing the guidance, which is the guts of any legislation. It is an insult to Parliament. We are to blame ourselves. We do not take a stronger line on it. We have allowed governments of both complexions to get away with this over the years. We have not insisted that we will not look at legislation until we see its real meaning.

We are in grave danger of allowing the whole Bill to go through before being confronted by the restrictive clauses in the framework, which local authorities will have to operate, getting all the blame.

Baroness Buscombe: I thank the noble Lord, Lord Davies, for his reply to the amendments and his appreciation of the fact that this was intended not just as a debate. There are many beyond your Lordships' House who still need to be convinced. As my noble friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts said, this is a hearts and minds issue. There is no question but that Her Majesty's Opposition entirely support local accountability and local democracy, but it is important to respect the fact that many outside are still not convinced of the need for the change or its desirability, and question some of the implications.

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I remain concerned about one or two issues. The noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, introduced a very good point. Perhaps he would like to think of an amendment on impartiality. I hear what the noble Lord, Lord Davies, has said. However, it is important not only that councillors and magistrates show impartiality, but that the structure, the procedure and their behaviour is seen to be impartial if it is to be credible. As many of us know, in local communities it is often the same few public-spirited individuals who take on the very onerous and responsible roles of councillors, magistrates and school governors. The same few faces regularly appear in different situations in public service. It is therefore important to consider whether a magistrate, who may well sit on an appeal case, should also be on a licensing panel as a councillor in the same ward, district or area.

We shall return to the question of resources, but it is important for the Government to reassure us through the scrutiny of the Bill about the continued resourcing of training for magistrates for appeals and of the administration and mechanism for appeals, which will continue, notwithstanding that the bulk of the role of the licensing system will then be placed with local councils as licensing authorities.

Several noble Lords have raised the interesting question of consistency. I pointed out earlier that the Secretary of State has made it clear that one of the purposes of the Bill is to get rid of the problem of inconsistency between local authority areas. I am more confused now having heard the quotes from the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and how he interprets some parts of the framework guidance on the potential powers and responsibilities of local authorities. The noble Lord expressed concern about the extent to which local authorities will be restricted in their power to carry out the onerous task of ensuring that their licensing objectives within their area are achieved.

I am holding another part of the framework guidance, which relates to the statement of licensing policies. Point 11 states:

    "This section would provide guidance on the preparation of local licensing policy statements by licensing authorities, the general principles that should underpin them and core content to which local authorities would be free to add".

I make this point now because it would be helpful if the Minister were able to consider some of this evening's debate, particularly in relation to Clause 177, before we reach that clause so that we can better understand the breadth of powers that are being realistically given to local authorities to carry through their responsibilities properly, effectively, impartially and in a way that will reassure local residents that their interests and concerns have been covered, as well as reassuring the industry, which rightly wants to respond to a very different culture that has developed in recent years. We want flexibility on the serving of alcohol over a greater period of time.

I refer quickly to the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold. If these amendments were successful, he questioned whether this would mean that the whole of the licensing system would then move from local authorities to magistrates' courts. That is

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certainly not the intention. However, I recall that the noble Lord referred to the question of temporary events on Second Reading, expressing a real concern as to what this will actually mean in practice. For example, there are organisations and individuals beyond this Chamber who are questioning whether local authorities will have the resources, and the capability, to respond with speed and offer licences to those who wish to stage events at reasonably short notice. These are some of the areas that we need to probe as much as possible at this stage, so as to give reassurance both within this Chamber and well beyond.

I could continue, but many of the other issues have already been covered. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Davies, for the spirit in which he has responded to our probing amendments. On balance, there seems to be support in the Committee for this move. The many individuals and organisations who have expressed concerned to us feel somewhat reassured that this move will be effective and work for them, and for the benefit of all. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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