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Lord Monson: I strongly support Amendments Nos. 129 and 130. I think that these amendments are absolutely vital.
Lord Davies of Oldham: I shall, if I may, wait to address the fundamental issue of the value of Clauses 6, 7 and 9 in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Brooke. In the hope that the clauses will survive, and that the amendments are therefore relevant, I shall first seek to reassure as best I can the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, on the points she raised.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, knows, the memorandum was prepared for the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. It explains that, as she accurately quoted, given the administrative nature of these matters and the fact that in many respects the proceedings of licensing committees will be determined by local authorities' own standing orders, it appears sensible and appropriate for these matters to be left to secondary legislation, and for the negative resolution procedure to apply. That was the Government's case. What the noble Baroness left out was the crucial fact that the committee found those arrangements acceptable.
The regulations may make detailed provision for public access to meetings and to records from the meetings. Occasionally, it may be inappropriate for the public to have access to meetings given that it could inhibit free and open discussion. The inclusion of this measure in the Bill gives important flexibility in the holding of meetings of the licensing committees which I hope will benefit local authorities. I therefore believe that we meet the requirements. Moreover, the committee has accepted that our proposal adequately addresses the issue.
On the issue that the noble Baroness
Baroness Buscombe: I hope that I may intervene. I made reference to the fact that the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee suggested that your Lordships might wish to inquire what use might be made of the power as the regulations could not override primary legislation. I seek a response from the noble Lord on that matter.
Lord Davies of Oldham: Of course we recognise that the regulations cannot override the primary legislation. We seek to create within the framework a procedure that fits in with local authority procedures. We have provided a framework that we regard as giving the necessary flexibility and one which local authorities on the whole appear to have accepted. On that basis I seek to sustain the present position.
On Amendments Nos. 131 and 132, I believe that we are of common accord in terms of our general objectives but that there is a very fine point of difference between us. The use of sub-committees and officers will create greater flexibility and the Bill intends the licensing committee to use sub-committees and officers to delegate the day-to-day applications and processes to allow decisions on applications to be made quickly. There is absolutely nothing in the Bill to prevent delegation to panels of officers. That seems like plain common sense. I believe that that was the burden of the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe. That matter is not constrained by the Bill. Therefore, I believe that we are of one mind on that matter.
I turn to Amendment No. 133, which would allow licensing authorities to decide unanimously the identity of the relevant licensing authorityI do not believe that our point of difference is very great here eitherfor premises that straddle two or more licensing authority areas.
We have stated that where this is the case either the licensing authority in whose area the greater part of the premises is situated or, if none, the authority that the applicant nominates would be the relevant licensing authority. This puts the burden of the decision on the applicant and results in less paperwork for the licensing authority. I believe therefore that the amendment is unnecessary and would result only in more bureaucracy and paperwork for the licensing authority.
I turn to the unseasonable coach and horses which the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, seeks to drive through the Bill. At this time of year we normally attribute picturesque characteristics to a coach and horses. We do not view it in terms of an aggressive weapon. However, the noble Lord would like that coach and horses to trample all over the Bill and remove Clauses 6, 7 and 9. Such a course would prevent the establishment and functioning of licensing committees, including delegation to sub-committees and officers. It would place a severe and possibly untenable burden on the licensing authority. I now understand why the word "quoracy" was mentioned with regard to a licensing authority taking certain decisions and not delegating them to a sub-committee or in extremis to an officer. In my view the removal of those clauses would effectively wreck the Bill. It would be totally disproportionate for the whole licensing authority to have to meet to consider every single licence application. It would certainly create logjams in the system and huge pressure on elected members, not to mention the industry. It would also give even more point to the question of where we draw the line on the necessary size of the licensing committee. In circumstances in which the committee included a substantial proportion of the local authority, we would be placing a burden on almost the entire local authority to deal with each licensing application.
That surely cannot be what the noble Lord intends. I hope that he recognises that we have sought to achieve balance on the issue. There are pressures between the proper representation and needs of the community in viewing licensing applications and the needs of licensees to obtain their licences properly and effectively when they have a service they can offer to the community. The pressure at times, in those circumstances, can be great in terms of the necessity for speed.
I give due notice that today's deliberations will shortly come to an end. I hope that we will not conclude on the sour note that the noble Lord would wish to wreck the Bill.
Lord Avebury: I do not want to prolong proceedings but I cannot help drawing the attention of the Committee to the fact that the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, twice asked a perfectly reasonable question to which she has not been given a proper answer. She referred to the suggestion by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee that we should inquire as to the use that could be made of the power to regulate public access to the licensing committees.
With due respect to the Minister, this is not solely a matter for the local authorities involved. They might have expressed an opinion, but the ultimate responsibility rests on us, as Members of the Committee, and on Members of another place to say whether we agree to the powers for which the Minister asks in the Bill. He has not explained why there is any necessity for powers which, as he acknowledged, cannot contravene the access of the public to committees provided for in the Local Government Act
Baroness Buscombe: I thank the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for his intervention. I would like an answer.
Lord Davies of Oldham: I have little to add to the answer I have given. I hoped that I had dealt with each of the amendments in sufficient detail. I am sorry if some Members of the Committee are dissatisfied with the answers, as I should have liked to conclude on a more cheery note. On this occasion, however, I am bound to disappoint them.
Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: I owe an apology to the Committee. I am a member of the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform. However, I can plead in extenuation that I was not a member of that committee when I tabled the amendments that would strike Clauses 6, 7 and 9, particularly Clause 9, from the Bill. The issues that arose from the report have come up in the course of debate. At a later stage there may be further inquiries as to why the House as a whole thinks it necessary for Clause 9 and its regulations to be included, over and above what the Minister has already said.
In terms of Clauses 6, 7 and 9, I am happy to take my coach and horses away in the most literal sense. During the Christmas season, I shall reflect on what the Minister said about those clauses. I do not intend to divide the Committee.
Lord Davies of Oldham: I beg to move that the House do now resume.
Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
Baroness Blackstone rose to move, That the draft regulatory reform order laid before the House on 17th December be approved [6th Report from the Regulatory Reform Committee].
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, as we complete our final business before the Christmas and New Year recess begins, the order before noble Lords is, appropriately, the Regulatory Reform (Special Occasions Licensing) Order 2002, which has effect in England and Wales. The order amends the Licensing Act 1964, and puts in place a permanent relaxation of licensing hours on each subsequent New Year's Eve. The order extends licensing hours between 11 p.m. on each New Year's Eve until the start of licensing hours on each New Year's Day. That produces a continuous period of
On special occasions such as New Year's Eve, most on-licensed premises normally have to make applications to the magistrates' courts or in London, to the Commissioners of Police for the Metropolis and for the City, for extensions of licensing hours. As differing permissions are given, that produces a wide variation in hours across England and Wales. In addition, as 130,000 on-licensed premises and non-profit-making members' clubs may be involved, that places a considerable burden on the courts, the police and the hospitality industry. When special exemption orders are granted, public entertainment licences are extended in line with the order made. The cost to the industry can be more than £9 million each year, which is inevitably passed on to the consumer. Although the courts recover their costs through fees, it is a difficult and demanding time.
The order would remove the need to make such applications. Similar one-off orders were made for the eve of the millennium in 1999, for New Year's Eve 2001 and for the Golden Jubilee this year. They have all been successful and greatly appreciated by the industry and the general public.
New Year's Eve last year served as a trial of these hours at an ordinary New Year's Eve. The impact of last year's order was carefully reviewed by the Government in consultation with all police forces, all local authorities, all magistrates' courts and some residents' associations before the latest proposal was taken to public consultation and later brought before Parliament.
Most importantly, the police across the country pointed to the success of last year's order. They found that period to be quieter than an average weekend, and found significant benefits to public order in the avoidance of fixed closing times. The review of that New Year's Eve was published with a consultation document in March this year.
The Government learnt from the experience of New Year's Eve 2001 and the order provides arrangements which were also part of the Golden Jubilee. It is now easier for the police, local residents and local authorities to seek restriction orders on grounds of potential disorder and disturbance. Restriction orders limit the extension of hours for specific premises. However, such orders are rare. Only five were sought in 1999, only two in 2001 and none was sought during the Golden Jubilee. The order also relieves local authorities of their requirement to vary public entertainment licences at these times.
While approving the order, the Regulatory Reform Committee in another place criticised the Government for making it so late, although I am pleased to note that your Lordships' committee did not do so. I can only say that we had given undertakings to both committees that we would review New Year's Eve 2001 before seeking to bring forward a permanent proposal. That meant consulting more than 800 police forces, magistrates' courts, local authorities and
The House's Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee has recommended that the order can be approved and expressed the view that it provides adequate safeguards for local residents who live close to licensed premises while lifting burdens from the businesses affected.
Finally, noble Lords will perhaps want to know why a permanent order is necessary in view of the fact that the Licensing Bill is already before your Lordships' House. Obviously, the Bill will make no difference to New Year's Eve 2002. But even if the Bill receives Royal Assent by July 2003, at least one year of transition will follow during which permitted licensing hours would still be in place. Accordingly, the order will apply to New Year's Eve 2003, as well as New Year's Eve 2002. After that, everything depends on your Lordships' consideration of the Bill!
I am completely satisfied that the provisions of the order are compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. I commend the order to the House.
Moved, That the draft regulatory reform order laid before the House on 17th December be approved [6th Report from the Regulatory Reform Committee].(Baroness Blackstone.)
Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts: My Lords, I am sure that the House is grateful to the Minister for explaining this order, which, as she said, provides for an extension of licensing hours on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day. From her speech and from the notes that have been circulated, it is clear that trials of the proposal were held over the New Year's Eves of 19992000, 200001 and 200102, as well as the Golden Jubilee.
As the Minister also said, there appears to have been no increase in disorderindeed, there has possibly been some decrease. Having read the paperwork, it seems clear that, while some objections were inevitably raised during the consultation phase on extending the order, the overwhelming proportion of the general publicI believe that 90 per cent was the figure givenfavoured the automatic extension of licensing hours on this basis in the future.
This is a deregulatory order and, therefore, it instinctively commands our sympathy, particularly when it combines, as I understand it does, the automatic extension of public entertainment licencessubject, obviously, to the local appeal that the noble Baroness mentionedand the consequent cash savings that will follow.
So far, so good. I do not wish to be accused of being unseasonal, but I should like to raise two or three points. The first is a small one concerning the titlethe Regulatory Reform (Special Occasions Licensing) Order. As I understand it, there is only one special occasion and that is New Year's Eve and New Year's Day. As I understand it, a future jubilee or other event of national celebration will not qualify without other regulations being introduced. This Government are very keen on fancy titles, whether they be in relation to consultation or legislation, which promise more than they intend to deliver. Does the noble Baroness agree that this should properly be called the "Regulatory Reform (New Year Licensing) Order"?
When the Minister comes to reply, can she also say a word about how the order affects off-licences? I understand the impact for on-premises licensing, but what about off- premises licensing, about which one or two questions have been raised?
I want to return to the important question of the timing of the order whichdare I saythe noble Baroness slightly slid by in her introductory remarks. We meet on 19th December and, assuming that the order can take effect tomorrow, we are 12 days away from the occasion for which the regulation is designed. That is hardly a long time for licensees, many of whom are small businessmen, to grasp and implement it, let alone for licensing authorities to do the same.
When I read through the papers, I was absolutely astonished to read the proceedings of the Regulatory Reform Committee in another place. This is clearly the second consecutive year in which this problem has occurred. I quote from paragraph 122 on page 33 of the committee's report:
The subsequent publication gives details of officials earnestly wriggling to get themselves and their Ministers off the hook. The noble Baroness gave a wonderful wriggle as she introduced the order. We must remember that pre-publicity, described as the answer, is hardly adequate. The truth is that of the 70,000 licensed premises in this country, about half are owner-managed. Such people are entrepreneurs and classic small businessmen. I dare say that they are not much in love with regulation and do not have overmuch time, amidst the pressures of running their businesses, to keep in touch with the finer points of administrative change.
The way in which the order has been handled administratively is a fiasco. I hope that the Minister will be honest enough to admit that when she winds up.
I look forward to hearing the comments of the noble Baroness. I emphasise that we support the deregulatory aspects of this proposal, although on its administration, as they say in the Eurovision Song Contest, it is awarded "nul point".
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