|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: I support my noble friend's remarks in relation to this group of amendments. Like him, I believe that this is a core provision. Without these or similar changes, the Bill will be wholly inadequate.
It is no exaggeration to say that unless we have such amendments, which entitle the licensing authorities to form their own views as to the merit or otherwise of licensing applicationsin effect to give them discretionthere will be an automatic procedure, as provided for by Clause 18, in which the local authorities are in effect ciphers of central government. One needs to remind the Government that under Clause 4 licensing authorities must have regard to the guidance issued from Whitehall. The framework for guidance already makes it perfectly clear that it will encourage longer drinking hours and encourage a semi-automatic approach to dealing with applications for licences.
Clause 18 as drafted is one of the most complicated provisions to find one's way around that I have encountered in the five years that I have been in this House. That is regrettable. I am not casting aspersions
Again, the uninitiated might think that this was a solace. They might think, "Oh, well that's all right, it has to be in accordance with the schedule." Then they discover that the operating schedule is the schedule drawn up by the person seeking the licenceso that is no good.
As my noble friend Lord Falkland said, only a relevant representative can make an objection of a qualitative nature to which the licensing authority must have regard. There again, however, one is trapped in the extreme complexity of the language of
We all know, because we debated it earlier, that Clause 4 defines the licensing objectives in a wholly inadequate way. The only one that comes anywhere near amenity of local residents is the public nuisance test. I shall not repeat the arguments, which were made on all sides of the Committee, that to have public nuisance as the only amenity test gets nowhere near the issues that will concern decent, ordinary folk. It is not even dealing with private nuisance. We are concerned about severe breach of amenity without any nuisance at all.
It is an Alice in Wonderland set of provisions. First, they deprive the licensing authority of any qualitative judgment or discretion as to the satisfactory nature or otherwise of the operating schedule put forward by the applicant for a licence. The proposals deprive the authority of the ability to do the very thing that the Government have led us to believe they are there to do. We have had a lot of talk about how much more democratic and improving it will be to have local councillors rather than magistrates as the licensing authority, because they are nearer to mother Earth and much more answerable and accountable to local citizens, who are their electors. However, they have no discretion or judgments that they can make and, what is more, local residents have no powers even to make a representation that is not confined to "licensing objectives".
Unless Clauses 4 and 18 are fundamentally amended, the Bill will prove seriously inadequate. It will not give the public the protection that they deserve and it will not strike the balance that the Government repeatedly say is their dearest wish.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My amendments later on deal with Clause 18 to a certain extent. Several of the points have been raised already, and I shall deal with them on this amendment. In particular, subsection (2) says specifically that the licence must be granted and the reasons for not doing so are few and far between. As with planning applications, the weight is in favour of the applicant. It is not evenly balanced.
There is a strict time limit on when representations may be made. There are all sorts of reasons. People might be in hospital or abroad and not know about things. I compare the situation to an employment tribunal, for which there is a strict time limit. Applications must be in by a certain date. However, it is possible to apply for an out of date hearing or consideration of your point of view, as it would be in this case, if you can prove that there is a good reason why you did not bring in your reason earlier. Perhaps you never received the letter. I do not know by what means notification will be given to applicants. It has always been necessary to prove that clearly. If items are sent by recorded delivery, the Post Office receipt can be produced as proof of whether they were received. It is not possible just to say, "I did not get it. I live in a building with other people and someone else might have picked it up". That is not good enough. However, if someone is in hospitalthis applies in many casesit would be very unfair if their representations could not be heard simply because they were outside the strict time limit. I support the amendments.
Lord Borrie: I find it difficult to understand how, under Clause 18(2), any licensing authority worthy of its name can be expected to have to grant a licence except when there are representations. The whole thing is dependent on representations. I do not need to elaborate on the narrow way in which those representations must be made, because the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, has made those points.
Because the turning down of an application is so utterly dependent on representations and for the reasons given by the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, and other reasons, it seems a most extreme form of unsatisfactory licensing policy if licences must be granted whenever there are no representations.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I shall respond to the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, separately from others. The noble Lord hates Clause 4. Nothing we can do will convince him that Clause 4 is right. Any changes that are made to Clause 18 are never going to satisfy him unless we go back and change Clause 4.
So far as other people are concerned, it is true that the Bill provides that if no representations are received the licensing authority is required to grant the licence with conditions attached that are consistent with the operating schedule. However, the whole process is designed to do two things. The first is to allow simple and uncontroversial applications through without a hearing. I hope that those who seek to represent applicants will support that, as it is a major deregulatory provision and a major move away from the unnecessary democracywhoops! I mean that it is a major move away from the unnecessary bureaucracy and the 50 statutes that govern the hearing of applications.
To ensure a balance between the interests of the public and those of the industry, any conditions attached to the licence or certificate must be necessary for the promotion of the licensing objectives. With the exception of the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, we have on the whole had agreement about the licensing objectives.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page