16 Jan 2003 : Column 301

House of Lords

Thursday, 16th January 2003.

The House met at eleven of the clock: The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Oxford.

Licensing Bill [HL]

The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Baroness Blackstone): My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.—(Baroness Blackstone.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


Clause 22 [Grant or rejection of application]:

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville moved Amendment No. 197:

    Page 13, line 34, leave out "forthwith" and insert "as soon as is reasonably practicable"

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 200, 224, 226, 311 and 313.

This is thought to be the final day in Committee on this Bill. The amendment—inserting,

    "as soon as is reasonably practicable",

instead of "forthwith"—seems to be a good text for the day's debates. I shall be moving amendments in 19 other groupings, and, although it is not indicated on the Marshalled List, I have advised the Government Whips' Office that I intend to speak briefly on Clause 191 stand part. I give the Minister an assurance from the beginning that I shall seek to be as brief as possible. If in 20 groupings I err at least once, that will be the exception that proves the rule.

In subsections (1) and (3) of Clause 22, a requirement is made of the licensing authority that, once an application has been determined, it must issue the licence and a notice of reasons for granting it under subsection (1), or a notice of reasons for refusal under subsection (3); and this must be done "forthwith". These notices must go to the applicant, to,

    "any person who made relevant representations",

and to the chief officer of police in the area.

"Forthwith" has an ordinary meaning—namely, "at once, without delay", to take the definition in the Oxford English Dictionary. It may not be practicable in all cases to issue the required notices immediately. The drafting of reasons will not necessarily be able to take place instantaneously. These amendments seek to insert the more sensible and reasonable requirement that the licensing authority shall carry out these duties,

    "as soon as is reasonably practicable".

16 Jan 2003 : Column 302

The other five amendments that I shall move in this group effectively say the same thing. I beg to move.

Baroness Buscombe: I rise to speak to Amendments Nos. 198 and 201.

Throughout the Bill significant demands are placed on licensing authorities in respect of the time-scales with which they have to comply. The most demanding, perhaps, relates to the transitional arrangements proposed in the Bill, which will be dealt with later.

Clause 22 provides that, when granting a licence under Clause 18, a licensing authority must,

    "forthwith . . . give a notice to that effect to . . . the applicant . . . any person who made relevant representations . . . and . . . to the chief officer of police for the police area",


    "issue the applicant with the licence and a summary of it".

"Forthwith" means "immediately". In some cases it will simply be impossible for licensing authorities to comply with the requirement. Let us take, for example, a contested application which is heard by a licensing sub-committee and—as is quite common when local authorities are dealing with public entertainment licences—the hearing goes on until late at night or even into the early hours of the morning. If the licensing sub-committee grants the licence, subject to conditions that arise as a result of objections raised during the hearing, it may not be practicable to draft the notice immediately together with the reasons and, most importantly, the licence itself.

The amendment would enable a local authority to have two working days in which to prepare the necessary documents—which in a complicated and controversial case may need special care and may take a great deal of time to prepare. The licensing authority should not feel that it is being rushed into drafting its reasons for granting a licence in such cases, particularly as there will now be a right of appeal against that decision. I support the amendment.

Baroness Blackstone: I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, for telling the Committee that he will attempt to be as brief as possible in moving all the amendments standing in his name. I am grateful also to the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, for being brief and to the point on this grouping.

Many noble Lords—particularly the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson—will know that some in the industry fear that the transfer of licensing functions to local authorities will mean a great deal of delay, and for obvious reasons the industry wants to avoid that.

The Government do not consider those concerns to be justified, although we can understand the reasons for them. That is why we have sought to build benefits into the Bill for the industry through "light touch" regulation to balance the additional safeguards that are put in place in the public interest.

We sought to reassure the industry that applications for licences will be dealt with promptly and efficiently. The use of the word "forthwith" in Clauses 22 and 35 reflects that aim. It is there to emphasise that there should be no delay in notifying applicants when a

16 Jan 2003 : Column 303

matter has been determined. We should not interpret that to mean that, when there is a hearing late in the evening, the licensing authority then has to tell people in the middle of the night. That would be absurd, and I should like to give that reassurance.

One of the anxieties about local authorities that representatives of the industry have expressed to us is the propensity of some of them to use delay to frustrate applications. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, does not wish to make that possible by the insertion of the words,

    "as soon as is reasonably practicable".

Our preference is to emphasise speed and to send a clear message, particularly as the effect of the determination will impact on the rights and obligations of the applicant for a premises licence and on the assumption of responsibilities by that person. In respect of a determination on an application for a variation, it will again have an important impact. The Committee should remember that an application for variation may have been unchallenged and no hearing involved. Certainly there can be no justification for delay in such circumstances.

In the light of the reassurances that I have given and the reasons behind the Government's belief that the word "forthwith" will be helpful, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: I follow what the Minister said and I understand the logic behind the original wording—the apprehensions of the licensed trade that some local authorities have a record of not being as prompt as they might be—but the disadvantage of staying with "forthwith" is that it comes down totally on the side of the licensed trade. There may be circumstances where,

    "as soon as is reasonably practicable",

provides a much better description of the speed at which a local authority can move.

It will be no good my asking the Minister whether, if the licensed trade came to the department to complain that decisions were not being delivered "forthwith", the local authority could say in response, "We did it as soon as reasonably practicable", but I hope the Minister will recognise that there is a genuine problem.

Although I am willing to withdraw the amendment on this occasion, I shall wish to take advice on how happy those on the other side of the equation—the local authorities—are about being stuck with the word "forthwith", which means "extremely prompt". I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 198 not moved.]

11.15 a.m.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville moved Amendment No. 199:

    Page 13, line 41, at end insert—

"( ) A determination under this section does not have effect—

16 Jan 2003 : Column 304

(a) until the end of the period given for appealing against the decision; or
(b) if the decision is appealed against, until the appeal is disposed of."

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 199, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 312, which repeats the wording of Amendment No. 199 and is effectively consequential upon it.

The existing clause requires the licensing authority to issue a licence to the applicant forthwith, as we confirmed during the debate on the previous group of amendments. That will raise a technical issue if there is an appeal because once the licence is granted a magistrate, on appeal, cannot quash the grant. The only remedy for an appellant would be to seek judicial review to quash the grant and then to pursue the appeal. That would be unjust and onerous on appellants.

The effect of the amendment is to require the licensing authority not to grant a licence until after all appeal procedures are exhausted. The wording mirrors the wording provided for appellants when licences are reviewed. I beg to move.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page