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Baroness Blackstone: The amendments would again introduce unacceptable delays into the process by attempting to prevent decisions of the licensing authority coming into effect until either the period for making an appeal comes to an end or until any appeal made is disposed of.
Let us examine the process for determining applications. An applicant submits an application with the number of documents needed to accompany itincluding an operating schedule which sets out, among other things, which licensable activities he or she wishes to carry on at the premises, or the qualifying club activities that the club wishes to carry on and when, together with an explanation of the steps he or she or the club proposes to take to promote the licensing objectives.
The application is advertised so that interested parties can make relevant representations. It is notified to responsible authorities so that they can comment on the application. Where no representations are made on the application, the licensing authority must grant it, subject only to conditions consistent with the operating schedule.
So, as a simple example, where an operating schedule proposed that a local pub sell alcohol until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays, and no representations were made, the premises licence would reflect the opening hours set out in the operating schedule. In such circumstances, any delay in the licence taking effect would be unnecessary.
Even where relevant representations were made and a hearing convened to consider them and the licence or certificate granted subject to conditions relating to the licensing objectives, it would be inappropriate to delay the coming into effect of the authorisation.
The licensing system must be efficient and effective and provide certainty. The net effect of the delay which these amendments would impose on the industry would be considerable. No licence or certificate would come into effect for at least 21 daysthe appeal period set out in Schedule 5and some businesses could be shut down for weeks pending the hearing of appeals. It is not only an applicant who has a right of appeal against a decision of the licensing authority, but anyone who has made relevant representations. The applicant may be very happy with a decision and want to go about his business as quickly as possible. Why should he be denied that merely to ascertain whether someone may want to appeal? Why should we depart from the normal position in English law in relation to appeals?
I understand the sentiment behind the amendmentit is borne of a wish on the part of licensing authorities to offer even more protection to local residents than the Bill already providesbut I believe that it is misguided and would place an unnecessary regulatory burden on the industry. Given the existing protections in the Bill, which the Government consider are more than sufficient, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: I thank the Minister for her extensive explanation of the rationale for the present position of the Bill. I think she will acknowledge that there is a concern among residents, which she might think unrealistic, that the scales are weighted against them throughout this process. The thought that they might have to go to judicial review for their appeal against a decision to succeedbecause the magistrate could not take away a licence once it had been grantedwould necessarily feed the psychosis that they are a beleaguered and besieged community.
The noble Lord said: This clause deals with circumstances in which the licensee wishes to surrender his licence. As the Bill is drafted, if the holder of a premises licence wishes to surrender it, he may give the relevant licensing authority notice to that effect. That appears to leave open to the licence holder the option of not giving notice. As a consequence, the important records of the number and types of licences operating in any area will be inaccurate until the licensing authority discovers the change by another means. This amendment is designed to make it clear that the only way in which a premises licence can validly be surrendered is by giving the relevant licensing authority notice. If there is a single conduit, the statistics, by definition, will be up to date and comprehensive. I beg to move.
Baroness Blackstone: I accept entirely that it is important that we have proper, accurate, valid and reliable licensing statistics. However, the amendment is based on the mistaken assumption that a licence holder may surrender his or her licence without notifying the licensing authority. I assure the noble Lords, Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville and Lord Redesdale, that, if a licence holder wants to surrender the licence but does not notify the licensing authority, it is not surrendered and his or her obligations remain the same. For that reason, the amendment is unnecessary and I hope that the noble Lord feels able to withdraw it.
Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: A profound curiosity holds me in suspense until the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, in speaking to the next group of amendments, says what he might have said about this one. But I am prepared to live with the Minister's response while continuing to look forward with anticipation to the observations of the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Lord said: I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 217 and 246, which follow this amendment. The purpose of this amendment is to provide that, where a licensee wishes to surrender his license,
I declare an interest as the owner of the Redesdale Arms pub in Northumberland on the A68. It is a particularly fine hostelry of note and distinction, with fine food and fare. Having said that, I would be directly affected if the tenant decided to surrender the licence without notifying me as the landlord. I doubt that it would happen in my case, but it could do where, because of financial or social problems, the licensee disappears in the middle of the night. For example, the licensee of one local pub disappeared in the middle of the night with the dance floor. That would affect the provision of music and dance, which is dealt with in other parts of the Bill.
If, for malicious reasons, the licensee surrendered a licence without informing the landlord or company with a registered interest, and they were not made aware when the licensing authority accepted the surrender, they would have to reapply for the licence. That could lead to financial redress and consequences. There would be further implications if there were a problem in reapplying for the licence. A licence would not be granted without questions being asked.
I hope that the Minister will accept this amendment or give reasons why it could not be accepted. One of my concerns is that, if it is not accepted and the Bill becomes law in its present state, the licensing authority or the Government will be challenged in the European Court of Human Rights on grounds that someone with a registered interest would be financially disadvantaged by the Bill. I beg to move.
Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts: I support the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, in this. I declare an interest: as noble Lords who have sat through previous proceedings will know, I am a director of a brewery and an operator of 1,500 pubs. Where one has tenants, one's interests will be affected if they exercise malice aforethoughtand sometimes malice is aforethought, as the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, pointed out. There is an interest here which needs to be protected as the noble Lord suggests.
What is the Government's thinking on long leases, which now tend to run for 21 years? They provide greater security for the brewery and the tenant, which is in everyone's interest. Who will be the premises licence holder: the owner of the premisesthe breweryor the tenant with a 21-year licence? We have not yet tackled that issue. I would be interested to hear the Government's thinking on it in replying to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale.
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