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Baroness Blackstone: Under the present arrangements the licensing justices operate a somewhat subjective test of whether a licensee is a fit and proper person. In the Bill we define more objectively the circumstances in which the licensing authority must refer an application to the police to ascertain whether they have objections. The proposal of the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, that all applications for personal licences should be notified to the police has overtones of the rather vague "fit and proper person" test that the Bill seeks to replace with a more objective and transparent system, with clear criteria for qualification for a personal licence.

When we published the White Paper we said that we would look at objections in the case of serious offences. There has been a great deal of debate on how to define "serious offences". The drift of Amendment No. 371—most of the remainder of the amendments are consequential—and Amendment No. 375 is to include in the relevant offences crimes for which people receive short sentences. That would make it more difficult for people convicted of less serious offences to obtain personal licences. It is important to emphasise that we did not simply dream up a list of what we thought were serious offences. The list of offences was prepared in consultation with the stakeholders, including the police, and was cleared with ACPO as containing all the appropriate offences.

Our consultations with the police led us to make a distinction between offences attracting a custodial penalty of 30 months or more involving dishonesty, violence or a sexual element, and those attracting a lesser sentence. In the case of someone sentenced to fewer than 30 months, the conviction would not trigger a reference to the police. I do not claim that it is easy to decide where to draw the line between more and less serious offences. To some extent, any line is bound to be arbitrary.

The principle underlying the provisions of the Bill as it now stands is simple. On the one hand, we recognise that the possession of a personal licence puts its holder in a position of some responsibility. It is, therefore, important that the licensing authority should be able to decide, in the light of police advice, whether

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someone with a serious criminal record is or is not suitable to carry out that responsibility. On the other hand, we ought not to exaggerate the dangers and provide for all offences to trigger a reference to the police. The amendments would mean, for example, that anyone convicted of any offence involving dishonesty, for however short a period, which had not yet been spent under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, would risk being unable to obtain a personal licence. Someone already in possession of a personal licence would run the risk of having it revoked. Anyone convicted of an offence—shoplifting, for example—would be in that position, even if punished by no more than a fine.

We accept that, where the offence is serious, as reflected in the sentence passed by the courts, a question arises about whether a person should be a licence holder. But not all offences covered by these amendments are necessarily serious. The licensed trade certainly needs responsible people. But it is unrealistic to regard it as suitable only for those without a stain or blemish of any kind on their character. However, I recognise the strength of feeling of both noble Baronesses about the issue. I am ready to make a commitment to look at it again and consider whether a licensing authority should be able to refer to the police an application for the grant or renewal of a personal licence by someone who has been convicted of a relevant sexual or violent offence or one involving dishonesty, even where the applicant received a custodial sentence of less than 30 months. With that assurance, I hope that the amendment will be withdrawn.

Amendment No. 393 and its consequentials raise points related to the grant or rejection of a personal licence where there has been a conviction for a relevant offence. The licensing authority, when considering the objection notice from the police, must reject the application or the renewal if—and only if—it considers it necessary for the promotion of the crime prevention objective. These amendments would change the basis upon which the licensing authority undertakes its function in this respect. First, there would be a duty on it to be satisfied about the matter. Secondly, the test would be whether granting the application might undermine the crime prevention objective.

The primary duty in the Bill is on licensing authorities to carry out their functions with a view to promoting the licensing objectives. These amendments would introduce a different assessment to be made by the licensing authority where it does not have the expertise to reach an independent view. Our intention is to have a transparent judgment based on previous convictions where the police have given their expert view to the authority, and then to empower the authority to reject applications where there is good reason to do so. This is an assessment that the licensing authority can make having held a hearing on the police objections. But they need input from the police.

Amendment No. 414A tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, would place on licensing authorities a new duty to respond to any requests from a personal

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licence holder to remove information about a spent conviction. At first glance the amendment does not seem unreasonable. I recognise that it is a probing amendment, but it is unnecessary and would add bureaucracy to the personal licensing arrangements.

Under Clause 112 a conviction for a relevant offence must be disregarded if it is spent. If there is a conviction during the validity of a licence, that conviction in due course becomes spent. It follows that when the licence holder comes to renew the licence, the authority must disregard the conviction. I hope that that answers the question that has been asked. In the light of what I have said, I very much hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Buscombe: I thank the Minister for her reply. However, we are not happy with it. Clearly, there is a strong difference of opinion here as regards how important it is to ensure that those in charge of licensed premises are utterly responsible. Publicans are regarded as upstanding members of the community. It is tremendously important seriously to confront these issues in relation to the crime prevention objective.

We are concerned that a licensing authority must grant an application if the applicant is over 18, possesses a relevant qualification, no personal licence previously held by him has been forfeited in the previous five years and he has not been convicted of any relevant offence or foreign offence. However, there is no discretion there. We believe strongly that there should be discretion.

We are grateful to the Minister for agreeing to reconsider issues in relation to serious offences. We believe strongly that if an applicant or the holder of a personal licence is convicted of a serious offence, that person's application should be dismissed outright or the personal licence should be forfeited. We do not believe that the gravity of the offence should be examined by a licensing authority.

The hour is late and we are determined to progress as far as possible this evening. I shall read with care what the Minister said. There are other issues in relation to the burden of proof on which I am not satisfied with the Minister's response. However, as I say, we shall read her remarks with care. I suspect that we shall return forcefully to this matter on Report. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 4 [Personal licence: relevant offences]:

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville moved Amendment No. 372:

    Page 115, line 35, at end insert—

"An offence under the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 (c. 12)."

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 372, I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 373 and 374. There is a single principle involved with different applications.

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Despite the fact that the licensing objectives in subsection (2) of Clause 4 include public safety, the prevention of public nuisance and the protection of children from harm, the definition of "relevant offences" in Schedule 4 does not include offences under the Environmental Protection Act, offences under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act or offences in relation to the protection of children from harm. Accordingly, any number of convictions of a personal licence holder for breaching noise nuisance notices served upon him under the Environmental Protection Act—constituency Members of Parliament will know how relatively weak that Act is as an amulet against noise nuisance, especially out of doors—or any number of convictions for offences resulting in the endangering of his customers or staff under health and safety legislation are, under the Bill, simply not relevant to whether or not he should be granted or allowed to retain a personal licence. These amendments are intended to rectify that omission. I beg to move.

Baroness Blackstone: The schedule includes two categories of offences. First, there are offences under licensing law or relating to the proper conduct of licensed premises. If someone is convicted of such an offence, it is an issue for the licensing authority. Secondly, there are serious offences under general criminal law, including offences involving dishonesty, violence, or sexual offences. Here, too, it makes sense for the licensing authority to consider whether the individual convicted of such an offence is a fit and proper person to hold a licence.

Although unsuitable people should not own or run licensed premises, I fear that the amendments would go too far and could catch people who would be perfectly suitable. So far as offences under the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 are concerned, Schedule 4 already covers sexual and violent offences.

The same issue of relevance applies to health and safety and environmental nuisance offences, including excessive noise offences. Let us suppose that someone has in the past run an engine repair workshop and been punished for failing to comply with an abatement notice in respect of dust and fumes coming out of his workshop. If he subsequently decides that he wants to run a pub, why should the previous conviction, which the court might have regarded as a relatively minor matter, be relevant?

The amendments would take Schedule 4 far beyond its proper purpose. The objectives in the Bill that the schedule supports supply a reasonably precise test as to whether someone is a fit and proper person to hold a licence. The amendments would make the test much more vague and therefore less satisfactory and would expose people to a form of double jeopardy, which is disproportionate to the risk to the public.

In the light of what I have said, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

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