Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: In principle, I am desirous of fulfilling the Minister's expectation.

16 Jan 2003 : Column 409

However, this is another occasion on which the legislation is in some danger of being brought into disrepute. I understand the Minister's arguments but, given the four licensing objectives, if relevant evidence in any of the three categories to which I referred is to be disregarded, despite being clearly unconducive to good order, the legislation is in danger of falling into disrepute. That is a particular danger if anything went wrong in any of those three categories.

It is a probing amendment. We may need to return to the matter later, but I understand the Minister's arguments and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 373 and 374 not moved.]

Schedule 4 agreed to.

Clause 112 [Meaning of "conviction"]:

[Amendment No. 375 not moved.]

Clause 112 agreed to.

Clause 113 [Period of validity of personal licence]:

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville moved Amendment No. 376:

    Page 63, line 10, leave out "ten" and insert "five"

The noble Lord said: I shall also speak to Amendment No. 377, which is consequential on Amendment No. 376.

Under the Bill, the grant of a personal licence is "automatic", provided that the applicant is,

    "aged 18 or over . . . possesses a licensing qualification . . . no personal licence held by him has been forfeited . . . and . . . he has not been convicted of any relevant offence".

I recognise, as I did on one occasion this morning, that my amendment may be subjective. However, I aver, as I did this morning, that given the qualifications that I have just quoted, a 10-year period over which a personal licence has effect should be reduced to five years. I beg to move.

7 p.m.

Lord Davies of Oldham: The noble Lord was kind enough to say that his suggestion of five years was a subjective judgment. All judgments on length of time on such issues must have an element of subjectivity. We do not see any significant advantage in reducing the period of validity for a personal licence from 10 years to five. The Bill requires the holder to notify the licensing authority of any change in their name and address and if they have been convicted of any relevant offences or foreign offences during the period of validity of the licence. Any failure to do so would be an offence. The ability to check and keep control of the proper fitness of the licence holder to enjoy the benefits of that licence is safeguarded.

Reducing the period of validity, as the noble Lord suggests, would put an additional burden on law-abiding personal licence holders. In addition, it would increase the administrative burdens on the licensing authority. The noble Lord will see that a major theme

16 Jan 2003 : Column 410

in the Bill is keeping such burdens to a minimum. I hope he recognises that we have some justification in resisting his amendment, which I ask him to withdraw.

Lord Avebury: The noble Lord says that the licence holder has to notify the licensing authority of any relevant convictions that may be sustained during the period of operation of the licence. How will the licensing authority know if he fails to do that? Somebody holding a personal licence could simply ignore the obligation that the noble Lord has mentioned, even though he is committing a criminal offence by doing so. He may think it is worth his while not to notify the licensing authority so that he can continue with his job.

Lord Davies of Oldham: The noble Lord is asking how we deal with those who take risks in breaking the law when we have not been able to identify that the law has been broken. Of course the operation of the licensing activity is meant to be properly regulated. If he failed to convey the information to the licensing authority and therefore effectively forfeited his right to be a licence holder but was still continuing in the premises, anything untoward that occurred on those premises that might occasion the interest and activity of the police or the licensing authority would put him in very severe jeopardy.

We have to recognise that people will sometimes take risks when they think there will be a material advantage to them. We have a valid and viable structure in place in the industry that we believe will guarantee that those who participate in it are proper holders of licences. Any attempt on their part to take risks in these terms would be a serious thing to do. Although the offender has an obligation to convey the information, the court also has the information and would bring to the attention of the licensing authority the fact that an offence had been committed of a significance that fell within the purview of the authority. The licence holder who commits the offence will be mindful of the fact that others are all too well aware that it has been committed.

Lord Avebury: The offence might be committed in the area of another licensing authority and might have nothing to do with his functions as the holder of a personal licence. For example, he might be convicted of shoplifting somewhere remote from the area in which he is operating as the holder of a personal licence.

Lord Davies of Oldham: If it is an appropriate offence, the court will be aware of the fact that the person before it holds some trust from the community, namely that he holds a licence. Therefore, steps would be taken to ensure that the authority was notified.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: The Minister recognised that I accepted that I was being subjective. He said that I was being subjective about "five", but I was actually being subjective about "ten". As I had to be subjective about something else instead, I was then subjective about "five".

16 Jan 2003 : Column 411

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for his intervention, which seemed extremely pertinent. If someone commits an offence after his personal licence is two years old and does not have to renew it until he has held it for 10 years, he has eight years still to hold it, admittedly with considerable risk attached at the end of that time. Nevertheless, he may well think that eight years is a better bet. If he has only three years to go he may take a different view. I agree that that is also subjective and conjecture. So that we can make progress at this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 377 not moved.]

Baroness Buscombe moved Amendment No. 378:

    Page 63, line 21, leave out "And"

The noble Baroness said: This is a small but important point. Something seems to have gone wrong with the drafting. When I was at school, we did not begin sentences with the word "And", and I hope that we are not going to start now. I beg to move.

Lord Monson: Although I was probably at school long before the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, I am afraid that I often start sentences with "And" in letters, articles and so on. If I were to write a book, I would probably do so in that. However, I do not think it seemly in an Act of Parliament. The word is also quite unnecessary, as it does not add anything to the clause. Like the noble Baroness, I am at a loss to understand how it has found its way into the Bill.

Lord Davies of Oldham: We recognise the contributions of both Members of the Committee and how helpful they have been in making the Bill more felicitous in its drafting. However, the "And" is there for a reason. It may be infelicitous, but I will not have it removed.

The word "And" is in its place to differentiate those events that would bring the period of validity of a personal licence permanently to an end—forfeiture or revocation—from those that would result in its temporary suspension. The offending "And" does a job, I am afraid. I stand subject to criticism if the drafting is less felicitous than it ought to be, but I shall not accept the amendment, as it would remove a crucial part of the subsection.

Baroness Buscombe: I want to offer a couple of alternatives. Could we not try under subsection (3), "A personal licence ceases to have effect when it is revoked under section 122 or forfeited under section 127; and"? Could we not have a comma there instead of a semi-colon and continue, "and (4) a personal licence does not have effect"? Could we try beginning subsection (4), "In addition, a personal licence does not have effect during any period"?

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Monson. The drafting shows an unseemly disregard for grammar. I am disappointed, because I do not believe that the

16 Jan 2003 : Column 412

Minister has given a good reply. There is no good substantive reason to use such appalling grammar, but he remains seated.

Lord Davies of Oldham: No. I need the noble Baroness to give way before I can intervene. I could not afford to be both rude and incompetent on this issue. If the noble Baroness presses the issue, and if more felicitous phraseology can be found, particularly if it involves the use of the often derided semi-colon and would improve things, we should certainly consider it.

Viscount Falkland: I have a group of schoolchildren coming very soon to the House and I was going to show them the Bill as an example of how we worked. However, now that the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, has pointed out this inelegant usage, which would make Fowler—of Fowler's English Usage—turn in his grave, perhaps it is not a good example because it uses such clumsy syntax. I am sorry to see the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, shaking his head; I look upon him as something of a cultural icon in this place.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page