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Baroness Buscombe: I accept what the Minister says in relation to Amendments Nos. 439 and 441ZA. However, I urge her to reconsider her response to Amendment No. 443. We believe that it would make a great deal of sense to have a panel of justices. As I have already suggested, that would be a small coherent unit which could be trained in this specialist area of law and its number mean that members would frequently sit on licensing matters. They would therefore have a good understanding, they would be focused and they would have a developing expertise in the subject. That would make for speedy and cost-effective justice. I therefore urge the Minister to reconsider what we said in relation to the amendment put forward by us in conjunction with the Justices' Clerks' Society.
Lord Avebury: In response to the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, the Minister said that it was normal for the magistrates' court to have a total discretion to grant costs in any other case and that therefore there was no reason for making an exception in the case of licensing appeals. What happens at the moment? In a system in which the first application is to the magistrates' court, presumably no costs are awarded at that stage. When appeals are made to the High Court against a decision of the magistrates, would the High Court normally make a costs order against the residents' association or group of residents who are objecting to the award of the licence by the magistrates?
Let us try to compare like with like. It would be helpful to the Committee if the Minister could say a little more about how costs may be awarded, or are customarily awarded under the current procedure.
Baroness Blackstone: I have no figures about what happens under the existing system and therefore I cannot directly answer the noble Lord's question. I imagine that the position will vary substantially from case to case, but I shall see whether I can provide the figures which the noble Lord would like to see and write to him if they are available.
My real concern is that the amendment wouldor couldencourage licence applicants to appeal decisions which they knew they had little chance of winning. Residents and others could make appeals on the most tenuous of grounds. Both would be relatively secure in the knowledge that they were unlikely to have costs awarded against them.
That would not make for a less bureaucratic system, which is what we are trying to achieve through the reforms in the Bill, but it would make for one in which decisions might be challenged as a matter of course. That would not be helpful.
Lord Avebury: That would make it even more essential that the Committee should have this information. If the purpose of allowing the courts the power to award costs against residents' associations is to deter them from making what the Minister believes to be frivolous applications, we need to know whether that happens at the moment. If the magistrates allow an application and the residents appeal that it is not to their advantage, are they at the moment deterred by the award of costs from making an appeal to the High Court? That is the question that I asked and it is reasonable that the Committee should require an answer to it.
Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: I am grateful to the Minister for her reply and I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for the searching questions which he asked her on my behalf. I understand the Government's position but I am not sure whether they are aware of the sense on the part of potential appellants that matters are weighted heavily against them, which in turn affects their sense of injustice about the Bill. However, I understand what the Minister said in response to my amendment and I beg leave to withdraw it.
The noble Lord said: At the start of the business on Thursday, I said that I would seek to be brief and that any exception to that would be the one that proved the rule. I am afraid that this amendment will be the exception. Also on Thursday, in speaking to Amendment No. 211 I alluded to a future amendment relating to human rights. The letter which was then referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, arises from matters brought to the attention of the Joint Committee on Human Rights on 26th November by a former constituent of mine in Soho on behalf of his residents' association.
Two days later, my former constituent wrote a letter on the same subject to the Government which ran to 13 well-argued pages and was copied to the Secretary of State at the DCMS. He alluded to human rights questions in this Bill at Clauses 13(3); 18(2); 34(2); 68(3); 71(2); 83(2); and to the effect of Clause 30(2) taken with Clauses 18(2) and 18(6)(d). I moved Amendment No. 211 in relation to Clause 30 and it is perhaps fortunate that his letter did not fall into my hands earlier, or we might have prolonged the earlier sittings on the Bill in that regard. He finally alluded to Clause 180, which now absorbs us.
Some of the matters were treated on in the report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights issued before Christmas on 16th December. The chairman wrote to my former constituent on 13th January telling him that she had written to the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, and was awaiting a reply. I gather that one of the noble Baroness's ministerial colleagues did reply and that is the letter to which the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, referred on Thursday. The noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, promised to ensure that it was released to the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, and to this House. I am delighted to say that the noble Lord, Lord Davies, was as good as his word and that I have seen the letter.
The first of the issues mentioned in the letter of 13th January from the chairman of the Joint Committee to my former constituent is the compatibility with ECHR Article 8 of provisions which would appear to take account of representations from residents about the impact of granting a licence on residents' Article 8 rights. The issue in Clause 180 is the right to information.
It is important that peopleparticularly those living in town centresshould know about the crime, disorder, nuisance and safety impact on them of these problems, whether or not they come from licensed premises. This is required under the Crime and Disorder Act and under the Convention. I beg to move.
Lord Davies of Oldham: We are in deep waters here and I hope that the noble Lord will forgive me if I do not refer back to the previous occasions during the passage of the Bill on which these issues have arisen but concentrate on Clause 180, which the noble Lord seeks to amend.
Throughout the Bill there are balances and safeguards offering protections and ensuring that those bodies responsible for enforcement have the information they need to act quickly and effectively when necessary.
Clause 180 provides that information held by licensing authorities and responsible authorities for the purposes of the Bill may be shared with other licensing authorities or responsible authorities where necessary to enable the discharging of licensing authority functions. It is perfectly reasonable that licensing authorities and bodies such as the police, fire authority and health and safety bodies should be able to share such information.
What would not be reasonable, however, is for such information to be widely shared or shared for purposes other than the proper administration and enforcement of the licensing regime. The noble Lord's amendment would remove the protections for licence holders,
There is a requirement on all licensing authorities to keep a register of information about licences and notices, and Clause 8 provides the right level of disclosure of information about licensing decisions for inspection by the public. But in discharging licensing functions or the functions of a responsible authority, the licensing authority or responsible authority may well have in its possession information to which issues of confidentiality and so on will attach. It is right therefore that information which is not kept on the public registerwhich is, in fact, a considerable range of informationshould be available only for limited purposes for restricted classes of person.
I have listened carefully to the case for the amendment presented by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke. I understand entirely the example he gave about the dangers to the public of a lack of knowledge in regard to a chemical factory capable of emitting noxious substances, but the kind of premises we are seeking to licencewhich, without doubt, may occasionally arouse anxiety in the public in terms of potential law breaking and difficulties with disturbancesdo not present the same kind of threat to the life and welfare of individuals. Although I respect the case made by the noble Lordas he rightly indicated, we in the department are fully aware of the deployment of this case across the range of the Billthe amendment is not justified against the position I have described of how Clause 180 will work in association with Clause 8. I hope that the noble Lord will be satisfied with my response.
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