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Lord Bach: My Lords, I have told the noble Lord and the House all that there is to know about costs. The costs of any upgrade will be met by the United States Government. The running costs of this RAF station are paid by the Ministry of Defence, and I have given the figures. It is important to remember that the staff at RAF Fylingdales are all British RAF men and women, apart from one American liaison officer.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, is it correct that Fylingdales is virtually essential to the defence of our own country against various forms of attack? If so, does it really matter on which budget it is paid for?

Lord Bach: My Lords, the noble Lord is right, in as much as the existence of Fylingdales gives us early warning as well as the Americans. The early warning

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system is for the benefit of the Americans, but it gives us important data which helps us to defend our country. So the noble Lord is correct.

Lord Vivian: My Lords, we on these Benches are thoroughly supportive of missile defence systems and we welcome the decision taken by Her Majesty's Government for the USA to be able to use RAF Fylingdales. But will the Minister explain whether the costs of the space-based infra red system related upgrades currently under way at Menwith Hill will be part of the agreed US costs; and will the US costs package also be extended to cover the upgrading of future linked facilities?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I always dislike it when I am unable to answer a direct question from the noble Lord. The Question is about Fylingdales. I have not been briefed about costs at Menwith Hill, but I promise to write to the noble Lord at the earliest opportunity.

Lord Tanlaw: My Lords, is Fylingdales capable of giving advance warning of nature's missiles of mass destruction? I refer to hazardous near-earth objects, or asteroids, which endanger the population. It seems to me that vast sums of money are being spent on the proper defence of the country; but exactly the same system is required to defend it against asteroid impact, and very little money appears to have been spent on the latter.

Lord Bach: My Lords, I do not know whether what exists of Fylingdales at the moment protects us as the noble Lord says. All that I can say is that he raises an important question, and I shall find out the answer for him.

Lord Eden of Winton: My Lords, are the facilities at Fylingdales in any way shared with NATO? What are Her Majesty's Government doing to co-ordinate the response of NATO to the threat from Iraq?

Lord Bach: My Lords, as far as I know, the facilities at Fylingdales are not shared with NATO. There is a bilateral arrangement between the United States and the United Kingdom. Our NATO allies are committed to examining options for addressing the increasing ballistic missile threat, of which the whole House is aware. Fylingdales could be a key building block in any extension of missile defence to Europe as a whole, should we and our allies decide that that is what we want to do.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords—

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords—

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, we have had 15 minutes. If this goes on much longer, the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, will say that the last Question has been squeezed out.

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Licensing Bill: Best Practice Guidance

2.51 p.m.

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What were the value and the terms of reference of the contract awarded to MCM Research by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on the problems of noise and disorder arising out of the Licensing Bill; and whether there are any links between the company and the alcohol industry.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Whitty): My Lords, the cost of the contract will not exceed 50,000. The aims are to provide best practice guidance to address potential noise from pubs and clubs and to support local authorities and the licensed trade both under the current licensing rules and those proposed in the Licensing Bill. MCM Research Ltd has had clients from drinks and entertainment organisations and was appointed by competitive tendering, partly as a result of its knowledge in this area.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, can MCM Research be seen as fully independent by the residents who will be affected by the Licensing Bill in view of the fact that the vast majority of its clients are from the alcohol industry? The company has appeared frequently at licensing applications, defending the proposition that ambient noise should not be taken into consideration in deciding those applications.

Further, when will the report be published? Surely, its findings will be relevant to the Licensing Bill. Will there be opportunities for challenging the findings in view of the fact that many local communities will be seriously affected by all-night noise that is not up to the threshold in the tests for the licensing considerations?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, as to the independence of the organisation, it has a great range of clients, by no means all of whom are in any way related to food or entertainment. It achieved the award of the contract in competition with several others. As with any independent research organisation, it will have clients that people will query, but nevertheless I believe that it will produce an independent report.

The report is not yet complete, but it will be completed in time to deal with the operation rather than the principles of the Licensing Bill.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, was the contract awarded because the department expected the Licensing Bill to give rise to noise and disorder, as the wording of the Question suggests? If so, is this the only known case of a government legislating to condone inebriation?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I hesitate to say that the Government in any context condone inebriation. However, we recognise the realities of life. Even under

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current licensing laws, excessive noise occasionally emerges from licensed premises. Therefore, we want to consider the current situation and whether the Licensing Bill, and the way in which it is operated, will make any significant difference. That is why we awarded the contract.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth: My Lords, does the Minister agree that disorder is already rife in country market towns every Friday and Saturday evening? Can he expect an objective report from MCM? It is a big problem. With the Courts Bill reducing the number of magistrates' courts, the Government are cooking up a big problem for themselves in the countryside.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, your Lordships debated the terms of the Licensing Bill at some length in Committee. Clearly, there is disorder in several parts of the country under existing rules. It is generally concentrated round about chucking out time. Part of the operation of the Licensing Bill will be to ensure that there is not a concentration of people coming out of licensed premises. Part of the effect of the transfer of responsibility will be to ensure that local authorities take account of the views of residents in areas where there are licensed premises.

Baroness Buscombe: My Lords, given what the Minister has just said, would it not have made sense for the research to be carried out before we set about scrutinising the Licensing Bill?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, we are at the stage with the Licensing Bill where we have established the principles, which are still before Parliament. The way in which they are operated, and the guidance that individual local authorities will need, should be informed by the research that is coming out. That is why the focus of the research is best practice guidance to the trade and to local authority enforcers.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, as the Government have given an assurance that the guidance will be available by Report stage, can we be certain that the research will have been completed by Report stage as well?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, the best practice guidance will not be available until we have considered the outcome of the report. It is at that stage that the research becomes appropriate. I shall not give further commitment as to what further information will be available on Report, over and above what my colleagues have given in the process of the Licensing Bill.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, will the research being undertaken include taking views from magistrates? It is currently the magistrates who give licences, but in the new Bill it will be taken away from them. I would like clarification on that point.

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Lord Whitty: My Lords, the conduct of the research will include talking to local authorities, magistrates and police, as well as the trade and residents organisations.

Viscount Falkland: My Lords, will the report be focused entirely on the late-night drinking that we are seeing, or will it take into account that we are moving into a 24-hour economy of which it is simply the vanguard? Noise will be a problem, regardless of drinking, because everything will be going on for 24 hours a day.

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