Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Blackstone moved Amendment No. 28:

"(1) The Secretary of State must issue guidance ("the licensing guidance") to licensing authorities on the discharge of their functions under this Act.
(1A) But the Secretary of State may not issue the licensing guidance unless a draft of it has been laid before, and approved by resolution of, each House of Parliament.
(1B) The Secretary of State may, from time to time, revise the licensing guidance.
(1C) A revised version of the licensing guidance does not come into force until the Secretary of State lays it before Parliament.
(1D) Where either House, before the end of the period of 40 days beginning with the day on which a revised version of the licensing guidance is laid before it, by resolution disapproves that version—
(a) the Secretary of State must, under subsection (1B), make such further revisions to the licensing guidance as appear to him to be required in the circumstances, and
(b) before the end of the period of 40 days beginning with the date on which the resolution is made, lay a further revised version of the licensing guidance before Parliament.
(1E) In reckoning any period of 40 days for the purpose of subsection (1D), no account is to be taken of any time during which—
(a) Parliament is dissolved or prorogued, or
(b) both Houses are adjourned for more than four days."

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Buscombe moved Amendment No. 29:

    Page 98, line 18, at end insert—

"( ) Guidance issued under this section must set out in particular the specific reasons which the Secretary of State considers justify the prevention of any licensing authority from restricting the number of licensed premises in any part of a town centre or other locality within the licensing area."

24 Feb 2003 : Column 102

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, we now turn to the subject of saturation. A similar amendment to Amendment No. 29 was moved in Committee. The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, said in response:

    "I am willing to return to the House on this matter on Report. Indeed, I have set out our thinking on where we might be able to come up with some appropriate amendments".—[Official Report, 19/12/02; col. 803.]

The Government have tabled amendments that enable the local planning authority to be a responsible authority under Clause 13, and the rest they leave to the guidance. We had hoped that they might also have imposed an obligation on the licensing authority to consult the local planning authority when determining its licensing policy under Clause 5(3), but they have not.

Zoning was suggested at Committee stage as a method adopted by many countries of getting round the problem. This Government have specifically said that they will not encourage it. The Minister said that,

    "imposing a blanket closing time in a particular area might perpetuate the disorder that is associated with artificially early fixed closing times and give rise to a new form of disorder as groups of people migrate between zones".—[Official Report, 19/12/02; col. 804.]

We would be interested to hear the Minister refer this evening to that view on zoning, reaffirming it or otherwise.

The government guidance gives an answer that seems to be the closest to a possible compromise between their aims and what we believe is right. Paragraph 4.13 states that in certain circumstances, where it can be proved that an additional licensed premises would create exceptional problems of disorder and nuisance, which would undermine the licensing objectives, and where relevant representations are received to that effect, the licensing authority can refuse a new licence because the area is already saturated with licensed premises. However, that policy should not be absolute; nor should quotas be imposed. It is a case-by-case consideration. We welcome that. It is a great step in the right direction. Again, we are concerned that it is included only in the guidance, but it clarifies the situation.

The guidance further states that it is impossible for licensed premises to be responsible for the behaviour of their customers when they have left the premises, if, for instance, they congregate and cause disorder. The licensing policy,

    "should also set out the other mechanisms that are available for addressing such issues".

Those mechanisms include planning, police enforcement, measures to deal with transport and promoting a clean environment.

We support the proposals in the guidance, especially since the guidance will be subject to an affirmative instrument in your Lordships' House. We do not support those who suggest a flat refusal of licensed premises when a limit is reached on the grounds of saturation. That would stop new businesses opening

24 Feb 2003 : Column 103

and allow already licensed premises to stagnate. Standards will fall because of lack of competition. I beg to move.

Lord Clarke of Hampstead: My Lords, Amendment No. 35 deals with saturation. I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 64, 86 and 98, all of which refer to the creation of a saturation policy for the licensing authority.

Local authorities will need to develop a policy on saturation and cumulative impact to be used when considering new applications. Once a saturation policy is determined, it will provide a stronger voice for the local community. It will also be a valuable tool for licensing authorities when they consider the wider, social and environmental impact when considering applications.

Cumulative impact, which is usually negative, is the impact on the wider area and community of the presence of a number of licensed premises and their customers, not just the activity in the immediate vicinity of any particular premises. Around the country, in big cities and small towns, residents, businesses and statutory agencies want to see adequate control of problems arising not only from licensed premises but also from customers once they have left those premises.

The Local Government Association has received reports from authorities as diverse as Penwith, Worthing, Richmond and the Cotswolds. They have all reported that the issues arising in those areas include fights, disorder, shouting, loud car stereos, horns, car doors banging and anti-social behaviour such as graffiti. There is a suggestion that vandalism is sometimes linked to the anti-social behaviour. I have listened carefully to previous debates on other methods of dealing with those problems.

In earlier debates on the Bill, we heard about the problems of litter, vomit and urination and defecation in the streets. I make no apology, especially at this late hour, for mentioning them again. They are real concerns affecting real people, who have every right to expect the local licensing authority and the local authority fully and properly to take measures to control what goes on around their homes.

Amendment No. 35 would strengthen the statement of licensing policy set out on pages 3 and 4 of the Bill. If the amendment were agreed to by your Lordships, Clause 5(7) on page 4 of the Bill would read:

    "Regulations may make provision about the determination and revision of policies, including policies relating to the management of cumulative impact and saturation, and the preparation and publication of licensing statements, under this section".

Paragraph 4.15 of the guidance document is helpful but it does not go far enough to assist the licensing authorities. I welcome the recognition contained in that paragraph that, in some circumstances, it may be necessary for the licensing authority to adopt a special policy of refusing new licences because the area is

24 Feb 2003 : Column 104

already saturated with licensed premises. The amendments are proposed in an attempt to assist the authority when it has to consider new applications.

Lord Redesdale: My Lords, we on these Benches also support the thoughts behind the amendments. On reading the guidance, I was interested to see that we are prepared to take certain aspects from the Scottish experience. I believe it is important that we do not consider the issue of zoning, which turned out to be such a failure in Scotland. It seems unfortunate that we do not also, following the Scottish experience, deregulate the non-licensable activity of performing live music, which takes place in Scotland without major problems.

However, the matter of saturation is important. From my experience in Newcastle, I know that we should not follow the issue of not allowing any new licences. It leads not only to a decrease in the amount of competition but also to an increase in the amount of organised crime, whose participants see it as a safe way of investing and laundering money and distributing drugs.

The issue of saturation is important. I do not believe that the amendments will solve the problem or that they will be pressed, but I look forward to the Minister's reply.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, we have listened carefully to the arguments put to us in the House and elsewhere on the matter of cumulative effect. We have addressed our policy on it both through our proposed legislative changes and through the statutory guidance to be issued under the Bill. We are committed to ensuring that licensing authorities have the powers to address disorder and nuisance arising from the carrying on of licensable activities.

We have set out in the draft guidance the circumstances in which the sheer magnitude of the number of premises might be a legitimate consideration both in the policy statement and in considering individual applications. In effect, we have made it clear in the guidance that licensing authorities will be able to take into account saturation or cumulative effect where it exists. They will be able, for example, to make clear in their statements of licensing policy, which will be subject to consultation, that an area could cope with no more premises of a particular type and that there would be a general presumption against granting any more licences for premises of that type. I hope that noble Lords will recognise that that is a significant shift in emphasis. We have discussed this change with the LGA and it has welcomed it warmly.

However, we also recognise that the licensing authority must be given the tools that it needs to carry out its duties, while preserving a sensible balance between regulation on the one hand and, on the other, reform. We intend to achieve that through the government amendments in this group. Our amendments to Clauses 13 and 68 will add the local planning authority to the list of responsible authorities which are able to make representations on an

24 Feb 2003 : Column 105

application for a premises licence or club premises certificate. That will give an additional voice on the type of issues that arise as a result of saturation.

We should not lose sight of the fact that one result of the amendment is that, in the vast majority of cases, at least two wings of the local authority will be empowered to make representations to the licensing committee—the environmental health authority, which is already a responsible authority under the Bill, and the local planning authority. Both of those bodies will usually be part of the same local authority as the licensing authority.

The government amendment to Clause 7 is designed to support better communication between the relevant local authority committees as a further safeguard to ensure that important issues are not allowed to fall between the cracks. It will place a duty on the licensing committee, when considering a matter that relates to a licensing function and to a function that is not a licensing function, to consider (unless the matter is urgent) reports from other committees of the local authority on the matter before discharging the function. In effect that means that if the licensing committee were considering a licensing matter on which representations had been received in relation to saturation from, say, the local planning authority, it would need to consider a report on the matter before arriving at a decision. That will ensure that all relevant factors—including cumulative effect—can be taken fully into account.

I hope that the House will recognise the measures for what they are: a genuine response designed to strengthen the licensing authority's role with respect to saturation or cumulative effect, while still retaining an important element of balance. The remainder of the amendments in the group would tilt the scales too far. The other amendments give rise to an issue of substance: whether limiting the number of pubs is always and of itself a desirable outcome to be pursued in its own right. We think that it is not.

It should be quite clear that it is still our policy that licensing powers should be used to meet licensing objectives. In the great majority of cases it seems most unlikely to us that keeping the number of pubs in a town to say nine or 10, rather than 12, will have any effect whatever on crime and disorder or public nuisance. I doubt very much whether the average reveller consults Home Office licensing statistics before deciding whether to go out in Camden or Croydon.

However we recognise that where the sheer number and concentration of licensed premises can, in the light of research and expert advice, be demonstrated to have a real and damaging impact on disorder or public nuisance, that may be considered by the licensing authority. We need to take into account the very real concerns of licensing authorities and of some local residents about the licensing objectives, while not impeding those who want to go about their business in a professional and law-abiding way. We must remember that most licensed premises provide

24 Feb 2003 : Column 106

employment in local economies and amenities for the local community with few of the problems that we have so often heard about.

The Government have set out their vision of what they want to achieve and have given licensing authorities the flexibility to respond to individual applications. If a licensing authority chooses to impose a limitation that may seem arbitrary to an applicant, it will be for the licensing authority to justify its actions, and not to seek to cite a list of justifications prescribed under this clause as in some way legitimising its actions.

The noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, asked about zoning. We need to be aware of the problems that arose in Edinburgh in the early 1990s. Zoning of licensing hours was attempted, but the police experienced real problems with the movement of people across the boundaries. The better solution is to ensure that where there are residents living nearby, stricter controls about noise and disturbance are imposed.

Amendments Nos. 29 and 38 seek to ensure that the Government give clear reasons for their policy. I would hope that it is understood that we shall do so and that there is an opportunity now, and will be in the future, to debate those reasons. If we adopt a policy that is not grounded in any reasoning and that includes no explanation, I believe that it will be challengeable anyway.

I very much hope that we can agree that the short debate on this group has proved a useful means of clarifying what we intend and of securing a commitment from the Government that our policy intentions will be made clear.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page