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Lord Avebury: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, can he confirm whether sub-committees will be able to deal with an important function of a licensing authority; that is, to review closure orders made under the terms of Clause 164? If so, will the three-member sub-committees be flexible in their composition so that the licensing committee could appoint any three members to deal with reviews of closure orders, in case those particular members happened to be present at the time?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the noble Lord raises an important point. We are still involved in consultation in regard to guidance and the implementation of the Bill. The noble Lord's point is well made and we will take on board the representations he has made today.

Baroness Buscombe: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that full reply. As regards Amendment No. 37, it is interesting that this is a deregulatory Bill and that, on the one hand, the Government are keen that much of the decision-making should be devolved to local authorities, and yet, on the other hand, the Bill stipulates what should be the size of the committee. The Government say that they envisage a structure of flexibility. Much of the nuts and bolts of the proposed new legislation for licensing is contained in the guidance, which has no legal authority and could be changed overnight, and yet the size of a licensing committee is defined in very strict terms on the face of the Bill. I find that inconsistent and extraordinary.

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I am entirely satisfied with the Minister's reply in regard to Amendment No. 41. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 7 [Exercise and delegation of functions]:

Baroness Blackstone moved Amendment No. 38:

    Page 4, line 44, at end insert—

"( ) In a case where an authority exercises its power under subsection (5)(b), its licensing committee must (unless the matter is urgent) consider any report of any of the authority's other committees with respect to the matter before discharging the function concerned."

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts moved Amendment No. 39:

    Page 5, line 5, at end insert—

"( ) Where a licensing committee receives licensing applications which involve its own local authority, it shall refer such cases to a magistrates' court for determination."

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 39 seeks to amend Clause 7 of the Bill, which concerns the exercise and delegation of functions of a licensing committee. It raises the issue of conflicts of interest and attempts to resolve it.

As noble Lords are aware, the Bill transfers all licensing functions to local authorities. There will be a number of occasions when licensing authorities will apply for licences for themselves and will therefore be judge and jury on their own applications. This raises an issue of transparency and public confidence which has not yet been fully addressed by the Government.

The issue was debated in Committee, where my noble friend Lord Alexander of Weedon said that,

    "the courts have become ever more careful to ensure that there is not only no actual conflict of interest, but no perceived conflict of interest either".—[Official Report, 13/1/03; col. 13.]

I have read carefully what the Minister said in Committee. The main plank of his argument was that this issue is already covered in two existing statutes—the Local Government (Financial Provisions) Act and the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act. But one Act dates from 1963 and the other from 1982. So, in one case, the legislation is more than 20 years old and, in the other, 40 years old. The Government have failed to understand the extent to which public opinion and best practice have moved on. Therefore this is an issue which deserves and needs further consideration.

Will people who are opposed to the grant of a licence by the local authority to itself believe that the local authority will hear their case properly and fairly? Equally, on the other side, will commercial providers of competitive services—be they alcohol or entertainment-related—be confident that their case will be properly weighed? It is unfair as much as wrong to put the local authority in this position.

I have scanned the guidance notes but I cannot see any reference to the issues raised in connection with a local authority considering its own applications. Indeed, paragraph 6.44 refers extensively to the difficulties of ward councillors receiving complaints

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from residents within their own wards. That micro example seems to apply macro to a council as a whole when considering a licence for itself.

As presently drafted, the Bill is a recipe for disappointment locally in this regard. It is not in keeping with modern practice; it is old fashioned and out of date. We should have clarity and transparency. I beg to move.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the noble Lord has presented his case as ably as he did on the previous occasion, when I was taken somewhat by surprise because I had not anticipated that this was a particularly contentious issue.

Not all Acts of Parliament from the past are necessarily dated. If they have given good service and have not raised public concern, we will do well to rely upon the precedents they have established. I quoted the two Acts to which the noble Lord referred—the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982 and, perish the thought, one that went back 40 years, the Local Government (Financial Provisions) Act 1963—because both Acts govern the actions of local authorities when they are involved in self-licensing in regard to public entertainment.

We are not crossing a new bridge but extending the existing one. Local authorities will now be involved in licensing issues which relate to the sale of alcohol—the obvious feature of the Bill. But they have been involved in self-licensing for a considerable period of time under the existing Acts, and issues of conflicts of interest have not arisen in the way foreshadowed by the noble Lord in regard to this Bill.

We are basing our position on the reasonable precedent that local authorities know how to handle these issues. They will have to go through all the same procedures as anyone else who applies for a licence. Their applications will need to be advertised and notified to all the responsible authorities identified in the Bill; it will be open to the responsible authorities and interested parties, including local businesses, to make representations; and it will be open to anyone involved in the process, if they disagree with the decision eventually arrived at, to appeal against the licensing authority's decision to the magistrates' courts. So the local authorities are obliged to follow, at every stage, exactly the same procedures as anyone else applying for a licence.

We have designed the new licensing system with this degree of openness and transparency in mind. It was a major priority in the legislation, although not for the precise reasons alluded to by the noble Lord. I cannot conceive of circumstances in which a licensing authority's decisions might be influenced by a conflict of interests in an untoward way. I find it even harder to think of circumstances in which the public, and in particular the industry—were the decisions adverse to it—would let the authority get away with it.

Therefore, I ask the noble Lord to recognise that the Bill extends into the field of the sale of alcohol—an existing precedent in terms of local authorities acting

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in a way that might lead to a conflict of interest. The procedures with regard to application are open to guarantee that everyone can make appropriate representations.

I have listened carefully to the noble Lord making his point with some force for the second time. We should be happy to include in the guidance the rules governing standards and conflict of interest which already apply to local councillors. We shall reinforce that point so far as concerns local councillors. I hope that on that basis the noble Lord may feel that we have met the substance of his point and will be prepared to withdraw the amendment.

11.30 a.m.

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts: My Lords, I am grateful for that last reassurance. We move into a new world as we move to a new licensing system. Praying in aid what has gone on in the past is not as relevant as all that.

I accept the point that an appeal will be to the magistrates' court anyway. It seemed to me that it would be quicker to deal with local authority cases by going there straightaway and starting there rather than having to go round the route through the local authority first. However, I am grateful to the noble Lord for having agreed to insert some further words in the guidance. I think that that takes the matter far enough for me to be able to withdraw the amendment and beg leave to do so.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, with the leave of the House, perhaps I may introduce a correction. I made a slip of the tongue a moment ago which I want to correct for the purposes of the record. I think I said in relation to Amendments Nos. 37 and 41 that the responsibility for the licensing policy statement is that of the licensing committee. I meant the licensing authority. For the purposes of the record I want to make that clear. I apologise to the House for intruding at this juncture.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 8 [Requirement to keep a register]:

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