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Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, it could allow all kinds of individuals or bodies to object to a licensing application for some reason or another, and they might not have justified grounds for doing so by being local residents or local businesses in the vicinity of the particular premises involved. Therefore, local authorities would have to process and deal with far more illegitimate objections than they might have to deal with otherwise.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, for his support for the amendment. He probably has more experience of such matters than anyone else in the House, from the high concentration of licensed premises in the West End and from his knowledge of the processes through which residents have to go at the moment in making objections.
To some extent, I am reassured by what the noble Baroness has said. She has gone further than ever in defining the scope of organisations that can make representations. I am grateful to her for what she said about schools, especially that organisations of parents, governors or teachers could make representations irrespective of whether they could show that particular individuals who belong to those organisations live within the vicinity of the premises.
I am grateful for what the Minister put on the record about the fact that, in the relevant regard, there is no difference between a hospital trust and the private hospital, as we had thought. She said that patients, doctors and nurses could make representationsadmittedly, she then added that they had to live in the vicinityas they obviously could in their own right. I was hoping that she might have said that organisations representing patients, doctors and nurses, in a similar way to the teachers, governors or parents of a school, could make representations if the hospital was located within the vicinity of the premises.
Let us take St Thomas' Hospital as an example. If a licence application was made in its name, I would expect that organisations representing the professional people and the workers in that hospital would be entitled to make representations in their own right, and not by reason of the fact that they could produce particular individuals among their membership who lived in the vicinity of the premises. Perhaps that point needs to be explored in another place.
The Minister said that representations would be allowable from residents' associations irrespective, again, of whether the associations had the authority of persons living in the vicinity. That is an enormous help to us, because of the point that I made about the reluctance of individuals to come forward, even if it is simply a matter of having their names cited at the hearing. At the moment they like to have an association to represent them because of the anonymity it gives them. In future, with the new procedure, it will be equally necessary for
The noble Lord said: My Lords, we believe that there are bound to be instances where an application which is not in conformity with the licensing policy statement may get to the licensing authority without any relevant representations having been made, partly as a result of the limitations that we fear might be imposed on the rights of local residents' associations to object. I realise that we have gone over that point, but we still think that there may be instances where an application gets through all the hoops without being noticed, and reaches the licensing committee without an objection.
I have a list of the applications tabled last Tuesday for consideration by the licensing court in Westminster today. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, referred to that list on the previous amendment. It contains 198 applications on 98 pages. How an individual living in one of the stress areas could be seriously expected to go through that vast dossier, identify an application that may seriously affect his residential amenities and lodge a coherent objection in less than a week is not clear. The noble Lord has already described such difficulties. One has to go through individual applications and analyse them to see of what they consist, which is not always very clear.
The amendment seeks to ensure that when an application gets past the eyes of interested parties without any of them having made relevant representations, because they failed to notice that some feature of the application was not in conformity with the licensing policy statement, the licensing authority would still be entitled to refuse the application. Probably that would happen only very rarely, but it would be extremely rash for Ministers to say that it could never occur.
Another point is at issue. The guidance contains an injunction to the licensing authority not to consider repetitious complaints in paragraph 6.62, but has nothing to say about repetitious applications. I shall give an example. A public house in Bath, The Huntsman, has a public entertainments licence to operate until 2 a.m. six nights a week. It is close to the Abbey Hotel and residential properties. For many years, it has been a source of noise nuisance. There have been several unsuccessful attempts to prevent the renewal of the licence.
Last year, the hotel and the residents got a good joint case prepared, with proof that customers from The Huntsman caused the disturbances. The council's licensing committee decided to reduce its hours, and since then the area has become peaceful. The licensee now says that he will apply repeatedly until he finally wins the case. That puts the objectors at some disadvantage because they have to keep assembling witnesses and evidence as often as the licensee fancies, until he gets his "result". There may come a point when they do not get their act togetherfor example, if the prime mover among the objectors goes on holiday at a crucial time or the objectors have not got the resources to continue. The objectors will have to be extremely vigilant. There is nothing in the guidance that states that a licensing authority has the power to reject an application for not being in conformity with the licensing policy statement. The amendment will give them that power.
The noble Lord, Lord Brooke, touched on the point that the ministerial guidance does not as yet make clear the need to provide a readable notice on the premises as well as two advertisements placed in local newspapers and the power of licensing authorities to circulate by post details of the application should they so choose. Also, all advertisements, notices and letters should include a clear summary of what is proposed, including opening hours, to save people having to make representations to safeguard their position while they find out what the application is about. If the people affected by an application do not see the notice, or if they have no idea of the total effects it will have, they could easily miss the boat.
The noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, referred a few moments ago in what resembled a Second Reading debate to the "wider community interest". The amendment would preserve the power of the licensing authority to look after that wider community interest. For all those reasons, we believe it important that the licensing authority should have the fall-back power proposed in the amendment. I beg to move.
Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, I shall do my best to be brief. I apologise for the fact that an amendment has been tabled at Third Reading concerning what might be described as the categorical essence of the problem that the Bill sets. The process in your Lordships' House has been a sort of pre-legislative scrutiny, if that is not an Irish paradox. It has been possible to read on the faces of Ministers their surprise at information provided by those on these Benches during our proceedings.
I pay tribute to the Government Front Bench for the flexibility they have shown in responding to arguments. I am conscious that we are producing at a late stage in proceedings in your Lordships' House an amendment that gets at the Bill's categorical essence. The amendment is intended, not as a wrecking amendment, but as a response to the spirit of the Bill at this stage.
The noble Lord, Lord Davies, earlier prayed in aid my observations in terms of the need for the local community to be involved in the process through the local authority rather than through magistrates. The input of the local community occurs with regard to determining what the licensing policy of the local authority is. If the licensing policy is not allowed to influence the categorical statement in the Bill that the licence must be granted, by definition the local authority has a role, but that role is more in the mannerI do not want this Shakespearean context to be misunderstoodof the first and second assassin or the first and second gravedigger rather than the part of Hamlet himself. It is fulfilling arrangements dispensed from on high and at the centre.
The amendment would provide for the local community and the local authority acting on its behalf the right to determine the application in line with whether it met the local licensing policy which had been set by the local licensing authority having regard towe return to our earlier debatesthe ministerial guidance. There is no doubt in my mind that local communities would be greatly reassured if the amendment were agreed to.
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