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Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, I am grateful, as ever, to the Minister for the courtesy of her reply. I like the concept of the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, handing over a baton to me. It is implicit in

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the noble Baroness's image that neither of us drop it. I give back an image to the Minister if I am right and she is wrong. Debt enforcement by local authorities is frequently done by bailiffs, as all Members of another place know, because they are the ones on whom the complaints are visited, from the people who are called on to recover council tax which they have already paid, or whatever. Given the description of the pattern of behaviour by some bailiffs, I like the idea of bailiffs and licensees clashing in the middle of the West End.

However, if that becomes as normal as the Minister suggests, I can foresee it. I am certain that not only I, but also local authorities in central London and the Local Government Association will read carefully what the Minister has now said twice. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, knows how important it would be to have the opportunity to say it three times. For the time being, in the certainty that the issue will be returned to in another place, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 90 [Fees]:

[Amendments Nos. 7 and 8 not moved.]

Clause 105 [Counter notice where permitted limits exceeded]:

Baroness Buscombe moved Amendment No. 9:

    Page 59, line 40, at end insert—

"( ) are not in respect of a village hall, church hall, parish hall, community centre or similar community building."

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, Amendment No. 9 seeks to allow certain categories of premises to be exempt from restrictions on the number of temporary events it holds during one year. On Report I tabled a similar amendment. I wanted to see village halls exempt from being restricted to five temporary events a year. The thrust of that previous amendment was to make sure that the thriving community life centred around the village hall was not constrained or, perhaps, strangled by limiting temporary events. I commented that village halls,

    "will have neither the time nor, necessarily, the expertise to apply for a premises licence. Village hall funds are already modest. The cost of preparing the application for a premises licence and the fees would consume a significant part of their income. As the Bill is currently drafted, village halls will have to stick to five events a year and that would be an absolute disaster".—[Official Report, 27/2/03; col.493.]

The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, responded with a particular point: how can we distinguish between village halls and other community centres? On reflection, the noble Lord has a valid point. Today, therefore, I speak to an amendment which seeks to allow community halls, parish halls and such like the freedom to hold as many temporary events as they wish. The noble Lord claimed that that would in effect,

    "allow widespread circumvention of the licensing laws".—[Official Report, 27/2/03; col. 494.]

I firmly believe that is not the case. If community halls want to hold regular events involving entertainment and the sale of alcohol they will not want to have to apply for an application every single time.

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The Minister has already promised—and we are extremely grateful—that premises falling into this category may be granted a "nil fee" requirement. That is a step in the right direction. But if they are to hold regular entertainment they will have to take the time to fill out an application for a premises licence since their requirement to pay a fee may be waived.

The Government make much of the "flexibility" in the new system. Why not allow village halls, which may hold a variety of events on behalf of different local groups, from time to time to have no restrictions on the number of events they may hold. They may not know at the beginning of the year how many events they will hold, and, therefore, will not want to apply for a full premises licence. If later they receive requests to use the premises—for example, eight in a year—they can use temporary event notices instead of obtaining a full licence. That will allow them to respond to ad hoc requests as and when they crop up.

This amendment is not about circumventing the system. The police will still have the power to object. It is unlikely that the amendment will lead to undue public nuisance or distress to local people. It will encourage and promote community events and community life. I beg to move.

Lord Redesdale: My Lords, I support the amendment and its objectives. I have one question, which I hope the Minister can answer. It has been raised with me in writing at this late stage. If a small village hall knows that it will hold a number of events, which might be regular, must it apply for each individual temporary event, or, under the regulations as set out, could it make a block application? It would save the village hall much time and expense if it could make one application with one fee covering all five events. It would also save the council the expense of separate paperwork for each application, which would eat into much of the money provided by the fee. Both sides would win in that situation. I hope that the Minister can help me.

Lord Cobbold: My Lords, I support the amendment. It is definitely in the interests of the wider community and seems to be in the spirit of deregulation and reduction of bureaucracy. I, therefore, commend the amendment to the House.

Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, in this House and in another place, Members have constantly drawn attention to the plight of villages and the death of social life there through the disappearance of post offices, shops and even pubs. In my local village there has been a reduction from two pubs to one. I was delighted when the Government accepted that village halls, community halls, church halls and so on would be unlikely to have to pay a temporary licence fee. I support my noble friend on the Front Bench for that very reason. We should do anything possible to stop the village dying. This is an example of something that we can do.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I was pleased that the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, took

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account of some of the problems that I had with her previous amendment, which referred only to village halls. I sympathise with the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, and others who say that village halls are an important part of village life and everything should be done to preserve them. But, in practice, it would be impossible to draw a distinction between village halls and church halls, parish halls, community centres or community buildings; otherwise we would be discriminating in favour of villages and against towns and cities. The noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, properly reflected that. She reflected, not only the cosy, delightful image of village halls, but the rather more gruesome description that I had to give of one community centre in my former constituency. To that extent, one defect of the amendment has been removed.

But the fundamental objection to the amendment is now even stronger than before. The amendment would permit an unlimited number of temporary events in any such hall, including the sale of alcohol, on the basis of the temporary event notice procedure. That procedure requires that a notice is served at least 10 days before organisers intend to hold the event. In response to the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, you can serve up to the full five notices at once, provided that the earliest event is still 10 days away. You could still apply for later dates at the same time if that were a serious problem. But the point is that, to reduce bureaucracy for relatively simple, rare occasions, the temporary event notice procedure has been restricted to a notice. The only possible objection can be by the police.

Where is the protection if you can have an unlimited number of temporary events in a village hall or community centre? As regards objections, the obvious exception besides the police would be the fire authority. If a hall is to be used frequently and regularly for events, the fire authority might demand something more than it would for premises used occasionally. Much more importantly, where is the protection for residents and children? Residents who tolerate the use of premises up to five times a year will certainly not be tolerant if the premises are to be available for many occasions a year.

The noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, suggested that if an event were to happen often, the organisers would apply for a premises licence. But let us suppose that, because of problems, they did not think that they would get a licence. They could get a temporary event notice, and only the police could express concern on their limited grounds. If it were possible to make an unlimited number of applications for temporary events in such halls, it would be a way around the licensing system. It would be very much against the interests of local residents, and I am sure they would be the first to scream in complaint if such events were to happen frequently, even if not regularly.

We have the balance right. I am glad that it has been recognised that there should not be fees for village halls or community centres. But surely it cannot be

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right to have no protection for residents, children and everyone else who needs to be protected by the licensing regime.

Baroness Buscombe: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response. I shall not keep your Lordships' House on this point. We have tried hard to persuade the Government that there is a special circumstance with regard to our local communities, particularly given that all those involved in the kind of events we envisage are volunteers battling against the demise of community life as we all know and love it. I hope that honourable Members in another place will take up the point and press it hard. For now, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 179 [Guidance]:

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