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House of Lords

Thursday, 19th June 2003.

The House met at eleven of the clock: The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Blackburn.

Licensing Bill [HL]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Lord McIntosh of Haringey): My Lords, I have it in command from His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales to acquaint the House that he, having been informed of the purport of the Licensing Bill, has consented to place his prerogative and interest, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament, for the purposes of the Bill.

I beg to move that the Commons amendments be now considered.

Moved, That the Commons amendments be now considered.—(Lord McIntosh of Haringey.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

[The page and line references are to Bill 73 as first printed for the Commons.]

1Clause 1, page 1, line 13, leave out "for consumption on the premises where the supply takes place"

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 1. I speak also to Amendments Nos. 24 to 31, 33, 34, 85 and 86.

I must begin by making it clear to the House that, although we are debating the principle of off-sales from clubs, noble Lords will note that Amendments Nos. 27, 29, 33, 34, 85 and 86 contain references to the mandatory conditions relating to the showing of films, the principle of which we will debate in a later group.

On Report in this House, my noble friend Lord Evans of Parkside moved an amendment designed to remove the Bill's prohibition on the supply of alcohol by or on behalf of a club to or to the order of a member of the club for consumption off the premises. The Government resisted that amendment, but we agreed to meet my noble friend to discuss the issue further, and he graciously agreed to withdraw the amendment.

Following our meeting and further consultation with the clubs movement, we moved these amendments in Committee in another place. The Bill now, therefore, allows clubs to make off-sales to their members, though not to their members' guests. Registered members' clubs under existing law, which will become qualifying clubs under the Bill, include political clubs—Labour, Liberal Democrat and

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Conservative—working men's clubs, ex-services clubs and the Royal British Legion, clubs for certain professions and activities, miners' institutes and many sports clubs. Such clubs enjoy a different status to premises that operate under justices' licences and will, under the Bill, operate under premises licences, because they have a particular role to play as meeting-places in the community. The clubs are, however, limited in their activities. Alcohol can be supplied only to members and guests and not to the general public.

Registered clubs are permitted by current law to supply alcohol to their members for consumption off the premises. It is likely that that was included for clarification purposes, as the provision by a club of its own alcohol to its members for their personal purposes outside the club would not be a licensable activity. The Bill, as originally drafted, made no provision for the supply of alcohol to members for consumption off the premises because it was decided that such supplies had little to do with clubs' traditional role as a meeting-place in the community. However, following further consultation with the Committee of Registered Clubs Association, we have taken the view that, as members of clubs already own the alcohol stock between them, it would be churlish to deny them the right to take alcohol home. Allowing them to do so poses no significant risk to the achievement of the licensing objectives.

The House will note that Amendment No. 31 sets certain conditions relating to club premises certificates authorising off-sales from qualifying clubs. A club premises certificate may not authorise the supply of alcohol for consumption off the premises, unless it also authorises supply to members for consumption on those premises and that a club premises certificate authorising the supply of alcohol for consumption off the premises must include three conditions. The conditions are: first, the supply must be made at a time when the premises are open for the purpose of supplying alcohol, in accordance with the club premises certificate, to members of the club for consumption on the premises; secondly, any alcohol supplied for consumption off the premises must be in a sealed container; and, thirdly, any supply of alcohol for consumption off the premises must be made to a member of the club in person.

I hope that the House will agree that, with those conditions in place, there is no good reason to prevent qualifying clubs supplying alcohol to their members for consumption off the premises.

Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 1.—(Lord McIntosh of Haringey.)

Lord Evans of Parkside: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for accepting the spirit of the amendment that I moved on Report. I also thank Ministers for their courtesy in meeting me and representatives of the various club organisations. We are grateful for what my noble friend has done on behalf of all the club organisations in Great Britain.

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Baroness Buscombe: My Lords, we support the amendments, and we are grateful for them.

On Question, Motion agreed to.


2Clause 3, page 2, line 41, at end insert "or"

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 2. I speak also to Amendments Nos. 3, 4, 46, 47, 48 and 49. It is appropriate that I speak first, before the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, moves Amendment No. 2A.

I assure those on the Benches opposite that their handiwork in pressing amendments on this topic prompted the Government and their key partners, including the industry, the local authorities and the police, to accelerate their work to honour the White Paper commitment to set up a national database for personal licences. Before I make progress, I shall clarify for the benefit of the House the difference between a national database and a central licensing authority, which is what was proposed in the amendments that were carried during the passage of the Bill through the House. The distinction is absolutely critical although it is somewhat technical.

It is important to understand that a national database is not the same as setting up a whole new statutory body—the central licensing authority—which is the effect of the amendments made here. It refers to the development of an electronic system to allow the police, other responsible authorities and licensing authorities to exchange information easily and freely, and for licensees to apply online and facilitate the update of their details—for example, a change of address—thereby reducing bureaucracy. It is very firmly a database and not a new body corporate entrusted with statutory functions.

Once we understand this important distinction, the argument in favour of a central licensing authority tends to evaporate. There are no advantages to be gained in having such an authority to administer personal licences over the scheme provided in the Bill as introduced to this House. All matters pertaining to an individual applicant or licence holder will be with one authority where records are maintained and required to be accessible. The simple fact is that no one—not the industry, nor the police, nor the local authorities—actually wants a central licensing authority or would benefit from one.

It would add bureaucracy, cost and delay for no advantage. Who wants or needs another arm of government to carry out this relatively simple administrative process? The costs of setting up a new arm of government in this way—I understand that the sponsors of this amendment are talking about a body like the DVLA or the Security Industry Authority; I do not accuse them of wanting to set up another Criminal Records Bureau or Child Support Agency—will cost millions and take years to set up. In the mean time, the vast majority of the responsible public will be asking just why they are waiting.

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Having said that, there is a great deal of merit in a national database. That is why the Bill provides the framework within which it can be developed. The Government are totally committed to working with partners to set up such a system. We have already met key stakeholders on a number of occasions with a view to producing an initial specification. We shall drive the work forward in parallel with the Bill to ensure that a system is available at the earliest opportunity. We have also facilitated meetings and seminars with the Office of the e-Envoy, and work on a business requirements document—the first step in the process—is well advanced. The business requirements document is being drafted in consultation with all key stakeholders.

We are also taking forward a supporting project with the aim of ensuring that local authorities have the advice and support necessary to enable them to record information in a mutually consistent format. That will in turn facilitate the interchange of information when the central database is up and running.

None of us should be under any misapprehension about the complexity or magnitude of the work involved when we consider that it would need to join up the licensing functions of around 410 authorities. There is still no extant example of a joined-up system of any significance which covers every local authority in England and Wales, although progress is being made across a number of fronts.

Work has started on the central database. We are building on the experience of others in this sector—for example, the local government planning portal and the project to integrate local land and property gazetteers. It is true that the national database will not be up and running before the beginning of the transitional period. That is why we have identified a separate project on data standards that we shall be driving forward in the run up to the first appointed day. The aim of this project will be to ensure that all licensing authorities record the same information in the same way to facilitate migration of data to the new system when it has been put in place. In doing so, we shall be encouraging the full adoption of existing government interoperability and metadata standards.

We have received wholehearted support for this approach. In the mean time, the Bill provides a simple, accessible system that can be up and running from Royal Assent. I am confident that the local system will work well up to the point where the national database can be up and running.

Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 2.—(Lord McIntosh of Haringey.)

    2A Lord Redesdale rose to move, as an amendment to the Motion that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 2, leave out "agree" and insert "disagree".

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I received information this morning regarding what appears to be a rather complicated system. I apologise if I get it wrong at any point. I should like to begin by welcoming the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, in his new role. So often in these debates we have talked about the multiple hatting of the noble Lord—depending on the

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day of the week and the department that he is representing. It is most welcome news that he has now taken on this role. As I have not had a previous opportunity to do so, I should also like to say how much we valued the work of the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, in that role up until this time.

The central licensing authority is an issue that has caused a degree of concern. The Minister has been extremely erudite in arguing his case and in arguing the case for a database. It was telling that he said that it was the work on this side of the House that has made the database a reality in the short term. That is very helpful. However, we have a number of concerns about the way in which the system is being set up. The amendment also reflects the concerns of the Local Government Association, with which I know the Minister has been working. However, it is perhaps on the back of those concerns—because, obviously, local authorities will run the system—that we shall be considering pressing this group of amendments.

The arguments have been expressed at all stages of this Bill. Personal licences lasting up to 10 years will be granted on an individual basis and will have a degree of portability. That is why we hope to set up a system with a degree of conformity as regards everyone who applies for a licence. There could be a degree of difference from authority to authority, especially as the system has not been set up as yet, and is being set up over the medium term. Indeed, to a degree, it will not be in place when the Bill becomes law.

One of our major concerns is cost. This is a deregulating Bill where we believe that the costs will be neutral. The Minister said that it will cost in the region of 10 million to set up a central database. That seems a very large amount of money, although it is a set-up cost and a one-off cost and could be funded from the fees charged for each of the licensees to run the system.

The LGA wishes the system that we propose to be implemented. It may be an expensive system, and we should ask where the costs will fall if they do not fall on the central licensing system. It appears that the costs will fall on the local authorities. The Minister will say that those costs will already be borne to a degree by the local authorities, because people will have to register their interests with local authorities. However, disproportionate cost may fall on some local authorities if a brewery chain is based in one area and wants all its licensees to be registered with a particular authority that it feels that it can work with, for example.

On that basis, and on the advice of the LGA, I beg to move.

Moved, as an amendment to the Motion that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 2, leave out "agree" and insert "disagree".—(Lord Redesdale.)

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