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Baroness Buscombe: My Lords, I support the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale. I begin by expressing my appreciation for the time that the Secretary of State and the Minister have given to the noble Lord, Lord
However, we are disturbed by the response in another place to our amendment, which we achieved in this House with regard to the need for a central licensing authority. It was made clear in another place and again today by the Minister that the Government are honouring a commitment to set up a national database. However, it remains unclear what that actually means, and who will pay, implement and manage that system. It is clear that everyone involved is now deeply concerned about that.
The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, made clear the reality, which is the huge cost exercise involved in setting up the system. Central government want to shift the licensing system on to local authorities from the magistrates, who, many continue to believe, were carrying out their duties perfectly adequately. Someone has to pay for that shift. Local authorities say that they will not be able to afford the necessary system, and industry is rightly worried that local authorities will look for ways in which to deflect costs on to it.
We are deeply concerned about the importance of filtering applications for personal licences, to assist licensing authorities and the police in ensuring that only legitimate applicants apply for licences and renew their licences wherever they live in the country and no matter how many times they may have moved in a 10-year period in this very flexible and often transient industry.
The Minister made it clear that setting up the database will cost millions of pounds, and that key stakeholders are already involved. I assume that "key stakeholders" means local authorities. There is clearly a lack of trust here, as local authorities are coming to us and saying, "Please press the Government for a central authority". They want something akin to the DVLA or the Security Industry Authority.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I have heard what the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, and the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, have said about the amendment. I should say straightaway that I appreciate the concerns of local authorities. After all, all the functions have been performed by licensing justices in the past, and it is a very considerable shift for local authorities to be given the responsibility for licensing.
However, that does not mean that one particular elementthe organisation of personal licencesshould be taken away from local authorities and given to a central licensing authority. All other aspects of the licensing regime set out in the Bill, including the registration, control and administration of premises licences, are to be the responsibility of local authorities. It seems strange that this one particular element is now being queried and that it is proposed to take it away from local authorities.
I understand the concerns of local authorities about entering into new territory and about money. The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, queried the cost of a database. I cannot give a precise figure for the cost of the database. A central licensing authority would have its own staff and would be a non-departmental public body or something of that kindexactly what it would be is not spelt out in the amendments that were passed here. I can give an assurance that the cost of such an authority would be substantially more than the cost of a database.
The supporters of the amendment are asking for an authority performing statutory functions. I can give an idea of the likely cost of such an authority, by analogy. The new Gambling Commission costs, which will be subject to parliamentary scrutiny over the next year, are expected to be from £10 million to £13 million pounds a year. The Security Industry Authority, which was mentioned when the proposals were made earlier this year in this House, incurred £6 million in set-up costs alone last year.
The cost of a central licensing authority, as will the cost of a database, would eventually be passed on to the consumer. I must point out to the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, that it is no answer to say that the cost of a central database can be recovered from a licensee, since licensees will put up their prices if their costs increase and the consumer will pay in the end. It really does not matter how the intermediate arrangements are made.
I have already said, in response to the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, that there will be a consistency of format in the way in which the personal licence system is set up from the very beginning, so that it can be "migrated"that is the technical termto the central database in due course.
The Government are not in the business of setting up new government organisations that are not necessary. We have a provision for a collaborative effort that will do the job perfectly effectively. We have no need to spend that extra money and involve ourselves in the extra bureaucracy. I hope that the House resists the amendment.
Lord Redesdale: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his erudite reply. We have gone over the issue of costs on a number of occasions. I was somewhat concerned when the Minister said that the measures would lead to a rise in costs to the licensee and then to the consumer. That implies that the Bill, which is supposed to be cost-neutral, has some in-built problems that will have to be reassessed later.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I used the word "cost-neutral" because there are already substantial costs in the licensing regime through licensing justices. We are saying that a licensing regime through licensing authorities will be cheaper because less complex and bureaucratic than the licensing
Lord Redesdale: My Lords, there has been a fundamental disagreement about how those costs will be met and how onerous they would be. We believe that the amendment would benefit licensees throughout the country and make the Bill work more cogently and coherently. Therefore, I beg leave to test the opinion of the House.
The Chairman of Committees (Lord Brabazon of Tara): My Lords, the original Question was that this House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 2 since when an amendment has been moved to leave out "agree" and insert "disagree". The Question is that this amendment be agreed to.
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.