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The noble Baroness said: My Lords, we have changed subject and are back to where we were before. This package of measures would improve decision-making in licensing matters under the Licensing Act 2003. In particular, it accommodates the possibility of large unitary authorities and increases the role of parish councils and ward councillors.
Subsection (2) of the new clause would change the rules on membership of licensing sub-committees. As the noble Baroness will know, under Section 6 of the Licensing Act licensing committees must have between 10 and 15 members. Section 9(1) allows the committee to establish sub-committees, each consisting of three members of the committee. The sub-committees are usually responsible for conducting hearings into applications and the present rule requires that considerable work be shared among the 10 to 15 members of the licensing committee. The amendment would allow the sub-committees to be drawn from all members of the authority. It is still a matter for the authority how many councillors it wishes to have sitting in sub-committees. It can maintain the expertise and share the work as it considers appropriate. The amendment would have particular value if countrywide unitary authorities were ever to be formed, because the current 10 to 15 members would have an extraordinarily wide brief under those circumstances.
Subsections (3) and (4) would broaden the categories of interested persons who can make representations on premises licensing and club licence applications. The amendment adds parish and community councils. The original guidance from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport indicated that parish councils did not represent persons who lived in the vicinity of premises. In June 2006, the Government changed the guidance to include parish councils as interested persons, but that view remained controversial. The amendment would put that point beyond doubt.
The next change is undoubtedly an addition. Local councillors are not entitled to make representations on licensing applications by reason of being local councillors. They have been able to make representations only if they live in the vicinity of the premises, when it is normally said that they have an interest. Councillors are prevented from making representations on applications made to their own council. Since part of the role of councillors is to represent residents views to their council, that needs to be remedied.
Finally, we come to Members of Parliament and Members of the Welsh Assembly. The Governments guidance is that local residents and businesses can ask their local MP or Assembly Member to represent them before the council sub-committee. The MP or Assembly Member has no right to make representations on his own behalf unless he lives next door to the pub. The amendment would correct that defect. I beg to move.
Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, I am not sure that I am going to satisfy the noble Baroness, given her concerns. However, I will take a few minutes to respond and give the amendment the proper consideration that it deserves. First and foremost, I will put on record the Governments gratitude to members of licensing committees around the country, who have recently undertaken an enormous task. The Government are indebted to them for the work that they do and we are aware that they have worked under tremendous pressure. I would not want to give any other impression than make full note of that gratitude.
However, the Government resist the changes that Amendment No. 219A would make to the Licensing Act 2003. To understand the effect of the amendment, I need to explain a little about the relevant parts of the 2003 Act, which, after receiving Royal Assent, became fully operational in November 2005.
As the noble Baroness explained, Section 6 of the 2003 Act provides that a licensing authority, normally the local council at district level, must establish a licensing committee consisting of at least 10 but no more than 15 members of the licensing authority. Section 9(1) of the Act then empowers a licensing committee to establish one or more sub-committees consisting of three members of that committee. Accordingly, in combination, these sections allow a maximum of five sub-committees to function simultaneously, if necessary, and require that all sub-committee members are members of the main licensing committee.
As we have heard, the second part of the proposed new clause refers to Sections 13(3) and 69(3) of the 2003 Act, which make certain individuals and bodies interested parties in relation to applications for, and to vary, premises licences and club premises certificates.
Under the Act, an interested party is entitled to make relevant representations to the licensing authority about such applications and to seek reviews of existing licences, which is the important new point. To be relevant, the representations must be made within a prescribed time limit, not be frivolous or vexatious, and must relate to the four statutory licensing objectives. As I am sure noble Lords are well aware, those are the prevention of crime and disorder, public safety, the prevention of public nuisance and the protection of children from harm. The current interested parties are a person living in the vicinity of the premises or club premises, a body representing persons who live in that vicinity, a person involved in business in that vicinity and a body representing persons involved in that vicinity.
The purpose of the new clause relating to Sections 13 and 69 would be to add new individuals and bodies to the existing list. The effect of the proposed new clause relating to Section 9(1) of the Licensing Act 2003 would be to permit any member of the licensing authority to sit on a licensing sub-committee, rather than only members of the main licensing committee. It would thus do away with the requirement that all sub-committee members be members of the main committee, leaving open the possibility that the main committee could form a sub-committee whose members did not include any member of the main committee. I am quite proud of that paragraph; there are a lot of committees in there. It would be possible to have a sub-committee made up of councillors who are not on the main committee.
I have no doubt that this part of the proposed new clause is intended to be well-meaning and maximise the flexibility available to licensing authorities by allowing any member of the council to participate in a licensing hearing. However, most members of licensing committees receive training to enable them to better understand the complexities and technicalities of some of the
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In addition, we do not think that there is really a need for increased flexibility in sub-committee membership. The most intensive work for licensing committees was during the 2003 Acts transitional period between February and November 2005. We are grateful for the tremendous work that the committees did then. However, I am glad to say that since November 2005 the workload on those committees has vastly reduced.
Most applications for the grant or variation of a licence do not reach a hearing before licensing sub-committees and are dealt with by officers, which is a step in the right direction. Unlike the old licensing regimes, the Act provides that hearings should only arise where there are disputes and representations have been made by responsible authorities, such as the police, or by interested parties, such as a resident living in the vicinity of the premises or club. Even then, most cases are dealt with by mediation and are resolved without the need for a hearing. The aim of the Act was to reduce the rafts of red tape that led to unnecessary hearings and get a sharper focus on the cases that mattered to the community. The arrangements appear to have worked extremely well since the transitional period was completed in November 2005. The existing flexibility provided by the Act, with the option of five sub-committees capable of sitting simultaneously is, in our view, entirely adequate.
The second part of the proposed new clause would amend Sections 13 and 69 of the Licensing Act 2003. The proposed amendments would expand the list of interested parties to include elected individuals and bodies such as parish councils, local authority councillors, MPs and, of course, Members of the Welsh Assembly. While not doubting that those bodies and individuals can play a valuable role in local licensing matters, I believe that the amendments are unnecessary. As the noble Baroness has made clear, parish and town councils are self-evidently bodies that represent those living within the vicinity of a licensed premises and, as such, should already be considered as interested parties. The guidance to licensing authorities issued by the Secretary of State under Section 182 of the 2003 Act clarifies that. I am sorry that the noble Baroness feels that that is controversial, but I hope that making this clear on the record will help.
Local councillors, MPs, Members of the Welsh Assembly or, for that matter, MEPs or Peers, who live in the vicinity of premises applying for a licence can obviously make representations in their own right as interested parties. They can also apply for a review of the licence at any time if problems occur. The
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In support of councillors role as advocates for their local communities, the guidance also refers to the amendment of the code of conduct for local authority members in May 2007, which relaxed the rules relating to members prejudicial interests. This means that a member with a prejudicial interest is allowed to attend a meeting to make representations on behalf of a constituent, provided that the public are allowed to attend for the same purpose and the member withdraws from the meeting after making his or her representations.
What members cannot do is make representations or request reviews if they do not live in the vicinity or have not been asked by someone who does to act on their behalf. We believe that this must be the correct approach; such members are representatives of those in the relevant area and should act in that capacity. This amendment would create a capacity to act independently of the residents or businesses of the area, which does not seem appropriate. Furthermore, the licensing authority is a representative body for the area in which the licensed premises are situated. Additional input from other representatives acting on their own account does not seem necessary or desirable.
I hope that the noble Baroness will consider withdrawing her amendment. She has highlighted an extremely important area and I hope that I have put on record the Governments position with regard to licensing sub-committees.
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that reply and for drawing attention to the amount of work that licensing committees have done. They are probably not as pressed now as they were when the Act first came in. My husband was a member of such a committee and I know how much work he did when dealing with all the licensing applications. The people on those committees will welcome the noble Baronesss comments on that.
Perhaps I may argue further about enabling the authority as a whole to be, in effect, the main licensing committee. There is nothing to stop 50 or 60 people being members of a committeereceiving training and being the committee. If that were available in legislation and could be adopted if a local authority wanted to, normal rules would apply for the main licensing committee as it stood. The members would have to undergo the same training and they would have to ensure that they were able and qualified to sit on a sub-committee. That would have to be a sine qua non of extending the licensing committee to take in all the members of an authority. I do not totally accept the noble Baronesss argument, but I can see that she is not likely to shift very much and I shall take that into account.
I recognise that the position of parish councils and communities has changed, but it has happened in a way that people are not totally happy with. However, I accept that the situation is not as it was originally, and I hope that in time the issue will become clearer.
With regard to applying for a review of the other people who can take part, councillors always expect to be able to make representations about anything in their area, regardless of whether the council is running it. In their representative role, they have always expected to be able to take part in licensing legislation and are all rather miffed at not being able to put forward their views, particularly if they happen to know something about a situation that residents representatives do not know or have not asked them to put forward. I can see that it is very nice to be asked; equally, it is very nice to be able to contribute.
(1) The Secretary of State may enter into arrangements with a local authority for the discharge of all or any of the specified functions of the Secretary of State by that local authority and within the area of that authority.
(3) Where a local authority has entered into arrangements under subsection (1) in respect of any function, the powers of the local authority under section 2 of the Local Government Act 2000 (c. 22) shall include the power to discharge that function in accordance with the arrangements, and the local authority shall have the same powers and be subject to the same restrictions in respect of that function as the Secretary of State would have been but for the arrangements.
(6) Where a local authority discharges a function of the Secretary of State in accordance with arrangements under subsection (1), the local authority may contribute to the cost of discharging that function.
(8) References in this section to the discharge of a function include references to the doing of anything which is calculated to facilitate, or is conducive or incidental to the discharge of that function.
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this amendment is grouped with Amendment No. 222B, which was moved by my noble friend Lord Bruce-Lockhart at the previous stage. I was not going to speak to that amendment until I read it again more carefully and realised that it ran side by side with Amendment No. 219B, and I think that I can deal with both at the same time.
Both amendments would enable a local authority to provide a unified benefits service for the area, and Amendment No. 222B would enable that to be part of the community strategy. The proposed new power would give a specific but discretionary power to the Secretary of State to delegate to individual local authorities the discharge of benefits functions. On the other side, the general power of the local authority under Section 2 of the Local Government Act to promote the economic, social and environmental well-being of the authoritys area is clarified to provide that it shall include the power to discharge such delegated functions and that the exercise of such delegated functions would not be a breach of the prohibition in Section 3(1) of that Act.
The powers that might be delegated to a local authority in this way are set out in subsection (2). They include powers over social security benefits, conditions for jobseekers allowance, New Deal payments under Section 2 of the Employment and Training Act, powers for the Learning and Skills Council to spend money on training and such other benefits provisions as the Secretary of State may include by order.
The reasoning behind the amendment is that reform of the benefits system is at the heart of the Governments drive to tackle worklessness and increase personal empowerment. At present, the administration of benefits is divided between the Secretary of State and local authorities, which administer council tax and housing benefits. It is not integrated with the parallel programmes to support disadvantaged and deprived individuals and households.
If local authorities can provide a unified benefits service with a single point of contact which can deal with all the benefits needs of an individual, it would make it much easier for a claimant to secure the full benefits to which they are entitled and would enable the local authority to channel additional support services to that individual or member of a household. Although local authorities would like to have the discretion to vary benefits according to local requirements, the amendment does not seek to do anything like that or to introduce such flexibility, except in so far as a local authority may wish to make its own contribution to the costs of discharging a particular benefits function.
However, local authorities hope that in due course, as the Secretary of State reviews the various benefits regulations, he will feel able to introduce a degree of
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The proposed new power is expressed both as a discretionary power for the Secretary of State to delegate particular functions to individual authorities and as a clarification of the existing power of local authorities to do anything that is calculated to promote the economic, social or environmental well-being of their area. It is therefore not a mandatory provision but at the discretion of the Secretary of State where he is satisfied that a particular authority has the capacity to take on the administration of such benefits and the authority is willing to do that.
The assumption is that the Secretary of State, as part of the delegation arrangements, will transfer appropriate funding not as part of the block grant but as a specific payment agreement in respect of both the administration costs and the direct costs of the benefits themselves. This will enable the Secretary of State to retain control over the overall cost of delegated functions.
The provision makes it clear that it is for the Secretary of State to agree the manner in which particular functions are delegated. The power of the local authority to take on such delegations or functions is expressed as a clarification of the well-being powers in Section 2 of the Local Government Act 2000the powers given to district councils, unitary councils, London borough councilsas these authorities are currently responsible for the administration of council tax benefit and housing benefit. I beg to move.
Lord Smith of Leigh: My Lords, I speak in support of the spirit of the amendments. I have been a long-time advocate of the fact that local government can do much better many of the local administration tasks currently performed by central Government.
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