Committee (6th Day) (Continued)
Clause 123: Licensing policy statements
241ZC: Clause 123, page 86, line 39, at end insert—
“( ) In section 9(1) after “of” insert “not less than”.”
My Lords, during the passage of the Licensing Act 2003, in a gesture that was helpful to local authorities as licensing authorities, the Government introduced in Section 9(1) a provision that:
“A licensing committee may establish one or more sub-committees consisting of three members of the committee”,
who would then serve as the licensing panel on an application. I do not know if the Government then foresaw the use that local and licensing authorities might make of this provision. A present consequence of Section 9(1) is that, on a particular interpretation, licensing panels can in practice be reduced from three to two. That has the effect of making the chairman, who has a casting vote, decisive, and thus has the effect of single-person decisions. This is habitual in one London borough licensing authority, which I am led to believe is Camden; and I declare an interest as I was once a member of Camden Borough Council. It is used regularly in others and even occasionally in Westminster, where I was a Member of Parliament.
I realise that my amendment to make it “not less than” three members may not be adequate to correct this situation, although I have taken advice. However, I hope that my noble friend the Minister can at least accept the spirit of my amendment. It is a stand-alone amendment, and the others in this group relate to Clause 125. Indeed, my concerns with Clause 125 standing part will follow smoothly on from Amendment 241C of my noble friends Lord Clement-Jones and Lord Astor. I will therefore defer my remarks on Clause 125 to follow on from that amendment, thus now yielding the Floor to the noble Baronesses, Lady Finlay of Llandaff and Lady Hayter of Kentish Town, whose Amendments 241D and 241DA are on a different issue. I beg to move.
My Lords, I wish to speak to Amendment 241A in this group and the subsequent amendment, which is in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter of Kentish Town, who is also supporting my amendment. I should make it clear that these two amendments have not been tabled because we disagree on this issue; we agree so totally and fundamentally that these two amendments are almost belt-and-braces measures. I would have liked to add my name to the noble Baroness’s amendment. They are very slightly different but in no way less important.
The Bill constitutes a very important opportunity to address drink-driving and the catalogue of deaths and casualties that occur on the roads because of alcohol consumption. We both would like to bring down the legal blood alcohol level from 80 to 50 milligrams per hundred millilitres of blood; that would bring us in line with many other countries in Europe. However, the best way forward seems to be to see whether all the measures to be implemented under the Bill have an effect on alcohol consumption—hence the concept of their being subject to a review—and for the review to look at legal limits specifically.
What is the size of the problem? It is estimated that nearly 12,000 reported casualties—5 per cent of all road casualties—are the result of someone driving when over the legal limit and that the number of such people who were killed in 2009 was 380 or 17 per cent of all road fatalities. It is important to remember that pedestrians are sometimes knocked over in these incidents and have a much higher risk of being killed than the person who is in the car, who is usually the person who is over the limit. The injuries sustained by pedestrians are more likely to be fatal as they suffer head or facial injuries, which tend to be more severe.
The number of hospital admissions due to road accidents in general is enormous. There were 39,000 admissions following road traffic accidents in 2009. Looking just at the drink-driving statistics, an average of 3,000 people are killed or seriously injured each year in drink-driving collisions, and nearly one in six of all deaths on the road involve these drivers, as I said. However, the biggest problem occurs with youngsters. Drink-driving among young men in the 17 to 29 age group is particularly high. Provisional figures from 2004 show that some 590 people were killed in crashes in which a driver was over the legal limit, 2,350 were seriously injured and 14,000 were slightly injured. The key group comprises the 17 to 24 year-olds, of whom 6.3 per cent who were breath tested after an accident failed the test. That compares with an average for all ages of 4.4 per cent. People in this age group seem particularly liable to drive when they have had too much to drink and to have an accident when over the drink-drive limit. Recent data from police checks in England and Wales show that one in 20 of under 25 year-olds who were stopped were over the legal limit. That translates into 1,746 young drivers because more than 27,000 people were stopped by the police in total.
How do we stop this catalogue of deaths and serious injuries, not only of people who are over the limit but among others? How do we stop the carnage of young lives that are wasted because they have been driving while over the limit? They may not even realise that they are over their limit but their ability to drive safely is seriously impaired. Fatalities often result from stupid little things such as not looking properly, having slightly slower reactions and driving a little too fast on a wet road. That is the background to these amendments. We cannot leave a Bill like this, which is trying to tackle a major social problem, without addressing this alcohol-associated carnage on our roads.
My Lords, I declare my interests as chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Alcohol Misuse, and as a member of CADD, the Campaign Against Drinking and Driving. As I have already said in the House, members of that body have lost a relative through drink-driving.
I am happy to support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville. I will take his wise words on how to tackle these matters back to Camden. I also support Amendment 241A, standing in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and myself, and Amendment 241B, standing in my name, which would have the effect of reducing the blood alcohol level for young drivers, should the review show a case for further reform action.
Statistics on death as a result of alcohol impairment are well known, if not acted upon. We tend to concentrate on death but life-shattering and painful injuries are also a major issue. Indeed, it is mostly thanks to medical advances practised by people such as the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and others, as well as the speed and expertise of rescue crews and paramedics, that many who would otherwise have died following these accidents have been saved. However, they are not necessarily saved from a life of pain and impairment. As the Select Committee in another place has emphasised,
“drink driving is a preventable activity … On average, … one person dies every day”,
because drivers were over the limit. The Transport Committee also agreed that,
“medical and statistical evidence supports a reduction in the current drink drive limit of 80mg … per 100ml blood”.
However, as we know, the Government do not support such a reduction, at least for the moment, and nor did the committee, despite the wise recommendation of a reduction to 50 milligrams by Sir Peter North, although the Transport Committee would prefer a 20 rather than 50 milligram limit, which is effectively zero.
Despite the lack of action, I do not give up hope. In particular, it is worth looking within the generality of drivers at the susceptibility of the young to the effects of alcohol. This would also help to achieve the Transport Committee's aim that the Government should work to achieve a 20 milligram level by first introducing a lower limit for young drivers. New Zealand has recognised that young bodies are more affected by alcohol. It therefore has lower limits for young drivers. As its data show, young people start with a relatively high crash risk. For drivers under 20, even at 50 milligrams their risk of having a crash is six times the level of a driver over 30 years of age with the same alcohol consumption. That is why the drink-drive limit in New Zealand is 20 milligrams per 100 millilitres for those under 20.
The evidence is clear: drink for drink, young drivers are more likely to have accidents than older drivers, quite apart from their level of experience. New Zealand is planning further action to deter young people from drinking and driving, with policies closer to those of America where the drinking age is 21. The Federal Highway Administration estimates that having a drinking age of 21 saves 1,000 young American lives a year, so New Zealand is going to raise the purchase age for alcohol to 20 years. The House will be delighted to hear that that is not where I want to go, but I want to protect our young drivers—and, as the noble Baroness said, their victims, whether they are on the streets or in the cars of those young drivers—from any temptation to drink before getting behind a wheel.
It is well recognised that driving impairment and crash risks increase with increasing blood alcohol levels. Even at levels of between 50 and 80 milligrammes, drivers with increased blood alcohol levels are six times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash than those who have not drunk at all. Among drivers killed or seriously injured in the United Kingdom, 87 per cent of those aged between 16 and 24 were over the limit compared with just 13 per cent who were under it. Looking at the figures for all drink-drive accidents rather than injuries, 900 of the 7,500 drivers were under 20—double the accident rate, in relation to the number of licence holders, of the 30-to-34 age group. In terms of miles driven, accidents are six times more likely to occur among that young age group compared with the number among those aged between 30 and 34.
Tens of deaths and hundreds of serious injuries could be prevented by reducing the limit. With this amendment we have a chance to start on the path of preventing these deaths and injuries by helping young people to say no to drinking and driving. Eight in 10 people in the United Kingdom already believe that if someone has drunk any alcohol they should not drive. Well over half the members of the AA—by which I mean the Automobile Association, not Alcoholics Anonymous—support a lower blood alcohol level. I am sure that the public’s support would increase further if they were asked about young people’s limits, not because we blame the young for their youthful drinking but because we do not want young lives to be lost, and because they are at greater danger to themselves.
Furthermore, because our ages are on all our driving licences—sadly, in the case of some of us—it is very easy to determine who would be covered by the new law. With the new digital roadside reading devices it becomes possible to have the exact reading at the point of testing, which has not been possible before, when later analysis of blood had to be relied on.
I hope that the Minister will in reply indicate the Government’s willingness to look at the possibility of a lower limit for young drivers or new drivers. It would be a sensible step that could save lives.
My Lords, I can be brief in speaking to Amendment 241C. I very much commend Clause 125, which sets in place a review of the effect of the amendments to the licensing scheme. It is common ground between us, whatever side we may be on, that the proposed amendments are highly significant. The Bill provides for a review to take place after five years. In view of the significance of these amendments, Amendment 241C is designed to make that review occur every two, not five, years. That would be much more appropriate, given the significance of the changes that will have been made by the Bill.
I support the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville. There is a range of issues here that cannot wait five years to be reviewed. The amendment proposing a review after two years would be far more acceptable. I also want to draw the attention of Ministers to reports produced by this House way back in 2002, when the European Union Select Committee reviewed drinking and driving legislation and compared it with that of other European countries. The report pressed the case for the limit to be reduced to 50 milligrammes. The puritan Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe chaired that committee, so I recall it very well indeed. We must keep raising these issues, although time may pass by without speedy implementation.
It was interesting that when I was pulling out my papers on this issue, I came across a press cutting with the headline:
“MPs and peers cast eye on Lords reform”.
The article continued:
“A committee on Lords reform is today expected to seek to allay fears that the issue has been kicked into the long grass by agreeing a timetable to put forward proposals by October”.
That article was dated 9 July, 2002.
My Lords, given that Clause 125 is totally composed of reviews, I wanted to add a word on the review of ministerial guidance. I do that absolutely in the spirit of Amendment 241C, spoken to by my noble friend Lord Clement-Jones, in terms of acceleration.
Much of the way in which the Licensing Act 2003 has been interpreted has been by virtue of ministerial guidance required under Section 182 of that Act. While the currently proposed legislative changes to that Act have been widely welcomed, they will take time to bed down. If the ministerial guidance were immediately to be reviewed and rewritten—it was last reviewed in November 2010; it has been a running process since 2003—subject to public consultation, many of the concerns addressed in the coalition Government’s consultation could be dealt with by providing more balanced guidance to licensing authorities to support them in getting to grips as soon as possible with the adverse effects of licensing.
In terms of involving the community, there should be an explicit statement in the guidance that local people and their representatives have an important locus in formulating policies, and that the invitation to consult on local licensing policy should ideally be simple and jargon-free, backed up by something like a crystal mark. However, the best way to involve the community more is to improve public awareness of licence applications. The Government could help by revising the currently very prescriptive rules for advertising applications that often do not work. I give an example that was, I think, mentioned in our previous debates. There are fewer and fewer local newspapers, and the advertisements in them are usually in tiny print on inside pages. The responsibility for advertising the applications should be passed to licensing authorities that can decide the most effective way to advertise applications, including circulating notices by post, on the basis of full recovery from the applicant of their reasonable costs.
What I am about to say may go beyond the scope of this clause, but it would help greatly if local councils, in response to representations from the public and responsible authorities, were to be allowed to introduce policies controlling the cumulative impact of licensed premises—such a provision was precluded from the 2003 Act—whereby the licensing authority can prevent a build-up of problems, rather than waiting until they have occurred.
My Lords, those of us involved in this debate for some time are beginning to recognise there is a risk of Brookes to the right and Brookes to the left addressing us from slightly different perspectives, but with the common cause of improving the legislation. We should be careful to get our Brookes in the right order. We must also be careful, as we debate these issues, not to fall into the camps of the puritans or nannies. Labels are hard to get right on this. This group of amendments is particularly odd. It includes an important technical amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville. We should also be grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and my noble friend Lady Hayter for allowing us to debate drink-driving.
When I considered this issue some time ago, the wisdom that emerged from those who were looking at it was that the problem of drink-driving largely affected the older generations who had perhaps grown up when social conditions were different, whereas the young had got the message that you did not drink and drive. It was a bit like the success of the seat belt campaigns that resulted, after time and effort put in all round, in everyone, or at least the younger generation, getting the hang of the fact that you had to put your seat belt on as you got into the car.
Certainly, I do not have any problem with that; my children do not seem to either. They do that immediately. We borrow from that in the sense that the younger generations picked up that you do not drink and drive; it was something that you just did not do. They organised who was going to drive when they went out. The problem came with the elderly and retired, who perhaps felt that they could hold their drink and drive. The evidence that we have heard today, especially from the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, is that that is not the case: far too much drink-driving is going on among those groups who previously have not done so. The figures are simply horrific. The catalogue of deaths is too much.
It is not just those who are driving. We have heard in this and earlier debates of the collateral damage caused by drinking. Those who drive cars where other people have been drinking find themselves less able to concentrate and drive well. Pedestrians and others who are not involved may also run into trouble.
The evidence is compelling. If you add to that the sense that the younger generation are taking harder drinks, spirits rather than softer drinks such as wines and beers, I wonder whether we have this the right way round. Should we not hear the argument for allowing people to drink and drive, rather than debating whether there is a safe limit at which people can drink and drive?
I realise that I am stepping a little further than my party has previously been on this, but we are in the delightful situation of having a policy review, so I am taking advantage of what I assume is a blank piece of paper. I sense a little support from my Back Benches. The evidence points us in one way, and we should examine the issue more carefully than simply trying to debate the niceties—although I accept that it is a serious point—of whether 80 milligrammes is right or whether it should be lower for younger people. Perhaps the Minister can add that to the list of issues that she will tackle while she remains in post—which in some ways I hope is not a long time, but long enough to allow her to make some progress here. Driving is a social condition to which we have a permissive approach, and we would not want to change that, but we recognise that matters such as the use of seat belts, phones, drugs, cigarettes and drinks all impact on safety. As a licence is issued to people to drive, it should be accompanied by other measures. The Minister is already building up a list, so I look forward to hearing her comments.
My Lords, Amendment 241ZC would amend Clause 123, which deals with local licensing policy statements, to amend the separate provisions in the Licensing Act 2003 about the composition of a licensing sub-committee. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville for his letter to my noble friend Lady Browning giving us advance warning of his contribution today. I understand that he has a specific concern that some sub-committees may be sitting with fewer than three members. We believe that the law is clear on this point, but I assure him that the guidance will clarify that sub-committees with fewer than three members sitting will not be quorate.
Clause 125 imposes a duty on the Secretary of State to review the effect of those clauses in Part 2 that impose a regulatory burden on businesses or civil society organisations. This follows the Government's commitment in the coalition agreement to,
“impose ‘sunset clauses' on regulations and regulators to ensure that the need for each regulation is regularly reviewed”.
My noble friend asks when the statutory guidance required under Section 182 will next be reviewed. I hope that he will be reassured when I say that we will be making a substantial revision of the guidance as part of the process of implementing the Bill after Royal Assent. I can also confirm that the statutory review will consider the effects of the measures on the scheme established by the Licensing Act, including consequential amendments to secondary legislation and guidance. We also intend to make regulations requiring licensing authorities to advertise applications on their websites. They must already do so in the case of reviews.
Amendments 241A and 241B would include the effect of drink-driving in the statutory review. They would also commit the Government to changing the law on drink-driving in particular ways if the review demonstrated an increase in drink-driving. I must say at the outset that I appreciate the intention behind these amendments. I assure the Committee that the Government are committed to take further action to tackle drink-driving, building on the long-term reductions we have seen in the toll of road casualties that it causes.
However, the proposed amendment would be difficult to implement in practice. It is not feasible to have an alcohol limit of zero, suggested by paragraph (b) in both Amendments 241A and 241B, for a particular class of drivers, because it is sometimes possible to detect the presence of alcohol in the bodies of people who have not consumed alcoholic beverages. Furthermore, it would be difficult to link any changes to the incidence of drink-driving directly to the provisions of the Bill. Indeed, it is challenging even to measure the incidence of drink-driving. It is not self-reported and offence data are influenced by enforcement practices.
The Government recently responded to an independent review with a package of measures to improve the effectiveness of the existing drink-drive limit. We have decided not to change that limit, for the reasons I have given: that would impose social and economic costs that are not matched by potential benefits. I also point out that other countries may have a lower limit, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, mentioned, but even then they do not necessarily have a better record on reducing drink-drive casualties.
However, we consider this to be a very important area. We have announced a range of measures in the new strategic framework for road safety to help the police enforce the law against drink-driving more efficiently. These include: removing the option for drivers who fail an evidential breath test by 40 per cent or less to request a blood or urine test; mandating drink-drive rehabilitation courses for disqualified drink-drivers; and developing portable evidential digital breathalysers to make it possible for the police to get evidence at the roadside and other locations.
We do not suggest that any given quantity of alcohol is safe. To some extent, I am in line with the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, on that point. Our message is clear: do not drink and drive. If motorists do not take that advice and exceed the limit, they deserve stiff penalties.
Amendment 241C, introduced by my noble friend Lord Clement-Jones, would require the Government to review the effect of the clauses after two years. The review date of five years, for which the Bill provides, fulfils the Government's commitment to review new primary legislation that imposes a regulatory burden on businesses or civil society organisations. This timescale has been established as a standard period across different review processes, including the post-legislative scrutiny we are addressing here. We have also announced our intention to review the parts of the alcohol measures that are not subject to statutory requirement in the same five-year period.
Furthermore, if there are warning signs that the legislation is having unintended consequences, nothing in the Bill prevents an earlier review on an exceptional basis. Such a review might be triggered, for example, if evidence from the licensed trade or civic society organisations demonstrates that a measure in the Bill is causing significant harm not matched by any benefits in targeting alcohol-related problems.
However, it would be a mistake to impose a two-year review as a statutory requirement. Five years has been established as a guideline supported by the practical justification of the need to gather sufficient information to enable the effect of the regulation to be properly understood. The production of statistics necessarily lags some time behind events, so a review within two years risks having too little information available on which to base its conclusions. I therefore ask that the amendment be withdrawn.
My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords who have spoken in support of my amendment and remarks. I am never quite sure whether the penultimate “a” in the geographical title of the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, is a long “a” or a short “a”, so I shall simply refer to him as Lord Stevenson.
For the avoidance of doubt, I refer the noble Lord to the Companion. He really ought to try it, because there are two Lord Stevensons, and it would be very confusing for me if he were in some way confusing me with the other Lord Stevenson, as the noble Lord did with Lord Brooke earlier.
I am grateful for that correction. I shall therefore refer to the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, as Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, and he can tell me afterwards if I am right.
The noble Lord alluded to the contributions made by me and my namesake, the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe. Investing $20 with a particular printer in the midwest gave me the telephone numbers of 18,000 people called Brooke spelt in the way that the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, and I spell it. I demonstrated that 5,000 of that 18,000—much the largest phalanx—were in West Yorkshire. By definition the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, is much more senior to myself. Only one-eighth of my blood is from West Yorkshire, but three-eighths is from Ulster, which in Gilbertian language passes for Yorkshire in the dusk with the light behind you, and indeed vice versa.
My principal gratitude is to my noble friend the Minister whose answers were entirely satisfactory and I am extremely grateful for them. I feel bad about adding one question to him. I am delighted to hear that the guidance will insist that licensing authorities print the applications on their website. However, that still leaves open the question that I raised with him under Clause 106 last week, on which he very kindly said he would write to me, about the difference between 28 days after the application is received and 28 days after the application is put on the website. I hope that I will get an encouraging answer on that subject between now and when the guidance is issued. I am grateful to him for nodding his head. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 241ZC withdrawn.
Clause 123 agreed.
Clause 124 agreed.
Clause 125 : Review of effect of amendments on licensing scheme
Amendments 241A to 241C not moved.
Clause 125 agreed.
Clause 126 : Late night levy requirement
241CA: Clause 126, page 88, line 11, at end insert—
“( ) Nothing in this Chapter applies to holders of club premises certificates.”
My Lords, we now move to the very important part of the Bill relating to the late-night levy. The House may be relieved to hear that I shall speak extremely briefly to Amendment 241CA and to Amendments 241EA, 241GA, 241GB, 241KA, 241MZA and 241SA. The arguments about private members’ clubs have been made already under the EMRO discussion.
The Minister said there are clubs and clubs, but the arguments are very powerful for private members’ clubs to be dealt with differently under the EMRO and the late-night levy provisions. I hope that the Minister will give that further thought since private members’ clubs have a self-regulatory process, and if that process is not properly operative then they should not receive private members’ club premises certificates. It is as simple as that. They are subject to greater regulation than ordinary licensed premises and for that very reason should be excluded from the operation of the late-night levy.
Moving on to the next group of amendments, Amendments 241D, 241E, 241F, 241G, 241L and 241M, I am afraid that I will be slightly longer. Amendment 241D extends the ability of licensing authorities to determine the extent of the geographical spread of the levy area so that it need not apply to the whole local authority area. This is one of the great weaknesses of this provision for the late-night levy. It is a very blunt instrument, dealing with the whole of a local authority area.
Amendment 241E deals with Clause 126(4), which prohibits the licensing authority from applying the levy as it is currently stated in only part of its area. Removing this provision would allow licensing authorities to designate a particular town or city centre within its control as being liable for the late-night levy rather than being totally broad-brush in its approach. A large number of trade organisations are particularly concerned about the untargeted nature of the proposed late-night levy. A licensing authority may not decide that the late-night levy requirement is to apply only in part of its area, which means that community pubs in particular will be affected by a requirement which is presumably really aimed at addressing the challenges in town and city centres. The power can only be applied across a licensing authority district as a whole rather than a specific area, and its untargeted nature means that many responsible businesses will be caught.
A late-night levy can be imposed irrespective of whether a bar is a source of disturbance. Ultimately it is unfair that any licensed premises operating in a responsible manner should have to pay such a charge when the best course of action would be specifically to tackle the irresponsible operator or indeed individual members of the public who cause problems.
The Government justify this measure on the basis that the easiest, most effective way of dealing with the issue is to go for the whole council route because it is viewed as less bureaucratic, and that the levy must be attractive to licensing authorities by being simple to introduce. However, we must not put the levy on to properly run businesses. If they are forced by a combination of the levy and EMROs to close at midnight, as I said to an earlier amendment, this will simply mean that young people will spill out on the streets at 11 pm, as they always used to do, which is clearly not going to be conducive to public order. It is patently unfair, as was pointed out in Committee in the other place, to impose a charge on a business which may be 20 miles away from the source of the problem, and it cannot be justified.
It is understood that premises could apply to the licensing authority to reduce their hours without being charged a fee but it should be recognised that this option still places a cost on businesses, not just in their management time or legal fees in making such an application but also in potential lost revenue from reducing the trading time of their business.
Moving on to Amendment 241F, the levy will be applicable to any premises holding a licence to sell alcohol under the Licensing Act 2003 if it is open for just one day after the time stipulated in the late-night levy, which will most likely be midnight. This means that any pub, hotel, restaurant and so on which has permission to sell alcohol, even on just one night in the year, will become liable for the levy, and this will catch many venues with restricted late-night opening to cover such events as New Year’s Eve and bank holidays. That is the reason for inserting “15” instead of “one” in this amendment.
Amendment 241G is very similar to a previous amendment on EMROs. It ensures that premises that open late only once a year on New Year’s Eve are not required to pay the levy. This would alleviate an unnecessary cost burden on thousands of small pub businesses which would otherwise have to pay the levy. The Bill makes provision to impose a late-night levy on all premises licensed to sell alcohol between midnight and 6 am. The levy would be imposed at the licensing authority’s discretion across the entire local authority area. The funds raised would cover the costs of policing and other arrangements for the reduction or prevention of crime and disorder in connection with the supply of alcohol between midnight and 6 am. As it stands, the late-night levy unfairly penalises responsible retailers by applying to all licence holders and not just those who trade irresponsibly by contributing to alcohol-related disorder. This new measure will indeed introduce further costs for responsible businesses when powers to deal with irresponsible traders already exist.
I move on to Amendment 241L. As the Bill stands, licensing authorities could introduce an early-morning restriction order beginning at 12.30 am and running through to 6 am, and impose a levy on all premises that remained open until 12.30 am. Surely it is not intended that this combination of EMRO and levy should punish those caught out in this way. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have Amendments 241DA, 241H, 241J, 241K, 241N, 241R and 241S in this group. There is a concern that the late-night levy will not be used very much because of the bureaucracy and costs involved in the scheme, and because only a few local authorities have enough late-night venues to make it worth them running the scheme. We wait to see but, again, my concern is about central prescription.
I understand that the Government regard the levy as a tax and so say that it must be prescribed centrally. I wonder whether that is a bit circular. Can you be a bit circular? You either are or you are not—perhaps it is elliptical. If a local authority had discretion regarding the amount of the levy to reflect the costs, would that make it a charge rather than a tax? Therefore, to mix my metaphors, I am not sure which is egg and which is chicken in all this, but I firmly believe that the levy should be locally determined on the basis of full cost recovery.
I asked the Local Government Association about the costs associated with late-night operation, and your Lordships will not be surprised to learn that the list includes things such as street cleansing, taxi marshals and clearing up in the widest way after the large amount of activity late at night.
The consultation with local authorities on the regulations that relate to all this will be very important but there is a big cost. Because of that, I have transposed the 70:30 split so that in my amendment 70 per cent goes to local authorities to deal with things such as community safety initiatives, regulatory costs and other matters which I have already mentioned. After all, although I know that the police, too, could do with lots more money, they are already funded for areas of high-priority policing. The LGA has commented to me that police commissioners will be attracted to the idea of acquiring 70 per cent of the levy and may place significant pressure on their local authority to bring in the scheme. However, how the police’s 70 per cent should be spent or, perhaps more importantly, where, is not specified. The money could be raised in one area of the police force but used in another.
Amendment 241D reflects the concern of my noble friend in his amendment that local authority areas are not homogenous. If this new power is to be brought in it would be sensible for it to be focused and directed. Amendment 241H would take out the prescription of the amount of the levy. It is fair enough for it to be calculated by way of the formula, which is what Clause 129(1)(b) provides, but not the amount—Clause 129(1)(a) refers to that. I mentioned the 30:70 split which is referred to in Amendment 241N. Amendments 241R and 241S are about prescription and Amendment 241K is a proposed new clauseto provide a power for each licensing authority toset the levy for the reasons to which I have already alluded.
My Lords, we seem to be running into a little more difficulty with this group of amendments in terms of what the Bill is trying to achieve, and I look forward to the Minister’s response. Although, you can see where this idea has come from in the sense of the additional costs and other burdens on those with responsibilities in licensing areas, it seems to be a rather overbureaucratic approach. The overlap with the EMRO is not clear to understand—that point has already been made by other noble Lords. The reason why some aspects of this form of imposition are centrally determined and run by the Home Office and some are left to local areas is not at all clear. There is a problem about the scale and extent to which in any authority it would be sufficiently worth while for the licensing authority to introduce a local levy of this type. The case has yet to be made for a late-night levy.
Alongside that runs the argument that businesses already contribute to the community through their business rates. A proportion of revenue from business rates goes to fund local police and fire services—indeed all services—that will be drawn on in the sense that the Bill addresses this point. It seems to us that the late-night levy unfairly penalises responsible retailers by applying a levy to all licence holders and not just those who are trading irresponsibly. Funds raised in out-of-town centre premises will finance additional policing and other measures targeted at the late-night disorder in town centres because that is where it happens. Is it really fair for a village shopkeeper to pay for reducing disorder that they could not possibly have caused?
Businesses that sell alcohol and put on live music contribute to the community through their licence fees. Licence fees for selling alcohol and for regulated entertainment reflect the costs to the licensing authority of administration and enforcement of the licence. The point has been argued before and we think that it is fair. The proposed late-night levy would be a third tax—an additional cost and a stealth tax on the ability to operate at odd times of the day and night. It would affect small music venues that operate past midnight with entirely disproportionate consequences.
I wonder whether the Minister is aware that the CBI said recently that the late-night levy proposal contradicts the Government’s ambition for the creative industries to provide a key pillar of growth in the economic recovery and seems to be undoing some of the Government’s good work in supporting small live music venues.
My Lords, it might be appropriate if I begin by reminding the House that the late-night levy was a coalition commitment that we would permit local councils to charge more for late-night licences to pay for additional policing. Unlike other measures that we have discussed so far in relation to this licensing section of the Bill, which specifically give more tools to licensing authorities to deal with the problems that they experience with crime and disorder related to drinking and alcohol, this clause is quite different. I am well aware that the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, asked in our debate on an earlier amendment whether there was a change in the Government’s approach to this. If I say yes, it is clearly demonstrated in this particular clause because the clause is not about a measure under which licensing authorities would intervene to address specific problems of alcohol consumption. This is exactly what it says on the packet; it is a tax that is specifically for the repayment to the public services funded by taxpayers for the on-costs that they incur as a result of the late-night economy.
I welcome the opportunity to put on record the principles and thinking behind this levy. First, the levy, as set out in the existing framework, will provide a much needed power for licensing authorities. It will allow them to raise a valuable contribution toward policing costs resulting from the late-night supply of alcohol. To meet this purpose, it must be paid by all who profit from the practice, wherever they are placed. Secondly, the levy will be simple for licensing authorities to adopt; I do not agree that it will be bureaucratic. Thirdly, and finally, the levy will be a fair and proportionate contribution from businesses to enforcement costs. Processes will be transparent and local services will be accountable. In many of our towns and cities, the police experience considerable costs in keeping the late-night environment safe. Alcohol-related crime and disorder are rarely isolated to specific premises. Those on a night out will often visit a variety of premises. Just as businesses share the benefits of customers moving around, they should also share some of the costs generated by the supply of alcohol late at night.
The application of the levy must be as wide as possible. It will be paid by all businesses that profit from supplying alcohol late at night, subject to some exemptions and reductions. On this point, I will consider the lead amendment in the group. A wide variety of premises operate under club premises certificates. Removing all liability would exclude contributions from many businesses that also profit from selling alcohol in the late-night environment. We will consider exemptions and reductions in consultation before writing secondary legislation. I hope to explore the different types of business that operate under a club premises certificate before preparing our consultation. Therefore, we should not put this blanket exemption in the Bill. I say to my noble friend Lord Clement-Jones that I did not mean to be flippant in my earlier remark about club premises. I hope he will take it from me that while club premises benefit from the late-night economy, I accept that there are different types of clubs and I hope that he will take some comfort from the fact that we will consider very carefully in consultation the exemptions and reductions before secondary legislation is introduced.
If we gave a licensing authority the power to target the levy on a specific part of its area, this, too, would mean that fewer businesses would contribute. This would risk the levy raising barely enough to cover administrative costs and failing in its objective of raising a meaningful amount for the police. That is what we intend to do where the levy is applied: raise a meaningful amount of money for the police, who in turn must cover the costs of policing.
I am aware of concern that the levy is not sufficiently targeted. However, we must be clear that it is not designed to target specific pockets of crime and disorder. Clauses and amendments that we debated earlier focused on the need for the licensing authority to have the flexibility to target and focus on the areas that it deems have problems. The levy is not about that; it is about raising money for the police. I am still committed to helping communities tackle areas with specific alcohol-related problems, and I hope that other measures in the Bill will address that. We have already discussed early-morning restriction orders, which are there to address those sorts of problems. This power will enable licensing authorities to restrict the sale of alcohol in specific areas, at specific problem times on specific days. We have addressed the need to enhance the powers of the licensing authority, but that is not the purpose of the amendment.
Many other changes have been proposed in the amendments, and many ideas expressed. Some amendments would remove the burden of licensing authority accountability processes. The processes are necessary; licensing authorities should not worry about incurring costs from introducing the levy. They can deduct their administrative expenses from the levy receipts. As well as the levy funding the additional costs—not total or hypothecated costs, but as a contribution to the overall cost of policing—there is a facility for the local authority to deduct its administrative expenses from levy receipts.
A number of amendments seek to grant more local authority discretion, such as in setting the level of charge. However, we believe the charge must be nationally set to ensure that it is a standardised, fair and proportionate contribution from businesses. In light of the high policing costs that I have already described, I believe it is right for the police to receive the bulk of the contribution. We must also be careful not to create extra evidential burdens for licensing authorities in having to justify their choices of area and charge. The levy will not be another alcohol disorder zone, which was extremely bureaucratic. In fact, it was so burdensome that no local authorities adopted it.
One amendment considers corporate responsibility initiatives as a potential reduction from the charge and another looks at exempting New Year’s Eve. We mentioned these special exemptions and special days in other amendments. I can assure noble Lords that our upcoming consultation will consider exemptions and reductions in relation to members of business-led initiatives and special occasions. I am aware that many business-led schemes seek to mitigate late-night alcohol conditions and problems, particularly anti-social behaviour, and there will be an opportunity in the consultation period for representations from businesses that have already adopted them to make their views known. On this basis, these amendments pre-empt our public consultation.
With regard to other special occasions, I am confident that we have made good provision for premises to use temporary event notices. All these amendments reflect some of the wider discussions that took place during the development of the levy scheme and its ongoing analysis by our partners. I believe that we have struck the right balance. Significant administrative and legal burdens have purposely been avoided. We have created a tool which licensing authorities can easily use. The late-night levy will be a proportionate contribution towards policing costs shared by all businesses that profit from selling alcohol in a safe late-night economy. I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
I shall make two points on the Minister’s comments. First, she said that the standard level of the levy needs to be set nationally to ensure that there is a proportionate contribution from business. Is it not the case that there will be different costs in different areas? That is in the nature of the diversity of the country and of local authorities. Therefore, to set a standard levy may not reflect that diversity.
My second point is about Part 1—that seems so long ago that I wrote down the title of the Bill and then realised that we are still on it. We talked a lot about the need for police forces and local authorities to work in collaboration and co-operation, and I hope we will come back to this on report. In proposing that more resources go to local authorities, perhaps the Government will see that in the context of local authorities working with their police forces to deal with the impact of some of the difficulties arising from the late-night economy.
I hope I can reassure my noble friend that this levy has been designed to raise money for the police, who bear the brunt of late-night enforcement costs. As such, we believe they should receive the majority of the levy revenue after administrative expenses have been deducted. The local authority now works with the police and in future will work with the police and crime commissioner, so there will be a very close working relationship between the two to identify whether a licensing authority wishes to apply the levy.
My noble friend mentioned disproportionality in the levy charges. They have yet to be set. We have published only indicative figures. We currently plan to structure the levy charges on the existing licence fee bands, which, as my noble friend will know, are predicated upon the rateable value, so although this will be nationally set, it will be indicative of regional differences in bandings. In that way, we hope to have fairness and proportionality in the way in which the charges are structured.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her response, which I found to be rather a curate’s egg. Of course, I accept that the levy proposal was in essence contained in the coalition agreement. She will notice that no clause stand part debate is proposed from this or any side of the House. I do not think there is a great quarrel around the House with the principle of the levy. Certainly, I did not pick that up during the debate. It is all about the way in which the levy will operate and the interrelationship with EMROs. In particular, it is about the nature of the exemptions and the blanket nature of the levy.
I am pleased to hear that the Minister in the consultation will reflect the different types of clubs and will specifically look for different types of exemption, which is welcome. I would never apply the word “dusty” to this Minister’s replies, but I did think that the Home Office is erecting quite a brick wall to the idea that one can be rather more flexible about the way in which the levy operates. I know that the Minister said that it was not a crime and disorder provision but was all about policing. However, it seems grossly unfair that in a local authority with a mixture of rural and urban, the rural pubs, many of which are struggling, have to pay a levy when they will not see a policeman in a million years. Why on earth should they pay for this?
A huge issue is involved, which seems contradictory. This Government are, I think, the first Government to appoint a Minister with responsibility for community pubs, which was a great thing. He is doing a great job but in a rather different department from the Home Office. However, the policy does not seem to be joined up. Here we have a great deal of work going on in DCLG about planning and the various aspects of the survival of the community pub. We have the Government in a very welcome fashion supporting a Private Member’s Bill that I have put forward about live music, which is designed to preserve the community pub, and certainly the smaller community pub, in many ways. However, here we are with a provision that will directly impact on them if their local authority is a large one that includes a lively, to say the least, city centre. That is a major problem.
I have heard what my noble friend says, and I of course understand the situation for rural pubs, having represented 650 square miles of rural Devon for nearly 20 years. I will take away what he has said. I cannot make any promises today, but I hope he will remember that I said that there would be a consultation on exemptions. The point that he has made today will be noted.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I knew that if I carried on talking for long enough she might respond. I will have to use that technique on more occasions. In the mean time, I thank the Minister for her response and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 241CA withdrawn.
Amendments 241D to 241E not moved.
Clause 126 agreed.
Clause 127 : “Relevant late night authorisation” and related definitions
Amendments 241EA to 241GB not moved.
Clause 127 agreed.
Clause 128 agreed.
Clause 129 : Amount of late night levy
Amendments 241H to 241J not moved.
Clause 129 agreed.
Amendment 241K not moved.
Clause 130 : Payment and administration of the levy
Amendments 241KA to 241MZA not moved.
Clause 130 agreed.
Clause 131 agreed.
Clause 132 : Application of net amount of levy payments
Amendments 241MA and 241N not moved.
Clause 132 agreed.
241P: After Clause 132, insert the following new Clause—
“Accountability of police
(1) The local police force must provide a written report to the local authority at the end of each levy year where a levy is applied to the local authority area.
(2) The report is to be submitted to the local authority within 12 weeks of the end of the levy period.
(3) The report must contain—
(a) details of the amount received through the levy and the amount spent by the police in policing the areas covered by the late night levy during the hours that it applies; and(b) details of the impact of the levy on crime and disorder in the area covered by the levy.”
My Lords, I can be brief on this amendment and Amendment 241Q, which is grouped with it. These new clauses would ensure that there is accountability for the funds raised and distributed to the police and the licensing authority, which are not obliged under the Bill as it stands to apply the moneys to the late night levy area. They are able to use the funds within their general expenses as they see fit. These proposed new clauses will ensure that those who are subject to the levy are informed about the application of the funds, which are to deliver improvements in the area to which they are applied. I beg to move.
My Lords, while other amendments have tried to reduce administrative processes, these two amendments attempt to add a publishing requirement on the police and the licensing authorities. I hope that noble Lords will agree that transparency already exists in the late night levy design. I believe that the levy will achieve an appropriate level of transparency and no further reports are required. We will require licensing authorities to consult on proposals and publish the expenses they incur in administering the levy. The police are being reformed to make them more accountable.
Let me deal first with the police. The money given to the police from the late night levy will go into the police fund for the force area and be subject to the relevant scrutiny processes. We believe that it will be a waste of police resources and unnecessary bureaucracy to require the police to provide a report for the levy spend in particular. Further checks and balances will exist under police and crime commissioners. The PCC will be publicly scrutinised by the police and crime panel. Any data used in that scrutiny will be made public unless they are operationally sensitive, and PCCs will also be subject to freedom of information provisions.
With regard to the licensing authority, transparency is provided in the pre-levy consultation process. This consultation will consider, among other things, the services which the licensing authority intends to provide from its levy revenue. The authority will then write to all affected premises to inform them of its final decision. The public will not need yet another publication setting out how the licensing authority spends the levy funds. Further, the Bill will require licensing authorities to publish a statement of the administration expenses which they have deducted from the levy revenue. The licensing authority, as an integral part of the council, is of course accountable to the public.
The late night levy is light on administration and process. It has been designed as a contribution towards policing costs from those who profit from the sale of alcohol in the late night. To require an assessment of the impact of the levy on crime and disorder, as these amendments seek, would confuse the objective of the late night levy with tools such as early morning restriction orders which, as I have already mentioned in response to previous amendments, are specifically designed to tackle particular pockets of alcohol-related crime and disorder. I believe that necessary transparency is adequately provided for to ensure that levy receipts are spent in an appropriate way.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that quite complex and useful response. Her argument is that there are many ways, other than those provided by the amendment, in which transparency is achieved. The amendment also seeks accountability, which is also an important principle that is involved. I shall read what the Minister said extremely carefully and consider whether the existing framework is adequate to explain what the levy is devoted to, and how useful it is in the context. I am very grateful to the Minister for her reply and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 241P withdrawn.
Amendment 241Q not moved.
Clauses 133 and 134 agreed.
Clause 135 : Introduction or variation of late night levy requirement: procedure
Amendments 241R to 241SA not moved.
Clause 135 agreed.
Clause 136 : Permitted exemption and reduction categories
241T: Clause 136, page 94, line 24, at beginning insert “other”
My Lords, I shall not detain the House too long. It would be easy to spend time talking about some of the schemes that would justify an appropriate discount. However, I shall first move Amendment 241T. By a strange quirk of grouping, the Minister has already partly responded on the concept of a discount for these community-type schemes. The effect of these amendments would be to require the levy to be reduced by 50 per cent per premises participating in well established, recognised corporate responsibility initiatives—specifically, Best Bar None, business improvement districts, Purple Flag, Pubwatch, community alcohol partnerships and other similar watch initiatives, all of which demonstrably reduce the incidence of crime and disorder in town centres. These could be undermined if participating businesses were required to fund all these bespoke schemes and a more general levy. To acknowledge the contribution and investment that industry has made to improving standards and addressing challenges in the night-time economy, particularly in town and city centres, it is therefore appropriate that these high-profile initiatives are identified in the Bill as requiring a reduced levy. This will also safeguard the initiatives themselves and encourage further take-up in areas where such partnership approaches do not yet exist.
I dare say that many of us have received correspondence from some of the projects, particularly the business improvement districts. I have received several of those. The Nottinghamshire Leisure business improvement district experience is extremely interesting. Some of the correspondence relates to the community alcohol partnerships, which have also been very successful. I understand that the Government plan to recognise in guidance, and perhaps in regulation, the nature of these schemes and the fact that they will receive discounts. However, I hope that they can be a little more forward in the Bill by recognising that that will definitely be provided for. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support the previous speech and the amendments that it introduced. On this side of the House, we believe that premises that work with the police and local authorities to minimise crime and disorder should qualify for a reduction in the late night levy. I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, that it would be helpful if this could be put in the Bill, not just because we like to see things in legislation but because it is so important that we recognise what they are doing.
In many cases, for example, these venues are safe havens for young people. If you put young people in a protected environment rather than having them out on the streets you are doing some public good. In a sense, that is something that we want to encourage and we would be grateful if it could be considered in that way. Well run and responsible venues already participate in voluntary schemes to combat anti-social behaviour, and if they are forced to close at midnight to avoid the levy then they will effectively be throwing their young clientele out of a safe venue onto the streets.
My Lords, licensing authorities will have the discretion to decide which of the exemption and reduction categories they will apply in their application of the levy. Although I am unable to accept these amendments, I welcome their overall intention. It is precisely these types of premises and the schemes that they run that we want to consider for reductions from the levy charge. However, the amendments would prejudge our public consultation on exemptions and reductions, which we will introduce through regulations.
We have already begun the design of that consultation through a number of working groups, with representatives of the trade, licensing authorities and the police. I would urge noble Lords to await this consultation so that we might have the opportunity fully to consider the views of our partners. There are many schemes, such as the ones mentioned this afternoon, that allow the business community to work together to address some of the negative effects of the sale of alcohol in the night-time economy. I support the principle that drives these local initiatives. However, there is a range of such initiatives and we need to consider the breadth of these schemes and how we might define workable categories for reductions. On that basis, I ask noble Lords not to press their amendments.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply, which gives all the right signals in terms of the kind of scheme that would be included. Of course, I was trying to prejudge the consultation to a degree, but I elicited a response from the Minister that is helpful.
Having reached the last amendment dealing with the licensing and levy in Part 2, I must say that an awful lot of weight is now being borne on the consultation. On many occasions replying to groups of amendments today, the Minister has relied on the efficacy and fairness of that consultation to business, particularly, but also to residents and local authorities. I hope that she gets it right because it is of huge significance that the balance and outcome of that consultation are fair. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 241T withdrawn.
Amendments 241U to 241X not moved.
Clause 136 agreed.
Clauses 137 to 139 agreed.
Clause 140 : Amendments of the Licensing Act 2003
Amendment 241Y not moved.
Clause 140 agreed.
Clause 141 agreed.
Amendments 242 to 244 not moved.
House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 5.10 pm.