§ 3.14 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Baroness Blackstone)
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
§ Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.—(Baroness Blackstone.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (Lord Brabazon of Tara) in the Chair.]
§ Clause 3 [Licensing authorities]
Baroness Buscombe moved Amendment No. 66:
Page 3, line 1, at end insert—
( ) for purposes of personal licences, the central licensing authority
§ The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 67, 379, 381 and 404.
§ I begin by putting at rest a few minds in the wider world. This group of amendments relates solely to the administering of personal licences I stress that because I understand that a frenzy of concern has spread among local authorities and others, who believe, as we do, in local democracy and accountability, that it is Her Majesty's Opposition who wish to centralise the administration of the whole licensing system. Not at all. The premises licences would be within the control of local authorities, unless Clause 8(6) is particularly sinister. However, the administration of personal licences would, we believe, be more sensibly managed by a central system, as was envisaged in the White Paper.
§ One of the features of individuals who may apply for personal licences is that they can move from place to place. A person may be born in Newcastle but may move to Bournemouth. However, under the Bill, if that person has been granted a personal licence by the local authority in Newcastle and wishes to renew his personal licence, he must apply to the local authority in Newcastle, not that in Bournemouth. The local authority in Newcastle may well have lost touch with this individual and know nothing about him. The chief officer of police in Newcastle may know nothing about that individual but he, not the chief officer of police in Bournemouth, must be notified of the application for the renewal. In other words, the wrong police officer, in our view, is being consulted. The problem arises because of the curious requirement that an application for the renewal of a personal licence must be made to the original licensing authority that granted the personal licence. That makes no sense whatever because the licensing authority that granted the personal licence in the first place and the chief officer of police in that area may have no knowledge of the individual concerned.
§ We believe that the better solution is for applications to be made to some central authority, such as the Secretary of State herself. She will of course delegate those tasks to officers within her department but it is important there is some central authority that grants those licences in much the same way as driving licences. The Secretary of State can then consult the chief officer of police in the area in which the applicant ordinarily resides.539
§ The desirability of having a central authority to deal with personal licences has been widely recognised by the industry, police and local authorities. For example, the expenses that local authorities will incur when they undertake the role of licensing authority are already considerable. The setting up of an independent central authority would ease pressure on them as well as providing a more secure and accountable system for the granting of personal licences. The White Paper looked for a central register of licensees. The Bill, however, expects local authorities to administer personal licences, once granted by them throughout their duration, irrespective of where that person subsequently lives and works. Will the Government explain why, when they have been consistently lobbied on this issue and the point seems to me to be only common sense, they have failed to incorporate it into the Bill? I beg to move.
§ Lord Redesdale
I rise to support the amendments and to speak to Amendment No. 67, to which my name is attached. The noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, outlined some of our problems with spreading personal licensing authorities among the 400 local authorities. The White Paper appeared to contain a sensible solution. Will the Minister explain exactly why the change was made? We see a number of problems with the move to local authorities. There are 400 authorities. Each would have to set up its own computer software to run the system. I realise that they will need to do that with premises licences, but to implement the system for personal licences they will have to design and man the software.
The provision gives the impression that one piece of software would be provided to local authorities. I am not aware of that happening. If local authorities are setting up their own software, there then arises a large question of compatibility, not with other local authority software because they will have to be compatible, but with the police computer software. I do not see how, under this proposal, there will be a linkage between the software used by the local authorities and the police register. All this information will have to be checked with the police in order for licensees to be granted personal licences in the time-scale set out.
There are further problems. It is not an extremely large job for a central register. We have calculated that between 300,000 and 400,000 personal licences would be issued. The original issue of that number of licences is a large job. After that it will be an ongoing process with few applications per week, which could be handled quite easily by a central registry. It will not take a vast amount of computer software. In fact, a scheme such as this could be run on a normal-sized PC.
However, we are very concerned about the costs to local authorities. Software developed to deal with public entertainment licences for some local authorities has cost around £100,000 per authority. If that is to be the case for every local authority—we are 540 talking about 40 authorities—that is £40 million being expended. The Minister may shake his head, but it is an issue of considerable concern to local authorities.
I do not understand the reasoning for the change between the White Paper, which everyone thought was workable and understandable, and the present system. I hope very much that the Minister can give a rational explanation and some direct evidence as to the cost involved for local authorities. This is an issue we feel extremely strongly about.
I also ask the Minister what consultation has been undertaken with the local authorities as regards setting up this computer system. Who will pay? Will the financial burden fall on the local authorities, and out of which budget will they meet that expenditure?
§ Lord Tope
This is the first time I have intervened in Committee. I begin by declaring the interests that I declared at Second Reading. I am a member of the London Assembly, a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority and, perhaps most relevant both to these amendments and to the Bill generally, for nearly 30 years I have represented a town centre ward on a London borough council.
It follows that I have spent most of my political life arguing strongly for the devolution of power to local authorities and to local democracy—indeed, that is the reason I support the principles of the Bill. Therefore, with a certain surprise I find myself rising to support this amendment that will take a proposed power away from local authorities and give it to a central authority. I hope the Minister will bear in mind that I do not do that lightly; I do it because I have very serious concerns about both the burden that will be placed on local authorities and—from long experience I know the answer to my noble friend's question—about who will bear the cost. That is fairly clear. The Minister can no longer say that it is covered in the SSA because we no longer have SSAs, we have FSSs.
My concern is the huge administrative burden. It may be okay if the personal licensee remains in the area and exercises that personal licence within the area of the local authority. As I understand it, the licence can apply throughout the country. The administrative burden is huge for a local authority, particularly for a smaller district council as distinct from a London borough council.
I, too, shall be interested to hear the Minister's answer as to why the Government have departed from what appeared to be their original intention and intend to put this considerable burden on local authorities rather than introduce the more sensible provision of a central licensing authority.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
I have listened with great care to everything that has been said. I listened with particular care to the noble Lord, Lord Tope, who has such excellent experience in the area. I listened 541 to everyone else as well. But, as an ex-local councillor of a number of years' standing, I am allowed to give some preference to my local authority colleagues.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
I did not know that. I am sorry. I should have known. I start by correcting the history. The White Paper did not say anything different from the Bill. It said that local authorities would issue personal licences. In that sense, there has not been any change. That was the subject of consultation.
The first difficulty raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, was the difficulty of keeping in touch as between the licence-holding authority and any changes. That is resolved very easily. The Bill provides that the authority that issues the licence retains responsibility for that licence. So people applying for personal licences to the licensing authority under the aegis of the local district council have an obligation to notify the authority of a conviction for a relevant offence. It will be an offence for them not to do so. The local authority will be required to keep a record of the particulars of the personal licence. Therefore, the personal licence will state that "Graham Tope is authorised by the London Borough of Sutton to sell alcohol in" such and such a place. It will be the London Borough of Sutton which retains the licence.
When the holder applies for renewal of the licence every 10 years, the application will be made to the original licensing authority. There is no question of it being moved to Richmond, Kingston or anywhere else. It will have retained the details of the personal licence. Again, it will be an offence for the personal licence holder not to inform the original licensing authority—the named licensing authority—of a conviction for a relevant offence. Where a court makes a conviction for a relevant offence, it will be under a duty to inform the original licensing authority. So all the details relating to an individual's licence history will be readily available to the licence authority whenever the licence is due to be renewed. There is no advantage in handling this matter centrally. It can perfectly well be done locally.
I have heard it argued that local authorities do not have any experience of issuing personal licences.
§ Lord Redesdale
I apologise. The Minister seems to be moving on to a separate issue. He says that there would be no advantage in handling the matter centrally. It is not our intention to suggest that personal licences should only be directed centrally. Obviously, there will be a local element. However, all it means is that the administrator in the local authority will need to get on to an Internet access to the central computer. That will cut down on many of our concerns.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
In that case I totally misunderstood the amendment. The amendment, as I understand it, provides for a central licensing 542 authority to replace the local authority. Indeed, the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, made that clear when she said that it is only for personal licences rather than premises licences that the amendment is being prepared.
If that is what the amendment intends to say, then my assurances to the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale. are very simple because the Bill provides for exactly what he wants. The Bill provides in Clause 8, subsections (6) and (7), that there can be a central database if that is what the local authorities want. There can be a system of linking local authority computer systems if that is what they want. Discussions have taken place with the Local Government Association about these systems, but the regime in the Bill works with or without a central register. If that is what the amendment proposed I could just sit down, but since it is not what it seeks, I had better continue with my argument.
My next point is this. I have heard it argued that local authorities do not have experience of issuing personal licences. But they do. Public entertainment licences issued by local authorities are held personally. They involve judgments by the local authority about the fitness of the applicant. Licences for mini-cab drivers, which involve checks on criminal backgrounds, are held locally. So there is nothing new in that.
The question of software then arose. I made it clear that there has been consultation with the Local Government Association about software. There is a possibility of combining software. There is no difficulty in ensuring that unnecessary duplication of methods does not occur. I can see no reason why additional expense should be incurred.
The whole question then arises as to the rights of the licensee. When the police want to object to a potential licensee because he has a conviction, the matter goes before the licensing authority for its final decision. Applicants are entitled to a hearing where, if they wish, they can argue their case against the police. Setting up a central licensing authority would be an expensive and cumbersome procedure because it would have to include arrangements for the authority to act as a tribunal with all the supporting administration for hearings. Local authorities are ready-made administrations. They already exist. Issuing licences is a business they know well. It simply would not be sensible or cost-effective to create a new authority with supporting administration and accommodation. I was surprised, particularly at the noble Lord, Lord Tope, that anybody should wish to have an extra cog in the government wheel with the additional bureaucracy.
The final point concerned cost. Again the noble Lord, Lord Tope, is in error. It is the intention of the system set out in the Bill that the costs bear directly on the licence applicant—the individual who will benefit from the service. It is fully established on the principle of full cost recovery through licence fees. Neither the council tax payer locally nor the taxpayer centrally should be made to pay in that way.
543 I hope that I have dealt with all the arguments advanced, whether or not it is intended that the central licensing authority should be in addition to the issue of licences by the local authority.
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ Lord Redesdale
Perhaps I did not make it plain that I envisaged information being kept by the local authority, though we believe it could be adequately dealt with through a central system.
I was interested in what the noble Lord said on the issue of costs. He raised the point that it would be a self-recovery scheme—a point he made in earlier debates. Does that mean that if one local authority finds it more expensive than another to issue a personal licence, it will be more expensive applying for the licence in one authority than in another?
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
That would clearly cause a great deal of trouble. Efforts will have to be made to ensure that local authorities do not do that in an extravagant way. I am sure that is possible.
§ Baroness Gardner of Parkes
I should like to raise the matter of costs. The noble Lord said that they would be fully recoverable. But is enforcement against a person, if it is required, also covered? And what is the position if the person goes bankrupt?
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
I assume that a bankrupt would not be given a licence. I assume that the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, means if a person subsequently became bankrupt. However, the fees are payable up-front.
§ Baroness Gardner of Parkes
If there is any problem with the personal licence there will be enforcement costs. I am asking whether or not they are included in the recoverable costs. If so, who would they be recovered from if the individual had gone bankrupt afterwards?
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
I shall have to think about that. It is not immediately clear to me what "enforcement" costs are. The costs are for running a system to provide personal licences and for providing a hearing, when necessary, when a personal licence is applied for. Subsequent additions to the database, if made by the applicant who is notifying a subsequent conviction, for instance, will not involve significant additional costs. If the additions are made by the police it will not involve significant additional costs. If somebody is acting as though they had a licence when they do not, that will be a matter for law enforcement and not a matter for full cost recovery.
§ The Earl of Onslow
The noble Lord did not answer the extraordinarily interesting question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, which was this. If the cost of granting a licence by Muddlecombe-under-Slosh is 544 £10—that would be recovered by Muddlecombe-under-Slosh Borough Council—and Burton-under-the-Widgewater Borough Council charges £35, how will that be balanced out? Who will be responsible for it and how will it work? The noble Lord failed to answer that question. Will he now please answer it?
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
Forgive me for saying so but that is a relatively trivial question. Of course the costs of any service provided by a local authority can vary from one authority to another, for good reason and bad. Some variation in the charges made under cost recovery is entirely permissible. If there are extreme cases—in other words, if Muddlecombe-under-Slosh was charging 20 times what the neighbouring authority was charging—guidance would have to be issued.
In any case, let me make it clear that the cost recovery scheme does not apply only to personal licences. The administration of the licensing system covers the administration, inspection and enforcement of both personal and premises licences. It will not actually be possible to distinguish between the costs of premises and personal licences because the administration will be co-ordinated.
§ The Earl of Onslow
Could not the noble Lord simply have said that charges will vary from authority to authority because that is the way the system is set up. That is the correct answer to the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, which very correctly the noble Lord has now given me.
§ Lord Phillips of Sudbury
Does the Minister see any parallel here with local authority search charges where in fact all local authorities are required to charge the same though the costs between different authorities are significantly different?
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
That is a useful parallel. I have already said that this is not a significant issue. There may be differences because of different circumstances. An administration set up for 10 licences a year will cost more per head than an administration set up for 10,000 licences a year. That is the nature of the beast.
§ Lord Redesdale
I apologise to the Minister but this will have a bearing on later stages of the Bill. We believed that the purpose of the Bill was to even out the licensing fees so that they were affordable throughout the country and the situation with regard to public entertainment licences was not reinstituted through this new authority. The Minister is now saying that the cost of personal and premises licences, through cost recovery—which is what geared up the cost of entertainment licences so massively in some London boroughs—could vary. What method is there for capping such variation?
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
There may be some variation. If the variation is unacceptable the Secretary of State will have to deal with it. At present there is no 545 reason for concern. The Secretary of State will need to set a range of acceptable fees which will not give exact cost recovery but close enough to cost recovery to relieve the fear expressed when the amendment was moved, that is, that it would put a huge burden on the ratepayer.
The fees would be set in bands by the Secretary of State, and the Secretary of State could include a geographical element. The Secretary of State could say, for example, that central London borough licences would be different from those in rural areas or that licences in the South East could be different from those in the North West. There are all sorts of possibilities.
The fears expressed were profound. I sought to show that they were unjustified. The small differences between the cost of one licence and that of another do not justify the extreme provisions that would be brought in by the amendments.
§ Baroness Buscombe
I thank the Minister for his response to the group of amendments. More than anything, it has been worthwhile to explore the issues. That is particularly so, given the desire of so many beyond your Lordships' House—the industry, the police and local authorities—to see some form of central authority to handle the administration of personal licences, which the noble Lord, Lord Tope, rightly described as more of a burden.
We believe that, as the Bill stands, the system will rely very much on the ability of different local authorities to keep records up to date, sometimes over a period of many years. There could be several issues that one might call "unsavoury" that attach to an individual in one part of the country that might not attach to his record in another part of the country. That is unsatisfactory, given the enormous responsibility that attaches to someone who has the advantage of a personal licence. Several good questions were raised about cost. The Minister says that that is not a significant issue, but, to those who have to pay, it is significant.
I am grateful to noble Lords who have contributed to the debate. We will think further, with care, and read in Hansard what was said. For now, on that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 3 agreed to.
§ [Amendment No. 67 not moved.]
§ 3.45 p.m.
§ Clause 4 [General duties of licensing authorities]:
Baroness Buscombe moved Amendment No. 68:
Page 3, line 10. at end insert—
( ) the protection of the quality of life of communities;
§ The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 68, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 70 and 71.546
Amendments Nos. 68 and 70 would add a further licensing objective to those in Clause 4(2); namely,
the protection of the quality of life of communities".
§ I tabled Amendment No. 68, which is closely related to Amendment No. 70 on public nuisance, in the hope that the Minister would enlighten the Committee on the account that the Government think should be taken of the needs of local communities and their quality of life, when it comes to the exercise of local authorities' licensing functions under the Bill.
Members of the Committee who attended the briefing given by representatives of local authorities, which was chaired by my noble friend Lady Hanham, will have seen and heard the great impact that licensed premises can have on the quality of life of communities, not just in London but throughout the country. However, it is not made clear in the Bill that the needs of those communities will have to be taken into account by licensing authorities, when they exercise their functions. So that the Government's thinking can be made clear, I tabled this amendment and Amendment No. 70, which relates to the third of the licensing objectives:
the prevention of public nuisance".
It is a probing amendment, which seeks clarification from the Government of what they mean when they refer in subsection (2)(c) to,
the prevention of public nuisance".
§ When I first read the Bill, I found that to be one of the most intriguing pieces of the Government's drafting. As the Committee will be aware, public nuisance is a tort, under the civil law, and a criminal offence at common law. One example of public nuisance in the criminal context is the 1992 case of Ruffell, which is reported in the 13th volume of the Criminal Appeal Reports (Sentencing) at page 204. in that case, the offence of public nuisance was charged because the offender organised an acid house party in unsuitable premises that was attended by a large number of people. A road leading to the site was blocked by traffic; local residents were disturbed by noise throughout the night; and litter and excrement were deposited in adjoining woodlands.
Undoubtedly, that is the sort of unacceptable public nuisance that, one hopes, would not be associated with premises or individuals licensed under the Bill. However, the definition of public nuisance is very broad. In the case of The Attorney-General v. PYA Quarries Limited, reported in the official Law Reports 1957 (Queen's Bench Division) at page 169 of the second volume, Lord Justice Romer stated:
Any nuisance is public which materially affects the reasonable comfort and convenience of life of a class of Her Majesty's subjects. The sphere of the nuisance may be described generally as `the neighbourhood', but the question whether the local community within that sphere comprises a sufficient number of persons to constitute a class of the public is a question of fact in every case.
It is not necessary in my judgment to prove that every member of the class has been injuriously affected. It is sufficient to show that a representative cross-section of the class has been so affected for an injunction to issue".
I hope that the Minister will enlighten the Committee on the sorts of activity that the Government envisage when they refer to "public nuisance". Do they intend the definition of public nuisance developed by the courts, which has applied in the same form for several hundred years, to apply in the context of the Bill? If they do, does Clause 4(2)(c) mean that licensing authorities will be required to take steps to prevent anything that,
affects the reasonable comfort and convenience of life
of communities? That is what my amendment would also require.
It is not immediately clear from the Explanatory Notes prepared by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport that the Government intend the definition developed by the courts to apply. Paragraph 38 of the Explanatory Notes states:
The third licensing objective, the prevention of public nuisance, will not extend to every activity which annoys another person but will cover behaviour which, when balanced against the public interest, is found to be unacceptable".
§ That does not go into the detail that the courts have done, when defining what is a public nuisance. In particular, it does not mention the kinds of issues of definition relating to communities and sections of the public that Lord Justice Romer did in the judgment that I quoted. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will clarify the situation and provide the Committee with a more complete version of the Government's position on Clause 4(2)(c) than her department could—I say that with respect—in the Explanatory Notes.
§ I turn briefly to Amendment No. 71, upon which, I know the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, will expand. The amendment proposes another option to describe more specifically the licensing objectives. There has been much concern about the vagueness of licensing objectives, as stated in the Bill, particularly, as I have said, as regards the third objective—the prevention of public nuisance.
§ The definition of public nuisance is, as I said, open to broad interpretation. The amendment would clarify the matter by stressing the need for balance between the interests of local communities and the leisure industry. It is an important balance, and we must strike it. I beg to move.
§ Viscount Falkland
I speak to Amendments Nos. 69, 71 and 72, which stand in my name. They follow neatly Amendment No. 68 tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe. The largest amount of post to cross our desks in relation to this sophisticated and complex legislation has been concerned with this issue. A problem that is perceived may arise is the effect on amenities and on the lives of residents resulting from any increase in the use of premises licensed for the sale of alcohol and the provision of entertainment.
Amendments Nos. 68 and 69 introduce further licensing objectives. Their purpose is to ensure that any difficulty which may arise out of licensed premises or, indeed, a concentration of licensed premises in any location, should be taken into account when 548 applications are considered. The amenities referred to are not simply residential. They concern many other factors contributing to quality of life, including theatres, cinemas and other businesses.
Demographic trends demonstrate that our population is growing older and that more people seek quiet and uninterrupted enjoyment of leisure and home life. At the same time, life for young people is very lively. The Bill seeks to establish a balance. It is clear from our postbags that there is no difference between the aims of the Government in introducing the legislation, of which we broadly approve, and all those who are affected—local authorities, individuals or businesses.
At this stage, there is no intention to force a Division. Through the opaqueness of the legislation—if I may put it that way—we understand the intention of the Government, and we approve. But there is much that needs to be teased out and explained. It is complicated legislation. Unlike the noble Baroness who preceded me, I am not a lawyer. I expect to be followed with alacrity by my noble friend Lord Phillips of Sudbury, who has helped draft the amendment, but I am advised that the term "public nuisance" is likely to be given a narrow meaning by the courts when applied to the legislation.
I am mindful of the comments of many lawyers on these Benches—some present and some not—who have said that clearly the legislation has been drafted by lawyers. As such we understand it; but it will be a lawyer's paradise when unscrambling some of the complexities which arise from it. I shall leave it to my noble friend Lord Phillips of Sudbury to raise those matters.
Surely, from a layman's point of view—and I stress layman, for that is what I am—there should be proper explanation in the Bill of what will be objected to by residents and others should trouble occur. There needs to be a better explanation of what should be taken into account should complaints ensue. The ease with which those complaints can be made will be dealt with later. The noble Baroness specifically mentioned a case which I hope is unusual. My mother-in-law lives in a city quite near London in a semi-pedestrianised area that is surrounded by many pubs and places of entertainment and where, under the present regime, a great deal of trouble is caused to residents.
People may not know that for drinking to be extended to two o'clock there must be an entertainment licence and, often, food is provided. Generally, it is a completely different clientele from that which normally goes to pubs. This legislation improves the situation which exists at the moment. In a way, it is a problem created by the Government. Historically and culturally, pubs are the place where people choose to relax, drink alcohol—sensibly, one hopes—and meet friends. Because of the requirement that after a certain time it is necessary to obtain an extension to have drink and food, publicans have been forced to attract a totally different clientele, a broader 549 age group of people and it is true that an element of binge drinking across the board before closing time causes problems in some areas. The problems arising now occur late at night when people start to dance and drink having already consumed a large quantity of alcohol. They create a great deal of "nuisance" in the way that I understand it, but perhaps not in the way that the law understands it.
It is curious that in a pedestrian area where people leave places in the early hours of the morning, if their mood is good, they will sing. But sometimes they will shout to each other, and that wakes people up. That is had enough, but it is not as bad as it might be because usually those people are on the move. When singing, they are on the move. Domestic squabbles—in the broadest possible sense—are a great problem. Those who have not had a good evening or who have fallen out with their partner will have a loud altercation in the street. An altercation in the street means that people stop now and again, possibly for a long period, to state their views. That is very difficult for residents, and it is a nuisance. Residents can shout or throw water from the windows. But that will not necessarily move noisy people and there will be some reaction. That is just one area of nuisance.
Members of the Committee can laugh; it is perhaps funny in the way I tell it. But in the middle of the night, to an old or sick person or where there is a baby to consider, that behaviour is difficult to bear. The police may intervene, although not necessarily. Kicking cans and bottles is a nuisance, as is people jumping into cars outside the pedestrian areas, banging doors and sounding horns to one another because shouting is not enough. That may not be general behaviour but only two or three people need to be involved to destroy the night of the whole community in that area.
Many Members of the Committee will know of motor vehicles which after a certain hour are turned by "certain" people—I shall describe them no further—into mobile entertainment centres. The noise level is the loudest possible. Psychologists may say that perhaps they want to draw attention to themselves or to release tension, but it is murder for those who live in the vicinity, particularly the old and the sick.
I give these descriptions only because we need to discuss what is a nuisance and what is a disturbance to local people. The throwing about of traffic cones and dustbins is common and has gone on for ever. It is usually over quickly and need not be noisy. However, the other activities are noisy. Indeed, nowadays people—young and old—are less considerate of their fellows than used to be the case. I refer to the way they bang doors shut and so forth. I see the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, shaking his head. He obviously believes that this is a new phenomenon—
§ Viscount Falkland
In any event, it is a disturbing phenomenon, which needs to be dealt with.
550 I will now resume my seat, having described what a layman sees as a variety of nuisances and disturbances which may not be covered by the Bill. I hope that the Government will be more precise and exact in dealing with the problems and that they will satisfy local people's concerns about what will happen when the Bill becomes law.
§ 4 p.m.
§ The Earl of Onslow
I have named after me a pub called "The Onslow Arms". Unfortunately, my father sold it for an extraordinarily small sum of money about 20 years ago. Therefore, I do not have an interest to declare. However, I visit the pub, and I have noticed that the clientele varies during the evening. The clientele at seven o'clock is different from that at nine, ten or eleven o'clock. Furthermore, there are different types of people in different types of pub. That point was well made by the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland.
There is nothing new about people behaving badly because they have had too much to drink. I confess that on return to this country on a troop ship in—well, practically before God—we used to get rather tight at dinner in the officers' mess. Every evening, we would walk around the deck in our mess dress and ceremonially bury over the side a British India. Steam Navigation Company deckchair, thinking that we were terribly funny.
People in youth have behaved like that for ever. That is why I was disagreeing with the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland. I do not believe that the problem is new; it is one of privacy versus public: interest and of individuals versus the general desirability. In fact, it is NIMBY versus the rest. It is an incredibly difficult problem to balance.
The problem should be addressed at the lowest possible level of decision-making. We no longer like local magistrates, which is a pity, so we are giving the decision to licensing authorities. They can weigh up the balances between them. I disagree with the amendments tabled by my noble friend Lady Buscombe and the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, not because I disagree with their aims but because I believe it impossible accurately to define this animal.
Clause 4(2) states:The licensing objectives are … the prevention of crime and disorder … public safety".What is the difference? It continues:the prevention of public nuisance; and … the protection of children from harm".All those intentions can be encapsulated in one subsection. Clause 4(2) tries to be too definitional, if that is the right word.
The Army Act contains a wonderful clause which relates to,conduct … to the prejudice of good order and military discipline".Everyone knows what it is because it stares them in the face when an individual case appears; but it is almost impossible to define.
551 I suggest that instead of giving an increasingly detailed description—the more detailed the description, the more restrictive it becomes—there should be a clause on,conduct … to the prejudice of good order and military disciplineThat would make matters clear to the licensing authorities which should then be able to weigh in the balance the interests of, say, Mrs Bloggs and the pop group next door, both of whom have reasonable and real objectives.
I personally take a view opposite to that of my noble friends—I use the word "personally", not necessarily politically in that context because I believe that it is the way we should go.
I disagree with the conclusion drawn by the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, as regards the suggested amendments. I listened to the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, and the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, with a great deal of sympathy for what they were saying. Of course, I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, that the issue of people enjoying themselves regardless of the people in the neighbourhood is not new. But certain features are new and some of them were emphasised most clearly by the noble Viscount. I may summarise it as "amplified" noise or music, which is fairly new.
There is a great deal of sympathy on this side of the Chamber—I speak before the Minister—with the view that there should be a stronger provision in the Bill requiring the licensing authorities to strike a proper balance between those who are engaged in drinking and being entertained, and local residents. But it is a major problem.
I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, on giving us the benefit of her researches into "public nuisance". I suggest that the jurisprudence for case law on the subject is not helpful because most of it is out of date and does not obviously deal with modern problems, many examples of which were given by her and the noble Viscount. A stronger provision is therefore needed.
The noble Baroness quoted from the Explanatory Notes:The third licensing objective, the prevention of public nuisance, will not extend to every activity which annoys another person but will cover behaviour which, when balanced against the public interest, is found to be unacceptable".What does that mean? It can mean anything. It is almost as bad as the Manual of Military Law phrase, to which the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, directed our attention. We want something clear in relation to the interests of those in the neighbourhood, local amenities and so forth.
I am not able to distinguish between the different amendments, but I ask my noble friend to take the matter away and come back with a provision which will help to ensure that the licensing authorities have a 552 clear understanding of the different interests involved and have something more solid than the vague phrase contained in the Bill.
§ Lord Cobbold
The important word in this discussion is "balance". Amendment No. 71 tries to define that in more elaborate terms, whereas the simple term "public nuisance" gives a wider element of discretion to the licensing authorities. I share the view of the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, that it is better that the decision about balance and the element of public nuisance should be made at the local authority licensing level. Their members will have local knowledge and they will be able to judge whether the balance is tipped one way or the other.
§ Lord Clarke of Hampstead
Amendment No. 77, standing in my name, is included in this group of amendments. It seeks to add the words,the protection of residential amenityto the licensing objectives of the Bill.
I became very concerned earlier when I heard legal precedents being quoted. I certainly would not be able to comment on them. The noble Earl, Lord Onslow, reminded us of Section 40 of the Army Act—"conduct to the prejudice of good order and military discipline"—which rang a bell. Being so familiar with charge 252 of that section of the Army Act may tell the Committee a little about my past!
Leaving that aside, other amendments in this group, in particular Amendment No. 68, seek to place the importance of the rights of residents within a community to enjoy security and peace in their homes, their streets and their communities as an objective of the proposed legislation. I speak in support of Amendment No. 68 and I shall not move my Amendment No. 77, as Amendment No. 68 goes wider than the terms of my amendment.
I believe that if this objective is not clearly spelt out, it will be difficult for people in communities—that is what we are talking about; not legal precedents but people in their homes suffering, sometimes night after night—to have very much confidence in what is being proposed. We have to say that part of the objective is the protection of their peace and their right to live peacefully in their home.
By including the protection of the community as an objective, it will enable the local authority—the licensing authority in this case—more easily to take into account the effects on the local environment, including parks, streets and residences. Local authorities in areas right across the country face a constant struggle, especially at weekends, to get people away from the town centre late at night. There are often few night buses. In the area I know best, Camden, they run at the rate of one an hour. Demand for licensed taxis and minicabs in the area outstrips the supply.
No one can deny the problems caused in many parts of the country by a minority of irresponsible people leaving pubs and clubs. It happens not just in town centres. Since the publication of these amendments, I 553 have received correspondence from people in rural areas as well as from people in city centres who are suffering from these problems. It can be anywhere in our country where licensed premises are close to people's homes. The hanging about, waiting for some form of transport, and the attendant problems of noise, litter and anti-social behaviour bring real misery to those who suffer from those who cause the problems.
Discussion has already taken place about the definition of "nuisance". You have only to ask a person who has had someone do foul things on their doorstep what is a nuisance—they will soon tell you. The serious nuisance of urination and vomit in walkways, in doorways, and the ever-present problem in some areas of drug abuse and serious assault are real issues for far too many people in our communities. Do not take my word for it. Go through some of the estates where people walk past other people's homes from the pub, club, or wherever they have been, and do these dreadful things.
For many years I lived on a housing estate in an area where I was also one of the local councillors. It was 20 years ago, but the problems I refer to today were evident then. From discussions I have had recently with people from local authorities, it is abundantly clear that the problems are very much worse today.
I believe that licensing authorities need to have as part of their duties the additional objective suggested in the amendment. They must have as a central part of their responsibilities the right of the community to live in peace.
I have mentioned the very real problems of drug offences and serious assaults. In Camden, where the police and the local authority work very closely and have made these priority issues, there are only two police officers stationed in the Camden Town area between midnight and 6 a.m. It would be interesting to know how many licensed premises already operate in the area.
I would ask the Minister to consider these amendments sympathetically. They do no more than make as an objective of the Bill what the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, said last Thursday in Committee. Referring to a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, he said that,residents are entitled to the right to enjoy their possessions in peace".—[Official Report, 12/12/02; col. 407.]The homes, the streets, the communities are possessions of people, who deserve and want no more than that: the right to protection and a peaceful life.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Lord Phillips of Sudbury
I believe that if this Bill is passed as currently drafted it will be a catastrophe for national amenity. I wholly agree with everyone who has spoken so far, and even with the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, who I believe managed to misrepresent his own position, because I do not think that he is content with the Bill as it stands.
554 The law as it stands does not afford sufficient protection to those who wish for normal sleep. Yet if the Bill is passed, with its encouragement of 24-hour licences and the statement in the framework document,the vast majority of these registrations"—meaning licensed premises registrations—should be automatic"—the effect will be altogether inadequate. We have the Environmental Protection Act 1990, the Control of Pollution Act 1974, the Noise Act 1996, and the law of private nuisance—which will not be admitted under the test in Clause 4 of the Bill because that is only public nuisance—and yet many thousands, nay millions, of people would say that the present protections are inadequate between the current hours of permitted drinking.
Perhaps I may quote from a document supplied by the Meard and Dean Street Residents' Association. It is a statement by the Director of Planning and Transportation of Westminster City Council on this very point. He said this,The enforcement powers the City Council is able to use … against noise inside or outside premises are limited to action against statutory noise nuisance … The usefulness of this power in protecting residential amenity is limited. Noise, which is plainly audible inside a property, may not necessarily constitute a noise nuisance; and many sources of street noise are inherently transient and therefore not amenable to conventional enforcement action".I am sure that other Members of the Committee have, like me, sought to curtail noise at eleven or twelve at night. The only thing that works in the part of London in which I live is if I go down in my pyjamas, into the pub and up to the manager. That does cause a minor stir! If, in such a state, you ask very politely whether they might not turn the noise down, you do tend to get a rather shocked and co-operative response. Frankly, that is a rather extremist cause to pursue. The point I emphasise is that it is the early-hours drinking—which will not only be permitted but encouraged by the new regime—that will cause chaos, particularly in the provincial and rural parts of the kingdom.
It is not anti-social or disorderly or drunken behaviour that we are talking about here. It is merely normal behaviour. It is normal noise at abnormal times that will constitute the most severe disruption to sleep. I venture to suggest that there are few in this House, having the benefit of a country retreat which is next to or near a pub, who can look upon these proposals with equanimity.
I would draw the attention of the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, who made the point that public nuisance is enough for local authorities to judge, to the remarks sagely made by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe. Perhaps I may give one or two specific instances which I raised at Second Reading. It is public nuisance to carry on an offensive trade—we are not talking about that. We are talking about a normal trade, normally pursued; nothing anti-social; merely the opening and closing of car doors at three in the morning; people saying goodnight to each other across 555 the car park and getting in and driving away. That is enough to waken a sizeable proportion of the population.
Public nuisance is a disorderly house—we are not talking about that. It is acid house parties—we are not talking about them. As has been said—the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, a distinguished lawyer, confirmed the point—the threshold at which public nuisance bites is far higher than the amenity that we are all seeking to preserve.
Perhaps I may detain the Committee a little further in regard to some of the particularities of the Bill. So far we have largely been dealing with generalisations but I should like to explain to the Committee, and convince the Minister, that there must be change.
Clause 18 refers to "Determination of application for premises licence" and sets out the basis upon which any member of the public may make an objection to the granting of a premises licence. It states that the licensing authority,must grant the licence … subject only to … such conditions as are consistent with the operating schedule".You have to look at Clause 17(4)(b) to see what that is about. Clause 17(4)(b) states that the operating schedule must include,the times during which it is proposed that the relevant licensable activities are to take place".Any licensee or brewer with any sense will apply for a 24-hour licence, which is what the framework document tells us we should be pushing for. The Minister shakes her head. She will have her turn; I have got mine. I believe that that is what most people will apply for—not because they intend to open their pubs for 24 hours a day but because now and then they may want to and do not want to go back to the licensing authority to be able to do so. Now and then a big coach party will come in at 10 o'clock at night; people will be drinking heavily at 12 o'clock, one o'clock, two o'clock and the profits will be rolling in. The licensee will wish to stay open, and who can blame him?
The Bill goes on to state that the only public objections which can be made to the licensing authority are those which are defined as "relevant representations". Those are themselves confined to representations about the likely effect of the grant of a premises licence on the promotion of the licensing objectives. This is a long way round to make absolutely plain that unless we change the licensing objectives there is no effective power of objection to the grant of a 24-hour licence. The licensing objectives refer only to public nuisance, and that is wholly inadequate to protect against ordinary conduct which is conducted at unordinary times to the detriment of local amenity.
I commend Amendment No. 71, in which I had a hand, because that seeks to balance the needs of residential amenity with the needs of leisure amenity, and puts it specifically in those terms. It is always difficult to define such inherently indefinable things as "leisure amenity" and "residential amenity", but the 556 law of England is littered with such general tests. The common law is built upon such general tests and the law of nuisance is built upon such indeterminate tests.
Unless Amendment No. 71, or something very close to it, is incorporated, the Bill will destroy, in a way that many noble Lords may not realise, any power of reasonable objection on the part of any member of the public when any of these licences come up for review. That is why in opening I said that this would be a catastrophe for local amenity and would ultimately rebound on both us, as legislators, and on the licensing trade.
§ Lord Monson
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury. Perhaps I should point out to my noble friend Lord Cobbold and the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, that if you devolve decision making in this matter down to local authority level as they urge—and with which I do not disagree—you will get a much more restrictive policy in place than otherwise would be the case. This is for the simple reason that there are far more people on the electoral rolls who want a good night's sleep than people who want to drink in clubs and pubs until two or three o'clock in the morning. I do not disagree with such restrictions, but it is worth bearing in mind.
§ Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville
My name appears on Amendment No. 69 below that of the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland; on Amendment No. 72 likewise; and Amendment No. 445 stands in my name alone. I shall not detain the Committee long—we have had a decent debate already—but my brevity should not be interpreted as a lack of vehemence on the subject. I do not have any emotional capital tied up in the particular wordings of the various amendments in front of the Committee, but I do wish to comment briefly on all three which stand in my name.
In regard to Amendment No. 69, I can well remember when I was the Member of Parliament for the Cities of London and Westminster the representations made to me by the West End theatres about the effect on the amenities of theatre-goers of the surrounding circumstances throughout the West End. Of course they were particularly pre-occupied with the issue of drugs, but that is covered under Clause 4(2)(a). On the other hand, the issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Clark, of littering and fouling, both have a detrimental effect on theatre-goers and reduce the attractiveness of the theatre to them. If my noble friend Lord Lloyd-Webber was in his place, I am certain that he would say much more to the same effect.
As to Amendment No. 72, there is no way in which I can improve on the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Phillips. Had I spoken before him rather than after, I would have likewise quoted the Westminster remarks, notably in regard to the narrow definition that the courts put on public nuisance in the Environment Protection Act 1990 and the hazard that we will get into if that becomes the broad portmanteau phrase in this Bill.
The noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, referred to the other aspects of ambient noise. It is worth reminding the Committee that the Noise Abatement Society 557 believes that 80 per cent of the trouble caused by people attending licensed premises occurs either when they are arriving at them or leaving them. Those are very much the kind of noises to which the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, referred.
Amendment No. 445 is simply a belt and braces addition to the definitions. As I said, I have no emotional capital tied up in the particular definition of "public nuisance" recorded, but it is no bad thing that "public nuisance" should be defined at that point in the Bill.
§ Lord Lea of Crondall
I add one marker to Amendment No. 71 in relation to its reference to "working amenity". The Bill has a long way to go but, as time goes on, the definition of "working amenity" will have to include reference to the effect on people working in the industry of the much longer hours that everyone will have to work. The example has been given of bar staff trying to get home at two o'clock in the morning and young women on their own not being able to find transport and so on. It is not clear whether some of these points can be picked up within the framework of the legislation, but certainly the detriment to the community of commotion outside pubs and so on involves staff working in the pubs. Will the Minister give some thought as to whether, in broad terms, the magistrates or the licensing authorities will have enough powers? The noble Lord, Lord Phillips, said that they are unable easily to enforce their powers at the moment, but will they have enough powers to deal with the kind of matters which will arise as a consequence of the radical change in our social behaviour caused by the so-called 24-hour culture?
§ Lord Tope
When I declared my interests I said that I have represented a town centre area on a London borough council for nearly 30 years. In fact, within the ward I represent there are more licensed premises than in the whole of the remainder of that London borough put together. I could repeat, and probably exaggerate, the many horror stories that we have heard in the debate. All I will say is that I strongly recommend my noble friend Lord Phillips of Sudbury not to go in to a Sutton town centre pub on a Friday night in his pyjamas. It would certainly do nothing for public peace and quiet.
We have all described problems of public nuisance and disorder, but these occur not only in the immediate vicinity of licensed premises. In a sense, if you live, or choose to live, very close to a licensed premises, to some extent you accept that that is a consequence of living there. The problem, certainly from my experience in urban areas, comes at dispersal time for people who live not in the immediate vicinity of licensed premises but in the surrounding area. The Government should consider the surrounding area rather than the immediate vicinity because residents who live some distance from licensed premises suffer greatest nuisance from the kind of noise and anti-social behaviour that has been described, or even from quite normal behaviour that would not be noticed at seven or eight o'clock in the evening but which is 558 extremely audible and a considerable nuisance at two or three o'clock in the morning. That is the concern we have.
I have very considerable sympathy for all the concerns expressed during the debate. However, in addition, I almost have concerns for the interests of the industry itself. That is why I prefer Amendment No. 71, the only amendment that refers to the need for balance, which I accept is important. I do not believe that any of us in this debate are arguing for local residents to have a right of veto over a licence application. I understand very well the industry's concerns about what the Minister in her letter to me described as over-zealous local authorities or licensing authorities.
From long experience, I say to the Government that local authorities are also planning authorities and that most, if not all, local councillors have very considerable experience of dealing with difficult, locally contentious planning applications, which, for good planning reasons, have to be granted despite the often very vociferous objections from the local residents whom they are elected to represent. That kind of situation is not unknown, I suggest, to any local councillor.
Most local authorities make sensible planning decisions most of the time. One reason for that is that they know that if they go with the wishes of the residents against planning guidance, they will face appeals. They know that they will have to defend their planning decisions on appeal—often an expensive business—and that if they turn down planning consent on frivolous grounds, costs may be awarded against them. That places a very considerable inhibition on local councillors who have to deal with vociferous objections from residents. I suggest that, though the planning environment is not exactly the same as the licensing environment, the considerations affecting both will be very similar.
I say to the industry and the Government that, though I understand very well the concerns about over-zealous licensing authorities—or, perhaps put more politely, local councillors who pay proper and close regard to the wishes of the people who have elected them—they will in practice be much less likely to arise because of the checks and balances that are in place.
In her letter to me, which I received today, the Minister quite rightly referred to the points that we have made about the balances in the Bill and said that she would be prepared to consider them and, if necessary, make them more explicit. In the light of today's debate, I hope that the Minister will feel able to do that. I do not believe that any of the amendments tabled today are likely to be pressed. However, we shall all look forward to the Government saying on Report that they have listened to our points, that they are able to make the safeguards more explicit, and that, from the point of view of all Members of the Committee who have spoken, they can tilt the balance a little more in favour of local residents than appears to be the case on the face of the Bill at present.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Lord Redesdale
I apologise for intervening. I have put my name to two amendments and I have only one short question to ask. Many Members of the Committee have described numerous potential nuisance situations that take place outside licensed premises. In that respect, will the Minister indicate how far local authorities will be guided to take into account the area to be licensed?
I ask that question particularly because we are discussing the licensing objectives, which also relate to other parts of the Bill. In the case of a temporary licence, who would be responsible for ensuring that the criteria are met? For example, if carol singing takes place in a shop, is the shop owner the licensee? If it takes place in a public park, is the local authority the licensee? It seems to me that if the local authority granted itself a licence and also tried to fulfil those objectives, there would be a conflict of interests. Perhaps I have totally misunderstood that section of the Bill. However, I should be grateful for the Minister's answer.
§ The Earl of Onslow
Before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps I may beg him not to apologise for intervening. His interventions are almost always valuable. Please do not apologise for one's own abilities.
§ Baroness Blackstone
I hope the Committee will find it acceptable if I take a little time to respond to the debate, first, because I take very seriously many of the issues that have been raised and, secondly, because the noble Viscount Lord Falkland said that by far the largest part of his mail concerned this issue. We need to resolve a number of misunderstandings, and I hope to shed some light on the issues in the hope of achieving greater clarity.
I was disappointed to hear one of the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Tope, who always talks such good sense. He said that he advised his noble friend Lord Phillips of Sudbury not to turn up at his local pub in his pyjamas. As I live fairly near the noble Lord, I had hoped to turn up at his local pub with my camera and wait for a big din and for the noble Lord to appear. However, perhaps he will be discouraged by his noble friend.
Each of the amendments in this group, although expressed rather differently, has a similar intention. They all address the issue of the cumulative effect of a large number of pubs, clubs and other licensed premises concentrated in one area and the nuisance that may arise as a result. As various speakers in this debate have pointed out, nuisance can take a variety of forms, some of which may be quite innocently generated. But let me start with the issue raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, on public nuisance.
We have to remember that the word "nuisance" in the Bill refers to noise and other nuisance caused directly from the licensed premises concerned. 560 However, we have strayed rather a long way from that concept. Urination in public, turning car radios to their maximum volume and all kinds of other unpleasant behaviour—
§ The Earl of Onslow
I thank the Minister for giving way. She makes a very important point. Does nuisance arising out of licensed premises cover the slamming of car doors by people leaving the licensed premises, or does it arise after they have left? That is a perfect example of how the difference may be defined. We all want to achieve the same end; the question is how we get there. I should be grateful for the Minister's help on that point.
§ Baroness Blackstone
I was about to come to that. In responding to this debate, perhaps I could ask for the help of Members of the Committee. If I can be allowed to answer questions rather than being interrupted all the time, we shall make quicker progress.
We are not focusing on all the unpleasant behaviour, either during the day or late at night, that has been referred to. If customers behave badly after they leave the licensee's control, they are personally responsible for their actions and have to be dealt with in various other ways, with which I shall deal in a moment. Licensing law concerns the placing of duties on licensees. Therefore, we have to understand that it does not make any sense to require licensees to deal with nuisance once customers are outside their control.
I turn to the legal points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe. The judgments that she cited have developed on a case by case basis. Yes, we do expect case law developed to date to be applied here. I say to the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, that it would not be appropriate to provide a rigid meaning as to what constitutes a public nuisance. I strongly agree here with the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Onslow.
The balance referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, is precisely that which will be applied in the Bill. What may constitute a public nuisance will obviously vary from case to case. It would be quite inappropriate to seek to give it a completely rigid meaning. Being precise would either exclude a case which, on any analysis, would give rise to public nuisance or might include an instance which the public—residents living in the vicinity of licensed premises—do not consider causes a nuisance. It is right that the objective of the prevention of public nuisance can be considered against individual circumstances.
I believe that my noble friend Lord Borrie and many other speakers in the debate are jumping the gun. Many of the points they wish to raise should be made when, later in the Session, we discuss the Bill that will be introduced to deal with anti-social behaviour.
Licensing regimes place obligations on licensees to control behaviour in their premises. The problems of behaviour in the street, at the borders of the community, are a matter of personal responsibility and accountability before the law in a variety of 561 different respects. The Government will introduce a whole raft of measures to address the anti-social behaviour that has been described. I have every sympathy with those who do not want to see that kind of behaviour and want it dealt with. But I do not believe that this is the right Bill in which to do that.
The Government are committed to ensuring that licensing authorities have the powers to address disorder and nuisance which arise from the carrying on of licensable activities. The Bill puts together measures which are designed for that purpose. Members of the Committee will perhaps forgive me. In a sense, I am returning to issues that were raised at Second Reading, but I think it necessary in the light of today's debate.
First, the Bill expands the existing court powers, on application by the police, to close all licensed premises within a specified geographical area for up to 24 hours where disorder is occurring or indeed is anticipated. These powers presently apply to premises selling alcohol but are being expanded to include, for example, all entertainment venues—theatres, cinemas, night cafes and takeaway outlets—that operate late at night. The current powers in Section 188 of the Licensing Act 1964 are under-used by the police, particularly in the context of anticipated disorder arising from events such as football matches or public demonstrations.
Secondly, the Bill expands the police powers that we introduced in December 2001 to close down disorderly and excessively noisy pubs, night clubs, restaurants and hotels instantly for up to 24 hours. Under the Bill, these powers will now apply to all entertainment premises—concert halls, theatres, cinemas, indoor sporting events, night cafes and night takeaways—and will extend to temporary events such as one-off raves. These are powerful deterrents on premises likely to cause serious disturbances in the community.
Next. we shall be abolishing the fixed and artificially early closing times which provoke binge drinking and result in large numbers of young men hitting the street simultaneously, causing the police enormous difficulty. The peaks of disorder immediately after the current fixed closing times of 11 p.m. and 2 a.m. (3 a.m. in the West End of London) should be substantially reduced by a more gradual and orderly dispersal of customers.
We shall be providing a new mechanism for reviewing licences when any problems arise, backed by an extended range of sanctions, rather than the current practice of having to await renewals before any action can be taken. We shall be including in the range of sanctions a temporary or permanent reduction in trading hours and suspension of licences, allowing the licensing authority to hit the profits of businesses causing problems in the community rather than merely dealing with individuals.
We are strengthening the laws on the sale of alcohol to, and its consumption by, under-age children, removing the proliferation of exemptions that presently exist. We are extending the offence of permitting disorderly conduct on licensed premises to all premises licensed under the Bill, all entertainment 562 venues, all qualifying clubs, theatres, cinemas, concert halls, indoor sports arenas, all-night cafes and late-night takeaways. We are requiring the management and staff of such premises to assist the police in expelling drunk and disorderly persons from the premises. We are enabling the police to seek court orders banning the sale of alcohol on train routes either temporarily or permanently.
§ The Earl of Onslow
I hesitate to intervene, but are we not concentrating on the object of the Bill—in other words, the object of the licensing authorities? The noble Baroness's remarks are concerned entirely with the consequences of that. Surely it is best to clear our minds of any consequences of a breach of the aim and get the aim totally clear in our mind; namely, the duty of the licensing authority.
If I am totally wrong—I do not think that I am—there is practically no difference among anyone in this Chamber as to the aims. Our difficulty is in defining those aims, and how we achieve them. We know in our heads what they are but we cannot see them on paper. I wish that the noble Baroness—I know she is trying to help the Committee—would concentrate on that issue rather than on matters with which we shall deal later, and rightly so.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Baroness Blackstone
No, I profoundly disagree with the noble Earl on this occasion, having agreed with him earlier. We had a debate on the first day of Committee on the objectives of the Bill. I do not believe that the noble Earl was in his place. I believe that we have to stick to the debate that we are having now. I remind noble Lords that this is Committee stage. I am trying to provide, in as simple and short a form as possible, the range of ways in which the Bill deals with the possible cumulative effect of a number of different licensed premises in one small area. That is what these amendments are about and what we should be focusing on.
Finally, we are extending police powers to confiscate alcohol in designated public places. on which the Home Office has been assisting us—a point that is relevant to some of the concerns raised.
That said, I have listened carefully to the arguments. We need to find a balance, as the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold said, that addresses the very real concerns of licensing authorities and some local residents, while not hindering those who want to go about their business in a perfectly law-abiding way, providing employment in local economies and amenities for the local community.
This is about the delicate balance between competing interests: the public interest and specific interests. By the same token, we must avoid undermining our key policy objectives, such as an increased diversity of late-night provision and a reduction of the disorder associated with artificially early fixed closing times, on which we have consulted and on which we have had a majority in favour of what is being proposed.
563 In short, we need to be sure that what we do will address whatever problem exists in a proportionate way. The number of licensed premises in inner London has fallen by as much as 10 per cent over the past three years, while, I am afraid to say, the perception of the cumulative effect of the problem has, from what I have heard today, increased. That is not to say that we do not recognise the special position of some parts of London where tourist centres and dense residential areas are sometimes closely intermingled.
However, from the debate today, there is a clear issue. We believe that it might be dealt with at two levels: first, by improving the integration of the planning and licensing regimes referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Tope, and identifying and strengthening areas where there may be shortcomings; and, secondly, by providing local authorities with the encouragement and tools to approach the problem of street disturbance in an imaginative and holistic way. Local authorities already have powers to address cumulative impact through existing planning law, as the noble Lord, Lord Tope, who has much experience in the matter, said. They are required to take into account the implications for crime and disorder and public amenity of any planning application and to impose conditions accordingly.
The Bill will improve the integration of the planning and licensing regime. Clause 7, which we shall discuss later, makes detailed provision for the exercise and delegation of functions by the licensing authority. That is the key point. Where a matter relates to a licensing function and to another function of the local authority such as a planning matter, the Bill makes arrangements for local authorities to consider them in a co-ordinated fashion. It may do that by referring the matter to another committee—in this case, the planning committee.
The Bill would also place a duty on the planning committee to consider the report of the licensing committee when making its recommendations. Similarly, the local authority in question would have the power under the Bill to ask the licensing committee to consider licensing and planning matters together, taking advice from the planning committee where appropriate. That mechanism will enable local authorities to take sensible and proportionate action where they believe that an area already has a density of licensed premises.
We must exercise caution, however, in how licensing authorities go about deciding how many licensed premises are too many. The hospitality and leisure industry is large and dynamic. It would be wrong to impose limits arbitrarily, because there is potential to affect the livelihoods not only of licensees but also of their employees. We intend to make clear in guidance some of the criteria to which a licensing committee might have regard in reporting to a planning committee on cumulative effects.
I shall now discuss the second approach. The Government believe that effective solutions to the problems of late-night anti-social behaviour go much 564 wider than just planning or just licensing. Nuisance and disorder can manifest themselves not only in licensed premises but in the street, too. Even where licensing authorities see a reduction in the number of licensed premises in an area, it is unlikely that that will significantly reduce the numbers of visitors attracted by a lively city centre or local community members continuing to enjoy their leisure time. Short of removing the entire stock of licensed premises—in which case, the problems would just move down the road—central and local government, the police and the wider public and private sectors will still need to think imaginatively.
There are examples of excellent practice around the country. I commend Manchester's City Centre Safe scheme, which has brought together the local police, the licensed trade and the local authority in a package of initiatives that have produced a significant year-on-year reduction in city centre assaults. Manchester's bus queues are managed by loaders provided by the local transport company, defusing them as a potential source of disorder. Some licensed premises have made voluntary payments for policing. The police themselves operate an innovative approach to enforcement, including the Top Ten Premises enforcement scheme, which allows better targeting of police resources at the worst performers. This is an excellent initiative, which I hold up as an example of what can be achieved by an imaginative local authority working with its partners.
The Government have announced that there will be a Bill on anti-social behaviour in this Session. We have provided the police with additional enforcement powers; for example, through fixed penalty notices. This Bill includes powers to close down licensed premises on the spot and extended powers to confiscate alcohol in sealed containers to prevent nuisance drinking. We are looking at town centre management issues, including transport provision and litter collection, through the national alcohol harm reduction strategy.
We should not forget the bread-and-butter provisions of the Bill. We want to improve the quality of life of people living in areas experiencing disorder and public nuisance related to artificially early fixed closing times, for example, which has been forgotten in this debate. The Bill will give a voice to local residents, who will be able to make representations on any licence application in their area and to call for a review of an existing licence on grounds of crime and disorder, public nuisance, public safety and the protection of children from harm. Those are the four objectives of the Bill.
In conclusion, the Government agree in principle that licensing authorities should not be powerless if faced with nuisance and disorder arising from an unusually high concentration of licensed premises. However, I hope that the Committee understands the need for balance. We need to protect pubs, restaurants and other businesses from arbitrary closure by the over-zealous licensing authorities I mentioned in the letter to the noble Lord, Lord Tope. We also need to 565 ensure that the benefits for consumers—and I strongly believe this to be at the heart of the Bill—are not diluted without good cause.
We must try to avoid potentially perverse effects. People are attracted to an area by its reputation rather than by the number of licensed premises. Some parts of central London will always be centres of night-time leisure arising from the tourist industry, as are some parts of central Paris, New York, Tokyo and other cities, regardless of the number of pubs or clubs. Reducing numbers may serve only to cram existing customers into the resultant smaller provision. If fewer premises licences are available, or if a cap is placed on their number, they are likely to become tradable commodities, distorting the market. Then there is the possibility that, without reducing demand, the smaller number of remaining premises would simply expand to accommodate the existing market, achieving very little.
In response to my noble friend Lord Clarke of Hampstead, who asked me to be sympathetic about the concern behind these amendments, I am. The case for existing licensing authorities to act in the genuine interest of local residents is clear. The Bill gives them that power, but, as I stated, we will look at the matter, and, if necessary, make it more explicit. If that is the case, I will return to do so at a later stage.
Some of the Bill's provisions already address the issue, but, given the strength of concerns expressed, we shall consider them further. We aim to return to the House with a framework that is fair, based on the evidence, not arbitrary, and has at its centre the important element of balance that I mentioned several times in responding to the debate. On that basis, I hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment.
§ Lord Monson
Does the noble Baroness not agree that the problem has little to do with the number of licensed premises in an area? The problem is caused by the time of day or night at which the premises disgorge their customers into the neighbourhood. Will local authorities be allowed, with the backing of their residents, to stipulate that such premises, however many there may be, must close at midnight, or thereabouts, if they wish?
§ Baroness Blackstone
No, my Lords. This is a deregulatory Bill. I set out clearly at Second Reading that there was a White Paper and extensive consultation, after which it became clear that there is a wish for wider opportunity for some licensed premises to open for longer hours than at present. There are good reasons for this, which relate to what we have just been debating. Binge drinking before an arbitrary closing time causes as many problems as it prevents.
§ 5 p.m.
§ Baroness Buscombe
I thank the Minister for her response, which, as she said, was intended to clear up a number of misunderstandings. Indeed, there is obviously a misunderstanding between all noble Lords who have spoken and the Minister. We are not 566 debating the cumulative effect; that debate will come later in the proceedings. The noble Lord, Lord Monson, is absolutely right to say that this has nothing to do with the argument about whether we are talking about one or a thousand premises in an area. We are talking about one of the four licensing objectives in the Bill—namely, the prevention of crime and disorder; public safety; the prevention of public nuisance; and the protection of children from harm. With these amendments we are seeking clarity as regards the meaning of,the prevention of public nuisance".I was much disturbed by the Minister's response. She explained that the term of "public nuisance" as one of the licensing objectives extends only as far as the behaviour—the activities—within the premises, and said that what happens beyond the premises is a matter of personal responsibility. That simply is not true. A publican can become criminally responsible if he serves someone who has had too much to drink in the knowledge that he or she will subsequently get into a car and drive beyond the premises. Indeed, there are a number of ways in which a publican can be held criminally responsible for the behaviour of someone within his premises, and beyond.
The debate is about what we mean and understand by the phrase "public nuisance". In a sense, it is about premises being open for 24 hours. It is not necessarily about isolated events that take place at a certain time. I shall try to respond to the comments made by a number of noble Lords in an effort better to explain what the amendments seek to achieve. We are talking about the potential for 24 hours of opening time. The noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, is absolutely right in what he says. Notwithstanding the fact that most publicans will not want their premises to remain open 24 hours a day, they will seek to obtain such a licence in the event that they should wish, on occasion, to remain open for as long as it is economically and socially viable for them to do so. We are talking about the impact, the effect, of the harm on the neighbourhood night after night; in other words, the disturbance of the peace.
I referred earlier to a meeting chaired by my noble friend Lady Hanham where a police officer said, "Alcohol equals crime and disorder". Many examples have been given in this afternoon's debate, especially by the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, of the number of incidents, or activities, that can often lead, night after night, to both crime and disorder from one, or many, premises. It is most important to try to pin down as early as possible in our debate the intention in terms of the ability of local authorities to respond to, or impose, the licensing objectives when seeking to protect the interests of local communities.
As I said in my opening remarks, the reference in the Explanatory Notes to the meaning of the term "public nuisance" is too vague; it is too broad. I make no apology to my noble friend Lord Onslow for these amendments. We need such amendments, because they will enable us to understand the parameters involved. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Clarke of Hampstead, for his support of Amendment No. 68. 567 The noble Lord must forgive me for the legalese that I used when introducing the amendment. My purpose is principally, and quite rightly, to pin down the Government and ensure that they clarify the meaning of "public nuisance", as long as it remains in the Bill in its current form. Otherwise, once the Bill is enacted, local authorities and the police may find themselves faced with great difficulties when seeking to protect the quality of life of communities.
At the moment there is the possibility of seeing the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, dressed in his pyjamas—silk ones, it is to be hoped—at a certain hour of night seeking to stop this nuisance continuing night after night in the area where he lives. But at what time of night could the noble Lord sensibly go out in the future? We should remember that this Bill, which we support in principle, will allow licensed premises to remain open for 24 hours a day.
The noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall, asked whether the Bill contains powers to deal with the radical change in our culture to the 24-hour night-time economy. The Bill is unclear on the subject of such powers. Yes, as the noble Lord, Lord Tope, said, local authorities can and do make sensible decisions; for example, when discussing planning matters. However, they can do so only if the mechanisms and powers are in place to enable them to respond to reasonable objections. In fact, the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, put it very well when he said that what we are talking about is the power of "reasonable objection".
Some noble Lords seem to believe that the amendments now before the Committee are not quite right; some believe that they are too narrow, while others think that they are, perhaps, too broad. We are looking for the same outcome: we are all concerned about the real impact that this legislation will have on our local communities. We all need to be sure that local authorities, and the police, will have the proper powers to deal sensibly with these changes because they will make a difference. As I said on Second Reading, we have no idea what the effect of the Bill on our communities will be. This is a shot in the dark. It is one that we are all keen to take, but one about which we are deeply concerned. Although the industry will have the opportunity to develop premises to meet the needs, the wishes, and the desires of all of us to have liberalised licensing laws, at the same time we must ensure that it will not compromise too much. The balance must not be too unfair with regard to all of us when we are wearing our hats as local residents, whether it be in our towns, in our cities, or in our rural communities.
We are seeking to understand and to strike a balance with regard to this licensing objective. We should remember that it is one of the key aspects of the Bill. I am sorry, but I believe that the Minister has failed to respond to our concerns. However, I do see a glimmer of light in relation to her closing remarks on planning. I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her reference to,improving the integration of the planning and licensing regimes".568 We welcome that move, but we need to be sure that that improvement will not mean that licensing authorities will be afraid to grant such licences to further premises because of the possible impact on the local community. It would be preferable if we had a clearer understanding of the phrase "public nuisance" and of the position of local communities under the Bill, rather than a clampdown within local authorities because they are afraid of the possible effect on their local residents if more premises licences were granted to the industry. There is a balance to be struck in that respect.
I note that paragraph 14 of the Framework for Guidance—which some of us have managed to find, and which contains so much of the meat of the Bill's implications—states that the guidance,would, for example, provide for a proper separation of the planning and licensing regimes to avoid duplication and inefficiency".That seems to conflict entirely with what the Minister has just said about the need to improve integration of planning and licensing regimes.
§ Baroness Blackstone
I think that what "improvement" means here is avoiding duplication, where it currently unfortunately exists, but maintaining a sensible integration where, as I mentioned in replying to the debate, that is beneficial to the local community.
§ Baroness Buscombe
I thank the Minister for her clarity in responding to my comment. I hope that there will be some thought about how the arrangements are really going to work. I find her words about improving the integration of planning and licensing regimes encouraging, but I wonder whether the forthcoming planning Bill will reflect the need for some form of integration. As matters stand, and as so much of the framework for guidance stands, it is unclear how the arrangements are going to work. Nevertheless, I find definitely encouraging what I see as something of a concession. It is also a move for which local authorities, in particular, have been asking.
I have taken enough of the Committee's time. I am grateful to the many noble Lords who took part in this important debate on the licensing objectives. However, many questions have not been answered satisfactorily. Unless the Government table some welcome amendments before Report, we shall most certainly return to the issue at that stage. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House resumed.