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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.
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 publicresidents living in the vicinity of licensed premisesdo 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
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 venuestheatres, cinemas, night cafes and takeaway outletsthat 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 premisesconcert halls, theatres, cinemas, indoor sporting events, night cafes and night takeawaysand 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
The Earl of Onslow: I hesitate to intervene, but are we not concentrating on the object of the Billin 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 wrongI do not think that I amthere 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 BaronessI know she is trying to help the Committeewould concentrate on that issue rather than on matters with which we shall deal later, and rightly so.
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.
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.
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 committeein 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.
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
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.
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