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Lord Redesdale: I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 166 and 312, which are grouped. They are probing amendments that are an attempt to tease out some of the Government's thinking on the effect of new licences and the issue of saturation. That is covered in the guidance, but the guidance does not provide much elucidation of the Government's thinking on that matter.
We understand that it is envisaged that, in the transitional period, licensed premises will have an almost automatic right to the renewal of their licence. So, the position will not change vastly. I was also interested to find out that there seems to have been, recently, a reduction in the number of licensed premises in central London and some of the stress points. Perhaps, that is because saturation point has been reached in the industry and people may be moving away from going into the centre of town of a night, which is such an expensive activity. However, our amendments would add criteria relating not just to the licensed premises but, to a degree, to the effect on the locality.
It is a matter of debate whether the Bill will change this, but, in the past, late licensing has changed the nature of licensed premises. The purpose of a late licence was to attract a younger clientele. Therefore, the premises had to provide music and dancing and ended up with some noise and disturbance. By opening the option up to a wider range of licensed premises, that issue will be addressed, and there will be places where people who do not want to go to a nightclub and do not want to cause a nuisance at night will be able to go for a drink, after, say, a visit to the theatre. They will have somewhere to go because there will be a broader range of licensable activities.
We do not take the position that we should object to any late licence. Some late licences will meet the needs of the community. However, the fact that there will be an increase in the number of pubs and clubs is causing
The Earl of Onslow: I seek some information. Am I right in saying that, if area A already has pubs, clubs and restaurants, the number of such premises is fixed by the planning laws? If someone wants to change the use of a building from a clothes shop to a pub, will the local authority, with its planning hat on, take into account the increase in the number of licensed premises in the surroundings? That is the point that my noble friend Lady Buscombe is addressing.
Do we perceive that there will be an increase in the amount of drink that will be sold, or will it just be spread over a wider timescale? That issue may not relate to this amendment, but it came into my head and seems to me to be important. Do we assume that there will be an increase in the general consumption of alcohol?
Lord Avebury: A councillor from Westminster this morning gave me one answer to the noble Earl. It is possible to have premises on which there is a mixture of eating and drinking during the day but where, at a certain point in the evening, all the tables and chairs are taken away. Thus, the area is, effectively, devoted solely to alcohol consumption, even though entertainment is ostensibly provided, in that people could dance if they wanted to, although that is not the purpose for which they go into the establishment. We have allowed a situation to develop in which people can provide a mixture of activities for people in a pub or clubwhatever name it goes undereven though, after a certain point in the evening, it becomes solely devoted to the consumption of alcohol.
My noble friend Lord Redesdale said that there had been a recent reduction in the number of licensed premises in central London. One reason for that may be that the police have been more active in examining the effect of such establishments. The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, shakes her head, but the police succeeded in closing a nightclub called Home, which was between Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square. The police had managed to associate the club with the consumption and sale of drugs. The fact that the police have been more vigorous in detecting an association between certain establishments and the prevalence of drugs may be one reason why there was a reduction in central London.
What has happened in the West End Central and Charing Cross police areas is important as a model for what will occur in other parts of the country, when we allow almost anybody who has a clean criminal record to apply to open up late-night drinking establishments. In the context of the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, we ought to consider the experience of crime in areas in which the late-night economy has already been under way for many years.
I asked the chief inspector with whom I went round the Charing Cross area a couple of Saturdays ago whether such figures were available, and he told me that they were. I have looked for them on the Metropolitan Police website without any success, and I would be grateful if whoever will reply to the amendment could tell us what the experience has been since we have had a late-night culture in Westminster. Have there been more offences of the kind mentioned in the amendment? Has there been binge-drinking, disorder and anti-social behaviour? If so, what are the statistics? I am certain that, if the noble Baroness has the statistics, she will be able to say that there has been a steep rise in the number of offences of violence in those areas and in the other places around the periphery of LondonRomford, Ealing and Bexleyto which late-night drinking has spread from the centre, as DAC Trotter mentioned in his presentation to your Lordships. If we find that the police's experience in those areas is that crimes of the kind described in the amendment have increased enormously as a result of the spread of the late-night economy, we ought to take that into account in considering the amendment.
Lord Borrie: I press my noble friend the Minister to respond fully to the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, with regard to Amendment No. 111, which is grouped with Amendment No. 87, which she moved. We should keep licensing policy under review, particularly to see whether the theoryif I may put it that waythat freer licensing hours will reduce binge-drinking, disorder and so on is, in fact, the case. There is a great deal of evidence coming out of Scotland that the theory that binge-drinking and so on would be reduced by longer licensing hours has not been borne out. If we go along the lines suggested by the Bill for England and Wales, we will, in due course, need a study to see whether the theory has worked out.
At the moment, the licensing hours finish at eleven o'clock, and the people living near to a public house must, as it were, put up with car doors being banged, loud noise and all the rest of it for 10 minutes or a quarter of an hour. If closing times are much later, residents may suffer not just between 11 and 11.15 p.m., but at various uncertain and indefinite timesfor example, midnight, one o'clock, and latercausing much more difficulty for local residents than at present .
It may be that the technical answer to the noble Baroness is that there is no need for Amendment No. 111 because there is provision in the Bill as it stands for licensing policy to be reviewed. However, it would be good for the Minister to reassure us that the issues mentioned in Amendment No. 111 will be covered, and will be expected to be covered, by the regular review under Clause 5.
Lord Tope: We have had some speculation as to why the number of licensed premises in inner London has apparently decreased. I do not know whether it is a reason or a consequence, but I have not the slightest
I have considerable sympathy from experience with what the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, said in moving the amendment. I shall listen with considerable interest to whichever Minister replies. I suspect that we shall be told this is better dealt with through the planning regime and planning laws. I see a nod of affirmation. I agree that that should be the case. I have sat in judgment on innumerable planning applications where we have been told that we cannot consider such matters. In some cases, premises are already licensed, and other licensed premises are in the area which is zoned under the UDP for such entertainment. In those cases, we would not be able to sustain an appeal against a refusal of planning permission.
I hope that the Minister, when replyingif she cannot do so today perhaps she will reply by letter at a later datewill say not just that it should be better dealt with under planning regime, with which I agree, but how. In my experience, that has not proved possible. There are many high streets in the country that bear witness to that, and many local authorities that regret that their high streets bear witness to that. That is the answer I want to hear.
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