Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Blackstone: I have already responded to the debate. I recognise that we are in Committee and that the noble Lord is not asking me to respond at length to what he has said. I remind him that the reason for the peak of offending occurring at three o'clock in the morning is that that is when people are thrown out of all the clubs in Soho. The Bill will change that by introducing flexible opening hours. I therefore hope that it will reduce the amount of offending that takes place at that time.

Of course the noble Lord is right that cinemas can become night clubs under change of use laws. That is part of the review of the use class order conducted by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, to which I have already referred. As I have already said, the Government will come up with proposals for reform. We do not intend to address the issue in the planning legislation that will come before the House during this Session. Any action on permissions to change from one use to another will be dealt with by an amendment to the relevant statutory instrument. It will therefore probably be possible to introduce it more quickly than the much larger changes to planning law.

I hope that I have dealt with the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke. I note what he says about Manchester. I am interested in his point about the universities. I suspect that one of the problems that Manchester city centre has to live with is the fact that there are 100,000 students in central Manchester, many of whom turn up on Friday and Saturday nights for a night out and some of them drink too much.

Lord Monson: I know that the noble Baroness has a tremendous amount on her plate with the Bill. I do not want to add to her burdens, but she did not respond to my last question, which was very important. If all licensees in an area decide that they want to go on closing at 11 p.m. as they do now, can she confirm that they will not be accused of frustrating the purposes of the Bill and have their arms twisted to stagger their closing times?

Baroness Blackstone: Of course. This is a deregulatory, liberalising Bill. The whole point is that licensed premises should have the opportunity to decide whether they want to open for longer hours, but if any of them want to close at eleven—or even earlier—of course they can do so.

The Earl of Onslow: Will the noble Baroness address the planning problem in greater detail? As I understand it, she is saying that planning can control congestion and the Government know that the system

19 Dec 2002 : Column 809

of classification is wonky. They are going to look at it, but do not know what conclusion they are coming to. That does not seem a very strict element of control.

1.15 p.m.

Baroness Blackstone: I have already said that, under existing planning law, local authorities are able to decide whether to grant permission for licensed premises. Local authorities make these decisions all the time. I have also conceded that there is a problem with changing the nature of premises from one kind to another. The Government are aware of that problem, which has been raised by the noble Lords, Lord Tope and Lord Brooke. There are problems of super-pubs springing up by the back door as a result. I have said that the Government will come up with proposals in the new year to deal with that. I hope that that answers the noble Earl.

Baroness Buscombe: I thank the Minister for her response. I also thank all those who have taken part in this important debate. I shall attempt to be brief. A number of Members of the Committee have been extremely polite in apologising for returning to their feet. No apology is necessary here. I feel strongly that these are all important points that need to be clarified as early in our scrutiny of the Bill as possible.

Our amendments were drafted with the thoughts and views of the Association of Chief Police Officers in mind. ACPO has said:

    "There comes a time when saturation point is reached and the addition of any further licensed premises has the potential to considerably exacerbate existing problems of crime and disorder. We feel that both the police and the local authority, bearing in mind its responsibilities under the Crime and Disorder Act, should be able to raise objections based specifically on the additional and cumulative impact of a new premises on the crime and disorder problems in the area".

I shall cover a few areas in response to the Minister and other Members of the Committee. First, the noble Lord, Lord Monson, rightly pointed out that we should be looking for a more evidence-based approach. I asked for that on Second Reading. Most of us are members of the All-Party Parliamentary Beer Group. The group went on its travels to find out what happened abroad. We did not hear much about what they found. I have found that in France nothing is open in the afternoon, so somebody is getting a break somewhere. There are also stringent laws in countries such as Germany. Perhaps we and the Government should look at that further before Report. We are grateful that the Minister will be considering this on Report.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, for his comments. He rightly said that we are dealing with an awful lot of theory. We do not know what will happen in practice. There are opportunities for review under Clause 5, but we are looking for local authorities to focus on the impact of longer opening hours on binge drinking, disorder and anti-social behaviour. The Minister argues that binge drinking is caused partly by everybody coming out at 3 a.m., so it will be far better when we do not have that cut-off time. I find that

19 Dec 2002 : Column 810

remarkable. We do not know, but some of us fear that the problems will probably go right through the night. ACPO has said that we may not necessarily find more problems, but they will certainly be spread through the night.

Interestingly, the Minister also said that we should not be concerned about costs, because local authorities will recover all costs from fees charged. That is a wonderful statement for her to have made. I hope that a lot of local authorities will feel extremely assured by that. Costs are not being covered at the moment. This is a new promotion for local authority concerns with regard to fees. Local authorities spend an extraordinary amount of money cleaning up in areas with large concentrations of licensed premises, particularly those with late-night licences. Indeed, there is a huge spend on clean-up and clear-up. Of course, the police will be extending their hours in areas such as Westminster, Soho, and so on. Their peak hours at present run from 6 p.m. to 3 a.m. Presumably, they will now have to be out on the beat right through the night.

We have raised many important issues during today's debate. It was interesting to learn that the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, has looked into research, which is a matter that we must take seriously. Research is always funded by someone. We need to consider it objectively. I shall certainly be studying it with care between now and the new year. I shall find what is now available, and also consider the other research when it is published in full in the new year. From research undertaken on the Isle of Man, we understand from the police that the liberalised laws in operation have not necessarily reduced the potential for crime, disorder, and other such problems; it has just spread it over a longer period of time. I believe that there has been some reduction in crime, because the ability of the police to combat crime has been improved by way of CCTV and other mechanisms. So I am not sure, particularly as it is early days, that the Government can rely on saying that liberal licensing laws are the answer to the problem.

Planning is also a most important consideration in this debate. The noble Lord, Lord Tope, said that following a change of culture in our pubs we need to consider planning. But the question is: how? I have with me a briefing note from the Westminster City Council. In referring to it, I should like to make it absolutely clear that right through the debate we want to be fair to industry, as much as to local residents and local authorities. One of my fears for the industry is that local authorities will feel compelled to reject new applications on the basis that they are afraid of saturation and of detrimental effects.

I shall briefly mention two sentences from the note from the City of Westminster, which says that,

    "planning cannot contain growth . . . Many A3 uses have been granted in the past on the basis that their hours could be controlled through licensing".

The latter is an important point to take into account. I worry that new premises applications will encounter difficulties. That is a great shame. The last thing that we want to see is the industry in difficulty when it wants

19 Dec 2002 : Column 811

to open new types of premises. The planning process may be the only opportunity for local authorities to ensure that they can "contain" any potential problems, but, in doing so, they may stifle industry.

I note what the Minister said in relation to the fact that the Government are looking at new planning laws. We are grateful for that, but surely this is a case of shutting the door after the horse has bolted. We are being asked to agree to this—

Baroness Blackstone: This Government are trying to resolve some problems that relate to legislation introduced by the noble Baroness's party when in power.

Baroness Buscombe: I thank the Minister for that intervention, but I am not quite sure how that helps us in this case. I am talking about the need for us to understand where we stand in relation to planning. However, we shall not have that information until the Bill has passed through this Chamber and probably another place, which is a great shame. We do not know how such measures will operate at this stage; and, indeed, we shall not know before the Bill leaves this place. On that basis, we should be grateful if the Minster and her officials would think most carefully about mechanisms that could be put in place in this Bill to deal with the question of saturation.

Many other points were raised in today's debate. My noble friend Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville drew our attention to a number of important issues. I believe that his mention of sex shops is an ideal example to illustrate where local input and local power, coupled with responsibility, can make an enormous difference for the benefit of all. For my part, I find that area of London much more attractive. Thanks to local input, it now has a stronger mix of premises that we can all enjoy. There is also the question of noise, which is one of those issues about which we are all particularly concerned in relation to saturation and the cumulative effect.

All the issues raised are important. Yes, the Minster did respond to some of them in a previous debate, but that was all about "public nuisance". We are now talking about too many premises being in one place, which, as I say, could have a negative effect both on local residents and on industry. We want to see a balance here, and we are looking for mechanisms to find it. We hope that the Government will bring forward the latter between now and the Report stage. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 88 not moved.]

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page