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Lord Avebury: The Minister's reply is all very well but it does not address the main thrust of the amendment, which is concerned entirely with the human rights aspects of the matter. This leaves the Committee in some difficulty. There has been important correspondence between Miss Jean Corston, the chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, and the responsible Minister, Mr Kim Howells, who has replied at not quite as great a length but his letter runs to five pages. The noble Lord promised the Committee on Thursday that copies of the letter would be placed in the Library of the House, but it became available only at lunch-time today and I have not had adequate time to study it properly and to arrive at a definite conclusion. I notice that the date on the top of the letter is 10th January. Considering its relevance, can the Minister say why the letter was not made available to the Committee earlier? That is one point he should perhaps have explained in his reply.
A second matter the Minister has to explain is why, notwithstanding the fact that the writer of the original letter to Jean Corston, from which this correspondence arose, went into some detail about the provision of information under Clause 180I would be out of order if I referred to the other matters dealt with in this correspondenceMr Howells did not
Lord Davies of Oldham: We have done our best in regard to the letters. The Committee will know that the issue cropped up quite late in the debate on Thursday. In fact, if we had not adjourned when we did on Thursday evening there would have been no opportunity to get the letter to the Committee prior to the discussion of Clause 180. So we have tried to move with dispatch.
Let me explain why the letter was not in the public domain before. We had interpreted the representation from the Human Rights Committee as an issue between the Human Rights Committee and Ministers. Representations were made by the chair of the Human Rights Committee and our response was to the chair, Jean Corston, a Member of another place. At that stage we believed we were being helpful to the committee and that an aspect of private communication was involved. When representation was made on Thursday that in the consideration of the Committee the contents of the letter should be made widely available, we did our best on that basis to make it available for today's debate. I recognise the difficulty of internalising the contents of lengthy letters on difficult issues when they have been available for only a short time. But that is the best explanation that I can give. It is offered in good faith. Given the background, it was the best we could do. The original intention was not to keep information from the Committee but for Ministers at that point to be engaged in direct communication with the chairman of the Human Rights Committee. The ministerial reply was drafted against the background of being of help to that committee. We had not thought, therefore, that the letter should be in the public domainwhere it now is.
I recognise that I am taking a different view from that of the author of the original letter, accurately reflected with regard to Clause 180 by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke. I recognise that these are significant issues that we shall need to ponder further. I have given the Committee as much information as I can at this juncture, both in terms of the issues contained in the letter and in terms of the defence of Clause 180 as it stands as against the amendment proposed by the noble Lord. I have no doubt that if he is dissatisfied with the situation he will ensure that we continue these discussions. We recognise that they range further across the Bill than this immediate clause. But at this stage I press the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.
I am concerned that I did not hear the Minister seek to disprove my observation about powers under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 and the Local Government Act 2000 which I suggested on behalf of my former constituent were endangered by Clause 180 of the Bill. I hope that the Minister will re-examine the provision to see whether such rights have been interfered with in the process.
I understand the Minister's position. I followed what he said, but I hope that he will forgive me if I remark that this is a fairly sweeping and comprehensive clause and that his response was also of a somewhat sweeping nature. I hope that, in the light of this debate, he will re-examine the implications that I have raised to see whether there can be modifications and concessions which will not move matters against and away from the community, as the community presently believes is happening following the two previous pieces of legislation I mentioned, in terms of the powers exercised in the police and community consultative groups.
I acknowledge that Guerra v Italy was very much a macro-case. I recognise that chemical factories are perhaps sui generis. But it was noticeable that in the same correspondence my former constituent also quoted Hatton and others v UK, which related to Heathrow airport. That brings us much nearer to home and returns to the issue of noise nuisance, which is of a similar nature.
I shall give one micro-example to indicate the view of the person in the street. It relates to an elderly Chinese woman living in Sohoa fair number of Chinese live therewho wished to make a complaint about what she regarded as excessive behaviour at a large night-club to which I shall not allude but which may be described as having a somewhat controversial reputation; so it was not wholly unexpected that she should have been disturbed by it.
She went first to the environmental health officer to find out her rights in terms of the conditions and conduct to which she was being subjected. The environmental health officer said that she should consult the police. When consulted in the street, the police said that she must go back to the environmental health officer; and the environmental health officer said that she must go to those who were carrying out the licensing procedure.
If you are an elderly Chinese and you have been passed from pillar to post in that manner, you are not likely to feel that your human rights are being reinforced when you are the person who is making the complaint in the first place and when you have certain personal reservations about being too up-front as a
I realise that I made a long speech at a late hour on human rightsthe single matter that has exercised us at lengthbut perhaps that is no bad thing. The Government have said that they will re-examine the issue. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Baroness said: This amendment stands also in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold. It is straightforward. It is designed to add a degree of clarity to Clause 188, dealing with definitions.
"Premises" suggestions a building or an enclosed space; and "place" does little to provide illumination otherwise. We believe that it is important to specify that under the Bill "premises" need not be an enclosed area but may be a building or open space. I beg to move.
Lord Davies of Oldham: As the noble Baroness has indicated, the amendment raises an issue of definition. We happen to think that the word "place" is a pretty good English word, which certainly covers both the buildings and the open spaces referred to in the amendment. I think it will be clear that it applies as much to temporary structures as to permanent ones, and to places on land as well as on water. We do not want a restrictive interpretation of the location at which licensable activities will be carried on, and "place" is a broad and suitable word for this purpose.
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