|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Earl Peel: I am grateful to the Government for introducing the amendment, not least because I was going to cite endless cases. I no longer have to do so, which is a relief for me and will be much more a relief for Members of the Committee.
As regards subsection (3), which seeks to insert new subsection (1A) into the 1994 ActI believe there is a misprint in that there are two paragraphs "(a)", the second of which should be paragraph "(b)"I believe that the Minister said that both paragraphs (a) and (b) specifically refer to indoors and outdoors gatherings. I believe the noble Lord said that but I want to seek absolute confirmation.
Paragraph (b) of proposed new subsection (7A) refers to a period of 24 hours. I very much welcome this provisionit goes further than the amendment of my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smithbut I wonder whether 24 hours will be enough. If there were a further extensionsay to 48 hoursit would obviously act as an additional deterrent, not least because people can remain in an area for 24 hours without too much discomfort whereas if the period was 48 hours they might be more inclined to return from whence they had come. Perhaps the Government will consider extending the period of 24 hours. I very much welcome the amendment. It is a major step forward.
The question of hours is a difficult point. Certainly, thinking back to one particularly perverse experience in our locality, the noble Earl is quite right. The 1994 Act was in place and law enforcement officers felt unable to move against a particular rave that had gone on over two days. I can see the difficulty that, having displaced it and moved it on, they may well experience similar caution in wanting to take decisive action.
I do not want to make a promise from the Dispatch Box that I cannot fulfil. I have noted the noble Earl's comments; I will say no more than that. Obviously Ministers and officials will want to look closely at what the noble Earl said and it may well be that they will wish to give the question of 24 hours vis-a-vis 48 hours further consideration. I can say no more than that.
Lord Dixon-Smith: If I had had the opportunity I would have welcomed Amendment No. 200ZA quite warmly and we would not have had to wait quite as long to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton.
The amendment is welcome. It may not be perfectmy noble friend Lord Peel raised an interesting point which is worth further considerationbut, on the strength of Amendment No. 200ZA, I am happy not to move my amendment.
Lord Avebury: If this problem has been so widespread, why was it not noticed until after the Bill was drafted and therefore necessitated an amendment being brought forward at this fairly late stage? The 1994 Act had been on the statute book for nine years before these proposals were brought forward. They could have been incorporated in the Bill when it first came before another place if the evidence had been available to support them.
The noble Lord referred to submissions by ACPO. I have not seen them. That does not mean to say that other Members of the Committee are not aware of representations by ACPO on the matter, but it would have been useful if that evidence had been laid before the Committee to support what is quite a drastic extension of the 1994 legislation, which is designed to prevent huge outdoor parties causing a nuisance and is now to be extended to quite small indoor parties.
Is it contended that the local authorities do not have adequate powers to deal with noisy parties in urban areas and that local environmental health officers are not fully discharging their duties to shut down illegal parties or to ask people to turn the sound down when complaints are made? If that is the case, we need to know why the existing legislation on these matters has not been effective and what representations the Government have had from environmental health officers or the local authorities. If the Government have evidence that widespread nuisance is being caused by small parties and that local authorities have expressed the view that their existing powers are inadequate, we are open to persuasion. On the whole, however, I am not keen on the proposal to extend the range of criminal offences without good reason, as this clause does, especially not when those offences attract custodial sentences.
Our other concern is that demonstrations frequently require the use of a sound system. We would not like these powers to be used to prevent the legitimate expression of views of political importance by small numbers of people who would, on the face of it, be affected by these provisions.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: I think I will deal with the last point first. It is not our intention for this legislation to fetter the rights of people quite properly to express their views on matters of a political nature.
On the noble Lord's other points, separate legislation can be used to deal with noisy parties. What we are talking about here is rather different from noisy parties; we are talking about situations in which a small number of organisers take over and occupy for a period of time a building or a piece of land. When they realise that the game is up because of the nuisance they are causing, they move on and do the same thing somewhere else in a pre-prepared, carefully worked out scheme.
I do not know how much experience the noble Lord has had of these events, but I can tell him they are a major headache for those charged with the responsibility of investigating the nuisance, taking enforcement action and making sure that those involved are deterred from a repeat exercise. I had a lot of experience of this as leader of my local authority back in the mid and late 1990s. I have some very good examples of the circumstances in which complaints have been made and the police have not felt able to take swift and effective action.
I can see that the noble Lord is bursting to speak, and I will give way. Let me first say that we are trying to deal with a real and genuine nuisance that has come to light through correspondence. It has been drawn to our attention by Members of Parliament and has come up during debates on this legislation which deals with anti-social behaviour. We think it is proper to respond to that.
Lord Avebury: I was certainly not challenging the noble Lord's anecdotal accounts of these raves. I am conscious of them, having received correspondence about them. I was simply asking him to produce evidence in the form of representations either by local authority associations or by ACPO. He says that ACPO has made representations; could we see the copies? Could he place them in the Library of your Lordships' House?
In September 2000 there was a rave in Tolworth in Surrey. Massive disruption was caused to residents after a weekend-long rave took place on farmland. We received several letters on the issue from the local MP as well as residents.
In December 2001, Graeme Stephens, a farmer in Essex, had one of his barns broken into, and an illegal rave then took place. Police could not take any action as the rave was indoors and attended by less than 100 people, hence our desire to shift the threshold. The farmer was arrested for a breach of the peace when he tried to break up the event, and this made national press headlines.
There was a rave in January 2002 in Lincolnshire. Over the Christmas and New Year period in 2001, a farmer called Mr Benton and his family had one of his buildings broken intodamage caused by an illegal rave that took place on their premises. Police could take no action, as yet again the event was indoors and attended by fewer than 100 people. Again, that story made the national press.
Those are anecdotes, but they are well recorded ones. I am confident that the department could bring forward other examples. It is for those reasons that ACPO is firm in its support for our proposed changes.
I believed that there would be all-party agreement on the issue. I understand that the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, comes from a particular political perspective. However, if he argues against the measure he is arguing in a strange sort of way to protect the civil rights and liberties of a minority of those who wish to organise events that, in themselves, can overtake people's lives in a particularly unpleasant and dramatic way, causing noise, nuisance and disturbance over long periods of time, and considerable disruption to people leading a peaceful existence and going about their ordinary business. I am sure that it is not his intent to protect the civil rights of those who are out to cause a nuisance in that way, but it is sounding awfully like it as I listen to this evening's discussion.
Lord Avebury: I do not want to prolong these proceedings, but I have asked the Minister the question twice, and I shall put it to him a third time. Will he please let me have any evidence, in the form of statements or representations by either ACPO or local authority associations, which he has received in his department?
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page