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Baroness Scotland of Asthal moved Amendment No. 11:

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 40 [Curfew orders and supervision orders]:

Baroness Scotland of Asthal moved Amendment No. 12:

    Transpose Clause 40 to after Clause 91.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 41 [Extension of powers of community support officers etc.]:

Baroness Scotland of Asthal moved Amendment No. 13:

    Transpose Clause 41 to after Clause 91.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 42 [Report by local authority in certain cases where person remanded on bail]:

Baroness Scotland of Asthal moved Amendment No. 14:

    Transpose Clause 42 to after Clause 91.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 43 [Proceedings under section 222 of the Local Government Act 1972: power of arrest attached to injunction]:

Baroness Scotland of Asthal moved Amendment No. 15:

    Transpose Clause 43 to after Clause 91.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

12 Nov 2003 : Column 1451

Clause 47 [Closure of noisy premises]:

Lord Avebury moved Amendment No. 16:

    Page 39, line 10, at end insert—

"( ) The Secretary of State may issue guidelines as to what constitutes a public nuisance in terms of duration and volume of noise."

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the reason for tabling the amendment at such a late stage in the Bill is that we have only just had sight of the research conducted by MCM Research on behalf of Defra on noise from licensed premises. It would have been very useful to have it when considering the then Licensing Bill, when the issue caused a lot of discussion in the House at various stages. The research was commissioned by Defra a year ago, almost exactly to the day, to assess the potential impact of the Licensing Act on noise disturbance related directly or indirectly to the operation of licensed premises.

The report was finally published to coincide with the UK Noise Forum conference held on 29th October. Unfortunately, no slot was provided during the day for discussing the report, and I understand that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, who was billed to attend the conference in the afternoon, had to cry off at the last minute, so there was no ministerial statement apart from a press release from his department. Since then, he told me in answer to a Question that any comments that the public wished to make on the MCM report would be noted, although he did not go so far as to say that the Government would do anything about them.

Unfortunately, the consultants, the majority of whose clients were alcohol-related, were unable to predict what the effects of the Licensing Bill would be. They had to recommend merely that further research should be conducted on the frequency and nature of noise disturbance caused by patrons after they have left licensed premises, before and after the introduction of the new licensing regime under the Act. In other words, no one, least of all the consultants commissioned by the department, has the faintest idea whether one of the declared purposes of the Licensing Act—Section 4(2)(c) deals with,

    "the prevention of public nuisance"—

is going to be achieved.

Clause 47 of the Bill comes partly to the rescue by giving the local authority a closure power where,

    "a public nuisance is being caused by noise coming from the premises".

According to the regulatory impact assessment, that should produce a decrease in the number of complaints of noise and nuisance by residents living near such premises. The police already have similar but not identical powers under the Licensing Act 1964, as amended by Section 17 of the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001. It would be useful to know from the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, the reason for the variation in the wording of the powers in this Bill from that in Section 17 of the 2001 Act.

Unfortunately, the clause deals only with noise from inside the premises. As MCM Research said, many of the respondents considered that the disturbance in residential areas caused by patrons after they had left

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the premises would continue to be an intractable problem. The noble Lord may remember that we had long and detailed discussions on that during proceedings on the Licensing Bill, led principally by my noble friend Lord Phillips of Sudbury. He asked me to say that he, too, is very concerned that Clause 47 does not tackle the problem, about which we then spoke, of the menace of noise nuisance caused not by people who are inside the clubs and discos, but by the patrons after they have left those establishments.

The consultants suggested that national guidelines should be developed on the definition of noise disturbance, together with appropriate assessment criteria and measurement procedures. They said that those should allow for environmental factors and take into account the times at which noise is generated, which may affect individual residents' perception of the nuisance. For example, what is acceptable at 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. would be quite intolerable at 3 a.m.

Although noise from revellers outside clubs and discos can be dealt with as a statutory nuisance only when it reaches a much higher threshold, it would still be useful to have some idea of the level at which the police could take action against it under existing legislation.

The amendment would allow the Secretary of State to issue guidelines. I hope that we may have some indication that, as far as Clause 47 is concerned, those guidelines will be quantitative, so that local authorities will be able use the powers in the confident knowledge that their actions will be supported by scientific measurements.

The Institute of Acoustics has already done some work on what constitutes unacceptable disturbance and its advice might be useful in that regard. The institute's good-practice guide on the control of noise from pubs and clubs does attempt a definition on which the guidance for the clause might draw.

In many of our towns and cities, people's lives are being made a misery by the metastasis of the all-night booze economy into what used to be quiet residential neighbourhoods. That will be now be further aggravated by the Licensing Act 2003. Let us offer those people a little reassurance that there will be a firm upper limit to the nuisance that they have to endure. I beg to move.

The Lord Bishop of Derby: My Lords, the problem of noise is in part a technical matter, and its regulation by the consultants commissioned by Defra is even more technical, so I do not intend to stray into that territory. However, our cities and towns are now increasingly places where the success of the entertainment industry is a part of their future prosperity. In my own county of Derbyshire, there has been much regeneration of towns, and of the city of Derby in particular, thanks to new clubs, restaurants and other entertainment venues.

The Church does not wish to be a killjoy in that matter, but it is important that we have confidence in the licensing of such places. In dealing both with the issue of law and order outside clubs and pubs and with the

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problem of noise, it is important that the regeneration of urban economies through the entertainment industry is balanced against the need to preserve diverse communities where people's different needs and rights are respected. I have in mind particularly the disturbances experienced by one young vicar and his family, serving in a deprived town centre and committed to living among those whom he serves. At times, they have been almost driven from their home. The voice, indeed the noise, of local residents has been faint and drowned out in the planning process. In the context of noise nuisance, it would be helpful if the Minister were able to report on any progress in splitting A3 user class—the distinction between teashops and nightclubs.

The faint voices of local residents have echoed apparently unheard as licensing hours for surrounding pubs and clubs have been successively extended into the early hours. That has led to regularly unacceptable traffic flows, levels of noise and loutishness after midnight.

The amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, speaks to that need and I welcome it. There can be no quarrel with clear guidance on what constitutes a nuisance in terms of noise, always providing that data and guidelines lead to action.

7.15 p.m

Lord Monson: My Lords, I am wholly sympathetic to what the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, is trying to achieve, but is not the drafting of the amendment slightly defective? It refers to the duration and volume of the noise, but not to the timing of the noise. As he indicated himself, a certain volume of noise measured in decibels that would be perfectly acceptable at 6 o'clock in the evening would be quite intolerable at 3 o'clock in the morning. The amendment as drafted does not quite take that into account.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for bringing forward the amendment even, as he said, at this late stage. It is valuable to have further discussion on the subject, but I am not entirely confident that I will able to answer all his points and the points that were raised by the right reverend Prelate. However, we will see where we get.

I am entirely in agreement with all noble Lords who have spoken on the matter. Having led a local authority for some 13 years, I can confirm that noise nuisance, particularly in and around the Brighton seafront, was always a problem, especially to people living in small streets close to a club—and it always will be a problem, because it is not easy to resolve. The policing, monitoring and careful management of those areas will be a major issue, because we increasingly live in a night-time economy, especially in places like Brighton and Blackpool. We should recognise that that brings benefits, but also considerable problems. In part, Clauses 46 and 47 aim to deal with exactly those problems and issues.

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The clauses propose a new power for local authorities to issue closure orders of up to 24 hours on licensed premises to prevent a public nuisance. As the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, pointed out, they address activities within the premises, but less so without. I cannot answer the noble Lord's precise point about the variation in wording. I will have to reflect on that further as it has not been raised with us previously. However, I acknowledge the point and we will try to deal with it.

I would also like to congratulate the noble Lord on coming forward with an amendment that would provide the Secretary of State with more powers. That is an interesting departure from previous positions adopted by Members on the Liberal Democrat Benches. Their providing us with an opportunity to issue guidance is a blessing that I am loath to put on one side.

The decision whether a public nuisance is occurring should be left to the investigating environmental health officer's judgment, based on his skills, experience and training. I shall speak a little more about that in due course. Such a discretion would allow the investigating officer to take into account not only the volume and duration of the noise, but also the characteristics of the neighbourhood; the type and frequency of the noise; the time of day or—more likely—night when it occurs; and what alternative measures could be taken. He could also assess whether the licensee is taking reasonable steps to control the noise. That is an important consideration.

In the local authority setting, the relationship between the enforcers and those who are responsible for the management of premises is important. On visits that I have made in the past, I have seen how important it is that that relationship is developed. It enables both parties to understand the parameters of what is desirable and what can be achieved, and also what is right in the circumstances. Those judgments should be made according to the neighbourhood and surrounding premises.

It is our belief that the flexibility will allow officers to distinguish between a level of noise that might be appropriate for a nightclub in a busy city centre, but would almost certainly be inappropriate for a country pub in a quiet residential area—and to take account of those many issues where premises sit uneasily together.

The amendment seeks to provide the Secretary of State with the power to issue guidance to local authorities on setting and delivering effective noise control policies. That guidance is already there and available within the noise management guide. I am sure the noble Lord will know that previously the guide was produced by the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health in consultation and careful discussion with departments. Now it falls to Defra to work with the institute.

The guide is being jointly updated by Defra and the CIEH. I pay tribute to them. In an earlier professional incarnation, I spent a great deal of time with environmental health officers. The work they have done on noise and noise nuisance is most valuable. We believe

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it is right to concentrate our efforts on updating that guidance. It will provide the background thinking to the way in which enforcement takes place. The research will be valuable and will form part of the background information necessary to update the guidance.

A number of other points were raised and I shall try to deal with them in turn. The right reverend Prelate asked about planning changes to class A3 premises. The ODPM has brought forward the change suggested, but I need to provide the right reverend Prelate with more detail. I shall put that in correspondence to him and share it with all those who have taken part in the debate.

Clause 47 targets noise from premises and that will fall to the local authorities. As regards areas outside premises, clearly, the local authority enforcement officers will want to work closely with the police. They are, after all, responsible for dealing with noise in the streets. They have a range of powers already to deal with the order and supporting guidance, including, controversially, fixed-penalty notices. There is a working relationship and we expect that to develop. Furthermore, it falls to them to deal with the public order aspects of noise nuisance on the streets and in the community.

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, asked about the Licensing Act and the ability which should exist to take account of the cumulative impact of a large number of premises, particularly clubs. The Licensing Act enables a licensing authority to make a statement in relation to the cumulative impact of licensed premises when it receives representations and complaints. It will allow it to refuse licences when, on balance, it believes that to be right, particularly where a new application comes forward. With the development of licensing legislation and bringing that together with other local authority licensing functions, we see greater coherence developing in the next few years. That has been a problem, as I am sure noble Lords with local government experience will readily acknowledge.

I am grateful to the noble Lord for tabling the amendment, but we do not believe that it will necessarily achieve his aim. Guidance is already available and it is being updated to take account of changes in legislation. In this instance, the way in which that is being drawn up through the CIEH officers working closely with Defra will best suit us, rather than having to give a new power to the Secretary of State. I hope that having heard that explanation the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

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