|Back to Table of Contents
|Lords Hansard Home Page
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: I want to probe exactly what is meant by "locality", particularly when an urban area has a boundary that is very close to the next authority. That would certainly be the case
6 July 2009 : Column 517
Baroness Hanham: My Amendment 94 is grouped with this. I want to probe the transition from the current regime to one in which these provisions will apply. I am concerned about the idea of quotas in the lap-dancing industry. The quota could be set below the existing number of venues in an area. The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, raised the point about what is an area when it straddles a boundary? Do local authorities have to come to an agreement on that? Given that some dissatisfaction with the licence has to be found on grounds other than the number of them, it is extremely likely that some local authorities will actively seek to chop away at the number of venues using the quota as a guillotine. It is important to know how these quotas will work particularly, as I have already touched on, in relation to establishments that are already there and may be in excess of a quota advised by a local authority, or two local authorities, in the context of this debate. Perhaps we can dig a little further on what the quota system and its implications are likely to be.
Lord Brett: Under the proposed new regime, local authorities can refuse to grant a licence to a lap-dancing club on the ground that it would be inappropriate, having regard to the character of the relevant locality, or on the basis that a number of such venues in the locality is equal or exceeds the number that the local authority considers appropriate. Amendment 93 would define locality as within the local authority area where the premises are situated. That could prevent a local authority considering the locality that surrounds the premises but which happens to fall in another local authority area when deciding whether it is appropriate to have a sex encounter venue located in a particular site. The amendment could also prevent local authorities drawing distinctions within their own areas when judging whether it is appropriate to have a sex establishment in the location.
If premises happened to be situated on the boundaries of two local authority areas, we consider it appropriate that the local authority handling the application can consider the whole locality, even if it straddles two local authority areas. It would seem odd, for example, if a locality adjacent to such premises were in a residential area or contained a school, but because it fell under the jurisdiction of another local authority, the one handling the application could not take some matters into account when deciding whether to grant a licence. It is a common-sense approach.
Given the diversity of many local authority areas, ranging from busy high streets to residential areas, the Government believe that local authorities should set the different limits on the number of sex establishments appropriate to the different localities. For example, a local authority may decide that a particular locality in
6 July 2009 : Column 518
Amendment 94, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, would omit paragraph 12(4), which states that the local authority can set the number of sex establishments that it considers appropriate for a particular locality at nil. The Government believe that paragraph 12(4) is useful as it makes clear to all parties that local authorities are fully within their rights to determine that certain areas are entirely inappropriate for the location of sex establishments. In other words, being able to set the limit at nil allows local authorities to prevent sex establishments opening up in areas that are deemed wholly unsuitable, having regard to the nature and character of the locality.
For example, a local authority may decide that it is inappropriate to have any sex establishment in an area that is overwhelmingly residential, or where schools or religious buildings are located. To ensure that local authorities can respond to the concerns of local communities, the Government believe that they must retain their flexibility to manage sex establishments that the amendments would remove. I hope that I have been able to persuade the noble Baroness that the amendment would have odd, perhaps unintended consequences and would decrease valuable flexibility.
Baroness Hanham: Does the Minister agree that this would be absolutely fine if we were working from a clean sheet of paper, where no lap-dancing clubs existed and it was a completely new set-up? The reality is that lap-dancing clubs already exist. They are licensed to some extent, and the local authority knows they are there. It goes back to the question on which we touched before that if the local authority suddenly decides that it will agree to eight or three establishments, and one is an area where they will now be prohibited, what will happen to that business? Will it have to cease operating or can we ensure within the legislation that there is a proper way of it carrying on until a certain number is reached? That cannot happen if the local authority says that there are to be no lap-dancing clubs in its area at all.
We have to accept that these businesses exist; we cannot pretend that they do not. I suppose that we can say it in legislation, but should we say it: that some premises will have to be put out of business because of the number at issue? Whether I agree with the type of business or not is irrelevant. It is extremely important to be fair and just. Is it fair to leave it open to doubt whether a business has to go out of business because it is deemed to be over and above the local authority numbers?
Lord Brett: The noble Baroness raises an important point and she makes it well, but I have already explained that the transitional arrangements will be set out in secondary legislation and that we are consulting the relevant stakeholders, including the Lap Dancing Association, on that legislation. I do not want to
6 July 2009 : Column 519
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: The trouble is that that consultation, coming, as it does, so late and with us having to look at these amendments now, will not help us in deciding whether the legislation is adequately drafted. On the points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, about how local authorities are going to prioritise, the last thing we want to do with this legislation is to allow unsatisfactory licensed clubs to up their game a bit, become more satisfactory and get the quota, while better places do not. I can see the Minister is becoming frustrated by this argument. I shall simply ask him when he expects the results of the consultation: is there any chance that by the time we get to Report, probably sometime in October, we might have the results?
Lord Brett: I have already answered the noble Baroness's question: I do not know; it will depend on the degree of consultation and the degree of vehemence and argument of the stakeholders who are being consulted. If there is any information I shall seek to make it available before that stage. My frustration is not with the noble Baroness and the comments she makes but with what seems to be missing from the discussion. This is predicated on giving local people and local authorities more control over what is desirable in their areas. The consequences of avoiding a licensing provision-we do not have one-will be that the number of lap-dancing clubs, good or otherwise, will become a local authority issue and the transitional arrangements will have to address the migration from the old regime to the new one. I cannot add any more than that.
Baroness Hanham: I do not want there to be any misunderstanding. I fully understand the need to keep local people involved-that is not the problem. Under whatever legislation we do this, local people must have their say. What I am worried about is a club which has had no objections-no one has bothered about it and it is in the right place-which is over the quota.
Lord Brett: With respect, that is a matter for the local authority, which will determine the quota. It is a circular argument. Unfortunately, as we are trying to enable local authorities to take greater account in a way that they cannot do under the Licensing Act 2003, I can add nothing to the argument other than to repeat my offer to make available to noble Lords any additional information in respect of the consultation or the guidance that comes to us before Report.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: With that reassurance and the thought that the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, and I may get together and think about her amendment which looked at the Licensing Act and strengthened the arm of local authorities, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, I understand that the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan of Rogart is unable to speak in the debate. This means that Members' speeches, other than those in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, and my noble friend Lord Bach, are now limited to six minutes rather than five minutes as printed on today's list.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, I am most grateful to noble Lords who are to speak in this short debate. It is a trial run at the Constitutional Reform Bill of my noble friend Lord Willoughby de Broke, which is to be found in the Printed Paper Office. That Bill is not having its Second Reading now because there is no time for it to complete all its stages in this Session of Parliament. However, I am sure that my noble friend will listen carefully to the views of noble Lords and bring the Bill back in the next Session, perhaps incorporating suggestions put forward today.
However, I should say at the outset that we do not think the Bill should be much less radical. I am aware that in the wake of the parliamentary expenses saga there have been several debates and suggestions about constitutional change, but these have only been tinkering at the edges of our system of representative parliamentary democracy, which is now, rightly and irretrievably, discredited with the people it was supposed to serve.
I hope your Lordships will not be too irritated if I quote what I said on 5 December 2007 when, not for the first time, I was trying to warn of the growing gulf between us, the political class, and the British people. I said:
"Over the past 50 years, we have brought this country pretty low: 40 per cent of our children leave primary school, and 15 per cent leave school, unable to read and write properly; our whole health service is in crisis; our police are overwhelmed; our prisons are bursting with the mentally ill and the illiterate; our transport system is inadequate; our Armed Forces are underfunded, overstretched and undervalued, and even their morale is beginning to crack; our border controls have been deliberately abandoned, so that our inner cities are increasingly uncomfortable and explosive places; and, most worrying of all, Islamist terrorists are on the march, many of whom are home grown".-[Official Report, 5/12/07; col. 1761.]
Several times, before that and since, I have also tried to point out that another important reason for the British people's disaffection from their political class and system is not just that it is hard for them to think of anything that their politicians have got right in the
6 July 2009 : Column 521
It is, of course, worse than all of that because a large majority of our national law-perhaps 84 per cent if we accept the German Government's figure-is now made in Brussels, where our Government have only some 8 per cent of the votes for large areas of what used to be our national life. So the people are right when they feel disenfranchised and when they feel that they cannot make any difference to the progress of our national decline.
Anyone who doubts the extent of our national decline should perhaps read the brief document entitled Better Government, published in January 2007 by the TaxPayers' Alliance. Apart from the statistics I have already quoted on education, the study shows the UK as providing the worst healthcare among the top 18 developed nations and as having the third highest crime rate. It also contains a penetrating analysis of how Sir Humphrey has now completely taken over from Jim Hacker and how our Ministers have become incapable of delivering the services the people need at anything like a reasonable cost. I shall put a copy in the Library and recommend it as essential reading.
That is some of the background to my noble friend's Bill. As to its detail, its most radical proposal is that binding national and local referenda should be introduced in this country, based largely on the model which has been working successfully in Switzerland for many years. To me, this is the only way in which the people can be reconnected with their democracy because it would get round behind the Westminster hen coop and force their will on those who are supposed to represent them.
I am of course aware that there will be a certain amount of harrumphing about Members of Parliament taking decisions on behalf of the ignorant people, but I suggest that the harrumphers are centuries out of date. Of course that theory was valid in the 18th and 19th centuries when most people could not read, but now they can, and modern technology brings them instantly up to date with events unfolding all over the planet. I submit, for instance, that if the system of referenda envisaged by the Bill had been in force at the time, we would not have gone to war with Iraq, nor would the present Government be allowed to drag on in office, and so on.
There is also evidence that the proposed system is very much wanted by the people. There is an excellent new organisation called the Campaign for Democracy, to be found at campaignfordemocracy.org.uk, which is finding 50 per cent support on the doorstep in the marginal constituencies for the introduction of binding national referenda. I understand that that is a very high figure.
Perhaps the Bill's next most radical proposal is that the House of Commons should be reduced in size to some 250 Members and left in charge only of national matters. Those matters are defined in the Bill as the national treasury; defence; foreign affairs; border control; criminal law; agriculture, fisheries and food; national energy and transport policy; the national education curriculum and teaching qualifications; and our medical and nursing qualifications.
MPs would be limited to a salary of £30,000 per annum, with £170,000 for their offices and a transparent system for all their expenses. So most MPs would have to do a proper job as well and live in the real world, as do Swiss MPs. The Commons would not need to sit for more than 100 days in a year unless in emergency.
All other areas of our national life would pass under the control of local government with local tax-raising powers. Both the Commons and local government would sit for staggered, fixed periods of five years. The Bill leaves the method of election open. No doubt that can be decided when we come to Committee, but personally I have always been in favour of some form of proportional representation, perhaps different ones for national local elections.
The Bill would require a Royal Commission containing a majority of MPs within two years on the usefulness of our 1,000-odd quangos and other public bodies, including the regional and national Assemblies and Parliaments. I am aware that the Conservative leadership has today promised a "bonfire of the quangos", but I recall Mr Major setting Tarzan-in the shape of Mr Michael Heseltine, as he then was-the task of cutting through the jungle of red tape. That jungle has grown apace, of course, until it now ensnares nearly every aspect of our lives. I fear that today's Tory plans will prove just as ineffective.
The Bill would also require the consolidation of all existing legislation dealing with the same area of law, a long-overdue reform. If we could have thought of a way of preventing any new law being introduced without the repeal of, say, half a dozen others, we would have included it in the Bill, but we could not.
Our political class does not seem to realise that the people are entirely fed up with the endless interfering, restrictive stream of legislation from Brussels and Westminster. The Bill would do much to end it and even reverse it. It would introduce five-year sunset clauses for all new legislation and a 10-year sunset clause for the Bill itself.
Finally, the Bill considers the reform, even the abolition, of your Lordships' House. The above system will take some time to bed down, so the Bill envisages a national referendum on the future of your Lordships' House within seven years of the Bill's passing. The Commons would have to consult with local authorities and this House and put four options to the people, including abolition and no change to the existing arrangements.
We submit that it is logical to leave reform of your Lordships' House to the end, even if it is the softest target for our present political leadership. First, we must retrieve our democracy from Brussels, then we must sort out the House of Commons, local government and our myriad quangos. Only when we have done
6 July 2009 : Column 523
I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, on bringing the Bill before the House and on having the opportunity to discuss it. His Constitutional Reform Bill is an interesting document. I agree with many of its provisions, particularly the repeal of the European Communities Act 1972. The House will recall that Second Reading was given to a repeal Bill some years ago, but unfortunately it was not proceeded with and brought to a conclusion.
I also believe in more use of referendums, nationally and locally, to give people more say in lawmaking and real participation in Government. I am enthusiastic about proposals to give more power to local authorities to do things not specifically reserved to Parliament. As a former leader of a county borough council, I know that independent, powerful, well financed local government is the real road to the people's democracy. That is where decisions are made and where people know what they want. They should be given more decision-making.
I agree that there should be fewer parliamentary seats, although I do not go all the way with the noble Lords, Lord Willoughby de Broke and Lord Pearson, in wishing to reduce the number to 250. That is perhaps taking things a bit too far, and I would have thought under the present circumstances that 450 would be a more appropriate number.
The reason I agree to some reduction of the numbers in the Commons is that they have lost so much of their power to Scotland, to Wales and, shortly, to Northern Ireland. Most of all, about 70 per cent of legislation now comes from Brussels. It is being made in a most undemocratic way, so we really do not need the present number of MPs in the Commons-649, I think it is. The job could be done very well with fewer, and I think the number of seats should be 450.
Then there is the consideration of Lords reform in the Bill after eight years. The best reform that could be made is probably just to leave things exactly as they are. As the House is constituted at present, it gives the House of Commons absolute sovereignty. This House is effectively an advisory body because, by the use of the Parliament Act, the Commons have sovereignty. Frankly, if they want to retain that sovereignty, they should leave things well alone. Any constitutional reform should take place only after long and mature consideration, wide consultation, intelligent debate and, above all, a people's referendum. The people's referendum in altering constitutional matters is very important. Parliament should not be allowed to hand over its sovereignty and lawmaking powers to anyone outside Westminster.
|Back to Table of Contents
|Lords Hansard Home Page