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Lord Monson: Does the noble Baroness not agree that the problem has little to do with the number of licensed premises in an area? The problem is caused by the time of day or night at which the premises disgorge their customers into the neighbourhood. Will local authorities be allowed, with the backing of their residents, to stipulate that such premises, however many there may be, must close at midnight, or thereabouts, if they wish?

Baroness Blackstone: No, my Lords. This is a deregulatory Bill. I set out clearly at Second Reading that there was a White Paper and extensive consultation, after which it became clear that there is a wish for wider opportunity for some licensed premises to open for longer hours than at present. There are good reasons for this, which relate to what we have just been debating. Binge drinking before an arbitrary closing time causes as many problems as it prevents.

5 p.m.

Baroness Buscombe: I thank the Minister for her response, which, as she said, was intended to clear up a number of misunderstandings. Indeed, there is obviously a misunderstanding between all noble Lords who have spoken and the Minister. We are not

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debating the cumulative effect; that debate will come later in the proceedings. The noble Lord, Lord Monson, is absolutely right to say that this has nothing to do with the argument about whether we are talking about one or a thousand premises in an area. We are talking about one of the four licensing objectives in the Bill—namely, the prevention of crime and disorder; public safety; the prevention of public nuisance; and the protection of children from harm. With these amendments we are seeking clarity as regards the meaning of,

    "the prevention of public nuisance".

I was much disturbed by the Minister's response. She explained that the term of "public nuisance" as one of the licensing objectives extends only as far as the behaviour—the activities—within the premises, and said that what happens beyond the premises is a matter of personal responsibility. That simply is not true. A publican can become criminally responsible if he serves someone who has had too much to drink in the knowledge that he or she will subsequently get into a car and drive beyond the premises. Indeed, there are a number of ways in which a publican can be held criminally responsible for the behaviour of someone within his premises, and beyond.

The debate is about what we mean and understand by the phrase "public nuisance". In a sense, it is about premises being open for 24 hours. It is not necessarily about isolated events that take place at a certain time. I shall try to respond to the comments made by a number of noble Lords in an effort better to explain what the amendments seek to achieve. We are talking about the potential for 24 hours of opening time. The noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, is absolutely right in what he says. Notwithstanding the fact that most publicans will not want their premises to remain open 24 hours a day, they will seek to obtain such a licence in the event that they should wish, on occasion, to remain open for as long as it is economically and socially viable for them to do so. We are talking about the impact, the effect, of the harm on the neighbourhood night after night; in other words, the disturbance of the peace.

I referred earlier to a meeting chaired by my noble friend Lady Hanham where a police officer said, "Alcohol equals crime and disorder". Many examples have been given in this afternoon's debate, especially by the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, of the number of incidents, or activities, that can often lead, night after night, to both crime and disorder from one, or many, premises. It is most important to try to pin down as early as possible in our debate the intention in terms of the ability of local authorities to respond to, or impose, the licensing objectives when seeking to protect the interests of local communities.

As I said in my opening remarks, the reference in the Explanatory Notes to the meaning of the term "public nuisance" is too vague; it is too broad. I make no apology to my noble friend Lord Onslow for these amendments. We need such amendments, because they will enable us to understand the parameters involved. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Clarke of Hampstead, for his support of Amendment No. 68.

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The noble Lord must forgive me for the legalese that I used when introducing the amendment. My purpose is principally, and quite rightly, to pin down the Government and ensure that they clarify the meaning of "public nuisance", as long as it remains in the Bill in its current form. Otherwise, once the Bill is enacted, local authorities and the police may find themselves faced with great difficulties when seeking to protect the quality of life of communities.

At the moment there is the possibility of seeing the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, dressed in his pyjamas—silk ones, it is to be hoped—at a certain hour of night seeking to stop this nuisance continuing night after night in the area where he lives. But at what time of night could the noble Lord sensibly go out in the future? We should remember that this Bill, which we support in principle, will allow licensed premises to remain open for 24 hours a day.

The noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall, asked whether the Bill contains powers to deal with the radical change in our culture to the 24-hour night-time economy. The Bill is unclear on the subject of such powers. Yes, as the noble Lord, Lord Tope, said, local authorities can and do make sensible decisions; for example, when discussing planning matters. However, they can do so only if the mechanisms and powers are in place to enable them to respond to reasonable objections. In fact, the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, put it very well when he said that what we are talking about is the power of "reasonable objection".

Some noble Lords seem to believe that the amendments now before the Committee are not quite right; some believe that they are too narrow, while others think that they are, perhaps, too broad. We are looking for the same outcome: we are all concerned about the real impact that this legislation will have on our local communities. We all need to be sure that local authorities, and the police, will have the proper powers to deal sensibly with these changes because they will make a difference. As I said on Second Reading, we have no idea what the effect of the Bill on our communities will be. This is a shot in the dark. It is one that we are all keen to take, but one about which we are deeply concerned. Although the industry will have the opportunity to develop premises to meet the needs, the wishes, and the desires of all of us to have liberalised licensing laws, at the same time we must ensure that it will not compromise too much. The balance must not be too unfair with regard to all of us when we are wearing our hats as local residents, whether it be in our towns, in our cities, or in our rural communities.

We are seeking to understand and to strike a balance with regard to this licensing objective. We should remember that it is one of the key aspects of the Bill. I am sorry, but I believe that the Minister has failed to respond to our concerns. However, I do see a glimmer of light in relation to her closing remarks on planning. I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her reference to,

    "improving the integration of the planning and licensing regimes".

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We welcome that move, but we need to be sure that that improvement will not mean that licensing authorities will be afraid to grant such licences to further premises because of the possible impact on the local community. It would be preferable if we had a clearer understanding of the phrase "public nuisance" and of the position of local communities under the Bill, rather than a clampdown within local authorities because they are afraid of the possible effect on their local residents if more premises licences were granted to the industry. There is a balance to be struck in that respect.

I note that paragraph 14 of the Framework for Guidance—which some of us have managed to find, and which contains so much of the meat of the Bill's implications—states that the guidance,

    "would, for example, provide for a proper separation of the planning and licensing regimes to avoid duplication and inefficiency".

That seems to conflict entirely with what the Minister has just said about the need to improve integration of planning and licensing regimes.

Baroness Blackstone: I think that what "improvement" means here is avoiding duplication, where it currently unfortunately exists, but maintaining a sensible integration where, as I mentioned in replying to the debate, that is beneficial to the local community.

Baroness Buscombe: I thank the Minister for her clarity in responding to my comment. I hope that there will be some thought about how the arrangements are really going to work. I find her words about improving the integration of planning and licensing regimes encouraging, but I wonder whether the forthcoming planning Bill will reflect the need for some form of integration. As matters stand, and as so much of the framework for guidance stands, it is unclear how the arrangements are going to work. Nevertheless, I find definitely encouraging what I see as something of a concession. It is also a move for which local authorities, in particular, have been asking.

I have taken enough of the Committee's time. I am grateful to the many noble Lords who took part in this important debate on the licensing objectives. However, many questions have not been answered satisfactorily. Unless the Government table some welcome amendments before Report, we shall most certainly return to the issue at that stage. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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