|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Borrie: I disagree with the conclusion drawn by the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, as regards the suggested amendments. I listened to the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, and the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, with a great deal of sympathy for what they were saying. Of course, I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, that the issue of people enjoying themselves regardless of the people in the neighbourhood is not new. But certain features are new and some of them were emphasised most clearly by the noble Viscount. I may summarise it as "amplified" noise or music, which is fairly new.
There is a great deal of sympathy on this side of the ChamberI speak before the Ministerwith the view that there should be a stronger provision in the Bill requiring the licensing authorities to strike a proper balance between those who are engaged in drinking and being entertained, and local residents. But it is a major problem.
I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, on giving us the benefit of her researches into "public nuisance". I suggest that the jurisprudence for case law on the subject is not helpful because most of it is out of date and does not obviously deal with modern problems, many examples of which were given by her and the noble Viscount. A stronger provision is therefore needed.
I am not able to distinguish between the different amendments, but I ask my noble friend to take the matter away and come back with a provision which will help to ensure that the licensing authorities have a
Lord Cobbold: The important word in this discussion is "balance". Amendment No. 71 tries to define that in more elaborate terms, whereas the simple term "public nuisance" gives a wider element of discretion to the licensing authorities. I share the view of the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, that it is better that the decision about balance and the element of public nuisance should be made at the local authority licensing level. Their members will have local knowledge and they will be able to judge whether the balance is tipped one way or the other.
I became very concerned earlier when I heard legal precedents being quoted. I certainly would not be able to comment on them. The noble Earl, Lord Onslow, reminded us of Section 40 of the Army Act"conduct to the prejudice of good order and military discipline"which rang a bell. Being so familiar with charge 252 of that section of the Army Act may tell the Committee a little about my past!
Leaving that aside, other amendments in this group, in particular Amendment No. 68, seek to place the importance of the rights of residents within a community to enjoy security and peace in their homes, their streets and their communities as an objective of the proposed legislation. I speak in support of Amendment No. 68 and I shall not move my Amendment No. 77, as Amendment No. 68 goes wider than the terms of my amendment.
I believe that if this objective is not clearly spelt out, it will be difficult for people in communitiesthat is what we are talking about; not legal precedents but people in their homes suffering, sometimes night after nightto have very much confidence in what is being proposed. We have to say that part of the objective is the protection of their peace and their right to live peacefully in their home.
By including the protection of the community as an objective, it will enable the local authoritythe licensing authority in this casemore easily to take into account the effects on the local environment, including parks, streets and residences. Local authorities in areas right across the country face a constant struggle, especially at weekends, to get people away from the town centre late at night. There are often few night buses. In the area I know best, Camden, they run at the rate of one an hour. Demand for licensed taxis and minicabs in the area outstrips the supply.
No one can deny the problems caused in many parts of the country by a minority of irresponsible people leaving pubs and clubs. It happens not just in town centres. Since the publication of these amendments, I
Discussion has already taken place about the definition of "nuisance". You have only to ask a person who has had someone do foul things on their doorstep what is a nuisancethey will soon tell you. The serious nuisance of urination and vomit in walkways, in doorways, and the ever-present problem in some areas of drug abuse and serious assault are real issues for far too many people in our communities. Do not take my word for it. Go through some of the estates where people walk past other people's homes from the pub, club, or wherever they have been, and do these dreadful things.
For many years I lived on a housing estate in an area where I was also one of the local councillors. It was 20 years ago, but the problems I refer to today were evident then. From discussions I have had recently with people from local authorities, it is abundantly clear that the problems are very much worse today.
I believe that licensing authorities need to have as part of their duties the additional objective suggested in the amendment. They must have as a central part of their responsibilities the right of the community to live in peace.
I have mentioned the very real problems of drug offences and serious assaults. In Camden, where the police and the local authority work very closely and have made these priority issues, there are only two police officers stationed in the Camden Town area between midnight and 6 a.m. It would be interesting to know how many licensed premises already operate in the area.
I would ask the Minister to consider these amendments sympathetically. They do no more than make as an objective of the Bill what the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, said last Thursday in Committee. Referring to a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, he said that,
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: I believe that if this Bill is passed as currently drafted it will be a catastrophe for national amenity. I wholly agree with everyone who has spoken so far, and even with the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, who I believe managed to misrepresent his own position, because I do not think that he is content with the Bill as it stands.
The law as it stands does not afford sufficient protection to those who wish for normal sleep. Yet if the Bill is passed, with its encouragement of 24-hour licences and the statement in the framework document,
Perhaps I may quote from a document supplied by the Meard and Dean Street Residents' Association. It is a statement by the Director of Planning and Transportation of Westminster City Council on this very point. He said this,
I am sure that other Members of the Committee have, like me, sought to curtail noise at eleven or twelve at night. The only thing that works in the part of London in which I live is if I go down in my pyjamas, into the pub and up to the manager. That does cause a minor stir! If, in such a state, you ask very politely whether they might not turn the noise down, you do tend to get a rather shocked and co-operative response. Frankly, that is a rather extremist cause to pursue. The point I emphasise is that it is the early-hours drinkingwhich will not only be permitted but encouraged by the new regimethat will cause chaos, particularly in the provincial and rural parts of the kingdom.
It is not anti-social or disorderly or drunken behaviour that we are talking about here. It is merely normal behaviour. It is normal noise at abnormal times that will constitute the most severe disruption to sleep. I venture to suggest that there are few in this House, having the benefit of a country retreat which is next to or near a pub, who can look upon these proposals with equanimity.
I would draw the attention of the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, who made the point that public nuisance is enough for local authorities to judge, to the remarks sagely made by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe. Perhaps I may give one or two specific instances which I raised at Second Reading. It is public nuisance to carry on an offensive tradewe are not talking about that. We are talking about a normal trade, normally pursued; nothing anti-social; merely the opening and closing of car doors at three in the morning; people saying goodnight to each other across
Public nuisance is a disorderly housewe are not talking about that. It is acid house partieswe are not talking about them. As has been saidthe noble Lord, Lord Borrie, a distinguished lawyer, confirmed the pointthe threshold at which public nuisance bites is far higher than the amenity that we are all seeking to preserve.
Perhaps I may detain the Committee a little further in regard to some of the particularities of the Bill. So far we have largely been dealing with generalisations but I should like to explain to the Committee, and convince the Minister, that there must be change.
Clause 18 refers to "Determination of application for premises licence" and sets out the basis upon which any member of the public may make an objection to the granting of a premises licence. It states that the licensing authority,
Any licensee or brewer with any sense will apply for a 24-hour licence, which is what the framework document tells us we should be pushing for. The Minister shakes her head. She will have her turn; I have got mine. I believe that that is what most people will apply fornot because they intend to open their pubs for 24 hours a day but because now and then they may want to and do not want to go back to the licensing authority to be able to do so. Now and then a big coach party will come in at 10 o'clock at night; people will be drinking heavily at 12 o'clock, one o'clock, two o'clock and the profits will be rolling in. The licensee will wish to stay open, and who can blame him?
The Bill goes on to state that the only public objections which can be made to the licensing authority are those which are defined as "relevant representations". Those are themselves confined to representations about the likely effect of the grant of a premises licence on the promotion of the licensing objectives. This is a long way round to make absolutely plain that unless we change the licensing objectives there is no effective power of objection to the grant of a 24-hour licence. The licensing objectives refer only to public nuisance, and that is wholly inadequate to protect against ordinary conduct which is conducted at unordinary times to the detriment of local amenity.
I commend Amendment No. 71, in which I had a hand, because that seeks to balance the needs of residential amenity with the needs of leisure amenity, and puts it specifically in those terms. It is always difficult to define such inherently indefinable things as "leisure amenity" and "residential amenity", but the
Unless Amendment No. 71, or something very close to it, is incorporated, the Bill will destroy, in a way that many noble Lords may not realise, any power of reasonable objection on the part of any member of the public when any of these licences come up for review. That is why in opening I said that this would be a catastrophe for local amenity and would ultimately rebound on both us, as legislators, and on the licensing trade.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page