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Lord Avebury: In Clause 8, as in Clauses 2 and 5, we find a sentence beginning with the preposition "but". I know I have already raised this, and the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, replied that he was not aware of any rule of grammar which prescribes that one should not begin a sentence with a preposition. The noble Baroness, having left school far more recently than her noble friend, may be able to remind us that such a rule exists. If I am correct in this, I think Parliament is setting a very bad example to our young people in the use of the English language when we contradict what they are told by their teachers.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I confess that I, too, have a difficulty in relation to the grammatical correctness of some of the provisions. I cannot say that my voice will have any influence, but I can certainly make the inquiry the noble Lord seeks. Whether the answer we receive will satisfy him I cannot say.
Lord Bridges: Perhaps I may offer a possible explanation to the noble Baroness. It seems to me that the use of conjunctions, as in this case, derives mainly from those who were subjected to tuition in classical languages. We were taught at school that there had to be a conjunction to relate one sentence to another. The Latin word most commonly used was tamen. But I agree with those who criticise this; if one eliminates all conjunctions from a piece of prose, it is generally improved. It was my practice, as an employee of the government, to do that.
We have dealt with the issue of negligence already, but we should be concerned that we do not appear to hold out the possibility that compensation might be available in circumstances in which, as far as I can see, there is no reason for compensation to be available. I do not have too much difficulty with someone who might be affected once a closure order is made and property has been closed up. It is conceivable that an innocent landlordhe would have had to be unaware that the offence was being committedwho is dependent on his rent income to live on, might be entitled to compensation. That is reasonable. However, I do not see how anyone can be entitled to compensation before a court actually makes an order and something is done. I believe that we should explore what the clause means.
Lord Hylton: The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, has raised a point about any person incurring financial loss as a result of a closure notice. It occurs to me that issuing a notice might affect a shop or other commercial activity immediately adjoining, or on the other side of an alleyway, or something of that kind. That might explain part of the clause.
The clause relates to compensation claims of those who claim financial lossa direct loss of incomein consequence of a closure notice or order. That matter would have to be proved on an evidential basis. In some cases, an owner may have taken all possible steps to control the behaviour of those on or in the premises, but have been entirely unsuccessful. For these cases, we have given the court the discretion to award compensation for loss of rental income or damage caused during the closure period.
I should like to make it clear that compensation is restricted to financial lossthe direct loss of incometo those innocent of all involvement, and does not allow for any other types of compensation. That certainly does not mean that compensation will be available where landlords have failed to take responsibility for their property. We are clear that owners should do absolutely everything possible to ensure that their property does not become a source of nuisance or disorder through the production, use or supply of drugs. We have framed the ability of owners to gain compensation with that in mind.
There will be no benefit to those who turn a blind eye to dealing, or profit from it. That should be a clear message. The clause ensures that that should not happen, and we want to be certain that it is not open to misuse. I understand the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith. It would appear very unjust, especially to those in the community who have been subjected to what sometimes feels like mayhem, that owners who have done nothing to control it but have simply taken the moneysometimes considerable sums of money for the use of the propertiesshould have that ability.
In reference to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, shops might suffer loss as a result of the service of notice through damage to, or disruption of, trade. As the noble Lord said, if that were to happen it would be right that they should be able to claim that the disruption had occurred and that they wished to be compensated. Of course, that would be down to evidence of financial loss, not loss of dealings. Shops would have to show clear evidence of that.
I hope that that explains the matter properly. There is a balance. On the one hand, there is the view taken by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, that we should be much more willing to compensate. On the other hand, there is the view taken by others that we should not pay a penny. We have tried to steer the middle course and to say that in appropriate cases there should be compensation. However, it is a narrow gateway and will be used only for those who have behaved properly, are innocent of any blame and have taken every step that they can to ensure that the activity does not take place. I hope that explanation satisfies noble Lords.
Lord Dixon-Smith: I hope that the Minister will forgive me. Although I understand completely what she says, she has not dealt with the narrow issue of compensation being available from the issue of the closure notice, rather than from when the closure has effect. I am bearing in mind that the case has to be heard by magistrates within 48 hours. I assume that if magistrates were to issue such an order, the police would act pretty quickly. I cannot believe that the case would have been brought if there was not a considerable degree of urgency on behalf of the whole neighbouring community.
I am asking about that little odditythat compensation is apparently available from the issue of the notice when, as far as I can see, apart from the fact that a piece of paper is flying around and people are informed that the process is going on, no other action has been taken. Any loss of income would actually occur from the date when the closure is effected. The same applies to my remarks on subsection (3).
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: The noble Lord's remarks are right in relation to the property itself. However, to use a previous analogy, a shop next door may be adversely affected by the service of the noticepeople may not want to come to it, or something like that. It would be difficult to prove, but if shopkeepers had a valid case and could put the evidence that since the notice was served all their custom had dried up and they had made no sales, we should at least give the court an opportunity to listen to them. They may have something valid to say and they may be innocent victims of what went on next door to them. Compensation from the perpetrator might not go amiss, if we got our hands on any ill-gotten gains.