Clause 45 - Closure of noisy premises

Anti-social Behaviour Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 3:15 pm ar 20 Mai 2003.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Mr Matthew Green Mr Matthew Green Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol, Ludlow 3:15, 20 Mai 2003

I beg to move amendment No. 260, in

clause 45, page 34, line 35, leave out 'public'.

Photo of Mr James Cran Mr James Cran Ceidwadwyr, Beverley and Holderness

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 261, in

clause 46, page 35, line 16, leave out 'public'.

Photo of Mr Matthew Green Mr Matthew Green Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol, Ludlow

The amendments are related. They are intended to make this part of the Bill more effective. The Local Government Association suggested them, arguing that

''The word 'public' should be removed as it is an inaccurate reference. Most 'nuisances' particularly in regard to noise are classified in law as 'private' rather than 'public' nuisances. For a nuisance to be public there has to be other issues in addition to noise involved such as rubbish, odour etc.''

The LGA stated:

''The use of the word 'public' effectively cancels out the new powers granted by the clause to local authorities as most noise nuisances are private. As a result these powers would most likely be infrequently used and thus not tackling the real issue. Removing the word public will give local authorities clear powers to make a closure order in relation to premises where both private and public nuisance is being caused.''

Perhaps the Minister will tell me that that is nonsense and that the problem does not exist. However, on the assumption that we are trying to make this part of the Bill work, I hope that he will consider the amendments.

Photo of John Randall John Randall Ceidwadwyr, Uxbridge

Is the gist of the hon. Gentleman's argument that the clause would be more effective if it were to state simply that

''a . . . nuisance is being caused''?

Photo of Mr Matthew Green Mr Matthew Green Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol, Ludlow

Yes.

As I said, the LGA helped with the amendments. It suggested that the word ''public'' should be removed because that would enable local authorities to use this part of the Bill more effectively. It is possible that the advice that I have received is wrong. If that is the case, I am sure that the Minister will tell me so.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Ceidwadwyr, Surrey Heath

I can be brief, although as the amendments are minor, we could have a stand part debate on the clause.

I too received the LGA briefing-as, no doubt, have many other Committee members. It states that although the suggested closure powers for noisy premises relate only to public nuisance, most noise nuisances are private nuisances. Under the clause as drafted, the usefulness of the power is limited, and the LGA wants it to be extended to include private nuisances. That is worthy of debate. I will listen with interest to what the Minister has to say in response to the Liberal Democrat amendments. After that, we might deal with some of the wider issues on noise nuisance in the stand part debate.

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

Clause 45 gives a power to local authority chief executives to issue closure notices to licensed premises from where noise is causing a public nuisance and where the closure of the premises is necessary to prevent the nuisance. The power can be delegated to environmental health officers under clause 46.

The wording of clause 45 on the power to issue closure orders, including the reference to public nuisance, is the same as the police powers to close premises under the Licensing Bill. The term ''public nuisance'' has been used in clauses 45 and 46 because it has wide meaning in common law, including nuisance caused to a section of the public. The power relates only to licensed premises and is not designed to deal with disputes between individual neighbours where noise might cause a private nuisance. It would not be appropriate to give EHOs a power of closure wider than the powers that have already been given to police officers.

I say to the hon. Member for Ludlow that the normal powers, such as noise abatement procedures, can still be used against licensed premises that are causing a private nuisance to a single near neighbour. In the clause, we are talking about the power to close a

premises forthwith. We have already given that power to the police and we are now potentially extending that to a delegation of EHOs. That is only appropriate where there is a nuisance that clearly goes beyond a private nuisance.

As I said, other abatement powers are still available whereby people can go in and tell those on the premises what they have to do to respond adequately to a complaint and give them time to do so. We hope that those powers will be enforced properly. The new power will mean immediate, forthwith closure and should be considered only where there is clear public nuisance.

Photo of Mr Matthew Green Mr Matthew Green Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol, Ludlow

The Minister has gone a long way to satisfy me that it is appropriate to keep the word ''public'' in the clause. It was important, however, to ask why it should be kept. The circumstances in which the Government intend the powers to be used have been made clear and make a lot of sense. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Ceidwadwyr, Surrey Heath

I will not take up much of the Committee's time, because the basic principle underlying the clause is good and I have no doubt that the chief executives of my two local authorities-Surrey Heath and Guildford, one of which is entirely in my constituency and one of which is partly in it-will find the additional power useful. I have often complained in the past, as the Minister has cause to know, that the Government are laying more and more duties on local authorities without providing the funds for them. In this case, I can genuinely say that the power to make closure orders will be useful to chief executives of local authorities. I have no doubt that it will be used on occasion.

Committee members will have noticed that my hon. and right hon. Friends and I tabled a couple of amendments that were not selected, although they appear on the amendment paper. It would be out of order for me to speak to them since they have not been selected-I must confess to some puzzlement about that. I shall seek expert advice from the Clerk to find out why after the sitting. The fact that we tabled a couple of amendments shows that we were interested in the clause. We were trying to explore the Government's thinking.

There is an issue about subsection (2), which states:

''This subsection applies to premises if-

(a) a premises licence has effect in respect of them, or

(b) a temporary event notice has effect in respect of them.''

I wonder whether that limitation on a potentially useful power to a local authority chief executive is needed. The Minister partly dealt with that in responding to the Liberal Democrat amendments to the clause. We are trying to deal with antisocial behaviour, and as constituency MPs we all receive letters from people complaining about noisy events, but some of the most significant events that take place are completely unlicensed. I am talking about a situation where there is no premises licence or

temporary event notice. I received some letters a year ago about an illegal rave where some people invaded a factory unit, took it over and held an illegal rave. I am sure that the chief executive would have loved to have the power to issue a notice to make the premises subject to this order at that time, because the premises were otherwise empty.

I hear what the Minister says: that the provision is intended to be limited to licensed premises. Will he say a little more about why it cannot be made wider? Will the Government keep it under review? It is the kind of issue that may be raised in another place, where colleagues will ask, ''If we are doing this anyway in statute, why not make it a wider application?'' That is the point I wanted to make during the clause stand part debate. I will listen with interest to what the Minister has to say.

Photo of John Randall John Randall Ceidwadwyr, Uxbridge

My hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath touched on the issue I wanted to raise: illegal raves. I have had many problems with noise from unlicensed premises on which people are effectively trespassing. In such cases it is difficult to identify the owner-the problem often arises on a weekend or something like that. Both the police and the local authority seem-I am not an expert on the matter-to pass the buck of responsibility between each other while the poor neighbours have to suffer intolerable disruption over the weekend.

I understand why the Bill includes the provision, but many people want to know why there is an omission under the clause headed ''Closure of noisy premises'', in that it deals strictly with licensed premises. It is the illegal side of things where one does not have much power. Without reopening the rural-urban debate, illegal raves can take place in an urban setting but equally people can set up on a field somewhere. Relatively few people are affected, but it is still be a nightmare for them. I was hoping to see such provision-it may be somewhere else in the Bill, and I will have a quick flick through, but I do not think that it is.

We write to the Department complaining about such problems and it says, ''Well, we're looking at it.'' We may have a good opportunity to deal with the issue on Report-or, if the Government cannot look at it by then, perhaps in the other place. It is a matter of great interest to many of our constituents.

Photo of James Paice James Paice Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I welcome the clause. There is no doubt that noisy premises, be they pubs or clubs, can cause immense aggravation and social nuisance in some parts of the country. It might be churlish to say so, but it would have made more sense to put the provision into the Licensing Bill, which gives the premises licences in the first place. It would seem more logical to put the power to remove the licence in the same Bill. Be that as it may, it is an important power.

My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge expressed the concern that the provision does not address the problem in both town and country of unlicensed activities. A year or so ago a farmer found a rave going on in his barn. To stop it, he turned off the

power, but the police, rather than doing anything about the illegal rave taking place on his premises, promptly threatened him with prosecution under health and safety legislation for turning off the power. The issue needs to be addressed and I hope the Government will do that at some stage. It is an omission not only from clause 45, but from the noise section of part 7.

As far as the provision goes it is welcome-I was going to say ''wealthy'', because my eyes alighted on the fine not exceeding £20,000, which seems a significant sum to me, but is probably peanuts when seen in the context of the profitability of some nightclubs. Nevertheless, I recognise that it is necessary, although I hope that the Minister will understand that some of us think we should look more carefully at what is taking place in unlicensed premises.

That links to the issue of immediacy. If there is one theme that has run through debates on most parts of the Bill, it is that many of the powers being given to the police or local authorities cannot be used immediately. They require areas to be designated, and so on. In this case, the clause provides that

''The chief executive . . . may make a closure order''.

He is obviously not going to do so at 1 o'clock in the morning, when the problem arises. The Minister is nodding; perhaps he will come back to me if I have got that wrong. Most people suffering from antisocial behaviour want action then and there, not a lot of consultation before anything can be done and the necessary orders can be obtained. I hope that the Minister can allay that concern that he will that if an unacceptable noise is coming from a nightclub, the clause will allow it to be closed then and there, not at some stage in the distant future.

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 3:30, 20 Mai 2003

The Liberal Democrats also support the measure. I was thinking along the same lines as the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire in wondering why on earth the provisions were not in the Licensing Bill. In fact, I was about to seek some assurances that everything fully ties up, because it is quite difficult to marry two pieces of legislation that deal with the same important issues. In addition, I too think that there is a problem of the time that it will take to take action. Perhaps the Minister will expand on that.

I would like to say a little more about private nuisances at private events. I am not quite so concerned about an event held inside a barn, but in Poole a whole stadium area was invaded, and the noise went on for hours and hours-for the whole weekend-until it was finally brought to a halt. Clearly, there is a gap in the provision. Perhaps the Minister will tell us that there are powers that could be used, but many people in the vicinity did not get any sleep at all that night because of the loud music. I make those comments, but I am generally supportive of the measure, because the issue needs tackling.

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

The power in the clause is there for chief executives to delegate. We must think about to

whom the power to close premises will be delegated. The decision needs to be taken at a fairly senior-or the senior-level in an organisation. Having said that, the power can be delegated to environmental health officers and used immediately. Obviously, in some circumstances, those officers would need to act in conjunction with the police, who have the same power, but they can do what the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire urges us to enable them to do, even, if necessary, at 1 o'clock in the morning. The thought of my chief executive doing that herself at 1 o'clock amused me.

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

My hon. Friend makes the appropriate complaint of the council tax payer: why not?

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Ceidwadwyr, Surrey Heath

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way, because it gives me the opportunity to place on record something that impressed me in the past few days. I heard that one of the senior officers in my county council had agreed to attend a Sunday morning meeting with school governors. Sometimes, we do not pay enough credit to the most senior local authority officers. Because the buck stops with them, they often give up their own time, including at weekends, and sometimes work early in the morning or late at night. It is easy for us to forget that local authority chief officers sometimes work the most unsocial hours.

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

The hon. Gentleman is just trying to set me up. I hope that Hansard will not be too widely distributed; I can feel a letter from my own chief executive coming on, telling me how many hours she works. The hon. Gentleman has just tried to make that worse.

Raves are not necessarily an omission from the legislation, but the Opposition's points are valid. The matter would need to be dealt with in a new clause, and the size of the Bill, the logistics of getting it ready and parliamentary time must all be considered. However, raves are a relevant issue. Legislation was brought in to deal with them. Sections 63 and 65 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 created a power exercisable by the police to stop preparations for a rave and to require people to leave a site where they were waiting for a rave to begin and leave a site where a rave was taking place. A failure to comply with a direction was made an offence, with a power of arrest attached.

We have identified trends designed to circumvent the existing legislation. An increasing number of indoor events are held without permission. Organisers are restricting the number of people at such events to just under 100 to try to get round section 63 of the 1994 Act. Once a direction to leave a site is issued under section 63, rave organisers simply seek to move to a new venue a short distance away, often in another police area.

That issue must be dealt with, but it is not appropriate that the clause should cover it. We promise to deal with the matter as soon as parliamentary time allows. In the meantime, let me say that I know that it is a problem in many

constituencies. We should not allow the police or anybody else to tell citizens that they have no powers to bring relief in such circumstances-there are occasions when they can take action using other powers. We have not yet introduced specific parliamentary powers to deal with the trends and with the rave organisers, but we will do so as soon as parliamentary time allows.

Photo of John Randall John Randall Ceidwadwyr, Uxbridge

I am grateful to the Minister for saying that. That should be looked at urgently.

I wonder whether I may air another constituency problem, which I am sure will be shared, although I do not think it is covered by the relevant provisions. There is a considerable problem in a part of my constituency where many motor bike enthusiasts gather during the night, revving up their engines and so forth. There are not many powers that can be used to deal with such matters and I wonder whether anything could be done about that. The word ''premises'' is the problem. If that definition could be widened, it might provide some power to disperse those attending such events. The problem occurs on the Stockley bypass and, depending on the weather, it happens early in the year-around Easter-throughout the summer and on bank holidays. It is intolerable for people living nearby.

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

The hon. Gentleman may recall the commencement date for the powers in the Police Reform Act 2002. Those powers are intended to deal with nuisance created by off-road motor cycles.

Photo of John Randall John Randall Ceidwadwyr, Uxbridge

I am trying to think whether the powers extended to the creation of off-road nuisance. I will write to the hon. Gentleman if we have not covered that. There are powers in section 59 of the 2002 Act to deal with vehicles causing nuisance. Those are in force now, and they cover situations on or off the road. Let me write to the hon. Gentleman and set out exactly what are those powers, so he can use the letter in his constituency. There is clearly a problem of awareness about the new legislation that is being implemented.

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I should like to make a point that reinforces what all hon. Members have been saying. I recently encountered a problem on an industrial site. I was a member of the Standing Committee on the Police Reform Bill, and in the end I got from the House of Commons Library the full notes on the new powers in the 2002 Act and sent those to the police. That is ludicrous-the police need to know more about what powers are available.

Photo of Mr James Cran Mr James Cran Ceidwadwyr, Beverley and Holderness

Order. Mr. Ainsworth, I do not want us to be answering constituency questions all afternoon which are not strictly germane to the matter under consideration. I hope that hon. Members will bear that in mind.

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I will, Mr. Cran.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) mentioned the extension of some of the powers that have been introduced over a relatively short period. Those powers must be presented in a usable way and promoted so that we are not relying

solely on the management techniques of the country's 43 police forces. We aim to intervene by making knowledge of the law-and changes to the law-more widely known than they obviously are at present. The problem that the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Mrs. Brooke) raised is a genuine one.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Llafur, Gedling

I wish to pursue that point. Clause 45, like many others, introduces new powers. We have just heard another example of a power that is unknown. Unknown powers are commonplace, and we do not wish those in clause 45 to go the same way. The fact that local authorities, the police and other agencies simply do not know that they have certain powers is a real issue, and we simply must find a way to ensure that people understand those in clause 45, as well as all the others that we are creating.

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I accept that point entirely. We must address issues that are of concern, but we must also make certain that our agenda is being followed up. I give my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole a commitment to consider how we can intervene to raise awareness of the changes that have been made and the powers to deal with the problems that exist.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 45 ordered to stand part of the Bill.