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Licensing Bill

June 24, 2003

Licensing Bill

I endorse the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing, West (Peter Bottomley), as there is a great danger that we are rushing the provision through.

I wish to address the grave concerns raised by Conservative Members. From a constituency perspective, I am particularly worried about the amendment to exempt premises serving fewer than 200 people from measures dealing with public nuisance and the need to preserve children from harm whenever the premises are open. I share the grave concerns of the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) about the Lords amendment. However, I accept the case for that amendment presented by my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Moss) – at least it had the advantage of ensuring that events finished by 11.30 pm instead of going on until any time, as is now being proposed.

The Minister was disingenuous when discussing Westminster city council’s objections to the Lords amendment, as 62 per cent. of premises accommodate fewer than 200 people. Westminster city council is even more concerned about the proposals that we are discussing tonight, as are the many local residents and residents’ associations with which I, like the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, have worked closely. The majority of licensed premises in central London accommodate fewer than 200 people, and the noise nuisance consequences of any entertainment, which could be music or dancing but under the sweeping nature of the amendment could also include the nude entertainment that is part and parcel, albeit a small part, of local entertainment in Soho, would be exempt. We must look at what will happen in practice. All that residents can do is suffer public nuisance, then call for a review. Only then can they ask a licensing authority to disregard the exemption.

It is bizarre, to put it mildly, that the amendment is being rushed through. There is less than 24 hours to consider it, and there was probably not much more time for the hapless officials in the Department to prepare it. I hope that, even at this late hour, the Minister will think twice, otherwise I fear that the matter will ping-pong between the Commons and another place.

I spoke to Westminster city council as a matter of urgency late this afternoon, and its reaction was not enthusiastic. It feels that the provision is complicated and reactionary, and would put even more pressure on it. The same would apply to the London borough of Camden and other central London authorities, which would not have the necessary support or resources. We discussed the transitional arrangements on Report, and a vote took place, which we could not win. I know that the matter will be discussed again in another place. I hope that the Minister will think twice about this amendment, which I suspect was rushed through and which promises to be extremely damaging.