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Standing Committee D
Thursday 10 April 2003
[Mr. Joe Benton in the Chair]
Authorised persons, interested parties and responsible authorities
Amendment proposed [this day]: No. 11, in
clause 14, page 9, line 14, at end insert—
'( ) a body which—
(i) represents those who, in relation to any such area, are responsible for, or interested in, matters relating to the protection of children from harm, and
(ii) is recognised by the licensing authority for that area for the purposes of this section as being competent to advise it on such matters,'.—[Dr. Howells.]
Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.
The Chairman: I remind the Committee that with this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Government amendment No. 15.
Clause 143 stand part.
Clause 151 stand part.
The Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting (Dr. Kim Howells): I was about to sum up. I shall be brief, as I know that the hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Moss) wants to get to other business on the agenda. I apologise to the Committee for not making available the guidance that several hon. Members have requested. I assure them that it will be issued soon, as the latest meeting of the working group on children's interests took place yesterday afternoon. We are working hard on such matters.
The hon. Gentleman asked why the Bill is silent about the access of children to premises. In the first instance, the applicant for a licence will have to decide whether he wishes to allow children on to the premises. That will be shown in his application. The application will then be notified to the responsible authorities, and the experts—which, if our amendment is accepted, will include child protection agencies and the police—will make representations. The licensing authority has a statutory obligation to have regard to the guidance, and it must provide written reasons for departing from it that can be challenged.
Mr. Malcolm Moss (North-East Cambridgeshire): Can the Minister tell us when we will receive the guidance notes, so that we can use them as a basis for drafting amendments for clauses 143 and 151?
Dr. Howells: I cannot give the hon. Gentleman a specific date, but I assure him that it will be as early as possible. Yesterday afternoon's meeting with the working group on children's interests was very
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productive. I shall try to get him some information shortly.
An hon. Member asked for examples of premises to which it is reasonable to expect children to have access, such as cafes, restaurants, certain pubs and some hotels. A wedding between two 16 or 17-year-olds could pose the problem of newlyweds being barred from their own wedding reception. Cinemas and theatres are also important.
The hon. Member for North Devon (Nick Harvey) spoke about children and operating schedules. If a licensee does not wish to admit unsupervised children, he or she will not have to say anything about the steps that they would take to promote the protection of children from harm. All that they will need to say in the operating schedule is that they do not propose to admit children. It is as simple as that. We have had a fair discussion on the matter, so I hope that the Committee will accept the Government amendments.
Mr. Moss: I am grateful to the Minister for that short but helpful contribution. We look forward to receiving the guidance as soon as possible—at the end of the recess would be perfectly acceptable, so that we have time to work on the matter when we return. Some issues need further discussion, but we can approach those from a different angle. This is a vexed subject, but we must attempt to ensure that children are protected at all times. We shall not oppose the Government's amendments.
Amendment agreed to.
Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster): I beg to move amendment No. 122, in
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Amendment No. 182, in
Amendment No. 183, in
Mr. Field: Amendment No. 122 adds to the list of responsible authorities
''the principal litter authority for the area''.
I am sure that the Minister is aware that the city of Westminster won the title of Britain's cleanest city at the annual awards ceremony of the British Cleaning Council, which was held in Birmingham a fortnight ago. That will undoubtedly elicit great congratulations from him. Westminster city council has overall responsibility for cleaning, although it contracts out its refuse collection function.
The Bill as it stands—following consideration in the House of Lords—will allow local authorities to consider the impact of a licence application on matters such as public order, noise, health and pollution, but those are by no means the only
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impacts of licensed premises on local quality of life. A street cleansing authority should be able to make a relevant representation on or objection to a licensing matter under clause 14.
I had hoped that the Government amendment allowing the local planning authority to make representations or objections would extend that far, but it encompasses only matters covered by the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. In other words, a local planning authority would have quite a narrow focus for its objections to a licensing application, and that would not include the full range of activities undertaken by a litter authority. That is the main reason for our amendment.
Let me put the matter in context. The level of night-time activity in the west end of London has increased significantly over the past decade or so. That is clear to anyone who was familiar with London's nightlife in the 1980s. The Minister may slightly predate that period, as I recall his heyday in the Hornsey college of art during the great student unrest of 1968, so he would not recognise the current state of matters in the west end of London.
As recently as 1986—merely 17 years ago—there were only 17 licensed night cafes in the city of Westminster. By 1992—barely a decade ago—that figure had risen to 80, and today there are 158 licensed night cafes. There has also been a significant growth in the number and capacity of premises that are licensed for liquor and entertainment. As I mentioned, centres of night-time entertainment such as Leicester square and parts of Soho are thronged with people well into the early hours of the morning. As a consequence, far more night-time litter and refuse is generated, and at the same time the environment has become one in which it is harder to provide cleansing and refuse collection services.
I spend a lot of my time in my constituency—and I have rather more excuse than the Minister for doing so. At 8.15 last Saturday morning, I decided, partly with duty in mind, to head over to Soho and Covent Garden. The clean state of the streets was very evident. Five or six hours earlier, they would have been full of litter—general refuse such as bottles, cigarette packets and containers from fast food outlets. Westminster city council and, more importantly, the contractor do a terrific job as the local litter authority.
The standards that the city of Westminster aspires to achieve are set out in the leaflets published for every ward. They stipulate the hours during which street cleansing is carried out on a street-by-street basis. During those hours, the contractors are supposed to maintain the streets to what is described as a grade A standard—in other words, to keep them entirely free of litter. If the condition of a street falls below that, the contractor is obliged to attend within an hour and restore it to the full standard. That standard applies in much of the west end 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It is a level of service that is considerably in excess of what is required under the Environmental Protection Act 1990.
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That standard is probably replicated in many other large towns and cities that experience stress problems, particularly during the summer time. I accept that there are some practical limitations on the achievement of consistently high street cleansing standards in a busy metropolitan area. It has long been recognised that, in certain parts of Westminster at certain times of day, the sheer density of people is such that it is physically impossible to maintain a thorough cleansing regime. It then becomes especially important that the contractors can return to the scene, once the density of people decreases, to restore an acceptable standard of cleanliness.
Those conditions, long recognised in some of the busier shopping streets, are now also experienced in parts of the west end at night. At certain times of the year, parts of the west end, including Leicester square, and the busier streets of Soho, are so thronged with people that it is difficult or impossible to maintain them to grade A standard. Moreover, given the narrowness of some of the streets and courts in central London, it would be inappropriate to use mechanised equipment there.
Manual sweeping is rendered more difficult by the crowds at late hours of the night or, more accurately, the early hours of the morning. There are difficulties in using brooms on pavements crowded with people, many of whom may be in an inebriated, or perhaps a semi-inebriated, state. At such times, the most that can realistically be expected is that litter is picked up, to maintain the levels of street litter within reasonable bounds. I hope that, from what I have said, I have convinced the Minister that the litter authority has an important role to play as one of the responsible authorities.
We have considered other provisions that cover the chief officer of police and the fire authority. It is clear that cleansing contractors have to deal with large quantities of waste deposited on our streets during the hours of darkness. The operations required to clean London streets at the end of an evening entail sweeping, flushing and pressure-washing, which cannot be carried out when the streets remain busy with people. It would not be reasonable to expect Westminster council or any other authority to complete cleansing arrangements of that nature without a window of opportunity—a few hours—between the end of the night's entertainment and the beginning of the next working day.
That is part of the reason why we want the principal litter authority to become a responsible authority for the purposes of the clause. Obviously, it is authorised to do its day-to-day work, but it should be regarded as an interested and responsible party for the purposes of the planning application. It is sometimes argued—by a number of applicants in the city of Westminster, at least—at licensing hearings that the state of west end streets has less to do with the activities of licensed premises than with the efficiency of the city council's cleansing operation. However, it is clear from what I have said, and anyone who visits those streets in the early hours of the day will confirm, that the city council does a terrific job, albeit by passing on that
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authority on a day-to-day basis to contractors under the usual legislation.
The street cleansing and waste collection service, rather than the city council itself, holds a charter mark. For that reason, it is all the more important that it is the principal litter authority, rather than the city council, that should be the responsible authority for the purposes of clause 14. The growth of the night-time economy has added a significant burden to the council's cleansing services over the past decade or so. The present construction of the contract in Westminster, which is replicated in various London boroughs, puts the bulk of the additional financial burden on the contractor. It is therefore in the contractor's interest to ensure that the state of the streets is satisfactory and that there is a sensible regime, given their real concerns and constraints during their day-to-day business.
I hope the Minister will give considerable thought to our amendment, because it reflects the fact that many of the duties are now contracted out. It is not enough simply to say that environmental health officers may object under the current terms to the pollution and harm done to children's health, and that they therefore have some locus standi under clause 14. It is not clear whether local authority street cleansing services would be able to make such strong representations. Representations could be made to the local authority, but surely such services should have the opportunity to object in their own right, so that the streets of our main cities can remain clean.
I consider that to be in the interests of residents, but also in the interests of any commercial quarter. Without a regime that allows for the proper cleansing of our streets in central London and if the state of those streets becomes increasingly bad, we shall soon find that much of the income from tourism, which goes into so many parts of our economy, will be diminished. If that happens, the hotel businesses, and much of the other business in the west end, would quickly think about moving away.
I hope that the Minister will give serious thought to ensuring that among the responsible authorities there could be a principal litter authority. I do not expect that that would be a grave concern, or that it would add more bureaucracy to the Bill, and I suspect that only in a relatively small number of cases would a litter authority want to have the locus standi.
The situation in the streets of central London may not be unique, but it is fairly unusual. We are now ensuring that there is compulsory competitive tendering and such facilities are contracted out, away from the local authorities' environmental health departments. Thus it makes sense that environmental health departments should be extended to become litter authorities. That would make sure that they had their say in protecting the general quality of life, and ensuring that commercial facilities were maintained.