Clause 1 - The licensing objectives

Part of Gambling Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:45 am on 9th November 2004.

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Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport 9:45 am, 9th November 2004

I am delighted to debate amendment No. 1, which stands in my name and those of my hon. Friends. I hope that I will have the opportunity to say a few brief words about some of the other amendments in the group with which we have a great deal of sympathy.

Clause 1, ''The licensing objectives'', begins by stating:

''In this Act a reference to the licensing objectives is a reference to the objectives of—

(a) preventing gambling from being a source of crime or disorder, being associated with crime or disorder or being used to support crime''.

I doubt that there is a single member of the Committee who would have any concern about those words. However, I believe that we should add public nuisance to the list.

The Committee is well aware of the distinction between public nuisance and disorder. I have no doubt that the Minister, in looking for ways to suggest that the issue is already covered, will have considered the definitions of the two offences. Disorder, which is covered in the legislation, refers to a disturbance of the peace or public order. It is a criminal matter and, obviously, we hope that nothing in the Bill leads to an increase of it; we do not want increased disorder.

However, public nuisance is much more a civil offence. Depending on the definition that one uses, it is something that offends the public at large. The three categories in the clause do not cover the whole range of negative social consequences that could arise from gambling, and they do not offer much in the way of scope for local authorities that might understandably be concerned about the potential public nuisance effects of the introduction of a casino in their area. They do not have the opportunity to deal with that issue. Indeed, local authorities' policies, as we shall see, are fairly low down in the hierarchy of considerations.

The code of practice that will flow from the licensing objectives and the guidance that will come from the gambling commission should be drawn up with regard to those objectives, which should include the issue of public nuisance. Committee members do not need me to remind them of the sort of examples we might be talking about: fighting, shouting, loud car stereos and horns, car doors banging and all forms of antisocial behaviour.

Why is it important that we deal with that in the objectives? The answer is simple. As the Bill stands, the local authority is unable to take account of effects that may occur not in a new casino or on gambling premises, but further afield, outside those premises. It is crucial that local authorities have the opportunity to do so. Indeed, the Local Government Association said when it wrote to all Members about the Second Reading debate that the prevention of public nuisance should be a licensing objective:

''The licensing objectives set out in Clause 1 of the Bill do not address potential problems of nuisance arising in the street outside gambling premises. This is particularly likely late at night and when alcohol has been consumed. While the Environmental Protection Act 1990 places a duty on local authorities to deal with statutory nuisances arising from the premises itself, and to investigate residents' complaints, it is not possible to use this legislation to deal with street nuisance, even where the problem is directly attributable to a particular venue.''

Use of the Environmental Protection Act for such matters is therefore not possible. The LGA goes on to say:

''This omission will seriously hamper the ability of councils to ensure effective management of the environment around gambling premises and provides residents with little scope to make representations should street nuisance occur. The LGA believes that a new licensing objective of the prevention of public nuisance should be added to Clause 1.''

I entirely agree with that, which is why I have tabled the amendment.

I have a great deal of sympathy with the amendments tabled by others. I shall be interested to hear from the hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Moss) when he speaks to his amendments. I have some concern about amendment No. 37, which places a great deal of power in the hands of the chief constable; I believe that a wider range of opportunities should be available. I look forward to hearing the comments of the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) too.

I have huge sympathy for amendment No. 73. Committee members have made it clear that we all share the aspiration expressed by it. Whether the end of line 11 is the most appropriate place to insert the words is perhaps debatable, but we entirely support the sentiments behind it. I note, too, that there is an opportunity in debating the matter of public nuisance to consider some of the wider issues covered by the Bill.

I would like to get something on the record early on in order to secure a response from the Minister that might influence subsequent amendments. Many people are deeply concerned that the Government are quite rightly addressing in respect of the Licensing Act 2003 and related matters whether clubs and pubs should be able to stage special drinks offers such as happy hours and charge cheap prices. I am concerned about the potential for public nuisance partly because of the well established practice in casinos of offering cheap and often free drinks to some customers. If we find a solution to that problem along the same lines as the Government's solution to the problem in pubs and clubs, it may minimise the potential for public nuisance. Public nuisance, however, is different from disorder, and it is vital to include it in the Bill. That is why I am pleased to move the amendment.