Ken Livingstone’s campaign to stand as Labour’s London Mayoral candidate in 2012 is attracting an increasing number of Labour leading figures in London Government.
According to Labour List who are keeping a tally, he now has the support of six of the eight Labour members of the London Assembly: Len Duvall (Leader of the Labour Group on the Assembly), Nicky Gavron, Joanne McCartney, Murad Qureshi, Navin Shah and Val Shawcross.
He is also supported by six Labour Council Leaders (including the three women Leaders – Ann John in Brent, Claire Kober in Haringey, and Catherine West in Islington; along with Liam Smith in Barking and Dagenham, Julian Bell in Ealing, and Peter John in Southwark).
They are joined by four Labour opposition leaders (Croydon, Hammersmith and Fulham, Hillingdon, and Westminster) and another 35 Labour Councillors around the capital.
It is a pretty impressive cross-section – all of whom know how important it will be to have a strong and effective advocate for London as Mayor after the 2012 elections.
Speeches in the House of Lords are often extremely good: usually knowledgeable and well-informed; frequently incisive; and often very witty. However, they are rarely passionate.
Today – for once – there was passion in abundance, when Baroness Patricia Hollis rose to demolish the “spiteful” Government Bill that would deny Norwich (and Exeter) the status of being unitary authorities.
She was in magnificent form:
“My Lords, I declare an interest as former leader of Norwich City Council, and also a former Norfolk county councillor. Perhaps I may add that nothing I will say in any way casts aspersions on the integrity of my fellow Norfolk Peers or indeed on the Minister herself, whom I hold in high regard.
I fully accept that the judicial review has cut across this Bill, which means that we did not pursue the issue of hybridity and we did not argue the case before the Examiners. Not surprisingly, therefore, the examination was exceedingly short. We also accept that, together with the Minister, we need to clarify the electoral situation of councillors. However, the Bill is before us and that is what we are debating, so I want to say something about local government reorganisation more generally, and then analyse the reasons for what I regard as a spiteful little Bill.
In 1974, Norwich and Exeter had been unitary councils for more than 600 years. They had ratepayer democracy half a century before county councils were even invented. By the 1930s, Norwich County Borough not only exercised all of today’s district and county council functions, including the police but ran the massive non-voluntary hospitals and public health chunk of the future NHS, all of today’s Anglia water authority and the major utilities, as well as a large part of the social security system. Norwich’s budget would have been between £1.5 billion and £2 billion, I calculate in today’s prices, compared with our current non-housing budget of £50 million.
With that record, it is insulting when Eric Pickles of unitary Bradford, a mere village when Norwich was the second city of England, or the Minister, from the unitary London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, invented only in the 1960s, tell us that unitary status is fine for them but not for us. From 1888, when Norfolk County Council was invented, until 1974, almost every initiative of note in the county was pioneered by the city. That is what cities do.
We are the largest non-unitary authority in the country. We are already considerably larger than many existing unitary authorities. Our population will be 160,000 in eight years’ time. We have two cathedrals, two universities, a major FE college, an international airport, a thriving theatre and the greatest collection of medieval churches in western Europe. What are we lacking—apart, obviously, from the fact that Mr Pickles is not our MP? We have recently been shortlisted alongside Birmingham, Sheffield and Derry/Londonderry for the title of City of Culture. Disinterested observers might think that Norwich was up there with the major cities rather than down there with the rural district councils.
Into that respectful and complementary partnership between county borough and county council—at the time, I was a city councillor—came 1974. Peter Walker wanted unitary counties. I was a member of the AMA. We fought for, but failed to save, most of the county boroughs. The history of local government reorganisation since then has been that of remedying the folly of Peter Walker’s policies by both parties. In the early 1980s, the Conservatives got rid of the met counties and made Mr Pickles’ Bradford unitary. Whoopee! In the mid-1990s, as my noble friend said, the Conservatives, under David Curry and John Gummer, to whom I pay tribute, made a whole swathe of cities unitary: Leicester, Derby, Nottingham, York—all former county boroughs, like Norwich and Exeter—Milton Keynes, Peterborough and Basildon, which do not have such a history or track record. Norwich and Exeter were on that list. Norfolk should have come under the wire then, as the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, has agreed and admitted, but the county Tories in Norfolk fought it off.
That drive to unitary status as the most effective local government structure for cities continued under the Labour Government. My noble friend made this point very well: do your Lordships know of any counties that would now wish to turn the clock back to district councils for their cities? Does Derbyshire want to do that to Derby, Nottinghamshire to Nottingham, Leicestershire to Leicester, Buckinghamshire to Milton Keynes? No, they value and support their cities, recognising how much they bring to their county’s economy and growth. Why, by contrast, is Norfolk so bellicose and so fearful? I will come back to that.
Following the 2006 White Paper, 26 cities and large towns made their bid. The Boundary Committee was requested to consider Norwich’s and Exeter’s proposals, and twice, with unerring instinct, produced the only solution that none of the local authorities, including the county council in Norfolk, wanted: a return to a Peter Walker unitary county. However, the Boundary Committee would not listen, so JRs followed. As Paul Rowsell, the senior civil servant responsible, said in his court witness statement of 22 March this year, had the Boundary Committee reported on time, not nine months late, implementation would have already happened and this spiteful little Bill would not have seen the light of day. Had the Boundary Committee reported on time, the Secretary of State could, as the judge suggested, have consulted on the additional criteria, the JR would not have succeeded and, again, this spiteful little Bill would not have seen the light of day. Max Caller and his Boundary Committee team have wasted a lot time and money and have served local government very badly indeed.
So what are the professed reasons for this spiteful little Bill? Page 7 of the impact assessment—I had to request extra copies, but the Minister was good enough to put them into the Printed Paper Office—is headed “Rationale for Change” and is personally signed by the Minister as a fair and reasonable view of costs, benefits and impact. It gives four reasons for the rationale for the Bill. First, she says, it is in the coalition programme. So what? That programme was negotiated after the election by two minority parties and has no electoral mandate. In any case, as the noble Lord, Lord Low, pointed out in the Queen’s Speech debate, it is utterly at odds with the rest of the localism programme in the coalition programme.
Secondly, the Minister states that these two cities becoming unitary would be expensive and poor value for money, a point hammered home by the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor. For the first six years of transition, the total net non-discounted cost of Norwich and Exeter going unitary comes to around £300,000 per authority, or £50,000 per year per authority. The impact assessment allows, grudgingly, that there should be savings thereafter but, oddly, it does not estimate them. Funny, that. Your Lordships might just think it relevant that over the following six years those savings would equate to at least £20 million or upwards and would grow each year thereafter. These figures are certified by Deloitte and, for what it is worth, they have been crawled over by me. Will the Minister tell me how an expenditure of £300,000 in the first six years to generate savings of £20 million or more the next six years is expensive and poor value for money? For the impact assessment to give costs, but not savings over time, means these statistics are not worth while.
Thirdly, the Minister buttresses her case, which was much quoted by the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor, by quoting the Permanent Secretary as saying that a unitary Norwich and a unitary Exeter represent poor value for money, and that “therefore” stopping these unitaries is good value for money, but compared with what? What the Minister does not say, and did not say in her impact analysis or in her speech today, what the impact assessment should have said and what the House is entitled to know is that the Permanent Secretary, when arguing that city unitaries were poor value for money, was comparing them not with the status quo of the Bill, as you might expect, given that it is supposed to be an impact analysis, but with unitary counties, which are not introduced by the Bill, which were indeed the cheapest option, but which nobody but the Boundary Committee and the Permanent Secretary appear to want.
The Permanent Secretary’s comparison is completely invalid. Indeed, it is worse than that because what the Minister does not tell us, which again the House should surely know, is that her solution—the status quo—is the most expensive of the three options. It is far more expensive than unitary Norwich and Exeter, as I have shown. On costs versus benefits, it is far more expensive than the Permanent Secretary’s unitary Norfolk. Her version of value for money is to save £300,000 for each authority over six years and forego savings of £20 million over the next six years. That is not mentioned—funny, that.
As Ministers, many of us have signed impact analyses. We know what we are talking about, so I say with the utmost seriousness that this impact analysis is greatly misleading, makes false comparisons and suppresses relevant information. I am sad that the Minister, whom I respect most profoundly, could put her name to it. It really will not do.
The fourth of the Minister’s arguments is in the rationale on page 7 of the impact statement. She argues that the 2006 non-statutory criteria were not followed. As we argued at that time, additional criteria were added: that is, a sensible response to the recession. The High Court judge, Mr Justice Ouseley, has nullified the orders because the DCLG failed to indicate in December 2009 that “compelling reasons” such as the recession might lead to a proposal being accepted that did not meet all the 2006 proposals. The Boundary Committee’s tardiness has meant there was no time for further consultation.
We, the city of Norwich, have been urged to appeal on constitutional grounds that such action—striking down not just the actions of the Secretary of the State, which can happen, although infrequently, but the will of Parliament itself—has not been taken. I may be wrong, but I have been told that such action has not been taken by any judge hitherto below the level of the Law Lords and now the Supreme Court. At £200,000 or so, Norwich cannot afford the risks of challenge. Of course, the JR reviews the decisions of a Minister, but one High Court judge striking down the express will of Parliament over seven hours of debate is somewhat unsettling.
In consequence, we did not pursue the issue of hybridity: that Norwich and Exeter were being singled out for unfavourable treatment compared with the other authorities that had gone through. That argument has also gone by default. Why, then, are the Government so determined that Norwich and Exeter in particular should not be unitary? Clearly, the four arguments in the impact analysis are a work of constructive fiction.
Some years ago, when I fought a Norfolk seat with a large rural hinterland, a farm worker rang me from a public phone box. I said that I would drive over, but he said, “No, no. I will come on my bike”. I said, “But it’s eight miles”. He said, “It’s more than my job or my cottage is worth to be seen speaking to you”. That was the Norfolk I experienced as a county councillor. People were decent and public spirited but with an unshakeable belief in a right to rule over pheasants, farm workers and Norwich. The city was gifted to them in 1974 and what they have they hold.
Over and beyond property rights, money is the second reason why Norfolk county councillors—two-thirds of whom are also rural district councillors—have fought us. Urban Norwich subsidises the rural county at a severe cost to its own services. Even the Boundary Committee acknowledges that Norwich has been poorly served. In 1974, we handed over six comprehensives, from four of which you could go to good universities, as did my two sons who went through the state system. On Norfolk’s watch, one comprehensive has been closed and four of the remaining five have been taken into special measures. Why? Rather than raise the rates to keep open small rural schools, which I support, Norwich schools have been run down instead. Poorer Norwich council tenants see their services run down to ensure that the rates on affluent Broadland homes are kept low.
The third reason for the Tory county opposition is because cities, especially unitaries as my noble friend argued, generate jobs and growth. Half of Norfolk’s jobs are in Norwich, but, as I was told on the county council by one Norfolk county councillor who was also a farmer, no local employer wanted the competition from more new jobs because that would push up wages.
The final reason is of course politics. Norwich is a left-of-centre city. It celebrated the French Revolution with a maypole in the market square. It has been the home of dissenters, Chartists, Liberals—at least until now—and now Greens. A unitary Norwich would be stronger not only economically but politically, and I am not sure which is the greater offence.
My dismay is particularly with the Lib Dems. Norman Lamb is the MP for North Norfolk. With no formal connection to Norwich, he and the national party of the Lib Dems have overruled the local Lib Dems on the city council, who initiated the move to unitary status and who have fought heroically for unitary status. They view the actions of their London party with utter fury. Norman Lamb’s position is also at odds with the position of the new Lib Dem MP for Norwich South, Simon Wright, who is also committed to a unitary Norwich. On 9 March, Norman Lamb told the other place that he wants progressive city councillors to remain on the county council—that is why he does not want Norwich to be a unitary—so that, in his words, one party, a Tory party, does not,
“rule for the rest of Norfolk for ever and a day”.
That, he said, would be,
“an outrage”.—[Official Report, Commons,9/3/10; col. 252.]
For Norman Lamb, a Tory county would be an outrage—before he joined the Tory coalition, of course—so he supports the Tories nationally to block Norwich’s unitary status in order to better fight the Tories locally. How twisted, and how cynical, is that?
This remains unfinished business. Be in absolutely no doubt that Norwich will become a unitary authority, although it may take us several years longer than we had hoped. In the mean time, the people who will pay the real bill are the people of Norwich and the county of Norfolk. They will be denied a strong, focused, unitary city that could bring them the jobs and growth they so desperately need.”
The farce of the encampment on Parliament Square has been going on far too long.
It is unsightly and creates an appalling impression for the thousands of foreign visitors who visit the Square each day.
Potentially it poses a significant security risk – who really knows who is there and what they’ve got inside their tents?
I don’t even want to think about the sanitory arrangements ….
And it RESTRICTS the right to protest, as other potential demonstrators are squeezed off the Square by the tented ones.
So the news that Mayor Boris Johnson’s legal action in the High Court to have the so-called Peace Camp campaigners evicted from Parliament Square has been successful is a welcome breath of common sense.
There is an interminable debate going on in the House of Lords chamber at the moment on the motion that “that this House takes note of the case for reform of the House of Lords.” Sixty-seven peers have put down to speak and at the present rate of progress the debate will finish about 1am tomorrow. Proof, if it be needed, that there is no subject that the House will wish to debate in more detail than its own future.
In an insouciant speech, the Leader of the House, Thomas Galloway Dunlop du Roy de Blicquy Galbraith, 2nd Baron Strathclyde (for it is he), set out the Government’s policy. His smirk – that would have made the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland jealous – grew wider every time he hinted that the process of Lords reform might take a long time and be subject to much debate, discussion and argument.
He also exposed the Conservative element of the Coalition Government’s attitude to that hallowed document, the Coalition Agreement.
First, he acknowledged that Lords’ Reform would not have been a Tory priority:
“Before the election, we knew that if Labour had won we would now be faced with a Bill based on Jack Straw’s committee paper, seeking to legislate on an elected senate in Labour’s historic fourth term—but that was not to be. Equally, we believed that, with a Conservative victory, reform would not be such an urgent priority and we could continue to seek a consensus for a long-term reform. Under the coalition Government … the issue has now been given greater priority.”
Then he introduced a note of weariness:
“We seem to have been living with propositions for reform of your Lordships’ House for years, indeed decades. It is neither the most important question facing the country nor the least important; this is one House in a sovereign Parliament. It is a House that has often been proved right in recent years, but its voice needs to be better heard.”
Followed by what for him was clearly a moment of regret:
“There have been years of debate since the 1999 Act changed this House for ever by ending the right to sit by virtue of hereditary peerage alone.”
And the mask almost slipped with:
“We have seen umpteen schemes and watched them drift down umpteen backwaters, often with many here cheering loudly as they ran aground in the mud. We have seen umpteen propositions for change within the House. ….. Many have hoped that it would all go away, but it has not.”
Was he one of the many perhaps?
Then a hint that maybe the whipping on the Conservative side of the Coalition may not be quite as rigorous as one would expect when the time comes for the House to consider a reform Bill:
“My Lords, I have consistently taken the view over a long period—I am not saying that I will retain that consistency—that whipping a Bill on reform of the House of Lords is a particularly fatuous exercise as I suspect that Peers will make up their own minds, almost whatever the Whips tell them. However, we are a long way from having legislation on which we need to take a view on whether it will need to be whipped.”
And finally a direct indication that the Coalition Agreement is hardly worth the paper it is written on:
“The coalition agreement, which noble Lords will have seen, envisaged a wholly or mainly elected House with elections on the basis of proportional representation. ….. it also anticipated the transitional arrangement that a “grandfathering” system would be put in place for current Members of the House. I know that noble Lords will be anxious to know what both these things mean. They mean that we as a Government have yet to take a view—”
So there we have it:
…. the Cheshire Cat is grinning.
So which Labour Leadership campaign team thought that seeking my endorsement (for what it’s worth) mid-way through the Second Half of England v Germany was a good idea?
Anyone for an own goal?
Otherworldly or what?
Still what’s the worst that could have happened, if I had answered the phone?
A couple more (German) goals?
Personally I blame the Tories and the LibDems. England has only ever won a World Cup when there is a Labour Government.
The Metropolitan Police Authority is meeting today at 10.00am in City Hall. Unfortunately, I will not be there to report on the body language of the Chair and Commissioner and other matters of like importance (I have the dreadful misfortune of having to speak at a conference on the evolution of global security just outside Nice in the South of France – someone’s got to do it).
And a possible major row is brewing. There is a report on the agenda in the name of the Commissioner enticingly called “Update on a proposed new model of recruitment and training for police officers“. This is suggesting that the normal route by which someone can become a police officer in London would be by first being trained and serving as an – unpaid – Special Constable. This is not an uncontroversial idea – it raises all sorts of issues, such as whether it discriminates against those who are not able to give their time free and the impact on those who had been told they had been selected for training at Hendon Police College and now are being told that they will have to put themselves forward as Special Constables instead.
But the row will be about the report’s recommendation which is “That Members NOTE the contents of this report”. The report clearly raises strategic policy issues and can hardly be said to be just about “operational” decisions of the Commissioner. It should therefore have appeared as a report with recommendations for the Authority to consider and approve (or otherwise).
I am almost sorry to be missing the discussion and in particular the body language.
I have been re-elected as Vice-Chair of the Labour Peers’ Group, alongside Lord Robin Corbett as Chair and Baroness Meta Ramsay as the representative on the Parliamentary Committee (Shadow Cabinet). We were all unopposed.
UPDATE: I also hear that I have tonight been elected as Vice-President of my local Constituency Labour Party.
Maybe I am having an “0ld f*rt” moment, but didn’t there used to be something called “budget secrecy” and something about Ministers making statements to Parliament first before leaking all the content of statements to the media in advance.
If I remember rightly, a Labour Chancellor had to resign because he dropped a hint to a journalist about the contents of his Budget statement on the way into the Chamber to deliver it.
And in the last Parliament Labour Ministers were frequently reprimanded by Speaker Bercow for not making statements first to Parliament.
So why are we getting such detailed pre-briefings about the Budget due to be delivered later today?
Will Speaker Bercow act?
Will George Osborne resign?
I suspect I can guess the answers.
My oral question on the Dangerous Dogs Act was the second question in Lords Question Time today. Despite pressure from a number of colleagues, the Minister, Lord Henley, gave little away about what changes (if any) the Coalition Government might make to the arrangements for dangerous dogs or even what the timetable was likely to be.
The full exchange was as follows:
To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they plan to amend or to improve the operation of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Henley): My Lords, on 1 June a wide-ranging public consultation on dangerous dogs laws closed. This consultation received 4,250 responses, which will need to be analysed before any action relating to dangerous dogs legislation is considered.
Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, given the explosion in the number of attack dogs in London, with the number seized by the Metropolitan Police—I declare an interest as a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority—rising 22-fold in five years and with the Met having to budget £10.5 million for kennelling costs alone, when can we expect the Government to complete this review of the legislation? What, in the shorter term, is going to be done to expedite the processes that can often mean that dogs have to be held for many months before a final decision can be taken by the courts on their disposal?
Lord Henley: My Lords, the noble Lord is right to draw attention to the growth in such attacks and in the number of people who have to seek hospital treatment as a result of attacks by dogs. The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 is not the only piece of legislation available to local authorities and others dealing with those matters. There is the Dogs Act 1871, the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 and the Animal Welfare Act 2006. We will certainly consider carefully the consultation started by the previous Administration and make appropriate decisions afterwards.
Earl Cathcart: Is not one of the problems of the Dangerous Dogs Act the unintended consequences of listing four types of dangerous dogs? Thousands of responsible owners have had their pets destroyed not because of how they behave but because of how they look. Surely new legislation should concentrate on irresponsible dog owners rather than on only the breed.
Lord Henley: My Lords, we will certainly look at the problems of irresponsible owners, but there are certain advantages in breed-specific legislation. The police are of the view that without the restriction that that legislation gives, particularly on pit bulls, there would be many more serious dog attacks.
Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior: Does the Minister agree that many of the dangerous dogs are imported from overseas, especially from Europe? They are imported into Ireland initially, and from there go to Northern Ireland and then to the mainland. If the dogs were microchipped, as they are under the Pet Travel Scheme on the importation of dogs, it would be known to whom they belonged and whether people were training them to be attack dogs. The ownership and movement of those dogs could be followed by a simple procedure of microchipping. It would also help to identify, as has been mentioned, whether the dogs are dangerous.
Lord Henley: My Lords, compulsory microchipping was considered in the consultation. I do not think that it would necessarily solve all the problems because those who possess such dogs might not bother to get them microchipped and they would still be in breach of the law. The evidence from abroad is that where there is compulsory microchipping only 50 per cent of the dogs are microchipped.
Lord Corbett of Castle Vale: My Lords, can the Minister confirm that one of the problems facing the police in dealing with dogs which they suspect to be pit bulls is the pit-bull-type dog? It can take many months for the police to establish exactly the breed or the type of dog and at enormous cost to public funds. Some of the dogs’ homes are considering refusing to take these dogs because of the time taken and the cost to the charities. Is that part of the consultation?
Lord Henley: My Lords, there have been problems with dogs being kept in kennels for rather a long time as a result of the legal processes. We will certainly want to talk to colleagues in the Ministry of Justice about whether the legal processes can be speeded up so that the dogs need not be kept in kennels for so long. We have heard from the Metropolitan Police in particular that the costs are very high and rising.
Lord Elton: My Lords, what action is available to the courts for disposal of dangerous dogs and prohibited breeds? While the owners await decisions of the court, is it the case that a number of the dogs disappear?
Lord Henley: My Lords, I am not aware that any have disappeared from kennels while waiting for the court’s decision. If my noble friend has any evidence of that, we would be grateful if he would pass it on to us. The Dangerous Dogs Act deals not only with specific breeds but, under Section 3, allows action against a dog of any type or breed if it is deemed to be behaving dangerously.
Lord Henley: My Lords, as regards timing, I do not think that I can help the noble Baroness much more than by saying that we will do that as soon as is possible—we have all said that before—but we will certainly publish the results of our consultation when we make the appropriate decisions about how we should respond to it.
Lord Addington: My Lords, has the noble Lord considered that resources and the number of people trained to deal with the Act might be one of the most important factors in whether this or any other piece of legislation works?
Lord Henley: My Lords, Defra offers guidance to police forces, and all police forces have to have a designated dog legislation officer who knows what the law is and how it can be used to best effect. We certainly assist in providing training for those dog legislation officers, so that local authorities can enforce the law in the most appropriate manner.”
This may be the first time I have praised the prospective actions of the Coalition Government, but I was pleased to see the story on the front page of today’s Observer saying that “Late-night bars and pubs face levy to meet cost of policing binge drinkers“.
Apparently, Theresa May is:
“agitating for alcohol to be considered a law-and-order issue, with responsibility for licensing moved to the Home Office from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.”
According to the article:
“Bars and pubs that stay open after 11pm will have to pay a “law and order” fee, following police concerns over the levels of drink-fuelled disorder.
Under plans to dismantle round-the-clock drinking, the government wants late-night bars to help pay for the cost of tackling antisocial behaviour and alcohol-related violence.
Town halls will be given the power to charge premises additional fees for late-night licences, with the amount likely to be graded on the establishment’s popularity. The proposals will run alongside new powers reducing the number of outlets selling alcohol.”
I don’t like to say “I told you so”, but late at night on 13th January 2003 I moved a series of amendments to the then Licensing Bill that would have done just this. I said:
“My reason for tabling these amendments stems from my experience over the past two and a half years as chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority. I declare that as an interest. During that time I have spent a great deal of time visiting every London borough to hear how policing issues are working out and what particular problems and difficulties may arise.
In an enormous variety of parts of London the issue of policing implications for licensed premises emerges as a significant problem. That is the reason for the amendment. Amendment No. 191 A is designed to give the police an opportunity to make representations to the licensing authority to the effect—this would not be a routine matter, it would be intended to be flexible and to be an alternative to objecting to the grant of a licence—that, because of the exceptional circumstances of a particular application, there would be extra policing costs, and that those extra policing costs would be likely to be significant.
If such a representation were made—and only if—the licensing authority would be required to consider it. It would then have discretion as to whether to proceed and to place as a condition on the licence that the holder of the premises licence should pay an annual sum each year to the police authority to defray the costs of additional policing. The remaining amendments are designed to ensure that the process would allow an appeals process. If people felt that the licensing authority had acted inappropriately in response to representations, there would be a mechanism for an appeals process and also a mechanism for review at a later stage.
I believe that there is widespread concern in London, and more generally around the country, about specific licensed premises—I refer not to licensed premises in general but to some individual ones—either because of what the licensee hopes will happen in those clubs or because of the number of people likely to attend. The concern could be about the way people are likely to behave inside and outside or about the way in which premises are managed or are likely to be managed.
Quite recently the Greater London Assembly, of which I am a Member, held hearings on 24-hour licensing. Members of the Association of London Government, among others, presented evidence to an all-party delegation. There was concern that there would be insufficient police resources to cope with any anticipated increase in disturbances, resulting from the proposed reforms. That was expressed in terms of the volume of policing needed at one location and the spread of that resource throughout the night. That is a concern, I suspect, shared around the country. It was thought that that would require the police authority to re-think its policing priorities and objectives to ensure that additional policing was available. That would mean police resources diverted from other functions.
Later on in the inquiry the deputy assistant commissioner responsible for the Westminster area presented evidence. He highlighted again the point that if there is a rise in the number of licensed premises, there will be a commensurate rise in disorder which will skew resources to deal with that. If there is a plan to say that this is going to be a place, as he said, that has a huge number of licensed premises, then we need to think how we will fund public services to cope with that. If someone comes in to make a legitimate profit, how do we fund the policing that might be needed?
Officers may be taken away from a housing estate where they are sorely needed in order to go to police late-night drunks. He cited a number of examples where holders of licensed premises voluntarily make a contribution to policing costs. The problem is that that is a voluntary requirement. It is not something that the irresponsible licence holders will necessarily do; nor is there necessarily any agreement about the level of contributions.
For those who may think that this issue applies only to central London, I was particularly taken by representations received from my honourable friend the Member of Parliament for Hornchurch about the problems faced in Havering. The borough does not have a high level of policing resources and, by and large, does not need them. With the number of licensed club premises in Romford Town—I use this as an example—the vision that he conjured up was of large numbers of highly excited young Essex girls and boys congregating in Romford town centre in the early hours of the morning. This clearly presents issues which require a considerable policing input into a borough which, by and large, does not have a very large policing resource.
Where exceptional policing costs are likely to be incurred through a licence application there should be some arrangement whereby, as a condition of such a licence, the police authority receives a contribution towards those costs.”
Unfortunately, despite support from one LibDem peer (Lord Avebury) – the Tories were silent on the issue – the Government resisted my proposals with a number of frankly specious arguments from Baroness Tessa Blackstone. Apparently, my proposals:
“could drive a major wedge between the police and the industry at a time when we need them to work together and with others in partnership to defeat crime and anti-social behaviour. Certainly, there would need to be very widespread public consultation on this issue before we could agree to take it forward.
The financial impact on the industry would also have to be carefully analysed. The hospitality and leisure industry is a major part of the wider tourism industry. The well-being of this industry is important to our economy. Since 1997, it has provided one in four of all new jobs created in the UK and one in five that have been created in pubs and bars.
We should also recognise that this would be an additional tax on industry by another name. Under the terms of the amendments, it would be a tax for the benefit of police authorities imposed by the licensing authority and not by the Government with the consent of Parliament. The phrase “no taxation without representation” could come back to haunt us.”
I responded by describing myself as “somewhat perplexed” (Lords-speak for “I think this is nonsense”) by the response from the Minister:
“The point is that such a provision would provide an opportunity for the exceptional cases or the areas where there are real problems to be picked up on the basis of representations by the police and then to be determined by a licensing authority—which under Bill’s proposals will be democratically elected; so the argument that there is no taxation without representation is clearly spurious.
My noble friend made the point that it would be much better to have a voluntary arrangement rather than a compulsory one. Of course it is much better if those who cause the most problems are happy to volunteer to make a contribution. But I suspect that if one asks the communities around the various types of establishments that we have been talking about, one will find that it is those who are least responsible who cause the most problems and who are the least likely to enter into voluntary agreements. For those reasons, I believe that it is necessary to include a provision which can, under certain circumstances, require such licence holders to make some kind of contribution.
Similarly, I am not convinced about the argument that the amendment could create a wedge between the police and the industry. A wedge is created at present by irresponsible licence holders who do not enter into discussions.
The fundamental problem that I have is this: yes, of course this proposal could be interpreted as a tax; but it is proposed that the circumstances should be exceptional; and that the discretion would be exercised by an elected authority. That point deals with the argument that there is no taxation without representation. In any event, taxation agreed by Parliament would necessarily apply across the country.
An issue that arises in regard to many of these establishments is that they are very localised. Havering is a low crime borough, but the problems of Romford town centre and of the clubs in Romford are extreme, and other suburbs have to deal with similar issues. The problems of Westminster are the result of a concentration of licensed premises in the centre of London.”
In any event, the then Government would not listen. I don’t suppose Teresa May was tuned into the Parliament Channel then either, but it is gratifying that the point is now understood and I look forward to seeing some concrete proposals being brought forward.