Committee (4th Day) (Continued)
22R: Before Clause 55, insert the following new Clause—
“Extension of “the controlled area of Parliament Square” to the vicinity of the Palace of Westminster
(1) Section 142 of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 is amended as follows.
(2) In subsection (1) after subsection (1)(b) insert—
“(c) the footways of Bridge Street, St Margaret’s Street, Abingdon Street, and so much of the footway of Great College Street as immediately adjoins Abingdon Green,(d) Old Palace Yard,(e) Abingdon Green, and(f) the northern end of Victoria Tower Gardens.”(3) In subsection (2)—
(a) before the definition of “the central garden of Parliament Square” insert—““Abingdon Green” means the garden constructed on the sites of properties formerly known as 17-28 (both inclusive) Abingdon Street, London SW1, and the garden surrounding the adjoining Jewel Tower;”
(b) after the definition of “footway” insert—““the northern end of Victoria Tower Gardens” means that part of Victoria Tower Gardens which lies within 100 metres of the metal railings which mark is northern boundary;
“Old Palace Yard” includes the King George V Memorial and the surrounding lawns and paving.””
I beg to move the amendment standing in my name and those of the noble Countess, Lady Mar, and the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours.
This is a simple and, I hope, uncontroversial concept. The other House introduced legislation to deal with the twin issues of enabling access for those who wish to protest or state their case to the Houses of Parliament, but in a way that does not inconvenience unduly the work of the Houses of Parliament and, indeed, other people who wish to use Parliament Square. Parliament took some time to get the right balance. I think it would be true to say that to start with we did not have proper protection; we then moved to a position in which many felt that there was not enough freedom for people to demonstrate; and then to the present arrangement, which I think now has all-party support, which states that people can properly demonstrate but that they must have permission to use equipment that amplifies the words they say. That is a not unreasonable request, and that is the balance that has been reached. Unfortunately, the present rule refers only to Parliament Square itself and the part closest to the House of Commons.
It was always thought that if there were movement in any other direction, the police would be happy to take action. However, without blaming anyone, it seems that that is not the case. The police would prefer not to intervene. The problem that arises is that this means that on an increasing number of occasions, part of this House is almost impossible to work in. I came to terms with this when I was trying to have a detailed discussion with one of the officers of the House and we had to move out of his office into the corridor because we could not have a conversation, so loud was the noise from outside. It also did not help that one could not hear what the noise outside was about, because the trouble with much of the amplification used is that it obscures the sense while increasing the noise. I fear that this is one aspect of human life today in any case, but it is particularly notable in this case.
The difficulty is merely geographical. The law at the moment stops before you get to the House of Lords—and those who protest have discovered that. They feel that it is perfectly reasonable, therefore, to do within the curtilage of the House of Lords precisely what they used to do, to the concern of the public, in the area immediately in front of the House of Commons. All my amendment therefore does is increase the geographical area by the minimum necessary to provide the House of Lords with the same protection and opening that the House of Commons already has, without the intervention of the police.
There is an additional reason about which the House should know. On Sunday, for example, when the House of Lords was not sitting, a large collection of people gathered outside the House of Lords to address us. Of course, the only people whom they addressed were those attempting to worship in Westminster Abbey and St Margaret’s, Westminster. I received no direct complaint about that, but there is no doubt that the noise made the worshippers’ activities, which were perfectly proper for a Sunday, almost impossible if one was close enough to the noise.
I hope that no one in this House would accuse me of being anything other than usually entirely on the side of freedom. I have a long history of doing that and I do not want to restrict anyone from protesting. Indeed, I can think of few happier occasions than when many of us went out to join those who had come to celebrate the passing of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act. It was a happy and cheerful activity, and not something that one would have wanted in any way to stop. However, what has to be stopped is the kind of behaviour that made it impossible for the House of Commons to continue and that caused it to pass legislation that protected it and—I am sure by some oversight—failed to move just far enough to protect this House.
I therefore very much hope that we will be able to have this protection. The convenience of the Bill is that such a provision is clearly within the remit of the Long Title, and therefore that we can pop in the new clause to no one’s detriment. We will still ensure that Her Majesty’s subjects who wish to complain to us about any subject under the sun will continue to be able to do so but, we hope, with a voice that is clear but not so loud as to be impossible. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support the noble Lord, Lord Deben, in his amendment. I have no objection to people who wish to exercise their democratic right by demonstrating. However, while they have that right, I believe that those of us who work in the Palace of Westminster, and particularly those who work in offices on the West Front, have an equal right to work in an environment that is not polluted by electronically enhanced voices and music at volumes which, at times, become unbearable.
On one occasion during the passage of the Welfare Reform Bill, my noble friend Lady Finlay and I were trying to write speeches on behalf of those who were bellowing through a loudspeaker outside our window. We put on our coats and went to ask, politely, the young lady who was making the noise if she would kindly modulate it. Her response was to ask why we could not wear ear-plugs. After we had spent some time trying to explain to those involved that they were defeating their objective, they finally conceded and stood or sat quietly for the rest of the afternoon. I have no objection to that sort of demonstration.
Without doubt, those demonstrating for several days while we were debating the same-sex marriage Bill excelled themselves. I will never again hear “I’m Getting Married in the Morning”, or the rival “Amazing Grace”, without cringing. After several days of torment, I tried the noise pollution officer at Westminster City Council. He said that it was not his responsibility but was a police matter. I was told to dial 111. The police said that they could do nothing as the demonstrators were acting within their rights. Unfortunately, noble Lords and officials who work in the West Front offices cannot simply pick up a pen and pad and move to a quieter location; we are somewhat tied to our desks by computers, phones and files—a captive audience, in other words.
The amendment does not stop those who wish to demonstrate, nor would I wish that to happen. Members of another place, as the noble Lord, Lord Deben, told us, successfully moved the noise from their environs. We have only this amendment between us and our sanity.
My Lords, I intervene briefly to strongly support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Deben. I refer back to two previous contributions that I made on this subject over recent years and, in particular, to correspondence from Councillor Colin Barrow of Westminster City Council. When the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill was going through Parliament, he wrote to the department expressing concern about how it would operate. This was at a time when, as the noble Lord may recall, the square was inhabited—if I may use that term—by a lot of protesters who were setting up tents and making a lot of noise. At that time, I did not make the proposal that I want to make today. I am using this amendment as a peg on which to promote a principle.
We all believe in the right to demonstrate but we are concerned about noise. We know that people on the West Front—particularly officials of the political parties who work in offices there—have a lot of problems when demonstrations take place, especially during the summer months when they wish to open their windows and, of course, the noise becomes even more prevalent. As Colin Barrow proposed in his correspondence of some years ago, it may be possible to manage the whole square or the green areas in front of Parliament in a better way.
I propose that we establish a centre on one of those pieces of land where people can apply to put up their stands on behalf of various campaigns, perhaps on a rotational basis, months in advance. It would be a lobbying building for Parliament and it would give people the opportunity to recognise that we want to help them protest, but in an organised way. In doing so, we would support the principles set out by Councillor Colin Barrow of Westminster City Council when he asked for a more properly managed square-control arrangement.
I know that the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Deben, is more tightly defined—he is dealing with a narrower area—but I believe that we should think in terms of something more organised whereby organisations throughout the country can apply to demonstrate. At the moment, in the Upper Committee Corridor we effectively have a more organised arrangement which people can apply to use, but they cannot demonstrate. I want something a little more aggressive than what is available with the displays there, so that people can put their case. Instead of MPs simply driving past and not being able to read the signs or hear what is being said because the noise is overwhelming, there would be a place where MPs or Peers could stroll over, walk through the centre, see who had their stands there, talk to the lobbyists and then leave. That would be a far more sensible operation. I am not asking for it to be set up tomorrow, but in the longer term, it would be wise if we were to set off down that road. I support the noble Lord’s amendment.
My Lords, the loud-hailing which took place in Parliament Square was a disgrace. Most of us who have fought elections at council and parliamentary level have used loud-hailing equipment. When that equipment goes above a certain noise level, it becomes a breach of the peace. It is not the first time. When we have been out on the hustings, we have been reminded of that.
That strange character sat in Parliament Square for 10 years, and all sorts of organisations tried to help: the Greater London Council, Westminster Council, the police, Parliament and even the Home Office. Legislation went through both Houses, but it was not strong enough, and the judges said, “No. The chap who is there”—I forget his name—“can use the pavement because it is not really a pavement in the proper sense of the word”. All I can say is that if somebody were sitting outside their house, they would find good legal cause to get rid of him after 10 years.
The other place found arrangements to prevent loud-hailing at that end, but it cannot speak for this autonomous body. That is why the demonstrators have moved up. However, if anyone uses a loud-hailer that gets above a certain level, they are being a nuisance. Even the media agreed with that. The people who had been aggravated most by the person who was on the loud-hailer all day and every day, the character who stood there for 10 years, were those in the Press Gallery. When Parliament went into Recess, people from the Press Gallery went out and told the person concerned in no uncertain terms, “Please stop”.
I support the amendment. An overall body should get control of this situation because the difficulty that Westminster Council had was that its only way of stopping the noise was if the sound level went above a certain decibel level. It had to come along with its testing equipment, and it could have been that the wind was in a different direction or whatever. I know that this amendment is tight. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, suggested we should have a stall where people could come and demonstrate. No one is stopping demonstrations, but this is my understanding of a demonstration: the first time I had a demonstration at Parliament, I was a young trade unionist; I had a day off work; we travelled down in the morning by train; and at night we went back on the train and were away. It was not permanent.
Parliament Square is like a park. It is a lovely place where people should be able to take their family. There should not be a stall there. The place should be enjoyed by everyone. Millions have been spent on Westminster Abbey; millions have been spent on St Margaret’s Church, with which we have a close connection; and, of course, millions have been spent on both Houses, Portcullis House and the other extensions. If it is not already the case, the whole area should be a world heritage site. We should not have someone coming along with a loud-hailer that is so loud that people cannot get on with their proper business in the offices.
There was a campaign for a long time—much too long—to remove the most unsatisfactory arrangement under which certain individual protestors hogged the space in Parliament Square, to which the noble Lord, Lord Martin, has just referred. It was eventually ended and the square is infinitely better from every point of view. We were all strongly in favour of having protests, but not permanent protests. I am not absolutely clear where the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, is suggesting his hut should be. I believe that the area, as the noble Lord, Lord Martin, said, is very much a world heritage site, and it would be difficult to accommodate a permanent building in any of those spaces without intruding on the area. I strongly support the amendment of my noble friend Lord Deben.
I support the notion, if not necessarily the detail of finding a way of using what is at the heart of our democracy and an area that has Parliament, Westminster Abbey and the Supreme Court, around it, and which is indeed a world heritage site—I shall not get into the issue of whether traffic should be using it—to provide a means of public expression. I mean expression by the public, not those of us who are in the buildings. That is something in which the Hansard Society is interested as well.
My noble friend’s speech was about the amplification of noise and his amendment would extend the prohibitions to the other prohibited activities, which are about putting up tents, having what is called sleeping equipment, and so on. The noble Lord, Lord Martin, may have referred to this, but other noble Lords have focused on noise. If there is to be an extension—I agree that the fewest extensions or prohibitions the better—I wonder whether it is necessary to deal with both aspects.
Yes, it parallels exactly what is already enacted for Parliament Square. The reason for that is: when people look at the present situation they could easily duplicate what was the major problem in Parliament Square, which was people living there week in, week out. It excludes that, but it does not exclude the normal arrival to speak or to put forward views, or indeed to ask permission for loudspeakers, which is also possible. It would merely put us in the same position as the House of Commons, which seems to be a not unreasonable proposition.
My Lords, I accept that, of course, and the possibility of seeking permission. But we have not experienced the problem of people moving into Abingdon Green, and so on. I think that my noble friend will understand my slight caution about that part of the amendment.
My Lords, I realise that when the House is in a mood of almost unanimity the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, can be relied on to inject a notion of something or other into the discussion. It is therefore very dangerous to say that perhaps this amendment is not quite right, but I do so as somebody with an office in Millbank House. I notice that the boundaries that the noble Lord, Lord Deben, has created would effectively mean that Millbank House could be completely surrounded by demonstrators, which would be entirely consistent with what has been said.
I am not sure that if they were to use loud-hailing equipment it would make a substantial difference. I wonder whether the boundaries are set quite right to cover the full extremities of the parliamentary estate, bearing in mind the way in which sound carries. If the Government are going to take away this amendment—as I hope they are—and think about it carefully and positively, I suggest that they look at precisely those boundaries to make sure that the whole of the parliamentary estate is covered.
My Lords, I also have been campaigning on this issue for a long time, not least because the gentleman to whom we have referred was there for so long; he seemed to live in a tent and would hang out his washing from time to time. We should remember that people from all over the world come to see this site and that that vista was ruined for a long time because it was so dirty and untidy.
What is now before us is perhaps not understood by Members who do not have offices in the front row, as it were, of this House. If your office is in the middle or towards the back of the House of Lords, you will not hear anything. Indeed, during the previous campaign we fought on this matter, I found that this was very much so; people did not understand always if their office was a fair distance from the front. Reference to this has been made by the mover of the amendment, which I strongly support, and by others: if you live in that particular part of the building, all the papers you should read, all the briefings you should attempt to gain, and all the speeches you might plan to make are deeply affected, to say nothing of the letters you are expected to write to those who write to you telling you of a problem that they have or of a problem that exists elsewhere.
There was a campaign last week which went on for a long time. It was for the Ghurkhas—for whom I have great sympathy and normally would support very strongly—but by the time they had finished I wanted to go out and tell them that I would never support them again after what they had done to my work programme for hours and hours on end. Those of us who live in these offices—and we do live in them for the time we are here—have not only a job to do but a duty to fulfil. It always worries me that one person’s human rights seem to be contrary to another person’s human rights.
Of course I acknowledge completely that everyone should have a right to campaign if they feel strongly about an issue. That is not what we are arguing about. I cannot go along with my long-term colleague and friend, the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, because Members of Parliament would not go to another building across the road to hear what people were thinking. Nor would many members of the public go in because they are not the people the demonstrators are trying to reach anyway—they are trying to reach us. The fact of the matter is that they are annoying us all too often. A recent campaign, which involved raucous and entirely unmelodic singing, went on and on and I defy anyone to have done their work during that time.
We do not want to stop anyone trying to put their views across to us and asking for a change. We are saying that we have rights too. We have a right and a duty to fulfil all the things that we have to do here and at the moment we are not enabled to. I support the amendment and I hope it will go through in the spirit that so many people displayed when they made their speeches.
My Lords, I listened to the debate on my old boss’s amendment with great interest and pleasure. This is what could be called “Bella Figura”. The Italians, Germans and French would never put up with these parades we have had in front of us or the noise we have endured—they would have been gone in no time at all. Much as I sympathise with many of their objectives, I very much deplore the way they try to attain them.
My Lords, this has been a very good small debate on what I consider to be a very important subject. My noble friend has done the House a great favour by raising this important matter for us to debate. I will not mention all those who have spoken but, without exception, all noble Lords have recognised the issue that we have to deal with. I hope I can demonstrate that the Government are looking for a positive way forward on this.
I am sure that many other noble Lords besides those who have spoken will have strong views on the noise generated by the demonstrations that take place in the vicinity of the Palace of Westminster. We have, of course, been here before. As noble Lords have pointed out, legislation to deal with such demonstrations was first passed in the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005. We should not forget just how contentious that legislation was, which is why it was repealed and replaced with more proportionate measures in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011, to which my noble friend referred.
My noble friend and the Committee will be sensitive to the need, before passing further legislation, to be very careful about taking any action that may impact disproportionately on people’s right to protest and their freedom of speech. However, I recognise the gross disturbance which amplified sound is now bringing to otherwise legitimate demonstrations. The proximity to the working offices of the House of Lords makes it difficult for Peers, officers of the House and staff to conduct their parliamentary duties. A number of noble Lords have referred to that.
With the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 having addressed the problems in Parliament Square, noble Lords may feel that some of those problems have been displaced, particularly to the small area around the George V Memorial and the surrounding lawns and paving, as referred to in the amendment. Perhaps it would help noble Lords if I describe the law as it applies for areas away from Parliament Square. The 2011 Act strengthened local authorities’ by-law-making powers, in particular by including a power to seize items used in connection with the contravention of a by-law. Westminster City Council and the Royal Parks authority updated their by-laws immediately after the relevant provisions of the 2011 Act were brought into force. The by-laws include measures to deal with tents, structures and excess noise.
These by-laws, in many ways, already have the effect intended by this amendment. Westminster City Council by-laws and the Royal Parks by-laws contain strict noise control provisions covering Old Palace Yard and surrounding areas such as Abingdon Green. The by-laws state that a person should not make or allow to be caused any noise which is so loud or so continuous as to give reasonable cause for annoyance to others in the area. But here is the rub: the enforcement of by-laws is a matter for Westminster City Council and, ultimately, the police. Suspected breach of a by-law could lead to arrest and prosecution. In taking any enforcement decisions, the authorised officers or the police would take into account the need to allow a right to protest outside Parliament. Achieving a balance seems to be part of the difficulty. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, has suggested an idea that recognises this to try to avoid the gross disruption experienced currently. I do not know. Some noble Lords have questioned what he has proposed, but I thank him for giving us a possible solution.
There is a precedent for building on sensitive land within the area of Westminster; that is, the proposal being made by both Houses to build an educational centre of 6,000 square feet on Victoria Tower Gardens, which is the subject of a lot of debate at the moment. The proposal I am making is not that it would be one exhibitor; there might be a dozen exhibitors on rotation, drawing on different organisations, coming in nationally. Members of Parliament and Peers would visit in those circumstances because it would be a lobbying centre, and it would set a precedent that I think might be mirrored by other parliaments.
I thank the noble Lord for elaborating on what he is thinking. I thank him, genuinely, for trying to think positively about how to handle the rightful expression and the disruption to which Members, staff and officers of this House are currently subject because of the excessive noise.
Of course, there are further provisions. The Public Order Act 1986 allows the police to place conditions on static protests or demonstrations. The Environmental Protection Act 1990 allows the police to deal with noise issues. But enforcement lies at the bottom of all these measures at present, and the police need to balance the management of disruption caused by any protest against people’s right to protest—I think we would all accept that.
The police have sufficient powers under the Public Order Act, and the police and Westminster City Council can enforce by-laws that cater for noise issues around the Palace of Westminster. The issue, therefore, is how the existing by-laws are enforced. One would have to say that this is an operational matter for the police and Westminster City Council. That said, I fully recognise the degree of distress caused by the repeated use of musical instruments, loud-hailers and amplifiers in the areas adjoining your Lordships’ House and the disruptive effect that can have. I have been told—and we have heard today—of Peers evacuating their offices to work elsewhere, and of another who has been made to feel physically ill as a result of the noise. This cannot be tolerated.
I propose to my noble friend that he and I meet the Metropolitan Police and Westminster City Council to discuss this issue ahead of Report to examine a way forward in dealing with this problem. I suggest that we also include the Dean of Westminster Abbey. As my noble friend has pointed out, the abbey is also subject to the gross disturbance that amplified sound is now bringing to some demonstrations.
Before my noble friend leaves this point, I remind him—the trouble is, he was not particularly involved in it—of when we were campaigning against what was happening in Parliament Square, which brought such discredit to the whole area and did not add to the credit of Parliament. I had a Private Member’s Bill on this and the argument that was always used was, “Oh, there are lots of powers”, and they quoted quite a number of the Acts of Parliament that my noble friend has just been quoting. It did not work. It was much too complicated for the individual authorities—whether it was the Met, Westminster City Council or the health and safety people—to do anything about it. The Act which was introduced to deal with Parliament Square appears to have been very successful. I suggest to the Minister that, much better than trying to play around with existing legislation which might be relevant to dealing with the problem, let us build on what has dealt with the problem in Parliament Square.
My Lords, I explained that I had been in touch with Westminster City Council and the police. I know what the law is and I spent a whole afternoon trying to point it out to them, but they said, “No, it’s not us. Not me, guv”, so I was left frustrated. I hope that the Minister will therefore take notice of what the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, has said.
I do absolutely. I need to satisfy myself, before we move on, that the existing provisions are not being enforced by Westminster City Council and the police, because they are both involved in enforcing them. I want a meeting to make sure that we have thoroughly thought through any provisions before we put them in legislation; I think that the House would expect that. We of course have an interest: we work here; we live here; we suffer the noise and disruption ourselves. We need to be able to justify in the wider Parliament other than this Chamber and even in the big parliament of the people outside any action that we choose to take. I am very mindful of what my noble friend says. Enforcement has not been successful.
There are certain places where there has been a tradition of people being able to assemble to speak. The last time I went to Speakers’ Corner, I cannot remember loud-hailers or blast-master amplification being used as part and parcel of that process. It is the amplification of the message, seeking almost to penetrate this very Chamber, which I think is causing the difficulty.
Perhaps I may ask one further short question. In the many cases up and down the country where raucous parties have taken place, all it seems to need to get the police in action, on the spot and stopping the trouble, is for one or two people to complain. If one or two Members of Parliament, be they Peers or from another place, had the courage to go and complain to the police about the noise, does the Minister think that, under present rules, that might stop it?
I have to hold out that possibility but, on the other hand, it might not. If the latter is the case, it is perfectly proper for this House to seek a remedy which enables it to perform its function and for its Members to carry out their duties without the gross disturbance which they have otherwise been subject to.
We need to progress with a certain amount of caution here. We have to justify anything that we do by way of legislation with our friends in another place and with the greater public opinion outside. I advocate that as a matter of caution. However, we need to seek a way forward. I am looking to work with others to find a solution. We need to make sure that it is a sensitive and effective solution. I hope that with that and all that I have said my noble friend will be ready to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for the consideration with which he approached my amendment. The truth is that the laws and by-laws to which he referred exist but are not enforced. He made that point. That was precisely what happened in Parliament Square. Parliament and the House of Commons decided that the square would need a special arrangement because that was the only way to make sure it was enforced. It has now been enforced in the new, much more elegant form brought in by the 2011 Act, about which I have heard no complaints, even from the most extreme of campaigners. They see that the balance is roughly there. It seems odd that what is sauce for the elected goose should not be sauce for the unelected, but happily continuing, gander. I have difficulty in understanding why there should be a difficulty, if I may put it as elegantly as that.
I am very happy to meet my noble friend and all the other people he spoke of, but I suspect that the House will want to come back to this at a later stage. However much conversation we have with the same people who failed to regulate the matters in Parliament Square before the law was changed, I suspect that we will want to come back to this House and propose again the simple concept of moving what is now limited to Parliament Square further along the road. Of course, I undertake that, in those discussions, the actual boundaries will be looked at again in case we have not quite got them right. I do not want to go further than is absolutely necessary because I do not want this to be different from, or impinge upon, other jurisdictions. This is about the Houses of Parliament. At the moment, it is about one House of Parliament—all I want to do is make sure that it is about both Houses. On that basis, I am happy to withdraw the amendment but hope that our discussions will end up with an amendment that is acceptable to the Government when we come to Report. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 22R withdrawn.
Clause 55: Power to make orders
23: Clause 55, page 32, line 8, leave out “two” and insert “three”
My Lords, your Lordships may be satisfied that we are moving back to stuff that is in the Bill as opposed to perfectly legitimate discussions about things that noble Lords have taken the opportunity to raise. In moving Amendment 23, I will speak also to the other 12 amendments in the group. In fact, I will speak to the first eight or nine amendments on the basis that my noble friend the Minister has kindly agreed to write to me about the others—unless other noble Lords raise them.
We move on to Part 4, Chapter 2 of the Bill, which is about public spaces protection orders—a new form of order that district or unitary councils will be able to make to tackle anti-social behaviour in their area. Rather than speaking in detail to each of these amendments, it would help at this stage if I made a few general comments to introduce public spaces protection orders.
Clause 55 is the defining clause. It says that the local authority—the district council—can make a public spaces protection order in response to circumstances in which,
“activities carried on in a public place … have had a detrimental effect on the quality of life of those in the locality”.
“Public place” is defined quite widely. It does not have to be owned by the public sector. The test here, of a
“detrimental effect on the quality of life of those in the locality”,
is essentially the same test as for community protection notices.
There is one fundamental distinction between this order, the PSPO, and the other measures we have been discussing so far, such as IPNAs, criminal behaviour orders and community protection notices, which are all about the control of individuals, of people acting either individually or in a group. Public spaces protection orders are different because they are about public spaces and controls over those spaces—in other words, controls on land and what people can do on that land—so they affect everyone, or everyone in a category of persons. That has civil liberties implications, because clearly they will capture innocent people who may then be penalised and, if they breach the order, could end up facing criminal charges.
I should say that I am not against public spaces protection orders. I think that they will be extremely useful devices for local authorities, as long as they are used sensibly and proportionately. The amendments in this group and some of my other amendments are not, therefore, against PSPOs; they are probing how they will work, what safeguards are already in the Bill and what further safeguards may be needed.
There are three main concerns about PSPOs. The first is the one that I have already raised: they may remove liberties of the citizen in public spaces from the vast majority of people who have done nothing wrong and do not intend to do anything wrong, or at least nothing significant. The Bill states that the orders can be levied for up to three years—the assumption is that that will be standard—and then prolonged for another three years ad infinitum. In effect, they could become permanent restrictions on what people can do in public places and, in extremis, whether they can go there or not.
The second concern relates to the possibility that public spaces protection orders could be used to keep people out of an area, not just to control what they can and cannot do within that area. For some types of land designated precisely for access and informal recreation, public spaces protection orders will in effect nullify and negate the very purpose of the designation of that land. That part of the proposals has caused considerable alarm among organisations such as the Ramblers and the Open Spaces Society, to which the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, referred. The threat, as it is seen, is that some or all the rights under existing legislation specifically for those types of land could be removed, and that when proposals are made to remove them under the new legislation, all the existing safeguards to ensure that such rights are not removed unless absolutely necessary will be swept away in a pretty easy, arbitrary manner.
The third concern, which I think we can deal with now, is that as the Bill has gone through its parliamentary process, PSPOs have not been much scrutinised—certainly not adequately, in my view. The pre-legislative consideration of the Bill by the Home Affairs Committee dealt with PSPOs in a fairly cursory way; they got some discussion, but not a lot, as the Bill went through the House of Commons. We must scrutinise this part of the Bill carefully to see whether we can persuade the Government to make changes to prevent some local authorities taking the provision to the limit so that it goes further than is reasonable.
To avoid having to go through all the amendments in detail, I submitted a list of the questions they cover to the Minister, who kindly agreed to look at them. The basic questions are, first: will the orders have to be based on evidence—in other words, past and present activities on the land—as well as a concern that they will happen or continue, or can they be based solely on a concern or belief that activities will occur in the future? Secondly, can a PSPO be made only on the area where evidence exists or could problems in one area be used as a reason for a much bigger area, or even a different area, being made subject to one?
A further point has arisen since I had discussions with the Minister, which is whether the conditions that can be put on a PSPO can apply only to activities and the detrimental effect identified before people say, “Let’s have a PSPO”. Is it only those activities and the detrimental effect which have been identified and defined under the first condition, in Clause 55(2)(a), or could anything be put on once those are considered? Should the criteria for making an order not take account of the downsides of making it, rather than merely considering the benefits of doing so—in other words, should the legislation have a test of balance of judgment introduced into it? Should the prohibitions and requirements not be necessary rather than just reasonable? To what extent is discrimination acceptable between different types or groups of people, or differently aged people, in setting the prohibitions and requirements in the order? This is an important part of the Bill and I hope that we will scrutinise it carefully. I beg to move Amendment 23.
My Lords, this is a large group of amendments which essentially comes down to the purpose of these orders. Perhaps I may take the last point first as that is often easier. The conditions that have to be considered include that the effect of the activities, in the second limb,
“justifies the restrictions imposed by the notice”.
I am looking at Clause 55(3)(c), so there is a requirement for balance in the creation of a public spaces protection order within the Bill. It is certainly not the case that, in introducing these public spaces protection orders, we are seeking to give local authorities an undiluted right to close off areas without proper consideration of the legal and proper activity being conducted in those areas.
The problem with my noble friend’s amendments is that he is suggesting that the lives of people in the locality would already have to have been affected for some time before the council could act. We are anticipating that there will be circumstances in which, because of other activities, the council may wish to create a public spaces protection order in advance of, let us say, a new development. For example, if a council wanted to open a new children’s play area, it may wish to place restrictions on that area either to prohibit dogs from entering or to allow them only if they are kept on a lead. If my noble friend’s amendments were accepted, the council would have to wait until irresponsible dog ownership turned up as a feature before it could address that. We dealt in a previous debate with the problems that can come through displaced activities, so I hope that my noble friend will understand that we see it as being for a council to exercise judgment on these matters.
Only those behaviours that are linked to a detrimental activity can be applied. Any additions to that list would be treated as a variation under Clause 57 and be subject to the same tests and consultation. Having got a public spaces protection order, it can be varied only by starting the consultative process again. I hope that my noble friend is reassured by that; if he is not, I can tell him that any variation of an order could be challenged in the High Court. Where orders are deemed to be unnecessary or disproportionate, there is still the ability for those affected to challenge it in court. The council will be mindful of this when judging whether the test has been met.
I fully understand why my noble friend is making these points. In the draft guidance published last month we have included guidelines on the aspects and impacts that should be considered before an order is used. We will, of course, continue to develop the guidance to try and cover the point raised by my noble friend, but I fear that including it in the Bill would make it hard for a council to act quickly and deal effectively with anti-social behaviour.
I think that I have covered the issue of the future impacts. Regarding Amendment 32, I would like to be clear that the aim behind this amendment is to allow councils to design solutions around local needs. Clause 55(6) will result in the closure of rights of way being less likely under a new regime. It will allow specific problems to be dealt with without the recourse to completely closing a public space, as I have said.
There is some flexibility in these orders that will suit both those who wish to go about exercising their legitimate rights and those who wish to make sure that anti-social behaviour can be tackled. I agree with my noble friend that these orders have to be used proportionately. The benefit to the community in tackling detrimental activities must be balanced against the impact of any prohibitions or requirements. I believe that local councils are capable of making such assessments and coming to the right decisions, having consulted the local community. If they get it wrong, or are perceived to have got it wrong, an order can be challenged in the courts. Given the safeguards that we have built into the legislation, which are reinforced by the draft guidance we have published, the Bill gets the balance right and I hope that my noble friend would be willing, on that basis, to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, that takes us into some very useful discussion and I am grateful to my noble friend for his careful response. What he said about play areas and the ability of councils to put a public spaces protection order on a new play area to keep dogs out, for example, or perhaps because they wish to have areas under a PSPO where dogs would have to be kept on a lead, indicates that what is being proposed is not a minor thing. It is a very powerful new proposal with a strong power. Some might think that it is far-reaching and draconian but, if councils behave properly, it may be valuable.
As a local councillor, I have to say that I am very attracted by the idea of being able to make public spaces protection orders. I can think of all sorts of places where suitable orders might be introduced—so I am not against them at all. What I am concerned about is whether there are sufficient safeguards. My noble friend refers to the right of appeal to the High Court but, in terms of closing footpaths, the right of appeal on closing a right of way is to the magistrates’ court. Most people concerned about such a matter can undertake an appeal to the magistrates’ court. They would not want to go to the High Court to appeal against an order. There is a real concern here that the powers being given to local authorities are very strong, potentially very beneficial but also powers that could be misused. Being able to go only to the High Court is a problem.
Finally, the Minister referred to the draft guidance that has been produced, which is very helpful and useful. Like my noble friend Lady Hamwee on guidance, earlier today I said that it was a good thing that in this Bill that there was not much provision for the Secretary of State to make orders and regulations. In practice, what is going to happen is that the Secretary of State will issue guidance, which in effect will be instructions to local authorities. It will be a very brave local authority that does not follow the guidance. I am not sure that non-statutory guidance in that sense is any better than statutory orders and regulations, which at least potentially can have some parliamentary scrutiny. However, I am very grateful for my noble friend’s comments. There are further things to discuss here before we get to Report but, in the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 23 withdrawn.
Amendments 24 to 29 not moved.
Amendments 30 and 31 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.
Amendments 32 to 34 not moved.
34A: Clause 55, page 32, line 36, at end insert—
“( ) A prohibition or requirement made under subsection (6) may not prevent the use of the public space by persons—
(a) bearing placards, offering to talk to people or providing literature or other material relating to political or other beliefs and campaigns;(b) assembling or parading for the purpose of promoting political or other beliefs and campaigns;(c) making speeches whether or not amplified in pursuit of such aims.”
My Lords, perhaps we should have discussed this amendment along with the last amendment but one about goings-on around this building. This amendment tests to what extent public spaces protection orders can remove rights of peaceful assembly in public places. In practice, public spaces protection orders are not a suitable way of limiting freedom of speech, assembly or campaigning. We have just discussed a very extreme example. There may be occasions when these rights have to be curtailed or regulated and controlled for the benefit of people in general, people in the locality and even people in your Lordships’ House. But in most cases, when public protest gets out of hand, it is possible to deal with it through existing public order legislation. In some cases, it requires local by-laws but, by and large, it is dealt with fairly well. People ask whether we should not be able to ban those such as the English Defence League from having a demonstration in the middle of Bradford, but there is legislation to deal with that. If existing legislation is insufficient, it is in the area of public order legislation or local legislation that people should look.
It would be wrong for these orders, which can be made quickly and easily by a local authority, with a minimum degree of consultation—even with the welcome amendments that the Government will propose in a minute or two—to be used to limit basic rights of assembly, protest and debates in public places and freedom of speech. Specific problems should be dealt with in a one-off manner on the basis of existing law. If there are very special places, such as outside this building, where people think that there ought to be more control, it should be dealt with on that basis. If there is a need to improve the law, it should not be done on the basis of orders that are easy to make and can last for three years—and in practice, by extending them, can last for ever. The rights of assembly, free speech and peaceful campaigning are too important to be dealt with in this rather arbitrary manner. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have some sympathy with the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, although the words of his Amendment 34A may not find too much favour in the light of the previous debate, when it refers to,
“making speeches whether or not amplified”,
given the discussion that we have had about amplified speeches outside your Lordships’ House.
There is an important criterion on which, I believe, the noble Lord is seeking reassurance from the Government. People have a democratic and legitimate right to protest in public places, and we would really not want to see these powers misused, if people are campaigning or lobbying for a particular cause or issue, although I do not think that that is the Government’s intention. It would be helpful to have some comment from the Minister. Can he give reassurance that there are no circumstances in which this provision would be allowed to curtail legitimate debate, campaigning or protest? As the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, said, there are other ways in which such issues should be dealt with. We all know of cases where laws have been used for purposes other than those intended by Governments. As the Minister will appreciate, it creates huge suspicion when provisions seem open-ended. I hope that he can give reassurance and be very clear on that, perhaps stating specifically in guidance that the intention would not be to limit in any way the democratic responsibilities of the citizen.
I will not waste the Committee’s time by repeating the arguments, but this is an instance where guidance would not be enough. Unless we can have hard examples of where the provision might be properly used to restrict assembly where there is no other provision to deal with any of the problems, it would not be adequate for guidance to say something like, “The Government would not expect this to be used in such and such a situation”. This is a power that I would be very unhappy to give to anyone because of its misuse, unless there was a very good reason to allow it here and they have no other tools.
I am really grateful for this debate. It has been very helpful to the Committee to be able to talk in these terms. I draw noble Lords’ attention to Clause 55 and how it is constructed. I am not a parliamentary draftsman and sometimes legislation is difficult to read or understand, but here the tests that are required on public spaces protection orders are quite clear and explicit.
We all agree that rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly are important, and we would not wish to interfere with them in this Bill. Noble Lords are right to seek from me reassurance on this. What the amendment seeks to do is not as important as the probing that lies behind it. The legislation sets a very high test that must be applied before a public spaces protection order is used, as I will explain. The first condition of the test, in Clause 55(2), states that the activities must have had a detrimental effect on the quality of life of those in the locality or it is likely that such activities will occur which could have this effect. The second condition is that the activity is persistent, unreasonable and is justified by the restrictions on the notice. I think that gives us a pretty clear idea of the sort of activity which a public spaces protection order is designed to cover.
I consider it highly unlikely that, in the case of a peaceful protest, or holding placards or handing out literature, or talking to people, even the first condition could be met. I do not see that as being a condition which any court would allow.
The noble Lord refers to “any court”. It is of course the local authority that will be making the judgment. The court would only be involved at a much later stage, if that was challenged. The Minister says that the second condition is that it has to be,
“of a persistent or continuing nature”
and “unreasonable”. It does not have to be. It has to be “likely to”: a judgment is being made as to whether or not the effect of the activities is “likely to” do something. That is a much weaker test than that which the noble Lord implied.
The noble Baroness has only referred to one part of the second condition; there are three tests within the second condition alone. With the extra requirements set out in the second condition, I am satisfied that we have provided sufficient safeguards to ensure that these orders cannot be used to prevent peaceful protests or free speech. It is also worth mentioning that local authorities and the courts—I am sorry to come back to the courts, but we rely on them to make sure that legislation is properly used—must exercise their obligations compatibly with Articles 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which enshrine the rights to freedom of expression and association respectively. They are intrinsic in any matter concerning peaceful public protest or free speech.
That is not to say that public order legislation will not continue to apply; it can still apply. My remarks should therefore not be taken as licence to include threatening or abusive words on a placard, or the bearer of the placard containing that sort of wording could be liable to arrest. There is overriding public order legislation, but the test on a public spaces protection order has to satisfy the notion that it is a behaviour which is persistent and continuing, is or is likely to be such as to make activities unreasonable and justifies the restrictions imposed by the notice. All three of those have to be part of the second condition, let alone the first. I hope that, with that reassurance, my noble friend will withdraw his amendment.
I am grateful for that discussion. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, for her support. It is clearly a complicated matter. I will go away and look carefully at what the Minister has said. I suspect that I will not be completely satisfied but, nevertheless, perhaps looking forward to further discussions, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 34A withdrawn.
34B: Clause 55, page 32, line 38, leave out “consult”
My Lords, I can be brief with this group of government amendments which implement the recommendations made by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee in respect of certain of the delegated powers in Parts 1, 4 and 5 of the Bill. The amendments to Clauses 55, 56 and 57 are worthy of particular comment. The Delegated Powers Committee argued that, in relation to the public spaces protection orders, the current provisions in the Bill requiring a local authority to consult with the chief officer of police and community representatives was too narrow given the potential impact of such orders. The committee further argued that there should be a general duty to publicise the intention to make a notice. We are happy to accept the point made by the committee. The amendments to Clause 55 therefore require a local authority to publicise its intention to make an order so as to allow persons affected to make representations. In the normal way, a local authority would be bound to consider any such representations before making an order. This process is also replicated where the local authority plans to extend, vary or discharge an existing order by the amendments to Clauses 56 and 57 respectively. I beg to move.
I was a bit slow on to my feet; I suspected that there may be other noble Lords wishing to speak on this.
The noble Lord will recall that these are the amendments over which I last week raised our concerns about their being tabled late. The anticipation was that they would be debated the day after they were laid, so I am pleased that we have had a gap and welcome the opportunity to look at them more closely.
The amendments to Clause 55 are in response, as the noble Lord has said, to recommendations from the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. The Government had tried to confer a wide-ranging and significant power on local authorities to control the ways in which public spaces are used without any requirement to publicise the public spaces protection order before it was made. We agree with the committee that that would have been inappropriate delegation of powers. I am pleased that the Government have tabled the amendment, which would require a local authority to publish the text of the proposed order, if I understand it correctly, or an extension in duration of an existing order, or any variation in a public spaces protection order. It adds clarity, which I welcome, but there are still concerns about the amended clause that will need to be addressed later in passage of the Bill.
As the noble Lord said, government Amendments 56ADA and 56ADB on orders relating to the Housing Act—those on absolute grounds for possession of anti-social behaviour—and government Amendment 100 about the granting of injunctions will ensure that those elements are subject to the affirmative procedure. We have serious concerns about these proposals. The amendments at least provide for a greater degree of accountability of the legislative process and add greater scrutiny to these powers, which we find deeply flawed. There are loopholes and my noble friend Lord Rosser will be speaking to those in the course of today’s debate.
I will give one example. Clause 4 specifies the bodies which are authorised to apply under Clause 1 for an injunction against a person to prevent them engaging in conduct capable of causing nuisance and annoyance. Subsection (5) of that clause will enable changes to be made to bodies and persons who are authorised to apply for an injunction under Clause 1, including making changes to the circumstances in which a body may make such an application. The Government’s view has been challenged, and I think they now accept this: it is not a general power to amend but is restricted to adding persons who may apply for an anti-social behaviour order under Section 1 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998.
The Delegated Powers Committee said that the Home Office’s explanation does not take account of the different nature of an anti-social behaviour order from an injunction under Clause 1, including the different tests to be applied in each case when determining an application. As a result, the Government have now tabled amendments whereby this would now rightly be subject to an affirmative procedure, which is much more appropriate.
Government Amendments 56ADA and 56ADB relate to subsections (10) and (11) of Section 84A of the Housing Act 1985. One of the conditions that, if met, could be used to trigger repossession proceedings, is that the tenant,
“or a person living in or”,
“visiting the dwelling, has been convicted of a ‘serious offence’; and that offence was committed in the locality of the dwelling, against a person who lives in the locality, or against the landlord or a person employed in connection with the landlord’s housing management functions”.
The Delegated Powers Committee stated that,
“the scope of the power is not limited in any way, but simply allows the addition or removal of any indictable offence. In our view, this is a significant Henry VIII power, since the way in which it is exercised will have a direct effect on the circumstances in which a court will be required to order possession”.
Therefore we certainly agree with the government amendment that it is more appropriate that these amendments subject this process to the affirmative procedure. Obviously, the repossession process can have a hugely detrimental impact on people’s lives, and as such, any such power introduced by the Government must be monitored closely. Noble Lords have to be aware that we have serious concerns about that policy. My noble friend Lord Rosser will speak about that in more depth when we come to our debate on Clauses 86 and 89 stand part.
My key point on these government amendments is that while we think that they are more appropriate, agree with the comments made by the Delegated Powers Committee, and support specific amendments—we certainly will not oppose them—we still have concerns, even with that additional layer of scrutiny, that the proposals should be subject to greater scrutiny from your Lordships’ House. We shall speak to those later in the debate.
Amendment 34B agreed.
34C: Clause 55, page 32, line 38, at end insert—
“( ) publish the text of the proposed order;”
Amendment 34C agreed.
35: Clause 55, page 32, line 38, at end insert—
“( ) the owner of any part of the public space that is not owned by the local authority;”
My Lords, in moving Amendment 35, I will speak to the other 14 amendments in this group as well. All but the last of these amendments, which was tagged on, are about the extent to which there should be consultation and advertising of public spaces protection orders before they are made and to what extent they should be publicised afterwards. What is in the Bill at the moment is pretty rudimentary.
The amendment made by the Government in the last group improved matters a little. However, Clause 55(7) states:
“A local authority making a public spaces protection order must before doing so consult the chief officer of police, and the local policing body, for the police area that includes the restricted area”.
That is fair enough. Paragraph (b) states that it must consult,
“whatever community representatives the local authority thinks it appropriate to consult”.
That is either very broad or very narrow, but we will hear what the Minister has to say.
In addition, the local authority has to publicise the proposal. The interesting question is, what does that now mean? Again, it could be done simply by putting a tiny advert in an obscure part of a not-very-widely-read newspaper, or by splashing it all over the place, on its website and everywhere else. The question is, will what local authorities are expected to do also be in the guidance? Would it not be better to have some basic proposals in the Bill—which is what my amendments try to ensure?
The first six amendments are about making public spaces protection orders. The remainder, apart from the last one, raise the same questions in relation to extensions, variations and removals of orders—what the legislation calls “discharges”. As far as consultations are concerned, Amendment 35 says that the owner of the land must be consulted. The Minister may tell us, “Of course the owner of the land will be told what is going on”, but it does not say so in the Bill. Whether the owner of a particular piece of land is a community representative may be a question of doubt. The owner may live in Wellington, New Zealand, in Vladivostok, or anywhere. However, if orders will be made that restrict the activities that members of the public can undertake on a particular piece of land, the owner of the land should be consulted about that before the order is made.
Amendment 36 probes what is meant by “community representatives”. Will the guidance tell us? The amendment would take that out, but only in order to probe what it means. Amendment 37 says that the county council—the highways authority in two-tier areas—should be consulted as one of the main local authorities. The county will think that it is the major local authority. The district may disagree, but nevertheless, the county council clearly should be consulted, particularly if the public spaces protection order affects a highway. The county is the highways authority—it is responsible for that highway—and it may well have a view as to whether activities should be restricted or whether people should be banned from going on that highway, if it is a right of way. The amendment also says that parish councils should be consulted.
I have put down amendment after amendment about parish councils and I sometimes think that the people who write legislation in central London—in Westminster and Whitehall—do not have much experience of them. I know that the Minister has huge experience of parish councils, because he lives in a part of the world in Lincolnshire that is rife with them, and quite rightly so. People may say, “Some parish councils are rubbish”, but some are brilliant. When it comes to dealing with things such as local environmental crime on a small but irritating level, or with anti-social behaviour, parish councils have an essential role to play. They are at the heart of communities and can help to stop it happening.
I propose simply that if a public spaces protection order is being made on land within a parish, surely that parish council should be consulted. The Minister may say, “Yes, the parish council is certainly the community representative, and will therefore be consulted”. I would like at the very least the assurance that that will be in the guidance. Unfortunately some district councils do not like parish councils, not even their own, and go out of their way to keep them out of things.
Amendment 38, which is quite complicated, sets out rules for advertising the proposal, making copies available, and considering representations and objections. It also says that the decision should be made in public, because some of those decisions will be very controversial, and they should not simply be made by a delegated authority to an officer or to a cabinet member who makes the decision without having to justify it to people who wish to support it or protest against it. Amendment 39 says that once a public spaces protection order has been made it has to be published and should be open to inspection. The Minister may tell me, “Of course that will happen—it will be in the guidance”. I look forward to that.
Finally, Amendment 56ZC covers a rather different area. It is an amendment which probes what the term “community representative” means, and whether it can mean a regional or national body that is perhaps called in by local people for some expertise. Again, I think, for example, of the Ramblers or the Open Spaces Society, which might be brought in if there is a proposal to close a right of way by a public spaces protection order. If the normal procedures for closing rights of way were to be carried through, through the highways legislation or the Wildlife and Countryside Act, that would happen automatically.
The danger is that this legislation may provide a shortcut that local authorities will find very attractive. I am not sure that “shortcut” is the right word; it should aim to close a shortcut which may be highly controversial. One ought to be able to bring in experts in the field. Nowadays, it is not difficult to consult organisations. In the old days, you had to print off another copy of a letter, put it in an envelope, put a stamp on it and post it off. Nowadays, you do not do that; you just have an easy distribution list on your computer and you send it off to everybody, so there is no excuse for limiting and restricting the number of people who should be consulted and should be able to make representations. I sit on a local committee which deals with rights of way questions. Usually, the people who make representations to us are local people. If it is the Ramblers Association, it is a local branch of that association. However, sometimes the issue is more controversial and difficult, and national organisations get involved. These national organisations may be heritage organisations or amenity organisations. All sorts of organisations get involved on behalf of local people who have asked them to do so. Excluding them, which is what this section of the Bill seems to do, is ridiculous. I look forward to the Minister’s response, as ever. I beg to move Amendment 35.
My Lords, I support my noble friend, especially on Amendments 38 and 56ZC. I raise the vexed issue of dogs and am happy that my first interjection on the Bill concerns that issue—indeed, I have been looking forward to it—in the context of public spaces protection orders. I think that many local authorities will consider introducing such orders to ban bull breeds of dogs from green spaces. Many people may support such a measure but an animal welfare issue is involved. If local authorities decide to ban a specific breed of dog, who will enforce it and where will those dogs be walked? Making such orders would be popular and therefore many local communities may suggest that they be implemented across the whole of their area, which would cause an animal welfare issue, especially for those responsible dog owners who look after their pets. Indeed, evidence shows that Staffordshire bull terriers are safe dogs if handled properly. However, many of the problems associated with status dogs arise because people do not understand how to look after them and do not train them properly. Blanket orders banning such dogs from green spaces could be very popular but would cause many problems. Many animal welfare charities are overrun with bull breeds of dogs that have been abandoned and the measure we are discussing would exacerbate that problem. The amendment would ensure consultation around such enforcement. I think that enforcement of breed-specific measures would be a mistake. The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 was drawn up in haste and tried to ban pit bull terriers. However, there are now more pit bull terriers in the country than when the Act was introduced, so it did not work. In addition, it is a very difficult law to enforce.
I understand that muzzling or keeping dogs on leads at certain times could be a solution to this problem in certain areas but a blanket ban would be a problem. Will this issue be dealt with in the guidance that will be brought forward? If that is not the case, who will make representations on behalf of these dog breeds? Amendment 38 refers to representations. I hope that national bodies will be consulted in areas where dog wardens do not exist following financial cuts. I very much hope that the Minister will advise that blanket bans cannot be imposed in this regard unless the animal welfare issues are fully discussed.
My Lords, I want to interrupt this string of Liberal Democrat speakers to correct the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. He implied that the reason why parish councils were not referred to more explicitly in the Bill is that so many officials live in London and London does not have parish councils. However, London has the power to create parish councils. Indeed, last year a parish council was created in Queen’s Park following a referendum of local residents who voted for it by two to one, with about 1,000 residents voting in favour and about 500 voting against. Therefore, it is possible to create parishes in London and many local authorities have looked at this as a way of ensuring adequate local community and neighbourhood representation. Where such parishes or adequate community and neighbourhood structures exist, you would expect them to be consulted on the orders about which the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, is concerned.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his amendments in this group. I am happy to say that I believe there is merit in a number of his suggestions. I hope that he will be pleased by my response to his amendments.
Amendments 35, 45 and 50 would see the landowner consulted, if this is not the council—the council could, of course, be the landowner—before a public spaces protection order is made. I accept that it is entirely appropriate that the council should take reasonable steps to consult either the landowner or occupier of any land to be covered by a public spaces protection order. It is conceivable that this could be done through a relevant community representative under Clause 55(7)(b), but I acknowledge that the owner or occupier is in rather a different position and should be consulted directly where they can be identified. Likewise, Amendments 37, 47 and 52 would add parish councils, county councils and community councils to the list of bodies to be consulted where appropriate. Again, I accept that there is a case for having these bodies on the face of the legislation for the avoidance of doubt, and I would like to consider this matter further between now and Report. The viability of parish councils can vary enormously. I come from one of the largest parishes in England. Holbeach has a population of not far off 10,000 people and has its own resources, including a park and sports areas, so it is a considerable body in its own right.
Amendments 38, 49 and 53 would make provisions for prior public consultation where an authority wishes to issue, vary or extend an order. These go into more detail than the requirement to consult,
“whatever community representatives the local authority thinks … appropriate”.
As my noble friend Lord Ahmad said on the previous group of amendments, we have considered the points made by the Delegated Powers Committee about publicising orders and accept that such a requirement should be written into the Bill. Our amendments will require orders to be publicised before they are made, extended, varied or discharged. I hope my noble friend will accept that the government amendments achieve the substance of his Amendments 38, 49 and 53. It follows that having publicised its intention to make an order, a council is duty bound to consider any representations it receives in response to such a notification. We do not need to provide for this on the face of the Bill.
If I understand my noble friend’s scheme correctly, Amendments 36, 46 and 51 are consequential upon Amendments 38, 49 and 53. These amendments would remove the more generic reference to consulting “community representatives”. However, I still see merit in leaving reference to community representatives, which could include residents’ associations or other local, or indeed national, bodies.
This brings me on to Amendment 56ZC, which seeks to remove any doubt as to whether a national body falls within the category of community representative. While I believe that the Bill already covers the situations that my noble friend envisages, this additional clarity would be helpful and I would like to assure my noble friend that I will consider it.
I am also sympathetic to the sentiment behind Amendments 39 and 40, which relate to publicising an order once it has been made. Amendment 39 would specify that when an order is publicised this should include putting it on the local authority’s website. It was always our intention to keep the regulations light touch to ensure maximum flexibility at a local level. However, I suggest that in order to future-proof the legislation we avoid referencing websites specifically in the Bill so that if more appropriate media are developed in 10 years we do not require primary legislation. But we can certainly make clear in the regulations that the council should publish the order, at the very least, on its website.
Similarly, Amendment 40 seems to set a reasonable expectation that once an order is in place it will be available for inspection. Indeed, we would expect this to be best practice, although perhaps publishing the order on the website might make it more widely accessible than making it available at the council’s offices, as the amendment proposes. The point is well made but this matter is best addressed in guidance.
My noble friend Lord Redesdale opened up a tricky issue in an almost pre-emptive strike on our debates on dogs, if I may say so. However, quite a number of aspects of this matter are covered in the draft Home Office guidance on controlling the presence of dogs. When deciding whether to make requirements or restrictions on dogs and their owners, local councils will need to consider whether there are suitable alternatives for dogs to be exercised without restrictions. Under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, dog owners are required to provide for the welfare needs of their animals. This includes providing the necessary amount of exercise each day. Councils should be aware of the publicly accessible parks and other public places in their area that dog walkers can use to exercise their dogs without restrictions. I therefore hope that my noble friend is reassured about that, although he should also understand that we need to keep the public safe from dogs that are out of control. We will no doubt be discussing that delicate balance when we reach the dog provisions in the Bill.
I hope that I have been able to reassure my noble friend Lord Greaves on at least a number of the points he has raised through these amendments. I hope he will accept that the government amendments to Clauses 55 to 57 go some considerable way to addressing his concerns. I have also said that I will take away Amendments 35, 37, 45, 47, 50, 52 and 56ZC and consider them further in advance of Report. I make no commitment to bringing forward government amendments at that stage but will certainly reflect very carefully on the points he has made. With that commitment, I ask my noble friend not to press his amendments.
My Lords, I am a little overwhelmed by this stream of ministerial reasonableness, having spent most of the past 13 years in your Lordships’ House moving amendments and being met by the stubbornness of, “We must defend our Bill at all costs”. Seriously, I am grateful for what the Minister has said and, in the hope that we will get a good mix of government amendments and assurances about what will clearly and firmly be in the guidance, I am delighted to beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 35 withdrawn.
35A: Clause 55, page 32, line 39, at beginning insert “consult”
Amendment 35A agreed.
Amendment 36 not moved.
36A: Clause 55, page 32, line 41, at beginning insert “consult”
Amendment 36A agreed.
Amendments 37 to 40 not moved.
41: Clause 55, page 33, line 6, at end insert—
“( ) A public spaces protection order may not be made in respect of land which—
(a) appears on a register of commons and of town and village greens maintained by a Commons Registration Authority,(b) is access land under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, (c) is a footpath, bridleway, restricted byway or byway open to all traffic which appears on a definitive map of rights of way, or(d) is a cycle path or other way designed for pedestrians or vehicles used by disabled persons which is financed or maintained by a public authority, or which was authorised or required by a planning permission.”
My Lords, this is the last group of amendments that I shall move or speak to. After that there will be just a few bullet points and I therefore hope that the Committee will bear with me a little because this is a long and complex group, in which my noble friend Lady Hamwee also has an amendment.
All these amendments are about the types of land where rights of access are provided by legislation, often with an actual or implied right to take part in formal recreation while accessing the land. There are two kinds of such land. The first is areas of land that include commons, village and town greens, and access land under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, which includes the new coastal access routes and the spreading room between those routes and the sea. I remember that the person who led on the CROW Bill for the Liberal Democrats was my noble friend Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer. Some of the amendments she moved attempted to place an obligation on councils to publicise areas of access land on their websites. We were told by the Government of the day that that was inappropriate because websites were new and unknown, most councils might not have them, and that they were therefore inappropriate. Now we are told by the current Minister that websites may not be around for very long and are therefore ephemeral. Such is the passage of time. The second type of land is highways, routes, rights of way and other important recreational routes. Some of the amendments in the group cover both types of land but, rather than going through the amendments in detail, I shall take each type in turn.
The first two paragraphs of Amendment 41 state:
“A public spaces protection order may not be made in respect of land which—
(a) appears on a register of commons and of town and village greens”,
“(b) is access land under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000”.
Commons and greens are special places, the rights of access to which are contained in historic law, some of it common law, and in the CROW Act and the Commons Act 2006. The CROW Act provides a right to roam on all commons. Village greens and town greens are specifically designated as areas where informal recreation has taken place without permission or hindrance for at least 20 years, and in some cases for centuries. The right to informal recreation on greens is basic to their existence. Restricting such access and activities by the relatively easy administrative process under public spaces protection orders is, frankly, not acceptable. It is possible to have restrictions on greens but such restrictions are carefully worked out and laid down, and difficult to achieve. Commons are also historic and the right of public access is entrenched in the Acts. Often access to and the presence of a common are common law rights, by which I mean common law, not the Commons Act. Again, it is quite unacceptable that these ancient rights can be overturned and that there is only one difficult right of appeal to the High Court.
Amendment 41A concerns something quite different. It is about rights of common, although I do not want to go into great detail on those or we may be here all night. A common typically has an owner, which may be a public authority or a private owner. It also has commoners who are attached to the common, and they have rights of common. Nowadays, it is mainly a grazing right, but there may be ancient rights such as pannage and turbary, which noble Lords can look up in the dictionary. These rights of common belong to the commoners and are quite separate from the rights of ownership of the owner of the common. It would be absurd if these rights, which are laid down, could be overturned by the relatively straightforward administrative procedure of setting up a public spaces protection order, and that ought to be made quite clear.
Highways which are of real concern here are the rights of way on a definitive map. Several of these amendments are not consistent with each other because they put forward alternative ways of providing safeguards or simply take them out of the legislation altogether. I hope that the Government will start looking at the safeguards. These rights of way as defined under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 are public footpaths, bridleways, the slightly more esoteric restricted byways, and BOATs—byways open to all traffic. The legislative regime is clear. It has been in place for a long time under the Highways Acts and, now, under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. It is possible to close or divert rights of way. Closures and diversions happen all the time, but doing so is complex and the procedures are quite long, and that is deliberate because these are ancient historic rights that ought not to be able to be taken away easily and quickly. As I said earlier, I am on a committee that deals with them. You can appeal if a right of way is closed or diverted and the local authority has not achieved an adequate consensus, and the appeal is made to the magistrates’ court; you do not have to go galloping off to the High Court, which most people would find impossible. However, there is a fear that some councils will use public spaces protection orders to close such routes.
I have mentioned other sorts of routes which are often found in urban areas—cycleways and paths provided for disabled people. They usually have no statutory protection as such, and in these cases you probably have to rely on the good sense of the local authority. However, I have put them on the table as being a possible problem when local authorities do not behave sensibly.
I want briefly, or perhaps not so briefly, to refer to gating orders. These were introduced in the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005. They never got a proper scrubbing down in scrutiny terms in your Lordships’ House because that Act went into the wash-up at the end of the Parliament and we did not get to discuss them as we might have done. However, they have been relatively successful in most of the cases where they have been brought in. Some 1,700 gating orders have been made. A gating order simply puts gates on the end of a highway—usually a local back street—so that people cannot access it. There is a procedure under the Highways Act 1980, as amended by the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act, for making gating orders, and this Bill subsumes gating orders under public spaces protection orders.
Most gating orders have been uncontroversial. They provide an improvement to community safety and the local environment. They stop people going down the backs of houses when they can perfectly easily go down the front, so no inconvenience is caused. They typically relate to back streets, alleys, snickets or ginnels, depending on where you live. However, some have been very controversial where local authorities have used them in inappropriate circumstances to close down footpaths linking one place to another and there are no satisfactory alternatives. Examples are where routes within urban areas link a main road and a school, a housing estate and playing fields, or routes to shopping centres and so on. There have also been one or two examples where the gating of a local highway in a town has blocked access to the rights of way network in the countryside, and that has clearly been undesirable.
I am not arguing against being able to use public spaces protection orders for gating purposes because that is how the Government now want to proceed. I am asking the Minister whether we can have some really good, genuine safeguards to ensure that they will be used only for those very local circumstances where the purpose is to keep people away from residential property and not to stop people using linking routes—usually footpaths—which are of value to the community. As it stands on rights of way, the Bill removes the basic safeguards in the Highways Act. At the very best, it shifts the balance to enable the easy closure of a right of way for three years, then for it to be extended for three years at a time, and eventually for ever. Real problems are involved in conflating gating orders with all rights of way. I am sure that there are ways around that by which everybody’s objectives can be reached, and I ask the Minister to treat this seriously and to have further discussions about it. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have Amendment 53FA in this group. It is an amendment to Clause 60, dealing with restricting the right of way over a highway. I am suggesting that in subsection (4), which provides:
“A public spaces protection order may not restrict the public right of way over a highway for the occupiers of premises”,
we should also refer to “users” of premises,
“adjoining or adjacent to the highway”.
This is a probing amendment to ask whether the term “occupiers” includes people authorised by the occupier. Obviously this would apply to all premises, but it was thinking about business premises that made me decide that this needed to be made clear, because restricting in effect the use of business premises would be a serious matter.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friends Lord Greaves and Lady Hamwee for explaining their amendments. Before I start on my notes, I should draw my noble friends’ attention to the underlying conditions that local authorities need to reflect on before they make orders. I think that they condition the whole approach and, to some extent, satisfy some of the anxieties that my noble friends have expressed.
I can assure my noble friend Lord Greaves that, like him, I fervently believe that public spaces are there for everyone to enjoy, but they should not be ruined by a careless and irresponsible minority. These new orders are designed to allow maximum flexibility for the council, meaning that restrictions on access to, or use of, any land should be considered only as a last resort. However, where restrictions on access are necessary, the option should be available to protect victims and communities from anti-social behaviour. That is what we are about and it is what the Bill is about.
On Amendment 41, I accept that the categories of land listed are important and, indeed, worthy of the further debate they have received today. This is exactly why many of them are covered explicitly in the draft guidance. However, making this amendment would stop the local council protecting those spaces more generally from issues that might deter usage. It is important that we do not inhibit the flexibility provided by these new orders.
Perhaps I may illustrate the point. Many of the categories of land listed here are commonly used by dog walkers as well as children. Given the risk to children of diseases spread by dog faeces, it is only right that a council has the ability to introduce measures to ensure that dog owners clean up after their animal. In addition, where some of these areas of land have become a focal point for people to congregate and drink alcohol, making usage by others unpleasant or even impossible, the council should be able to prohibit the drinking of alcohol to free the space for the majority who want to use it responsibly. The amendment as drafted would preclude the council providing these protections or any others that were necessary on the categories of land listed.
Amendment 41A is more specific and is designed to protect any rights of common, such as the right to graze animals, enjoyed by individuals or groups on common land. This amendment is, I believe, unnecessary. A public spaces protection order would not be used to stop a commoner exercising his right of common. In the case of rights of common, it is hard to imagine a situation where a right exercised by a commoner could result in anti-social behaviour, unless it were being done in a particular way. The new flexibility afforded to councils with the public spaces protection order means they can address the problem element of the behaviour while protecting the wider rights.
Amendment 54 would ensure that certain categories of land could not have access restricted. First, let me say that I accept the importance of maintaining access to footpaths, bridleways and byways so that they are available for the enjoyment of all. However, the list in Clause 61 relates to those highways that are of strategic value. This means that, in all probability, restricting access would have a significant impact on the community, if not the region or the country, that far outweighs the impact of any problem behaviours. I do not feel that the same can be said for all public rights of way. However, I agree that they deserve special consideration and I am happy to see how this can be made clearer in the guidance, but where the anti-social behaviour—and it is the anti-social behaviour that we are dealing with, not access—of those using these routes has reached a stage where the community is suffering, the council should have the ability to restrict access either in part or in totality.
I would like to make one more point which I hope my noble friend will appreciate. Due to the way in which the current orders in this area are framed, in many cases a gating order, and indeed the complete closure of a right of way, is the only option available to councils. The new order seeks to change this. Problem behaviours and anti-social individuals and groups can be dealt with more effectively under the new power, ensuring that the restriction of access is necessary only as a last resort. We have made this clear in the guidance, but I am content to work with interested groups such as the Open Spaces Society and the Ramblers, to see whether it can be made any more explicit.
The other amendments my noble friend Lord Greaves has in this group relate to restrictions on rights of way over a highway and appropriate safeguards. Amendment 53B seeks to provide further safeguards on the list of things that need to be considered before the right of way over a highway is restricted. I believe that as currently worded Clause 60 provides those assurances. However, we can consider how to go into more detail in the accompanying guidance to ensure that my noble friend’s concerns are addressed.
Amendment 53D would mean that all those affected would have to be notified in writing. In most cases, I think this would probably be correct. However, it may be that for some orders another medium would be more appropriate, such as speaking individually to those affected if there is only a small number. As such, I do not believe we should tie the hands of councils in this way in the Bill.
I am also sympathetic to the intention behind Amendment 53E. When restricting access to a highway, the council will have to publicise it properly. It seems sensible that a sign at either end of the footpath would be the way in which this is done. Likewise, as we have already discussed, many councils will advertise these restrictions on their websites and through a number of different channels. However, I believe this is something that we can cover more effectively in the guidance and I do not believe it should be in the Bill as it could place an unnecessary burden on councils where those channels are not appropriate.
Again, I agree with the intention behind Amendment 53F, which I believe would be best practice anyway. Taxpayers would expect their local agencies, as public bodies, to be working together to address problems and sharing information of this type should be the norm. I do not believe that it needs to be in the Bill but, again, I am happy to further clarify this in guidance.
I hope I can also provide some assurances on Amendment 53FA, tabled by my noble friend Lady Hamwee. The legislation makes clear that when a public right of way is restricted over a highway, those who occupy premises on that highway cannot be precluded from accessing it. This is perfectly right, but my noble friend suggests that “users” of those premises should be included. I sympathise with the sentiment, but I fear that such a definition could open the exception out too far and make it difficult for local authorities to protect communities. However, I would remind my noble friend that, as I said at the beginning, in order to make a public spaces protection order the local authority has reasonably to believe that the behaviour justifies the restrictions. Restricting access to a highway is a significant step and, as such, the conduct it is weighed up against is also likely to be more serious. I believe that councils will use the most restrictive elements of this power only when the behaviour is such that it warrants the restrictions. We are back to the principles which are enshrined in Clause 55.
In conclusion, we will look at how we can take account in our guidance of a number of the points that have been raised in these amendments. In preparing the final guidance, we will continue to work with interested parties such as the Open Spaces Society. With those assurances, I hope that my noble friend will withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful for some of that, I think. I am less overwhelmed than I was on the previous group of amendments, but there are some issues there to latch on to and have further discussions and debates about. The Minister has several times today made the point that public spaces protection orders are more flexible than, for example, gating orders or some of the other things they may replace, and it is a good point. Local authorities will find useful the ability to place sensible rules on the use of a right of way that might, for example, go near houses. From that point of view, the flexibility in the orders is a good thing. The problem is that the bottom line is that access can be stopped by quick, quite easy administrative procedures which can be appealed in the High Court only. That drives a coach and horses—that is the wrong image for footpaths—through the existing Highways Act legislation, which provides the opportunity to close a public footpath, but makes it much more difficult. There are many more hoops to go through. Those hoops are there for very good reasons. Perhaps the Minister might consider a two-stage process for public protection orders, making it clear to local authorities that they cannot just go straight to closing access if they have not tried these other more flexible means instead.
In practice, once you have banned people from going on a village green, you have lost. Whoever is doing it, they have lost. If there is anti-social behaviour on a village green, it must be tackled as anti-social behaviour to stop it. It is not a sensible answer to it to say that nobody can go on to a village or town green or access land because a minority are ruining it by “careless and irresponsible activity”, to quote the Minister. We all agree that careless and irresponsible activity has to be stopped when it is causing a nuisance, but the problem is the knock-on effect of preventing everybody else using historic facilities. They are not being careless but are being perfectly responsible. Keeping them off because a minority are hooligans is the wrong approach. If there is a minority of hooligans, we have to tackle that minority.
It would pay my noble friend to read Clause 55 to see that it is targeted at behaviour, not space. I recognise exactly his concerns—the anti-social activity is targeted in the order. Subsection (8) states that the order must,
“identify the activities … explain the effect … specify the period for which the order has effect”.
I hope that my noble friend will study this because a lot of his anxieties are taken care of not just in guidance but in the Bill.
My Lords, that is true, but I shall finish where I started on public spaces protection orders. They are different from the other orders because, although they are based on people’s behaviour, the order goes not on the people but on the land. Because it goes on the land it affects everybody. That is the difference and why we have to be very careful.
I was going to read out some of the draft guidance that has been produced so far but I thought that your Lordships would probably not want to hear. It is pretty weak—it is considering, thinking about and then getting on with it. The guidance—if that is what we are to rely on—will have to beefed up very considerably. On that basis, however, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 41 withdrawn.
Amendment 41A not moved.
Clause 55, as amended, agreed.
Clause 56: Duration of orders
41B: Clause 56, page 33, line 9, leave out “3 years” and insert “1 year”
In moving Amendment 41B, I will speak to Amendments 44A, 44B, 49A and 55A. The amendments take us to Clause 56, dealing with the duration of public spaces protection orders. I entirely take the point that Clause 55 is targeted at activities, but I also take my noble friend’s point that such an order affects everyone. After all, the title of the order is about protecting space, even though the language of the Bill is about the quality of life of the people who may be affected.
The orders may last for up to three years with, I understand, an unlimited number of extensions. The Minister said that he shares the view that public space should be for everyone to enjoy. I take a more urban view than that of my noble friend Lord Greaves. Where space is very scarce in an urban environment it is important not to restrict it. I am aware that one can argue this both ways: one can also say that it is important to ensure that activities do not take place that mean that it is not enjoyable for everyone. It is not just an urban or even suburban or rural issue.
My amendments would provide for the duration to be no more than a year with a single extension, and for there to be no new order dealing with substantially the same space until the expiry of a year—a sort of anti-avoidance provision. For all the reasons already discussed, I would be very concerned about having something that becomes permanent or semi-permanent, but I have a more practical concern as well—it is in part philosophical. My practical concern is: if the order is to stop undesirable activities, whatever they may be, taking place on a particular space, how does one assess that the threat has passed? If the order goes on and on, the culture, local habits and so on of the area may have changed necessarily, and we will never know whether we have been successful, as we should have been in that we have prohibited an activity, or whether we have actually changed behaviour.
Also, if an order goes on and on, it is difficult to see how it can be challenged in the wide, democratic sense. Clause 62 is about challenging validity, but that is different. However, I have Amendment 55A—a pretty ropey amendment, I am afraid, but it would allow some sort of challenge. It is not a good amendment because the clause is about validity, but it will enable me to raise the issue with the Minister on how one challenges such orders. I beg to move.
My Lords, I understand the nature of the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, in terms of restricting the length of time of a public spaces protection order, but I believe that the proposals go in the wrong direction. I wonder why there is an automatic process of the orders essentially expiring after a period of three years. The power to make orders sets a whole series of conditions for how the process is to be done. It requires extensive consultation, the nature of which we have discussed already. I am assuming that the orders are made in the context of consensus having been reached in a community that that is the way forward. If such a consensus has been reached, why do we have to go through this process regularly? It would be on an annual basis if the amendment moved by the noble Baroness is passed. Surely the point of the Government’s proposal is that a local authority will apply for the orders on the basis of having consulted widely, including with the chief officer of police and all the others specified in the order. That would include consultation with the local community. If the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, had his way, there would be explicit reference to the importance of parish councils, and I would certainly not object to that. So there we have a community consensus around the protection of public spaces in the area, and then it is said that the order should not have effect for a period of more than three years.
There is then a process of extension and, essentially, as I understand it, the extension could be for one term only and therefore would lapse after six years. I may be wrong about that. The harrumphing from the ministerial Bench suggests that I may have got this wrong and I shall be delighted if that is the case. However, it would therefore mean that a process would have to be gone through every three years and, if the noble Baroness’s amendment was passed, that process would have to be gone through every single year. There may well be circumstances in which people want these public places protection orders in place. In that is the case, why is it necessary to go through this process?
It may be that the Minister will say that opinions may change and things may happen, but local authorities are, in essence, democratic. They are elected on a cycle, usually every four years—or refreshed every four years—so if the local perceptions change and these public spaces protection orders no longer have the support of local communities, that will be reflected in the nature of the local councillors for the area and it will therefore be up to the local council to decide whether it wants to rescind the order or change the order and make it different.
I wonder about these time limits which, to me, seem potentially too restrictive. To make them even more restrictive, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, suggests, would be detrimental to the objectives that the Minister is no doubt seeking for these powers.
My Lords, I share the puzzlement of the noble Lord, Lord Harris, about the provision in Clause 56, particularly as all the flexibility needed is covered in Clause 57. There is a power to discharge, which would no doubt be exercised when the local community is satisfied that the order is no longer needed, and there is a valuable power to vary the order so that it could be extended to more people or its scope reduced if that is shown to be necessary. Flexibility is key and I would have thought that one could get by perfectly well with Clause 57 without having Clause 56 there at all.
My Lords, I respectfully agree with what the noble and learned Lord has just said. The only way in which Clause 56 might be amended to satisfy the anxiety is to make it a relatively simple procedure. At the moment, subsection (5) requires that the local authority must consult various people. If the local authority was given an opportunity so that it “may” consult rather than “must” consult, it would make the extension a relatively informal procedure. Otherwise, I entirely accept what the noble and learned Lord says: Clause 56 is over elaborate in view of the existence of Clause 57.
My Lords, there are two problems here. The noble Lord, Lord Harris, is partly right and partly wrong because it depends on what kind of public spaces protection order is being made. If the public spaces protection order is made to prevent dogs going into a children’s play area—the example given earlier by the Minister—there is no reason why that should require a formal procedure to consult and so on every three years because once dogs are banned from a children’s area they will be banned for ever. It may be controversial at first but, once it has been done, no one will complain about it afterwards. If, on the other hand, you are using it as a quick, easy procedure to close a right of way instead of going through the proper closure procedure under the Highways Act, it certainly should be reviewed. My noble friend and I are saying that it should be reviewed within a year or within six months if it concerns a right of way.
This is because of the nature of the right that you are taking away from people who are not guilty of any offences. You are reducing the liberties of perfectly innocent citizens, and the nature of that reduction ought to be subject to reconsideration. How can you differentiate in the Bill between the routine orders that no one is going to complain about—orders that would otherwise be in the local playground by-laws or other rules and regulations—and serious orders that take away people’s historic rights of access to particular areas? I would be happy with a provision that the prevention of access would have to be reviewed if the public spaces protection order involved the removal of people’s rights to access land that they would otherwise have access to. This would apply to any access, whether or not it was to a common or a green or whatever. That is fairly fundamental and would have to be reviewed.
As to the lesser protections that the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Harris, referred to as not having to be reviewed, there is a way through that if it can be written into the Bill.
My Lords, I can see the distinction the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, draws between disruption of an historic right of way and preventing dogs fouling a children’s play area, but I am not sure how you would get around the problem that, essentially, you are saying to a dog owner, “You do not have access to this area”, or, “You do not have access to the area if you are with your dog”. That is also a restriction on rights of access to a particular area—in that case, a children’s playground. I can see what the noble Lord is trying to get at but the solution he is now proposing—admittedly it is not in an amendment before us—would be very difficult.
We come back to the quality of the consultation in the first place. If there has been a proper consultation and there is a general community view that this restriction on people’s access to a particular area is appropriate, surely that is what you go with rather than this constant process of renewal for what may be very limited sets of circumstances.
I do not think it is as difficult as that. I think it is quite easy. There are plenty of parks nowadays with by-laws that say you cannot take your dog into the park or you have to have it on a lead or whatever. These proposals will make that kind of rule much easier.
It would be possible to look at the question of whether the access itself was fundamentally different from many other things. On the other hand, having thought about that, do you really want an annual or three-yearly review of ordinary gating orders in back streets which are completely non-controversial? I am sure it is possible to think of a way through this and to find a solution.
My Lords, this has been an interesting debate. I have tabled a clause stand part debate because I feel it is a better way of probing the intentions and contradictions in this clause than individual amendments trying to make sense of it. In many ways, the debate we have had has identified some of the contradictions.
These public spaces protection orders will replace three other orders which were specific to certain circumstances—the designated public place order, the gating order and the dog control order. Noble Lords are right; these orders can last for a maximum of three years and can then be renewed and renewed ad infinitum. There is no time limit or renewal limit in the legislation. The debate has highlighted those contradictions and it would be helpful if the noble Lord could reassure us on some issues. I am not sure that he will be able to.
I am unclear why the Government are making changes in this way and whether all the implications of doing so have been considered. The debate we have had so far might indicate that they have not. The exchange between the noble Lords, Lord Harris and Lord Greaves, indicates that the Government are confused, possibly because they are talking about slightly different things. We are replacing different orders, which deal with different complaints, with a single order that is trying to deal with all the complaints. Those original orders were of necessity very specific about the remedy they were trying to bring forward, whereas we are now moving to a more general order. I think that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, made the same point—that it is going to be very difficult to bring in one order to address all the different complaints.
The dog control order is being abolished and replaced with the public spaces protection order. We are yet to have the debate about whether that is adequate to deal with the problems of dangerous dogs, but Battersea Dogs and Cats Home is very concerned about this as it is worried that local authorities will have to extend the powers after three years. Not only will that create a kind of hiatus at some point but it could create an administrative burden at a crucial time when resources are being cut. The noble Lord, Lord Harris, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, made this very point and asked why, if something has been agreed and consulted on, it is necessary to have ongoing reviews and renewals. It could mean less protection if, for example, a local authority fails to renew or gets caught up in some bureaucracy and the renewal does not happen or is delayed.
I think I am correct in saying that there are no limits but it would be helpful if the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, could give an indication of what the average number of renewals will be and how often the Government expect an order to be renewed. I wonder if the Minister understands the concerns that this could be a significant burden on local authorities, which will feel that they have to renew every three years. I looked through the impact assessment to try to find out whether that issue had been looked at, but it had not been specifically addressed. I thought it rather bizarre, given that orders can be renewed and renewed ad infinitum, that the impact assessment refers only to,
“providing councils with a flexible power to put in place local restrictions to address a range of ASB issues in public places, and prevent future problems. This would be different to the current situation as one order would be able to cover a number of issues, rather than needing to follow separate processes for each—reducing bureaucracy and cost for local authorities”.
Representations made to us, however, say that it will increase bureaucracy; that instead of having one order that lasts for the time required, it will have to be renewed beforehand.
There is also concern that in some cases a local authority may go for the maximum time, although it may not need it, because it would be overly burdensome and cumbersome to renew the order. It may think, “We need this to be in place for a year, but rather than having to renew it we will put it in place for three years and just let it lapse and not enforce it if it is not needed for the full three years”. Those are issues of concern. Then there is the other side of the coin. The Ramblers, for example, has other concerns, saying that a maximum of three years,
“is too long a period for the closure of any route of which everyday use is being made”.
I have read through the Explanatory Notes, the impact assessment and the Bill but cannot really understand why the period of three years was chosen. It is quite a lengthy maximum period to cover all the circumstances. What evidence did the Government use and what assessments were made that identified three years as the appropriate time for public spaces protection orders?
Similarly, there is a real danger in trying to address different problems in the same way. Gating orders, for example, are very clear—they do what they say on the tin. I am always very happy to admit that nothing is perfect and make changes to make something more effective, if things can be improved. However, I am not convinced that putting all three of these orders together into one less specific, and therefore weaker, general order is the right way forward.
The Minister and other noble Lords will have received letters about this from naturists who are concerned that it will impact on their activities. One of their concerns is the definition of what constitutes a public open space, which seems to rely on quite a wide description. Can the Minister offer any reassurance on that point?
I have already addressed the amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, but it would be helpful if the Minister could identify how many times he thinks it would be appropriate for an order to be renewed. Has any assessment been made of the costs? The impact assessment says that, because they are not separate processes, it will reduce the cost to local authorities. On what evidence was that comment made? Can he say anything about enforcement? If something is in place in every instance for at least three years, and then renewed, will there be any checks and balances in terms of appropriateness and enforcement?
When I raised this issue in respect of dispersal orders, the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, was unable to answer. I want to try again because I feel very strongly about this. I am sure that we will also return to it for dispersal orders. Any new order that is introduced has to be evidence-based. I am sure—or I hope—that the noble Lord would agree with that. Can he explain where the demand is coming from which says that the public spaces protection order is the appropriate way to proceed instead of the three existing orders, and that that is the only option available for improving or changing those orders? This is another example of where the Government, in trying to streamline or rationalise orders, have let things drop and not identified all the problems and all the issues, such that we could well find ourselves in a weaker position in dealing with these issues. I hope the noble Lord can reassure me that that is not the case. On the present evidence, however, I am worried that effectiveness will be lost by trying to squeeze three orders into one solution.
My Lords, I will just add a supplement to my addendum to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Harris, on the flexibility that lies within the clauses as they stand. Clause 55(8)(c) creates a power to specify the period; so, with great respect to the noble Baroness, it is not a fixture that it will always be three years. If one takes that flexibility along with the point that I made earlier about Clause 57, a lot of flexibility is built into this. It is a very sensitive and well designed measure, subject to the point about whether Clause 56 should be there at all.
As a point of clarification, I am fully aware that it is not three years in every case—it is up to three years. However, one of my concerns is that, because of the cost of renewal and the uncertainties around that, a number of local authorities may think that three years has become the default. It will be easier for them to run to the maximum of three years rather than face the bureaucracy and costs of renewal by doing otherwise.
My Lords, first, I thank all noble Lords who have participated in this debate. In doing so I make the general point that sometimes in debates such as this you hear some noble Lords saying that the period is too long and others saying that it is too short, and so going down the middle is normally the solution. The noble Baroness talked about perfection. Dare I say that, perhaps on this clause, we are as near to that as we can be? I will address the amendments and the questions as far as I can but I hope, as I always do with the noble Baroness opposite, that she will gain some reassurance from what I say, if not from my words then at least from my tone.
These amendments relate to the process of reviewing and extending public spaces protection orders, as we have heard. As noble Lords are aware, there is currently no statutory review point for the orders we are replacing and they can run indefinitely. The argument has been made about where we are today. Putting in a limit is a positive way forward, otherwise—to quote the noble Baroness’s words back at her—these orders run on and on. It is important to look at how they should be reviewed. I believe that there should be a formal review point, which we have decided to set at three years.
The effect of Amendments 41B and 44A, which stand in my noble friend’s name, would of course be to limit this to 12 months. I have listened to the arguments that she put forward. As we have made clear in the guidance, orders do not have to last for three years—a point just made by the noble and learned Lord. There is flexibility within this, according to the circumstance and the situation and at the discretion of the issuing authority, including the local authority, as to what is appropriate. If appropriate, these can be reviewed or discharged before three years have elapsed. My view is more qualified and endorsed after listening to the debate and I believe that three years is a proportionate balance between the needs of users and the protection of the community, especially given the everlasting orders that we are seeking to replace.
Amendments 44B and 49A—which I take to be an alternative to Amendments 41B and 44A—would ensure that orders could not be extended more than once. The noble Lord, Lord Harris, raised the specific point that the legislation allows only for renewal. I am sure that he has reflected on Clause 56; there are provisions specifically to allow for the recurrence of a renewal of an order. He is nodding so I am sure that he agrees with the point I am making.
Of course, there are situations in which longer-term restrictions could be necessary; for example, as I am sure my noble friend is aware, these orders will replace, among other things, dog control orders, as the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, said. This means that a public spaces protection order will be required, as a dog control order is now, to ensure that the fouling of public land is dealt with. I am sure that my noble friend will agree that this is not a problem that can be fixed in three or indeed six years and an ongoing restriction is therefore required. As such, preventing the further renewal of orders would mean communities having to put up with dog mess as well as other potentially anti-social behaviours, such as public drinking.
Turning to Amendment 48, my noble friend will be aware that the orders being replaced by the public spaces protection order do not include a formal review and, as such, can last indefinitely. In reforming the powers, we believed that it was only right that a statutory timeframe was built in, and I am sure that my noble friend will welcome that in principle. As the legislation states, the review should be conducted every three years.
Of course, I understand the concerns raised by my noble friend about the potential impact of a three-year restriction if applied to all orders but, as I have already said, the legislation is clear that councils can limit the duration of an order to a period of less than three years. Indeed, as the draft guidance suggests, in a situation where a public right of way is being closed for the first time to try to deal with a specific issue, the council may well prefer to review this after a shorter period of time.
To make this amendment would mean that all orders covering rights of way would have to be reviewed every six months. This would include, as I have already mentioned, welcome restrictions to deal with dog fouling and the consumption of alcohol. This would turn the new power into a bureaucratic nightmare that resulted in councils that decided to use it living in a loop of constant consultation and review. As I have said before, in my own experience as a local councillor for 10 years, consultations were regularly part and parcel of our decision-making, but if we had to issue an order and then immediately start another consultation, I fear that we would be constantly in consultation mode.
Does my noble friend accept that there could be a difference between the kinds of restrictions he is talking about, which in appropriate circumstances we would all find sensible to last for a long period of time, and actually banning access itself? It is when access itself is banned on a right of way that the real problems start to occur.
I take on board what my noble friend is saying. That is why I believe that, as the clauses are drafted, there is flexibility with regard to the circumstances, the situation and indeed the tenure appropriate to the offence that is being perceived. I have already flagged up that in this instance, if an issue arose for the first time, the local authority may well be minded to apply an order of smaller duration to allow for exactly the kind of review and assessment that my noble friend is suggesting. I understand the point my noble friend makes and, as I have said, it probably refers more to the restricting of access than anything else. I have listened and we will consider how to make the guidance more specific in this regard.
Finally, Amendment 55A relates to appeals against public spaces protection orders. My noble friend has asked for clarification of whether there is a right of appeal against the extension of an order. That is a fair point. The amendment would provide an additional opportunity to challenge an order every time it was extended. This could result in additional appeals, even if the circumstances had not otherwise changed. That said, my noble friend has raised an important point and I will take it away and reflect further on it.
The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, asked if I could predict the number of orders and renewals. Crystal balls are hard to come by and the important thing we are seeking to do here is to ensure that the orders are specific, time-limited and can be reviewed. Again, if the behaviour has been corrected, the order does not need to stay in place for ever. That is an important point to bear in mind. How often are we expecting the orders to be renewed? That is very much up to the local authorities to decide. One order can cover more than one behaviour with a shorter consultation process, so there is less paperwork, less bureaucracy and less delay. Reviews can be quite light-touch, so one review may be more intensive than another. It would be almost impossible to give a cost for each review.
We should not forget that there is an absolute need for democratic accountability for the continued operation of these orders. The Government feel that the balance has been struck. The noble Baroness talked about the Ramblers and Battersea Dogs and Cats Home. Perhaps she would like to respond and tell me whether she believes that what we are seeking to do in Clause 56 is appropriate, because the current situation means that there is no time limit. We are seeking to ensure three years, with the possibility to review, and a three-year period is allowed for only if the local authority chooses to persist with that; if it chooses to put one year down, that is its prerogative.
The noble Lord invites me to say whether I think it is a good idea. The way to find that out is to review the operation after a couple of years. I am not really satisfied that saying that because some people want one year and some people want it for ever, if we find the middle number that is the right way to go. That does not address specific circumstances but I thank him for trying to answer my questions. He missed one: I asked what assessment had been made of why these were needed and what demand there was. Who has called for these changes to be made and have one order covering all three issues?
My Lords, I hope I have illustrated that there is a need to decrease bureaucracy when you take three and turn it into one. Coming back to a point that the noble Baroness raised about enforcement, it makes that much easier. Certainly, my own experience in local government substantiates that. I am sure other noble Lords may share that experience.
It is right and proper that these orders should be regularly reviewed. The noble Baroness asks what evidence there is and why we have taken this route. The Government believe it is right to devolve these decisions to the people who are on the coalface, so to speak: the local authorities, the people who are closest to circumstances at a local level. I hope that I can share my own experience but also that of anyone who has served in a local authority. The last thing you need is central government or a central diktat telling you what is appropriate for your local area.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for giving way, but if the desire is to give all this freedom to local authorities, I am still not clear why Clause 56 is needed at all. As has been pointed out, Clause 55(8)(c) states, “must … specify the period”, so you cannot just say, “We’ll just whack it in and see what happens”, and Clause 57 allows for variation. While I am on my feet and so as not to interrupt later, in case the Minister does not have the answer in his notes, I would be interested in his response to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, as to the objection to changing “must” to “may” in Clause 56(5), so that there might be a less onerous process for the renewal of orders.
I never object to any noble Lord interjecting and asking questions. I have sought to explain why a defined period is specified in Clause 56. I shall certainly take back the suggestion on this matter made by my noble friend Lord Faulks and speak to officials. However, Clause 56 provides a key link through from Clause 55 to Clause 57 and sets out quite specifically the details behind the order. I therefore commend the clause to the Committee on the understanding that I will further consider Amendment 55A.
My Lords, having started as one who believes—I hope that I still do—very considerably in local democracy, I suppose that I have fallen into the trap over the years of viewing whatever comes to us on green paper as restricting it; it is the cynical view that too much legislation has somehow engendered. Like others, I do not see this debate as being two-dimensional in the way that the Minister has just described; that is, “Is it too long or too short? Well, it is in the middle so that must be okay”. It is a three-dimensional debate and the points that have been made about the expression of local democracy are important and serious. The Committee has challenged the structure of the provisions in a way that will bear a good deal of further consideration. The distinction made by my noble friend Lord Greaves between the different types of content of the orders—access on the one hand and particular activities on the other—may also get us to a better point.
On activities, I should have learnt by now not to look at my BlackBerry during debates, but a very long e-mail on this subject has just arrived from the naturists, who have been quite active in making representations on this Bill. It tells me that nudity is a state, not an activity, so how does this affect them? They are worried.
I do not want to leave it quite on that point so I come back to what the orders try to do and how that is best achieved. I shall of course withdraw my amendment at this point, but I hope that we might be able to discuss between now and Report how the orders will operate. Sadly, I see that the LGA, whose briefing I have just looked up, says that it does not think that the provisions are in need of further amendment. Perhaps we need to talk to it as well. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 41B withdrawn.
Amendments 42 to 44B not moved.
Amendments 44C and 44D
44C: Clause 56, page 33, line 24, leave out “consult”
44D: Clause 56, page 33, line 24, at end insert—
“( ) publicise the proposed extension;”
Amendments 44C and 44D agreed.
Amendment 45 not moved.
45A: Clause 56, page 33, line 25, at beginning insert “consult”
Amendment 45A agreed.
Amendment 46 not moved.
46A: Clause 56, page 33, line 27, at beginning insert “consult”
Amendment 46A agreed.
Amendments 47 to 49A not moved.
Clause 56, as amended, agreed.
Clause 57: Variation and discharge of orders
Amendments 49B to 49D
49B: Clause 57, page 34, line 2, leave out “consult”
49C: Clause 57, page 34, line 2, at end insert—
“( ) publish the text of the proposed variation or publicise the proposal to discharge the order (as appropriate);”
49D: Clause 57, page 34, line 3, at beginning insert “consult”
Amendments 49B to 49D agreed.
Amendments 50 and 51 not moved.
51A: Clause 57, page 34, line 5, at beginning insert “consult”
Amendment 51A agreed.
Amendments 52 and 53 not moved.
Clause 57, as amended, agreed.
House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 8.35 pm.