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Licensed Premises

1.29 pm

Liz Blackman (Erewash): May I say how grateful I am to secure this debate? I was contacted and encouraged to take up this issue by the National Association of Licensed House Managers in partnership with the Transport and General Workers Union. It relates to the workings of the Licensed Premises (Exclusion of Certain Persons) Act 1980. Pubwatch also flagged up related and slightly different issues.

The common theme has been how violence and threatened violence on licensed premises are dealt with and how the position could be improved. Most types of crime are decreasing. However, it is a timely debate given the general concern about violence and alcohol-related crime. I acknowledge the measures that the Government are already taking in respect of the problem in the Criminal Justice and Police Bill, which is going through the House. That introduces fixed penalty notices for offences of disorderly behaviour. It contains powers for the police to close licensed premises immediately to deal with such behaviour. It prohibits the drinking of alcohol in specified public places and raises the age of child curfews. The police already have powers of arrest to deal with violent individuals.

Violent crime is an issue and a significant number of crimes are committed on licensed premises. There are some dreadful examples in my constituency, as there are in many other hon. Members' constituencies. The result of the independent British crime survey 2000 suggests that 19 per cent. of all violent incidents occurred at pub or club premises, whether inside or in a nearby street or car park. Licensees, staff and customers were the victims and my constituency has seen its fair share of such incidents.

One response at the courts' disposal, when someone is found guilty of violence, or threatened violence on licensed premises, is to make an exclusion order, under the Licensed Premises (Exclusion of Certain Persons) Act 1980. The order can be made in addition to any sentence imposed by a court and be effective for any period from three months to two years. It may exclude an individual not only from the premises where the offence took place, but from any other designated premises.

The application of those orders has, however, been poor. In 1991, 70 orders were issued. In 1992, 62 were issued. In 1993, 47 were issued. In 1994, 25 were issued. In 1995, 28 were issued and, in 1996, 23 were issued. I am unable to obtain more recent figures from the House of Commons Library and wonder if they are still being collected as a way of monitoring the use of such orders. If not, can the Minister say why that decision was taken?

In 1997, a concern was stated in a Home Office circular, describing the orders as little used. It was distributed to the courts and police reminding them of the powers under the Act. It also urged that the order be included in training given to magistrates. I understand from anecdotal evidence provided by the pubwatch scheme that there has been some improvement in the use of orders, but it is not sufficient according to those in the licensing trades, and their use varies from area to area.

Reasons for a slight increase in numbers may be due to the reminder by the Home Office circular, an increase in pubwatch schemes and a greater partnership

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approach by the police. There is, however, a long way to go before the orders are used consistently and appropriately.

There are several reasons for a possible lack of progress. There is still a lack of awareness of the Act among some licensees, magistrates and police. That is an issue that the Government perhaps need to give more thought to. There is no statutory provision for the hearing of licensees' representatives who want an extension of the order. There is no specified method of application for licensees who want to be included.

There are, however, examples of excellent practice. In Derby, the police have drafted a pro forma statement signed by all licensees in their pubwatch scheme. That is retained by magistrates and Crown courts and is accepted by them as evidence of their support for an exclusion order. Bromley Licensed Victuallers Association has sent exclusion order application forms to all members, so that, if an offence occurs, the application can immediately be handed to the arresting officer. That ensures that the request is on file and will be considered by the magistrates or Crown court at hearing.

In Bradford, the local licensee association urges members to request in any witness statements that magistrates grant an exclusion order. In my county of Derbyshire, officers are encouraged to apply where appropriate and to include a list of premises taken from pubwatch booklets from which the person should be excluded. Magistrates are sympathetic and the record of granting exclusion orders is, unsurprisingly, quite good. In 1995, 28 orders were issued nationally. Nine of those were specifically granted in east Derbyshire. In 1997, out of 23 orders issued nationally, 14 were made in east Derbyshire. I hope that that reflects not a higher proportion of disorderly behaviour in my locality, but a proactive approach by the authorities to ensure the safety of those in licensed premises.

Police information on violence occurring on licensed premises is often not used to good effect. In Bradford, a computer system automatically informs the process sergeant when such an offence is going to court, enabling the sergeant to decide whether an exclusion order should be sought--again, an effective system. Similar good practice exists elsewhere.

Usually, it is the police who recommend that an exclusion order be used, but a court can choose an exclusion order without other recommendations. A duty on a magistrate or judge to consider an exclusion order would be a way forward. I would be interested to hear the Minister's response on that, as it is already flagged up in the White Paper entitled "Time for Reform: Proposals for the Modernisation of Our Licensing Laws".

More fundamentally, why is an exclusion order not used automatically for anyone found guilty of serious assault or threat on licensed premises, be it on the licensee, other staff or the public? Does that run the risk of not being proportionate to the offence? I would be grateful if some light were shed on that.

On the granting of an exclusion order, no data is available on violent crime on off-licence premises, whose staff often feel intimidated. Does Government thinking remain committed to an extension of exclusion of named individuals from specified off-licence premises, as mentioned in the White Paper?

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On the enforcement of exclusion orders when issued, the licensee or employer can remove any person who enters premises in breach of an exclusion order and a police officer, if requested, must assist. However, refusal to leave is not an arrestable offence, but a report for summons offence. If the person disobeys the order and is summonsed, he can be fined up to £1,000, sent to prison for one month, or both.

I could not obtain any information from the House of Commons Library on how often action has been taken when a breach occurs. The feeling is that action against breaches is infrequent. In any event, a summons can take between two to three months to be heard and numerous breaches of the order can be committed in the interim. Does not a more effective way of placing breaches of the order before the courts need to be looked at? It is intimidating for all concerned when an excluded person re-enters premises and blatantly flouts the law.

Enforcement is hampered by the licensee's difficulty in identifying persons who have exclusion orders placed on them. There is no provision in the Act for use of photographs. A powerful statistic is that 33 per cent. of violent offences on licensed premises are committed by strangers. The use of photographs is therefore essential.

Some forces, such as Derbyshire and Wiltshire, do supply photographs to licensees and to their staff for their confidential use. They are a useful device. Care is taken to return or to destroy them when the order ceases. Others do not use photographs and take the Act literally. I believe that a code of practice was drawn up between the Brewers and Licensed Retailers Association and the Association of Chief Police Officers. Can the Minister confirm that that exists and, if so, what status it has? Clearly, forces that do not use photographs are less confident about the existing guidance. What official guidance is given, or is it simply a practice that has emerged?

When exclusion orders for football offences are imposed, section 35 of the Public Order Act 1986 permits the use of photographs. Cannot that power be extended to exclusion orders under the 1980 Act, as the common denominator is violence in the social environment?

Pubwatch, a voluntary community-based crime prevention scheme, aims through partnership with the police and others to deter troublemakers and to reduce the risk of assault on licensees, staff and customers and, in essence, provides a safe social environment for all. Its activities in no small part help to challenge and to reduce violence on members' premises. When behaviour is anti-social, pubwatch operates bans on an individual or individuals, which all its members support.

Some impressive examples of schemes, such as that in Walsall, have dramatically reduced the incidence of violence. My hon. Friend the Member for Blyth Valley (Mr. Campbell) was instrumental in organising an impressive pubwatch scheme to combat the rising tide of serious assaults in his constituency, where there were 73 assaults in 12 months. In the nine months after its formation, 11 people were banned from its members' licensed premises and there was no serious assault in that period; even now, there are few such incidents. Social exclusion in that context causes isolation and can be most effective, at little cost.

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Pubwatch, for all its good work, faces challenges. First, its legality in banning people from pubs in the scheme when exclusion orders have been granted has been challenged under the European convention on human rights. Pubwatch schemes in Gloucestershire and the north-east have been pressurised by solicitors acting on behalf of clients banned from pubs, stating that their actions are in breach of articles 6 and 8 of the convention. In Gloucestershire, a local inspector sought legal advice on behalf of the local pubwatch scheme from constabulary lawyers, who felt that the challenge would probably fall foul of the High Court, but as the legislation was untested, no definitive advice was given. On that occasion, it was not pursued, but the pubwatch scheme has introduced an appeals panel to strengthen its position. In the north-east, two solicitors' letters pressing the convention were sent to local watches, which lifted the bans rather than face court action.

What are the Minister's thoughts on the issue? For example, given that in common law licensees have the right to exclude anyone from their premises, does he think that a pubwatch ban can be construed as a joint exercise of an individual member's right to refuse access? Such matters need clarification because pubwatch, as a voluntary scheme, does not have the resources to fight a judicial review and lifted bans caused by uncertainty impair the effectiveness of the scheme.

In pubwatch schemes with no known policy, the use of photographs of banned persons is even more nebulous. In most instances, the police are unable to provide them, either because such photographs do not exist or because the police are precluded from doing so by the Data Protection Act 1998. The alternative is to print photographs taken from premises' CCTV films. It is unclear how the use of photographs measures up against the issue of civil liberties. Clear guidance is needed, as it is when photographs are used in town centre watch schemes.

Pubwatch is a national scheme, although its coverage is not yet national. Many schemes already have a proven track record and, in the light of increasing responsibility placed on licensees, they should receive Government encouragement-- perhaps some financial support. The brewers and most pub companies are reluctant to finance and to support watches, although there are exceptions, such as the Unique Pub Company, which embraces and supports pubwatch.

Pubwatch wants to produce a national database, and more briefing information, co-ordination and training in the light of the Government's partnership agenda to tackle crime. Has the Minister any thoughts on providing such support?

Bans of up to 10 years are flagged up in the White Paper, but they will not be effective if the exclusion orders cannot be improved. Will the Public Order Act 1980 be tightened and included in a new licensing Act? Will the Minr take note of my points about the workings of exclusion orders in that respect? Will his Department collect and monitor both the statistics on orders served and summonses in breach of those orders that result in convictions? Will the Minr ensure that advice on best practice is circulated and co-ordinated to the police and magistrates in support of pubwatch? I look forward to his reply to my questions.

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1.44 pm

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Charles Clarke) : I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Erewash (Liz Blackman) on securing the debate and on the way in which she put her case. As a Government, we have tried during recent years to give a much higher priority to the issue. My hon. Friend set out many of the reasons why that is necessary. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Blyth Valley (Mr. Campbell), who is in the Chamber. He has campaigned assiduously on pubwatch and has raised the matter with me on a number of occasions. He is an energetic advocate of that scheme on the basis of his constituency experience.

Before addressing the specific points mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Erewash, I shall set out a little of the context of the Government's approach. Although most people who drink lawfully on licensed premises do so for entirely acceptable reasons--to relax and socialise with others--there is a minority for whom that is not true. Almost 90 per cent. of the adult population take alcoholic drinks, spending about £25 billion a year on them. The village pub or "local" has been an important feature of life for a number of generations.

We expect the industry to do all that it can to manage premises responsibly and to minimise the risk of lawlessness and disorder arising from alcohol abuse. In a civilised society, it cannot be acceptable that 14 per cent. of people who responded to a Portman Group survey last year said that they had been the victim of violence inside a public house. That figure, albeit from a survey, shows the scale of the problem to which my hon. Friend referred and sits alongside other statistics to show the nature and seriousness of the issue. For example, about 13,000 violent incidents take place on or around licensed premises every week, and 80 per cent. of peak time presentations to hospital accident and emergency units at the weekend are alcohol related. I commend the excellent work done by the accident and emergency department of the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff--which is spreading to other such departments--on the careful consideration of those presentations and their use to help to map the incidence of crime in particular localities and particular pubs where violent crime has taken place.

The problems are not intractable, provided that the licensed trade, in the first instance, accepts that it has the primary responsibility for properly managing licensed premises to prevent trouble from arising in the first place or to ensure that it is nipped in the bud. It is an offence for a licensee to permit disorder on his or her premises. I am glad to say that the licensed trade and the wider drinks industry are showing that they take their responsibilities seriously and that they are committed to the partnership approach, which I shall set out in a moment.

I have chaired three seminars involving organisations from the licensed industry, police, magistrates, local government and groups such as the Portman Group, precisely to see how we can address the issues in a partnership more effectively. That has led to a number of initiatives, first, to encourage sensible drinking and discourage unsociable drinking that leads to unruly behaviour and, secondly, to take positive action to

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minimise the opportunities for misbehaviour that might be exploited by those intent on making trouble. Pubwatch schemes, based on good and strong relationships between local police and licensees, show what can be done to keep known troublemakers out of pubs and clubs in a local area.

I shall respond now to my hon. Friend's specific points on pubwatch and deal with exclusion orders shortly. I am familiar with the points that she made on the European convention on human rights, but there is no foundation for concerns in that respect. As a Government, we are keen to promote the pubwatch idea, because there is so much good evidence to support it. The Human Rights Act 1998 came into force last October, and many people are putting to the courts their arguments about a human right being violated by a particular action. My Department monitors the whole range of challenges to practices across all aspects of life that are being made under the 1998 Act. So far, the highest courts in the land have in general sustained our expectations and practices in this country. Obviously, that may not always be the case in the future. However, I will state publicly, in Committee and more widely, that we should continue to develop pubwatch. People should not be frightened of human rights legal action, and we should proceed on the basis that that is the right way to operate. It is not a Minister's role to second-guess the courts if cases are brought in those circumstances, but it would be a mistake if the valuable pubwatch initiative were in any sense derailed or diverted by legal concerns as the result of some hypothesis in those circumstances.

I am prepared to consider funding for the national pubwatch scheme to see that develop further. At one of the seminars to which I referred earlier, we discussed how we could use resources to strengthen the campaign against alcohol-related violent crime. We are already taking a number of initiatives. We have not had a formal proposal from pubwatch, but I am certainly prepared to consider a proposal positively and to see what we can do. We do think that the pubwatch approach is powerful.

The issue of photographs is a difficult one. As my hon. Friend said, in 1994 the trade body--the Brewers and Licensed Retailers Association--issued to licensees guidance about photographs of excluded persons that had been agreed by ACPO. That dealt with such matters as where photographs should be kept and what should be done with them, in particular at the end of the exclusion order, but also more widely. I accept that there may be value in refreshing that document, and the Government are prepared to help do that in order precisely to raise its status.

It is important to note that the Cabinet Office's policy research unit is conducting a detailed survey of data protection issues, and some important data protection issues surround the use of photographs in such schemes. For example, there are schemes for providing retailers with photographs of shoplifters in particular shopping centres. We believe, for the record, that it is perfectly legitimate to do that, and to send photographs of known offenders around pubs in the way described. However, it is important to consider the whole situation. That is why the Government review, which is taking place at the moment and will report shortly, will take the issue forward. Allowing a local pubwatch to use photographs in the event that no legal action had been taken would

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be a more difficult human rights issue. However, I will consider the use of photographs in the context of our overall approach. I shall deal in a moment with the legislation proposed in the licensing White Paper, to which my hon. Friend referred. Hopefully, that will provide the vehicle for any legislative steps that are needed to ensure that that happens in the proper way.

It is striking that 40 per cent.--a high percentage--of crime and disorder partnerships, which now cover the whole country, have highlighted drunkenness as a crime and disorder issue in their crime audit plans. Nearly 60 per cent. of crime and disorder partnerships related public order problems explicitly to alcohol. Those figures simply reinforce the central thrust of the argument made by my hon. Friend.

A series of measures are being taken in that area, including the Criminal Justice and Police Bill, which is currently in Committee, which address a number of aspects, including drunkenness and disorder on licensed premises, and closure of certain licensed premises. The central context is our White Paper "Time for Reform: Proposals for the Modernisation of Our Licensing Laws" which covers the series of proposals that we intend to make to try to address the issues mentioned by my hon. Friend.

With regard to exclusion orders, which were highlighted by my hon. Friend, I can confirm that the White Paper proposed that the courts should be put under a new duty to consider making an exclusion order in any case in which someone is convicted of an offence involving disorder or violence on licensed premises or in a registered club. Registered clubs have emphasised to me that they are often the recipients of drunkenness rather than its cause. People often go to a club from pubs in the locality late in the evening, and are drunk when they arrive, rather than being drunk as a result of having been in the club. They are keen to point out that the various requirements of legislation should apply to everyone in those circumstances.

The White Paper also proposed that the courts should be able to exclude people for longer than two years, and in the most serious cases involving violence it should be possible to impose a lifetime ban on access to licensed premises, which would be a serious sanction to deal with the problem. We need to develop more rigorous use of these orders, as our figures show. Perhaps I can say a word on the figures to which the hon. Gentleman referred.

Mr. Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley): The Minister mentioned exclusion and lifetime bans. What happens when someone ignores an order, or when the publican does so by serving a drink? Will there be a law to reprimand the publican or to fine the person who is ignoring the exclusion order?

Mr. Clarke : That issue will be addressed in the White Paper, but I can give my hon. Friend an immediate response. First, if the individual who is banned goes into a pub, he is in breach of a court order, which can be enforced by the courts using the most swingeing penalties. Secondly, it would have to be shown that the publican knew that he was serving drink to someone

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who had been banned. That is obviously a more difficult issue to address, but we will deal with it explicitly in the White Paper. The particular powers that we suggest are an extension of the current powers, under which people can be excluded for a period of between three months and two years.

The overall issues that my hon. Friend for Blyth Valley has raised will be addressed in legislation. It is the Government's intention to introduce legislation on this matter at the earliest possible legislative opportunity. As always, there is strong competition, but the Government believe that this is a high priority, for a wide variety of reasons.

Since 1996, information has been collected on exclusion orders along with data on other local orders which otherwise are dealt with on conviction. It has not been possible to disaggregate exclusion orders in that time, which is why my hon. Friend the Member for Erewash could obtain only the data up to 1996. We are reviewing the way in which statistics are recorded at the moment across different areas, and I give my hon. Friend an undertaking to consider how we could record this information in a more public way.

However, her fundamental point was not statistical; it was about the relatively low-level use of the orders, and how that can be increased. The key is to develop partnerships between the licensing magistrates, the police and the local licensed trade industry and to establish local crime and disorder strategies to address the issue, informed by proper data on public houses that are not orderly, including data from accident and emergency departments about where violent crime is predominantly occurring. I can assure my hon. Friend that the strengthening of those partnerships, particularly with exclusion orders in mind, will be an aspect of the discussions in our seminar groups. I shall report back to her on that in due course.

Liz Blackman : Could the Minister expand on the strategies that are in place to deal with breaking of exclusion orders that have been served, because that is an issue of concern?

Mr. Clarke : To be frank, we have not done as much work on that aspect as we should have done, but I will guarantee to take that further. I mentioned the role of the magistrates courts, the police, local government and the local licensed industry in enforcing these orders, because they can be more effective if they work together.

I conclude by saying that this issue is of exceptional importance and the Government take it very seriously. We have a great deal more to do to be able to claim that we have addressed it comprehensively, as my hon. Friend set out in her powerful speech, but I can commit the Government to doing what we can to achieve the goals which she has set, not least because of the evidence--which is unquestioned--of the close relationship between alcohol and violent crime.

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