Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Charles Clarke: First, I can give the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Malins) a general assurance on future consultation of stipendiary magistrates. Secondly, I was remiss in not extending thanks to the people who served the Committee. I was unwilling to bring back to the House the memory of the disgraceful events at the end of the Committee, which brought Parliament, the Conservative party and the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) into such disrepute. I am sure that the country will be aware of that during the coming general election campaign. It is absolutely right to pay tribute to all those who helped us in Committee: the Clerks, Doorkeepers, Hansard, my officials in the Home Office who were assiduous throughout the process, and all members of the Committee.

I do not accept the criticisms about the lack of time to scrutinise this matter in the Chamber. We have discussed it on other occasions. On the substantive point made by the hon. Member for Woking, we are removing the two widest-ranging offences for the reasons that he gave. Each of the offences has some range and we shall have to see how the system works. I should perhaps remind the House that there is power to remove as well as to add offences to the table in clause 1 by subordinate legislation. I can

10 May 2001 : Column 292

give the commitment that he seeks: the Government will keep under close review all offences in the operation of this legislation. Subsequently, we will decide what further action we might take.

Lords amendment agreed to.

Lords amendment No. 2 agreed to.

Clause 17

Closure of certain licensed premises due to disorder or disturbance

Lords amendment: No. 3, in page 9, line 12, after "of" insert "and related to".

Mr. Charles Clarke: I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

Madam Deputy Speaker: With this it will be convenient to take Lords amendments Nos. 4 to 7.

Mr. Clarke: These amendments would require that any disorder, or likely disorder, in the vicinity of the licensed premises must also be related to the premises in question before a closure order could be made on the ground that it is necessary in the interests of public safety.

This, again, was a matter that we debated at length in Committee. The various interests concerned have been assiduous in making their representations on the issue. The amendments were tabled by Lord Cope of Berkeley during the Committee stage in the other place. We took the view that they were unnecessary for reasons that I gave earlier. We accept the need for all the parties affected to be clear about the Bill and the case for making it absolutely clear that disorder or threat of disorder must relate to the premises in question before a closure order can be made.

The other four amendments make consequential changes to give effect to this change wherever similar tests must be applied by the courts and the police, for example when the police are deciding whether to extend a closure order. I hope that the House will agree the amendments.

Mr. Heald: The amendments were tabled in Committee in this House and in the other place, and I am delighted that they appear on the amendment paper today.

Those who keep public houses and licensed premises--the industry--accept that it may well be necessary to close rowdy premises at short notice. However, they were particularly concerned that that might happen when the likely disturbance or the disturbance occurring in the vicinity of the premises had nothing to do with their particular premises. A police officer might therefore believe that there would be trouble in an area and close the public house when its activities did not merit it.

The scope of the original wording was too wide to catch the badly run houses that cause serious disorder problems and put public safety at risk. We therefore welcome the fact that the Minister is prepared to accept the view of another place that the wording should be narrowed to relate the disorder that is in prospect, or that has occurred, to the premises.

I believe that the Minister made a vow not to mention the Committee stage and it was therefore a pity that he broke it. I defend my right hon. Friend the Member for

10 May 2001 : Column 293

Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe), who did not act disgracefully. She took all the measures that were available to her to deal with circumstances in which democracy was at risk.

Mr. Simon Hughes: We welcome the amendments. The battle throughout our proceedings has been to restrict the powers that the Bill grants the authorities against the liberties of individuals and businesses. It was a perpetual theme of the Committee stage. A Labour Government, trying to be excessively authoritarian, had to justify themselves against all sorts of arguments. Some were made by Conservative Members, others by us and many by people outside the House. We tried to point out that the powers were simply unnecessary.

I put my neck on the block on Third Reading, and made it clear that, if a general election had taken place on 3 May, various clauses would not have been passed. I can say with authority, after conferring with colleagues in another place, that although we would have tabled amendments such as those that we are discussing, other amendments, such as Government proposals to extend curfews and to hold samples of DNA from people who were shown to be innocent would not have been accepted. The House of Lords would not have allowed the Bill to proceed. The month's delay has meant more time for debate in another place, where the Government argued that their proposals had been tested and were able to win votes. Consequently, the Bill has been allowed to proceed in its current form.

We were unable to win some of the big battles against a Government who have a majority in the House. They have a majority under our electoral system, but not in the country. We are therefore grateful for small victories. There was a danger of imposing closure orders on pubs for unrelated activities outside them. That is unacceptable. In a busy, built-up area such as the Old Kent road in my constituency, the police might take the view that some activities were causing disorder and intervene. If the amendments are accepted, closure orders can be imposed only if the prospective or actual disorder is "related to" the relevant pub. Pubs that keep good order will not be in trouble. That is progress. We wish that the Government had been more enlightened on other matters for which we would support a more liberal and less authoritarian regime.

Lords amendment agreed to.

Lords amendments Nos. 4 to 7 agreed to.

Clause 19

Closure Notices

Lords amendment: No. 8, in page 17, line 3, after "being" insert ", or within the last 24 hours have been,"

Mr. Charles Clarke: I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

Madam Deputy Speaker: With this we may discuss Lords amendments Nos. 9 to 14.

2.15 pm

Mr. Clarke: The amendments clarify that the power in clause 19 to issue closure notices can be used against premises, which, to the satisfaction of the police or the local authority, have been used for the unlicensed sale of intoxicating liquor at some time in the previous 24 hours.

10 May 2001 : Column 294

As currently drafted, the relevant subsections of clause 19 could be interpreted to mean that a closure notice could be issued only if the use of the premises for the unlicensed sale of intoxicating liquor had continued until the notice was served. That restricted effect was not intended, especially as it would not cover cases where use did not continue when the police or the local authority wished to serve their notice, although it had occurred in the previous 24 hours and was more than likely to recur later.

The purpose of clauses 19 to 28 is to allow action against specific premises, where there is continuing offending or where offending has occurred in the past 24 hours. The amendments therefore make technical changes, which confirm that action may be taken when illegal use has occurred in a previous period of 24 hours. I hope that they will be agreed.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): We agree that the amendments clarify the Bill helpfully. My hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) and I repeatedly expressed our anxiety in Committee that some clauses, including those that we are considering, had been too hastily drafted. The Minister will acknowledge that several concessions that the Government made in another place and that he is confirming today are a response to the anxieties that we and people in the licensed trade have repeatedly expressed.

Many clauses have been drafted too quickly. We have used nearly half the time, which is too short, that has been allocated to consider the long list of amendments. That means that we are again rushing matters through with almost indecent haste. We shall consider matters that are even more significant later, and I therefore do not wish to detain the House for long.

The Government have belatedly acknowledged that, as we suggested in Committee, the aspect that we are considering was not sufficiently clear. We are pleased that the Government have accepted, at this late stage, that the drafting needed improving, as we consistently said.

Next Section

IndexHome Page