Criminal Justice and Police Bill

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Mr. Simon Hughes: Subject to the Minister not saying anything contrary to his intentions, I take the view that the clause, as drafted, is better than it would be with the Tory amendments.

The purpose of the clause is that public places should be covered by the ban. We must explore other provisions, have further debates and consider other rules that relate to licensed premises, to the spillover from the interior of those premises—into the garden at the back or on the pavement at the front—and to occasional use of extra rooms within them. Those arrangements are dealt with in the clause, but would be much better governed by legislation and regulations that deal with licensed premises, rather than by a public order provision such as the Bill.

I understand where the amendments are coming from, but I believe that they are misplaced in this context. I will not support them, unless the Minister unwittingly persuades me to do so with an argument that I have not heard before. I hope that the clause will be passed without amendment.

11 am

Mr. Blunt: It was odd to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath, a lawyer, complaining about the legalistic arguments that the police will face. It struck me as rather strange that such comments came from a man who, before he came to this place, made his living from legalistic arguments.

I confess that I have a sneaking sympathy with the points made by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey, because I had hoped that the amendments were designed to probe, rather than to modify, the meaning of the Bill. I hope that the Minister will treat them in that way because I am confused by paragraphs (c) and (d). They refer to a situation in which premises are granted a licence 20 minutes before the occurrence of an incident that prompts the police immediately to try to shut them down. What is the significance of the 20 minutes? I should be grateful if the Minister could explain those paragraphs, and the effects of the amendments, because I could not find guidance on them from the explanatory notes.

Mr. Hawkins: In response to my hon. Friend's first point, let me say that those of us who have been involved in legal arguments can see their dangers. He might also understand what we are trying to do with the amendments if I tell him about the concerns of the Police Federation. It says:

    ``Such zones would be brought quickly into disrepute by drinkers moving just out of reach and taunting officers accordingly, bringing the enforcement of such zones quickly into disrepute''.

Does he not see that danger?

Mr. Blunt: I note that danger but I presume that such an incident could occur at any licensed premises, as paragraph (a) seems to suggest. Paragraph (b) defines areas covered by the Bill rather more carefully, so that the police will understand their limitations. If we are to exempt licensed premises, we should define exactly which parts of the licensed premises that means, making it clear that the licence applies to the whole premises, including the gardens and pavements that the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey mentioned. However, I remain thoroughly confused by paragraphs (c) and (d) and would be grateful if the Minister could explain exactly what they mean.

Mr. Charles Clarke: I accept that the amendments were tabled in good spirit to clarify the situation, rather than for any other reason. However, the points made by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey were right.

I was tempted to urge the Committee to support amendment No. 60, purely to remove from the Bill the word ``curtilage'', which I regard as a lawyers' word, not a real word. I consider myself well educated but I did not know what it meant. I know that my hon. Friends will fully understand the word, but there will be one or two on the Opposition Benches who will not, so I shall clarify what it means. The Oxford English Dictionary definition of curtilage is

    ``a small court, yard or piece of ground attached to''


    ``and forming one enclosure with it''.

That should answer the point made by the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt). In the context of the Bill, it will cover those areas of pub courtyards or gardens that might not technically be licensed premises but are effectively attached to them.

The amendment would remove the exceptions to restrictions on public drinking within a designated area. We believe that the exceptions are necessary to ensure that the powers provided by clause 14 are not exercisable where a license has been granted. As the hon. Gentleman said, I need to clarify the definition of such situations and explain some of the wordings in the clause. The licensing arrangements in relation to subsection (1)(a) to (d) cover the justices' on-licences for premises including pubs, night clubs, wine bars, discotheques, restaurants and hotels. All have met the rigorous tests set by the licensing justices for those venues.

Registered non-profit-making clubs such as the Royal British Legion, Conservative, Labour and Liberal clubs and similar sporting clubs have codes of discipline and must have the permission of the magistrates court, via a registration certificate, to supply alcohol to members and their guests. As constituency Members of Parliament, we all know the serious issues for magistrates when applications for such permissions are made, and how they are discussed and resolved.

An occasional licence is an authority that enables the holder of a justices' on-licence to sell alcohol at premises other than his licensed premises. For example, a licensee might organise a bar at a special venue for a local wedding, ball, festival or other such event. The authority to sell alcohol in those circumstances is given by the licensing justices after full consultation with the police.

An occasional permission is granted by the licensing justices to allow an organisation without an existing justices' licence to sell alcohol at unlicensed premises. That is how a charity can sell wine at a fundraising bash in a village hall, or a school can sell wine to parents at an event on school premises designed to raise funds, even though those organisations would not normally have licences for that purpose. Such events are also subject to strict control by the magistrates, and the police have full rights to object. When the courts and police do not object to such activities, and indeed have authorised them, the organisers should not be subject to a ban by the local authority, independent of the process of authorising a licence.

The hon. Member for Reigate made a point about time. Section 63 of the Licensing Act 1964 deals with what is traditionally known as drinking-up time. Under that section, where alcohol is supplied under the terms of the Act in any premises during permitted licensing hours, consumption on the premises is permitted for 20 minutes after the period ends, hence the reference to 20 minutes. Historically, drinking-up time has been permitted because sales and supply can continue up to the end of permitted hours, including any extension of them. It is reasonable to allow an individual time to consume what has been purchased. I gather that the Leader of the Opposition can handle that situation in far less than 20 minutes.

The fundamental logic of our position is that powers to sell alcohol where a licence has been granted should not be contradicted by a local authority. We sought to set out exceptions to avoid precisely such contradictions.

The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey was right to suggest that the issues must be considered in the overall context of reform of the licensing regulations. We predicated our intention to legislate on that at an early stage in a White Paper published some time ago. That is the way to deal with points that may seem rather obscure, rather than taking a position that could set a local authority designation of a public place at odds with a licensing decision.

I understand the motivation of the hon. Member for Surrey Heath, and I do not think that he has been wrong or unreasonable. However, I hope that my explanation satisfies him and makes him think that it would be appropriate to withdraw the amendment.

Mr. Blunt: I seek clarification on how the provisions for 20 minutes' drinking-up time will work in practice. In effect, does the legislation mean that a local authority can designate a place, but from only 20 minutes after its licence expires? That assumes that there is a process of designation. It would seem odd if a local authority went to the trouble of designating a place, and then had to give a licence on top of that. Is the only effect of the provisions to provide 20 minutes' grace?

Mr. Clarke: As I understand it, that is the case—the hon. Gentleman has put it quite correctly. The reason for that is to make the legislation under discussion consistent with the drinking-up time provisions of the Licensing Act 1964, which allows that 20-minute period of grace for the reasons that I gave earlier. The purpose of the measure is to achieve exactly the effect that he has just described. Perhaps I have not clarified the matter.

Mr. Blunt: The Minister has, but that throws up a peculiar problem. The justices, in consultation with the police but on their own authority, might grant a licence for people to drink in a place designated as banned by the local authority. Is there not a potential conflict between one authority and another?

Mr. Clarke: There is a tension, but we are talking about exceptions. Premises within a designated area can be given a licence. The measure is designed to make such licences work. I agree that a conflict could arise between the local authority designating a particular geographical area and the magistrates giving a licence to a particular premises in that area. That tension could arise, but I submit that it will not arise in practice, because the magistrates will be aware of the local authority's decision on designating a public area around the area where a licence is being requested. The licensers will take full account of such decisions. Our central preoccupation is to ensure that we do not end up with a contradiction in law between the local authority designation and the licensing process.

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