Criminal Justice and Police Bill

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Mr. Hawkins: Once again, the Minister is being helpful in attempting to deal with the issue that we have raised. I accept that he is trying to deal with tensions that could arise. During my intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate, I spoke about the Police Federation's concern that the provisions could worsen the situation of the police officer on the beat. The federation's point is that, if there are licensed premises within a zone, people can go into those premises and taunt the officers on the beat. That might happen in a town such as Guildford, which has a city centre area that might at some stage be designated, but has a lot of licensed premises within it. Is there not a danger that those whom our chief constable in Surrey calls the Guildford warriors will taunt the police?

Mr. Clarke: I understand the point. I should again make it clear that the measure is designed to ensure that the area that is granted a licence is not also a designated public place within the meaning of the legislation. The measure could give rise to the kind of issues under discussion, but it would be far worse if a conflict arose between the granting of a licence in a particular area and a local authority designation. That would lead to a conflict of status, which would be more difficult not only for members of the public but for the police.

The police have immense experience of dealing with such issues. They deal all the time with the issue of what can take place and how it can take place. We should seek consistency between the licensing regime and the power that we intend to operate, and that is what the clause does. With that, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will consider withdrawing the amendment. I understand that it was positively meant, but it is important to achieve consistency on the licensing issues in the way that I have tried to describe.

Mr. Hughes: I would be grateful if the Minister would consider one small matter. I understand the drinking-up point. However, it seems likely that under any Government there will be reform of the licensing laws. I imagine that consideration will be given to changing the drinking-up provisions, because it is argued that short drinking-up periods contribute to alcohol-induced bad behaviour.

I assume that a move towards a 30-minute period will be considered. As making any such change explicit in the legislation would be prescriptive, there should be an agreed amendment that refers to the drinking-up period in licensing regulations, so that there is a clear rule. That is almost a drafting point, but it is an attempt to follow the general wish of the Government not to put in the Bill something that is likely to require amendment. We know that there is legislation in the pipeline that will impinge on such provisions.

Mr. Clarke: I am happy to examine that possibility and consider whether such an amendment would be appropriate. I am prepared to give an even stronger commitment: any legislation that this Government introduce to amend the licensing law in line with the recent White Paper will encompass amendments to this measure and to all relevant legislation to deal with that point and to ensure consistency.

11.15 am

Mr. Hawkins: The Minister has responded very constructively. We recognise the tension between the Government's proposals in the Bill and existing licensing law. Like the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey, we think that it would help if the Government would keep in mind the points that have been made, and reconsider the matter. We should like to return to it on Report because of the concerns about that tension expressed by the Police Federation and others. The Minister has said that he takes our points seriously and will keep the matter under consideration. We would therefore like to think further about it and consult organisations such as the Police Federation again.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 16 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 17

Effect of sections 14 to 16 on byelaws

Mr. Hawkins: I beg to move amendment No. 64, in page 9, line 3, leave out

    `Subsections (2) and (3) apply'

and insert `Subsection (2) applies'.

The Chairman: With this we may discuss the following amendments: No. 65, in page 9, line 16, leave out subsection (3).

No. 129, in page 9, line 17, leave out `10' and insert `5'.

Mr. Hawkins: Once again, we want to probe the Government. Amendments Nos. 64 and 65 are intended to raise the importance of protecting the rights of local authorities to make their own decisions. That issue has come up in earlier debates, and my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate referred at an earlier sitting to sunset clauses, of which the Conservatives generally approve. However, we want to probe whether it is appropriate for the Government to say, as they appear to in subsection (3), that whatever a local authority has decided, it will be wiped out after 10 years. Is it appropriate for a national Government thus to insist on overriding what a local authority has decided to do? As the Minister conceded in relation to an intervention made earlier this morning by the hon. Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood, local authorities should consider their own affairs, and decide what is right in such matters.

We do not think that an automatic override, such as that which the Government propose here, is appropriate, and we wish to probe what they really have in mind. Perhaps they will consider whether it would be more appropriate not to have an automatic 10-year wipeout. I do not wish to take up much Committee time, but I would like to hear the Minister's response and discover the Government's thinking on the matter.

Mr. Simon Hughes: Again, I tend to the Government view. The effect of the legislation will be to enable local government to make decisions to implement national legislation. It will therefore effectively render otiose the existing procedure, which is the making of byelaws. That will not impinge on local authorities' rights, because they will still have the right to implement the legislation. The proposal is good, because there should be as little legislation as possible cluttering up the statute books. Byelaws are fine up to a point, but it is very difficult to find out which byelaws exist, and even to get into the place where they are recorded. In my experience—we have probably all had similar experiences—it is even more difficult to find out what the byelaws are than it is to find out what the current legislation is. It is hard enough to access law easily in an up-to-date, word-processed form that takes into account the codification and tidying-up of the law. Byelaws do not relate or cross-refer to one another or legislation, so anyone who is intelligently trying to hunt through them to find relevant regulations is in difficulty. The legislation provides a way of making them easier to discover.

There would be some merit in providing an easily accessible venue for anyone, including the public, who has an interest in knowing what orders are made by local government under legislation. That would apply to other aspects of law, and certainly to the matters under discussion. We should have a facility to log into the orders made under regulations by the London borough of Southwark, to discover the legislation that it seeks to implement and the way in which it seeks to do so. That is especially important when there is discretion, which will result in differences. There will inevitably be differences in this case, as it depends on local government around the country.

My final point touches again on our discussions of fixed penalty notices. If there are different parking regimes, fixed penalty regimes, tariffs and hours, we must try to make the law as comprehensible as possible. Earlier, the Minister expressed a view about the clarity of some wording in the Bill, and I agree with him. We should all make a perpetual effort to make as few laws as possible and to make them as simply drafted, accessible and up to date as possible. We should make as little cross-reference as possible to legislative provisions that no one in their right mind would want to spend a lot of time looking for on a Saturday afternoon in his or her local library.

Mr. Charles Clarke: Except lawyers.

Mr. Hughes: They would not do so on a Saturday afternoon in the library, but would charge for doing so in their chambers or offices on a Friday afternoon.

I understand exactly why there should be a sunset provision on the byelaw arrangements, but I hope, whatever the phasing out of the byelaw plans, that everyone can easily access the phasing in of the orders. That should generally be the case on this and other similar legislation.

Mr. Blunt: I hope that the Minister can restrain himself from screaming about a Tory split, but I do not agree with my hon. Friends' amendments, as is clear from my amendment, No. 129. I hope that my hon. Friends will forgive me. Two principles are conflicting and, as a Conservative, there is a judgment to be made about which side of the argument to take.

My hon. Friends have properly said that the matter should be decided by local authorities, and that it is not for us to tell them how to deal with byelaws. The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey has made the equally proper counter-argument that the law should, as far as possible, be simple for the public to understand. Local authorities can probably use the powers through byelaws if they want to, as can be seen in the example of the constituency of the hon. Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood. However, as we are to use a vehicle of national legislation, I come down on the side of the argument made by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey, which was that it is better to have only one frame of reference—the national legislation. The rules should come into force through that vehicle, set up under the regulations and guidelines put in place by the Government under secondary legislation.

Frankly, we should get on with that process. For that reason, I hope that the Minister will accept amendment No. 129, which would reduce from 10 years to five years the handover period, in which the public will be confused as to where the authority is coming from. Once the legislation is on the statute book, it would be perfectly proper for local authorities to have a five-year period in which to examine their byelaws and the confusion of rules made in the past, to consider problems that are a nuisance to local people, such as alcohol abuse, and to decide whether they want to clear away byelaws and put the legislation in place. Ten years is too long to subject the public to the confusion of two systems running alongside each other; five years is enough. We must either get on and use the national framework created by the legislation—which means that the Minister will accept amendment No. 129—or accept amendments Nos. 64 and 65, which allow this to remain a matter for local authorities. We have to judge which of those conflicting principles is appropriate.

If we believe that the issue is a matter for local authorities and that they should be able to make extra regulations, we must accept my hon. Friend's amendments. If not, why should we allow 10 years? Byelaws should be reviewed as soon as possible; five years should be the longest time allowed for local authorities to review them and I see no case for 10.

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