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Standing Committee Debates
Criminal Justice and Police Bill

Criminal Justice and Police Bill

Standing Committee F

Tuesday 27 February 2001

(Afternoon)

[Mr. Roger Gale in the Chair]

Criminal Justice and Police Bill

4.42 pm

The Chairman: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. It may be convenient for members of the Committee to know that, pursuant to the announcement that I made last Thursday, the Programming Sub-Committee will sit tomorrow afternoon in Room 6 at 5.30 pm, not 5 pm—the time has been changed slightly to accommodate the Minister's diary. No formal notice will be issued, so will members of the Committee and the usual channels ensure that others are informed? Although it is not a requirement, it would be helpful if any hon. Member who wishes to submit a motion for consideration at the meeting could ensure that it is in the hands of the Clerks by close of play today.

Clause 19

Closure of certain licensed premises due todisorder or disturbance

Amendment proposed [this day]: No. 4, in page 10, line 6, at beginning insert

`Following a first and second warning'.—[Mr. Simon Hughes.]

Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.

The Chairman: I remind the Committee that with this we are discussing the following amendments: No. 130, in page 10, line 8, leave out ``reasonably believes that'' and insert ``has evidence that''.

No. 81, in page 10, line 9, leave out ``is likely to'' and insert—

``are reasonable grounds to believe that there will''.

No. 131, in page 10, line 9, leave out ``, or in the vicinity of,''.

No. 34A, in page 10, line 9, after ``or'', insert—

``in a place for which the licensee is responsible which is''.

No. 36, in page 10, line 9, after ``the'', insert ``immediate''.

No. 82, in page 10, line 9, at end, insert ``and related to''.

No. 37, in page 10, line 10, leave out

``is necessary in the interests of''

and insert—

``will significantly assist in securing''.

No. 132, in page 10, line 12, leave out ``,or in the vicinity of''.

No. 35, in page 10, line 12, after ``or'', insert—

``in a place for which the licensee is responsible which is''.

No. 76, in page 10, line 12, after first ``the'', insert ``immediate''.

No. 83, in page 10, line 12, after ``of'', insert ``and related to''.

No. 38, in page 10, line 13, leave out

``is necessary in the interests of''

and insert—

``will significantly assist in securing''.

No. 84, in page 10, line 15, after ``(c)'', insert—

``having made a request to the holder of the licence to act reasonably by reducing or ceasing the emission of noise from the premises''.

No. 133, in page 10, line 18, at end insert—

``following at least one request from a uniformed police officer to the person ostensibly having control of the premises to end the disturbance.''.

No. 39, in page 10, line 18, at end insert—

``(1A) A closure order may only be made on the grounds specified in subsection (1)(c) if the senior police officer has given notice to the licensee that he intends to make the order, and the licensee has failed to take appropriate action to quell the disturbance.''.

No. 77, in page 12, line 26, after second ``or'', insert—

``in a place for which the licensee is responsible which is''.

No. 92, in page 12, line 30, after ``Act,'', insert—

``a request having been made to the holder of the licence to act reasonably by reducing or ceasing the emission of noise from the premises''.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Charles Clarke): First, Mr. Gale, I express my appreciation to you for your flexibility on the timing of the meeting of the Programming Sub-Committee.

During my previous comments in responding to the debate, I set out some of the general circumstances around the matter. I shall not repeat any of that, but discuss the amendments in order.

Amendment No. 4 would require the senior police officer to warn a licensee twice about his conduct of the premises before being able to make a closure order on the grounds of disorder or excessive noise. I understand the motivation behind that. As I said earlier, all the amendments have substance and were tabled properly, correctly and helpfully. However, this is a matter for guidance and for police practice, not primary legislation. The police officer present has to make his or her judgment on the basis of the circumstances that he or she sees. In almost all imaginable circumstances, it is likely that warnings will be issued more than once or twice, because that is how the police operate. They must, through the guidance that we discuss with them, arrive at the right way of dealing with the matter. An overly legalistic approach could lead to doubts about whether the police could act effectively and as the Bill intends. I hope that the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) will consider asking leave to withdraw the amendment. I understand the force of his argument and the practice that he described, but what he proposes should be in the guidance, and part of police practice, rather than in primary legislation.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): Should it be a matter for regulation by statutory instrument rather than guidance? I understand that the Minister is saying that their significance is gradated, but at least to the extent that there should be a prior warning, the procedure in question would more properly be covered in regulation, which has much clearer force in statute than guidance.

4.45 pm

Mr. Clarke: I am prepared to consider that. Earlier, I talked about the hierarchy of legislation; it is a matter of judgment where the guidance sits in that hierarchy, but it is certainly important. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I shall have a good look at the matter to see whether regulation, rather than guidance, would be more appropriate.

Amendment No. 130 would require the senior police to have evidence of disorder as outlined in the clause. It would create objective, rather than subjective, tests, and therefore represents a higher threshold of police action. I am concerned about the proposal, not because I do not understand the points that were well made by the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt)—in general, I agree that the threshold for action should be higher rather than lower—but because an objective test is difficult to achieve, especially in view of the extent of the sanction available: closure for up to 24 hours in normal circumstances. For those reasons, I urge my hon. Friends not to support amendment No. 130. Having to establish an objective rather than a subjective test makes it more difficult to assess a situation.

Amendments Nos. 131 and 132 would prevent the police from making a closure order if the disorder, or the likely disorder, occurred or was expected to occur in the vicinity of the licensed premises—that is, outside the premises. That would be a mistake, as disorder inside a premises can turn into disorder outside.

Amendment No. 81 would require the senior police officer to have reasonable grounds to believe that there will be disorder on or in the vicinity of the premises and that the closure of the premises is necessary in the interests of public safety. The amendment is not well worded; it attempts to create an objective, rather than a subjective test. It fails to achieve its purpose by creating a mixed test involving objective and subjective elements, which will be confusing for the police and the courts.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): The Minister has just made my argument for me. He referred to situations in which disorder inside a pub spills over into disorder outside a pub. The licensee is responsible for what goes on inside the licensed premises; he cannot be responsible for what is happening outside. That is why the words ``in the vicinity of'' should be removed. The Minister is trying to find circumstances in which there is no disorder in the pub but that lead to disorder outside the pub. He described circumstances in which both are happening, in which case the police would have every reason to act under the powers given in the Bill.

Mr. Clarke: With respect, the hon. Gentleman's implication is not quite right. The measures are not designed to punish a licensee for behaviour that is less than adequate in any respect. Issues of that type exist, but they are not covered by these provisions. The clause deals with whether it is necessary, in the view of the police, in a particular circumstance, to close an establishment because it is a cause of disorder, excessive noise or other reason specified in proposed new section 179A of the Licensing Act 1964. It is not intended to be a punishment for the licensee.

I acknowledge that there is an element of punishment for the licensee. If the pub is closed for a particular period—from 10 pm to midnight, say—there may be a loss of revenue, the costs to which the hon. Gentleman referred, a loss of reputation and so on. That could be tested by magistrates soon after the police officer has made that judgment, according to the procedures set out. The principal purpose is not to punish the licensee but to deal with the source of disorder. Disorder, inside or outside the premises, may or may not be due to the conduct of the licensee in any given circumstances.

Mr. Blunt: The simple point is that if disorder is taking place outside the pub, the police have the powers to deal with it because it is disorder. The Bill gives the police wide powers to close down establishments because of activities that, being outside the premises, can never be the responsibility of the licensee.

Mr. Clarke: With respect to the hon. Gentleman, although I understand his point, I do not accept it. The fact that disorder is occurring outside the pub does not mean that what is going on inside the pub has no impact on what is happening on the street. He is right to say that the police have powers to deal with circumstances of disorder on the street. They already have those powers, irrespective of the Bill. However, all hon. Members are familiar with circumstances in which what is happening on the street is not independent of the fact that the pub happens to be nearby. If one imagines the pub suddenly being taken away, will there still be disorder on the street in those circumstances? The answer would generally be no. I can imagine that the answer could be yes, but we are discussing circumstances in which the pub is the cause of disorder in the particular area. Before the hon. Gentleman intervenes again on this point, I emphasise yet again that the purpose of the closure power is to deal with the source of the disorder, not to punish the licensee.

 
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Prepared 27 February 2001