Criminal Justice and Police Bill

[back to previous text]

Mr. Hughes: On the issue of noise, which the Minister has perfectly properly addressed, and cross-related environmental health legislation, I understand that the clause is about licensed premises, but I ask him to try to ensure, through officials and the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, that we end up with streamlined processes in both licensed and unlicensed premises. I understand the arguments, but there are good grounds for police action in relation to noise nuisance in unlicensed premises too, just as there may be perfectly proper grounds for environmental health action in relation to licensed premises. That is not a matter for now, but it should be co-ordinated so that legislation can be simply applied, either by local authority officers or by the police.

Mr. Clarke: I will take up that point. I will write to my colleagues in the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions to discuss the situation with them. The hon. Gentleman may be interested to know that noise is one of my preoccupations. When I am next on the Back Benches I shall initiate private Member's legislation on noise. I seek a peaceful society and hope that we can move forward on that basis.

Mr. Blunt: I am sorry that the Minister has not considered the last third of the amendments, including amendment No. 133, which is about a uniformed police officer giving warnings. [Interruption.] I am happy to let the Minister conclude his remarks, but I should like to come back to speak to amendment No. 131. Will I have the chance to catch your eye again, Mr. Gale?

The Chairman: If the Minister wishes to intervene, he will indicate his intentions.

Mr. Clarke: I dealt with those amendments. We were quick to start after the last vote and I know that the hon. Member for Reigate is preoccupied by hunting.

Mr. Blunt: I apologise. It is entirely my fault for being late.

Having heard the Minister's arguments being deployed gradually to explain the various situations that arise from the use of these powers, I have become more and more appalled. We have listened to discussions on other parts of the Bill where the Minister has seemed with good intentions to be groping towards solutions to disorder problems. However, the powers here represent the worst accretions of the nanny state because they are drawn so widely.

The only licence that the police could oppose at Twickenham, in the example that my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath and I gave, was the licence in Twickenham itself, which was renewed for each of the events. However, they could not close the pubs outside Twickenham on the assumption that there might be disorder. If 70,000 people are going to Twickenham, the police officer in charge of public safety can make a case that there is likely to be disorder in the vicinity of endless licensed premises on the way to and from the railway stations and in the area of the stadium itself. That is the test. He does not even have to have evidence, but simply a belief.

When the police are charged with public safety at major public events, they will use all the powers available to them. We saw them use them at Twickenham in an extremely unreasonable manner, which led to a vast number of problems. People could not drink inside Twickenham, so they were all displaced to the licensed premises outside, which the police could not touch under current regulations. Huge crowds of people all went into the stadium at the same time for the beginning of the match and they all came out at the end because they could not stay for two hours to have a quiet drink with their mates and then leave. Unwise police action caused a hugely increased public order problem.

Within 24 hours of any major sporting event and any demonstration or potential cause of public disorder, the police will argue that, because some people believe that there are problems, they should shut all the pubs in the vicinity. They can argue that there is the potential for alcohol-related disorders and that it is safest to impose a blanket ban. We are talking about the quality of life of people who want to go to football matches, enjoy a drink beforehand, meet their mates and then go to the match behaving in a thoroughly responsible way. They will not be abusing alcohol because they cannot enter a football stadium in a drunken state—that is already an offence.

The police will use the regulations that are being made available to them to the maximum extent because otherwise people will say that they had powers but had not used them to deal with incidents. Like anyone else, policemen will want to put up an umbrella against being blamed for not having explored all the avenues to stop public disorder. It is not the Minister's intention, but that would be the effect of the provision.

I cannot accept the Minister's blandishments and will not withdraw amendment No. 131, which deals with the vicinity of premises where there is merely a belief that there will be disorder. I will withdraw the amendments requiring evidence rather than belief and dealing with actual public disorder in the vicinity. However, it is completely unacceptable for the police to be able to make a judgment on not evidence but merely belief that there is likely to be disorder—and not even on the premises concerned. I shall press amendment No. 131 to a vote.

Mr. Heald: When the Government consulted on licensing reform in their White Paper, their proposal was much more tightly drawn. It would be a mistake to go with such a wide provision, particularly against a background in which officers will be exempt from liability. We want provisions that can close public houses that are rowdy or likely to be rowdy or where, as the Minister said in his letter to the BLRA,

    ``a fight between drunk and disorderly customers spills out onto the street outside the pub and requires attendance, the fight is directly connected with the pub and would not be happening if the pub were not open and serving alcohol in the immediate vicinity.''

I would go along with that, but the Minister is proposing something far wider. He is saying that disorder that an officer believes is likely in the vicinity does not have to be related to the premises. The Minister is proposing a far wider provision than the one with which he told the industry that he was trying to deal. In his letter, he referred to the immediate vicinity, but is now proposing the vicinity; where the incident had to be directly related to the pub, it does not now have to be connected in any way.

Mr. Charles Clarke: Under section 188 of the Licensing Act 1964 the police can seek an order from magistrates closing specific licensed premises to prevent riot or tumult. The police rarely seek such orders and the Bill would not change that. However, the police would use section 188 of the Licensing Act rather than the provision to close down licensed premises in a wide area.

Mr. Heald: The Minister is proceeding with the legislation because the procedures under section 188 are far more cumbersome. It is not likely that, given a choice, one would choose section 188—one would be likely to choose the procedure in the Bill because it is simpler. The worry is that the Minister is not putting in the protections that are necessary for the licensee, which can be a small business man or a large chain. If a small business man is faced with a bill for a mistake which, in the Minister's own notes, is somewhere between £1,100 and £60,000, the officer is exempt from liability. I accept that officers are, by and large, fantastic at their job but we all know of examples of police officers failing to act as we would hope. An officer could be reckless or negligent and a licensee or small business man could lose between £1,100 and £60,000. There is no protection because the provision is not drawn tightly enough to encourage an officer to be specific enough about what he is doing. It is drawn far too broadly to be successful.

5.30 pm

The problem arises because draftsmen are encouraged to provide for a wide range of possibilities, but no one wants police officers who make mistakes to end up in trouble. The breadth of the provision is not an accident or a mistake: it is intentional. At the same time, however, officers are exempted from liability. The balance between the citizen business man and the state therefore becomes skewed. It really will not do.

Mr. Clarke: Will the hon. Gentleman deal with my point about the role of the magistrates? Under new section 179A(4)(c), the closure order must

    ``specify the grounds for the making of the order'',

and under new section 179B(3), the relevant justices have a range of powers to deal with the circumstances. It is not, apart from the first moment, up to the police officer alone; the justices subsequently have to make their judgments. Will the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that?

Mr. Heald: Of course. The period is a day.

Mr. Clarke: Up to a day.

Mr. Heald: Well, it can be extended beyond a day in certain circumstances.

Sir Nicholas Lyell (North-East Bedfordshire): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Heald: In a moment, but I want to finish my argument. Page 68 of the explanatory notes makes it clear that costs will range from £1,100 to £60,000 for each incident. That is a lot of money.

Sir Nicholas Lyell: What is important is the link between the making of the closure order and the opportunity to get the matter before the magistrate so that it can be reviewed. The purpose of new sections 179A and 179B, as my hon. Friend mentioned, seems to be that as soon as the order has been made or the police officer is minded to make it—that could be a day earlier—the matter should then proceed quickly to the magistrate. Does my hon. Friend agree that, as drafted, the new sections do not achieve that?

Mr. Heald: My right hon. and learned Friend, with his background and knowledge in this sector, may wish to expand on that argument. The words

    ``as soon as reasonably practicable''

appear in new section 179B—clearly a wide-ranging formulation. As my right hon. and learned Friend said, there is a gap in the logic behind it. The extensions that can be granted during emergencies mean that it could be longer than a day before the matter is reviewed.

Exemption of liability means that an officer cannot be held to account by the publican in any circumstances, yet he faces the prospect of a large bill if a mistake is made. This widely drawn provision will allow premises to be closed if a couple of yobs in the road are fighting, even if the fight is wholly unrelated to the premises.

I hoped that the Minister would jump at the opportunities provided by the amendments and would acknowledge that, of course, any trouble should be in the immediate vicinity of the pub. Indeed, those were his words. I fail to understand why he cannot accept that any disorder must relate to the premises because, when he explained his attitude to the industry, he affirmed that disturbances would have to be directly connected with the pub.

I am not suspicious of the Minister's motives. I am sure that he has been advised to act in a certain way and is doing his best to achieve his ends within that advice, but he has not kept faith with the words that he used earlier to describe his intentions. His concession to think further about ``immediate'' was so qualified that he meant that there would be no guarantees of that happening at all. I am sure that the Minister will agree. To dismiss out of hand the idea that the disorder should be related to the premises is not good enough.

We would be happy to withdraw our amendments, save for No. 36, which deals with the immediacy issue, amendment No. 82, which would ensure that the disorder should be related to the premises, and amendment No. 84, which concerns the emission of noise, although I accept that that is not really part of the overall concept of the Bill, which is supposed to deal with public safety and people being put in danger. While irritating, noise is not in that category, but there should be a warning system under the Bill. Given the unsatisfactory nature of the Minister's explanation, I am minded to support amendment No. 131 tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate because to have the words

    ``or in the vicinity of''

in the Bill without there being a proper safeguard is unacceptable.

Previous Contents Continue

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 27 February 2001