Criminal Justice and Police Bill

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Mr. Heald: I do not know whether the Minister has noticed that amendment No. 110, which is further down in the order of consideration, under clause 34, is an attempt to be consistent. Before we reach our consideration of clause 34—assuming that we do not reach it immediately—the Minister may want to contemplate whether he accepts the principle of both amendments. I do not think that I am being inconsistent.

Mr. Clarke: I hope that we will reach clause 34 by 9 pm this evening. If we do, and I know that the Opposition will try to assist us in attaining that, I will consider the hon. Gentleman's point. It is a matter of consistency and judgment. One should opt for setting both fines at level 1, or both at level 3. The hon. Gentleman is entitled to make his point about amendment No. 110, but we are in favour of sticking with level 1, and that is our judgment. I hope that, on that basis, he will withdraw the amendment.

Sir Nicholas Lyell: Will the Minister reflect on the good sense of putting the phrase ``without reasonable excuse'' in the provision? I should like him to consider the scenario in which somebody will be asked to leave premises. Premises might be closed because disorder had occurred. There might be a woman or a young or old person who was frightened to leave those premises. The landlord would be under a lot of pressure to make such people leave, because if he did not achieve that, he would be likely to be fined. There would be genuine tension and difficulty on both sides. The Minister referred to the Crown Prosecution Service—

Mr. Clarke: The example of which I was thinking, and which I decided not to talk about, was that of a doctor in a pub who was asked to leave, but who needed to be there because of some particular medical circumstance, which would obviously be a reasonable excuse. That is rather different, but not completely dissimilar to the case that the right hon. and learned Gentleman raises. Although there are no circumstances in which this would become a real issue, I am prepared to consider the right hon. and learned Gentleman's point, and to consider whether we could define the provision more tightly. I am sceptical as to whether we could do that, but if it would help him, I am prepared to consider it.

Sir Nicholas Lyell: That is fair. I am grateful to the Minister.

Mr. Heald: On the basis that the Minister is prepared to look again at amendment No. 46, it would only be right for me to look again at amendment No. 48, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments made: No. 120, in page 15, line 46, after `concerned' insert—

    `(or with any extension of a closure order or with section 179E(7) of this Act)'.

No. 121, in page 16, line 33, after `(6)' insert `or 179E(7A)'.—[Mr. Charles Clarke.]

Mr. Heald: I beg to move amendment No. 94, in page 17, line 5, at end insert `open and'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take amendment No. 96, in page 17, line 26, after `family', insert `or close personal friends'.

Mr. Heald: I should be grateful to hear the Minister's thoughts on amendment No. 94, and I shall not speak at length on it.

Amendment No. 96 refers to the situation when a closure order has been made and it would allow a landlord to serve or supply food and drink to his close personal friends. Many landlords live on the premises, where their close personal friends and family would visit them. I accept that that should not be used as a coach and horses to break the closure, but it is only reasonable that a landlord should be able to go about his normal activities. This reflects the practical realities of closure: it would be unreasonable for a landlord who was appealing against a closure order--it might take several months for the appeal to be heard in the Crown court--to have a friend in for a cup of coffee.

Jackie Ballard (Taunton): I want to speak briefly to amendment No. 96. I have often been at a disadvantage in the Committee because I am not a lawyer, but I can now declare that I am the daughter of a publican, which is why I have sometimes remained quiet. I assure the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire from my personal experience that, when one becomes a publican, one's circle of close personal friends increases exponentially. I accept that the purpose of his amendment is not be to drive a coach and horses through the legislation, but in practice it would do so.It is possible to define objectively a member of one's family, and that can be easily tested, but it is impossible to define a close personal friend. I cannot support that amendment.

Mr. Charles Clarke: I have nothing further to say and I rest my case on the comments made by the hon. Member for Taunton (Jackie Ballard).

The police must be able to effect closures and allowing personal friends on to premises would produce major disputes on interpretation--I am speaking from a brief, but the hon. Lady spoke from personal experience--and it would be difficult for the police to determine whether premises were opening in contravention of the law.

I am sympathetic to the general point, but the good sense of the police should guide how the matter is dealt with. I can help by assuring the Committee that guidance will be given to the police on how the provision should operate, but the hon. Lady made the point more powerfully than I could have done.

Amendment No. 94 would redefine ``manager'' in new section 179K as the person with the authority to open closed licensed premises rather than just a person with authority to close them. The amendment is unnecessary and would not help to deal with the circumstances, so I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not press amendments Nos. 94 and 96.

Mr. Heald: Will the Minister tell us why he does not believe that opening and closing premises is appropriate? The role of a publican is wider than simply closing premises.

Mr. Clarke: As I said, the amendment would redefine ``manager'' as used in clause 19 as a

    ``person who works in relevant licensed premises in a capacity which gives him authority to''

open and

    ``close the premises''.

The clause currently refers only to

    ``authority to close the premises''.

The term is used in clause 19 where a requirement is placed on the person or persons working in the pub or club to close it. Licensed premises are legitimate business concerns and while a licence is in force and no closure order or extension of it exists they may open within the permitted hours set out in the Licensing Act 1964. The only authority relevant to clause 19 is the authority to close the premises--we are discussing closure orders, not opening orders--making that person the appropriate person on whom to serve closure orders. It is unnecessary to redefine ``manager'' as suggested in the amendment.

Mr. Heald: The point is that we want to ensure that notification of the beginning or end of a closure order is given to someone of sufficient authority. Clearly, ``manager'' can mean many things and the point on which I seek assurance is that the person concerned should be someone with sufficient authority to open and close the premises--in effect, the person in charge of the keys.

Mr. Clarke: I think that I can give that assurance. The reason it is defined in terms of closure is that the whole of this debate is about closing premises in certain circumstances. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that premises need to be opened and closed in certain circumstances. The phrase in the Bill deals with his point, and I hope that he will respond constructively.

Mr. Heald: The clarification that we wanted in those circumstances has been given, although I shall give it further thought before the Report stage. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Heald: I beg to move amendment No. 95, in page 17, line 8, leave out

    ``not less than fourteen days''.

The amendment deals with the issue of delay before justices consider the question of the licence itself. Because of the nature of the Licensing Act 1964, and the procedures within it, a built-in delay of an extra 14 days could lead to premises remaining closed for up to two months before their licence was reviewed by the licensing Bench. That is disproportionate. If the 14-day provision is supposed to allow licensees time to prepare for the hearing, they should have the option of whether to choose it, given the massive cost of a prolonged closure. The Brewers and Licensed Retailers Association is concerned that undue prolonged closure could create additional pressures on other licensed premises in the area. Public safety would be compromised if the people who usually visit the closed premises were dispersed to other outlets, which might lead to overcrowding. The question is whether a period of 14 days at the beginning is too long to act as a trigger for the matter to be referred to the licensing Bench.

Mr. Charles Clarke: The fact is that there is a competing concern—on the one hand, there is a need to resolve the matter and reopen the premises, and on the other, a need to prepare an adequate defence. We concluded that there should be a gap of at least 14 days between the two hearings. We do not think that the gap should be reduced. It is important, in the interests of human rights, that the licensee has adequate time to prepare a defence against revocation before it is considered by the licensing justices. The process suggested in the amendment would not guarantee the necessary time to prepare a defence. However, I concede that it would have the effect of resolving the matter more quickly.

There is a balance of judgment in relation to the need to resolve the matter rapidly and the need to ensure that the licensee has adequate time, in statute, to prepare his defence. Our view is that a 14-day period is right. I can see why one might argue that a seven-day period was right. However, our fundamental concern is for the interests of the licensee, which the hon. Gentleman has advocated powerfully throughout this Committee. It is important that the licensee, whose livelihood is threatened, should have a proper chance to prepare his defence effectively.

 
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