Criminal Justice and Police Bill

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Mr. Blunt: The Minister is misinterpreting the amendment. He said that it would mean that offences or convictions for such behaviour must have occurred. All that it says is:

    ``where that constable or inspector has reasonable grounds to believe''.

That is not a huge test. The Minister may have misdirected himself.

Mr. Clarke: I did not mean to do that, and I am sorry if I have. Officers would need to demonstrate in court, by hypothesis, that they had reasonable grounds to conduct a test purchasing operation in a particular shop. To show those reasonable grounds, they would have to produce evidence. Reasonable grounds cannot simply be that an off licence was in a particular area or ward, for the sake of argument. Unless I have misunderstood the amendment, it would not constitute reasonable grounds simply to say that a shop was in X ward in Reigate. There would have to be specific reasonable grounds for each retailer subject to a test purchasing operation. That would lead to a separate burden on the trading standards authorities that would undermine the purpose of having an effective enforcement operation.

Mr. Hughes: I have a question prompted by that exchange. Is it being considered—it has always struck me as a sensible thing to consider—whether those who run off licences, places where drink and tobacco are sold and where age limits relate to their premises, should be required to have closed circuit television or the like on their premises? From experience, it could work well if those in such shops know that a perpetual record is kept of who has been in and out. It strikes me that, although we would not want to impose that on the retail trade in general, it might be appropriate for those who retail items that involve an age limit, safety or other crime-related issues.

3 pm

Mr. Clarke: We are approaching the matter in two ways. First, the new guidance on CCTV, which we published in February, specifically highlights as one of the three new priorities out-of-town parades that typically include an off licence or betting shop, for example, where there is often a lot of low-level crime of the type that we are discussing, and where people congregate, but which do not have enough money to invest seriously in CCTV as many retail centres involving major chains do. We said in the bidding round that we would give priority to such schemes for exactly that reason.

Secondly, through our retail crime action team, we are discussing with the industry, including post office sub-postmasters, the range of security devices that we as a Government can encourage in such shops, and what support we can provide. We are developing, although we have not yet brought into the public domain, because the conversations on them have not yet finished, a range of proposals that we hope will help security across the range, and they include CCTV.

CCTV could be a matter for licensing justices, who could require an undertaking that it will be used in an off licence in particular circumstances. Many small CCTV systems now available are relatively cheap. That is an interesting approach.

I hope that hon. Members will not press the amendment to a vote.

Mr. Heald: The Government should think a little more about the matter. We do not want test purchasing to become a widely used method of dealing with the problem. It should be used sparingly, and it should be targeted. The idea that we should have random testing across large areas is misconceived. At this stage, however, I do not intend to press the point, although we may return to the matter on Report, because we believe that the proposal should be targeted.

Mr. Blunt: I listened to the Minister, and it would be useful if he could give the assurance for which my hon. Friend asks so that it is on the record of our discussion that the power is not intended to be used—

Mr. Clarke: I am happy to give that assurance. We do not intend as a matter of course to assume that blanket sweeps are the right way to proceed. We believe that the operational decision on how to approach the matter should be taken on operational grounds. I can confirm that it is not part of our game plan to have blanket sweeps for particular circumstances.

Mr. Blunt: That is helpful. I hope that those words will be of guidance to the police and local authorities when they use the powers, if the Bill ever reaches the statute book. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Simon Hughes: I realise that planning permission may not be granted in every case. However, when planning permission for off licences has been applied for and granted, might conditions be attached with the same sort of jurisdiction as applies to pubs, for example? That would make the permission conditional in time and would involve a reporting back mechanism to determine whether it should continue, and if offences have been committed, the business involved would not be allowed to continue to operate. That applies to pubs. It is a way of keeping in touch with and in control of the licensee. I wonder whether we might do the same for outlets that cause a lot of low-level crime through selling drink.

Mr. Charles Clarke: It may interest the Committee to hear that the comprehensive spending review published in July included a cross-cutting review on crime reduction, which I chaired. The report on that, which forms part of the CSR, sets targets for several other Departments for contributing to crime reduction. Our theme is that the problem runs through all parts of society and life and is not the responsibility only of the police. The DETR accepted an obligation to revise its planning guidance to ensure that secure by design was included as an element in planning. We are funding the development of secure by design. A lot of research is being done in that area, and there is a good Association of Chief Police Officers scheme on it.

We are working further on what secure by design means, and I am discussing with my counterparts in the DETR exactly how we can put the requirement into effect, because there are serious issues involved. We are actively pursuing the possibilities.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 33 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 34

Drunkenness or disorder on licensed premises

Mr. Heald: I beg to move amendment No. 50, in page 25, line 22, after 'not', insert `knowingly'.

The Chairman: With this we will take amendment No. 49, in page 25, line 30, at end insert—

    `(2A) It shall be sufficient, for the purposes of proving that all reasonable steps were taken within the meaning of subsection (2), to show that the person became drunk other than on the licensed premises in question, and that no reasonable person would have believed that he was drunken when he entered those licensed premises.'.

Mr. Heald: The amendments are designed to deal with a case in which a person comes into licensed premises appearing sober and it subsequently becomes apparent that he is drunk. The offence that we are discussing is permitting drunkenness or violent conduct on licensed premises. It is well known that alcohol can have a delayed effect, and that some of the cocktails drunk these days can take effect suddenly. We want to provide a defence for licensees in cases in which they will be assumed to have taken all reasonable steps necessary to prevent drunkenness if they can show that a person did not become drunk on their premises through the alcohol that he was served there. In such cases, no reasonable person would have believed that the person was drunk when he entered the premises. The amendment deals with the issue of delayed effect. I would be grateful to hear the Minister's response.

Mr. Simon Hughes: The Minister will remember that exactly the same point was made on the Terrorism Bill and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Bill in the previous Session. It concerns the shift between the burden of evidence and the burden of proof. I would like to probe him, and I support the amendments. One must ensure a degree of personal liability and knowledge. Otherwise a ridiculous burden is placed on a publican, who must constantly judge between people who may be sober, not quite so sober, slightly less sober, beginning to be slightly drunk, more drunk or very drunk. People could start in one category and quickly move to another. One can go from being merry and pleasant to being not quite so merry, more merry and violent, bothersome and riotous.

Proposed new section 172A(2) would be affected by amendment No. 49. I understand that a publican may be charged with permitting drunkenness. All that must then be proved is that there is some evidence that a person was drunk on the premises. That is a ``how long is a piece of string'' sort of qualification. It is probably not difficult to find a drunken person on any premises containing a significant number of people—one needs only to find a person who looks as if he has been there for a long time.

Under the Bill, the burden of proving that the relevant person and any persons employed by him took all reasonable steps to prevent drunkenness will lie on that person. One has only to put the allegation on the table and it is for the publican, manager or licensee to refute it. I am unhappy with that presumption. I understand the public policy objective of ensuring that landlords keep an orderly house, to use the old phrase, but I would be much happier if, prompted by the amendments, the Minister would look again at the wording, and if he would go further and reconsider the way in which we would have someone convicted. It seems wrong that a conviction should arise because one cannot prove a negative, rather than its being necessary to prove an offence.

Mr. Heald: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it would be helpful if the Minister were able to tell us that his legal advice was that knowledge was necessary in order to permit drunkenness or violent, quarrelsome or riotous conduct? It would imply that the knowledge was part of the offence.

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