Clause 19 - Closure of certain licensed premises

Criminal Justice and Police Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 11:45 am ar 27 Chwefror 2001.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 11:45, 27 Chwefror 2001

I beg to move amendment No. 4, in page 10, line 6, at beginning, insert—

``Following a first and second warning''.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Ceidwadwyr, North Thanet

With this it will be convenient to take 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''.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Amendment No. 4, which is tabled in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Jackie Ballard), has collected rather a large group of other amendments, which are not in either of our names although some of them, for example amendments Nos. 84, 133 and 39, touch on similar issues.

As so many groups of amendments relating to clause 19 have been tabled, in opening the debate I shall put on the record what the notes on clauses say about the context, which will explain why my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton and I have tabled amendment No. 4. We are considering part I of the Bill—the second subsection of chapter II, which deals with the closure of certain licensed premises due to disorder or disturbance.

Whereas the previous debate was about disorder on the street, this one is about disorder in licensed premises. Clause 19 is designed to amend existing legislation, specifically the Licensing Act 1964, to which we referred in the previous debate. It provides for an additional clause, albeit a long one, to be inserted into that Act by this Bill, to allow a senior police officer to make a closure order for a licensed premises. The definition of licensed premises in this proposed additional clause would not include non-profit-making registered clubs such as working men's clubs or the Royal British Legion, unless they had a justices' licence, as opposed to permission to sell drinks only to their members.

Police officers of the rank of inspector and above would be given that authority. They would not be required to be present at the scene; they would be able, although absent, to act on reports from officers of lower rank who, presumably, would be present. That would allow them to hold the ``reasonable belief'' on which a closure order would have to be based. Thus officers on the street or in the pub could radio through to the station and obtain permission from their boss to make a closure order.

There are various descriptions of how the officer should make an assessment, and amendments have been tabled by the hon. Member for Reigate and others that relate to those issues. As the clause is drafted, the senior police officer must reasonably believe one of three things: that there is likely to be disorder in the premises or in the immediate vicinity of the premises, so that the closure would be necessary in the interests of public safety, including customers; that there is already disorder in, or in the immediate vicinity of, the premises, so that they need to be closed for public safety, or that there is excessive noise in the premises, such that they must be closed to prevent a disturbance.

Mr. Blunt rose—

Mr. Heald rose—

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Ceidwadwyr, Reigate

I suspect that I may be on the same track as my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire. The hon. Gentleman has automatically inserted the word ``immediate'' into his description of ``in the vicinity''. It is not in the Bill, but it would be if my hon. Friend's amendment were accepted. If it is still not in the Bill when it becomes law, it will not apply. The hon. Gentleman's accidental insertion has made the point for us.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I concede to that correction. The hon. Gentleman's amendments specify ``in the immediate vicinity''. I paraphrased accurately the exact wording of the notes on clauses, which include that phrase. I forgot as I read that part that it is not in the Bill. He is right to correct me and we will have a perfectly proper sub-debate on that in a moment.

The purpose of amendment No. 4 and similar amendments is to ensure fair treatment of the owner of the pub or licensed premises or the manager whose name is over the door. The proposal is simply that a closure order should be issued only after reasonable warning. We propose two warnings. The nearest parallel is in football, where a referee shows a player a card and can eventually force him off the pitch. Of course, that rarely happens at my local ground, the Den, where everyone is extremely well behaved at nearly every game. That is why we are leading the second division by a large margin and romping towards inevitable victory.

The amendment raises an important principle, but I should declare an interest. The Committee might have heard me say that my dad and granddad were brewers all their working lives—my dad worked for Whitbread's and my granddad for Young's brewery—and therefore had dealings with the licensed trade and the Federation of Licensed Victuallers Association. I am concerned that a first offence or complaint should not result in overly authoritarian action. It will be easy, particularly for young or inexperienced coppers, to take the view that the remedy should be used, because it is the most immediate, effective remedy, but that would not help the pub's reputation when it is time to renew the licence. If there has been a closure order, the proposed provisions will rightly result in immediate closure and the licence holder will have to go to court to renew the licence. That is perfectly proper. However, a closure by the police is draconian. It will affect someone's business and reputation, so it is important to have proper warnings.

I hope that we will agree that we need a proper series of warnings. Under employment law, verbal and written warnings are required before action can be taken. I can imagine circumstances in which first and second warnings could be issued on the same day or even during the same period of licensed opening, particularly in dealing with noise, so the police could use the full power of closing the premises.

There will clearly be occasions when the police should have powers to close ``misbehaving premises'' for any of the reasons that have been set out: trouble may be brewing, is already happening or occurring nearby. We are sympathetic to the amendments because they would circumscribe the powers by ensuring that the trouble is in the immediate vicinity, that the order would have a direct effect on the action or that trouble would ensue. The provision is important, but we must give only the powers that we intend to give and those powers must be clearly justified.

Photo of Ms Helen Clark Ms Helen Clark Llafur, Peterborough

Does the hon. Gentleman believe that the order for closure should be given by any officer, or by a senior officer rather than a junior one?

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I share the view that the order should be given by a senior officer, as the Government broadly propose. It would be an entirely inappropriate decision for an officer on the beat who happened to hear loud music or find a couple of people rolling out of a pub.

It will help if the Minister outlines, as fairly as he can, his current understanding of the views of those with relevant interests. What do they think of the details of the legislation, as opposed to its generality? The hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire may ask a similar question. We must be careful to take account of those with relevant interests. We live in an age in which the traditional pub is under considerable threat in many parts of the country and many pubs have closed in recent years. Happily, they are often more viable now in rural areas than they have been in the past, but they are less viable in urban areas, partly because they are being replaced by bars of a different type.

The pub is an important community venue. Public houses should be able to open for as long as the local authority decides. In principle, I am in favour of pubs being open all hours. That is the right way to deal with licensing and reduce alcoholism. We must be careful not to make it even more difficult for people to run pubs, especially those that are not part of multinational or national chains—individual free houses run by small publicans and real ale brewery companies, which are a valuable part of our national infrastructure. I am keen for there to be proper legislation, but we should not act in an over-draconian way on pubs and those who run them. By and large, those people provide an extremely good community service and deserve to be supported in what they do.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Ceidwadwyr, North Thanet

Before we embark on further debate, it might help the Committee if I suggest how we might approach it. As the hon. Gentleman rightly pointed out, we have deliberately selected something of a shopping basket of amendments that covers grounds of evidence, the extent of the area covered by closure orders and requirements to notify a licence holder before making an order. Provided that the Chair is given appropriate notice, I shall be perfectly willing to accept Divisions on all or any of those separate categories.

I also think that it might help if we go slightly further. Clause 19 is the first of several clauses that deal with closure orders. Given the breadth of the amendments in this group, it may help the Committee to have a wide-ranging debate on it. I am prepared to permit that, given the nature of the clause and subsequent clauses, on the clear understanding that debates will not become repetitive. If we have a wide-ranging debate now, I shall look fiercely on any suggestion that we might need a stand part debate later.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

That is a most helpful suggestion, for which I am sure that the Committee is grateful.

The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey made a point towards the close of his remarks about the nature of the industry with which we are dealing. The licensed industry runs many public houses and clubs, and is involved in a range of law and order issues. The industry is alarmed, as are we, by the fact that the Government do not seem to have a clear idea of the implications of closure orders. The explanatory notes, in paragraph 374 on page 68, estimate the effect on ``errant'' and ``innocent'' premises, as they are described. They state that the police have estimated that about 800 businesses are likely to fall foul of a closure order and that the commercial and legal costs of closure to the businesses will range from £1,100 to £60,000. The notes go on to say:

``If the number of closures is taken to be approximately 1000, the total cost to errant businesses could be between £1.1 million and £60 million. In addition, the cost to the estimated 15 innocent premises could be between £16,500 and £900,000. The total cost could therefore be between £1.16 million and £60.9 million. The costs to a business of the potential loss of licence following a court hearing are unquantifiable, involving both owners of businesses and salaried managers.''

We can see that there is a wide range of possible costs to innocent and other businesses—£1,100 to £60,000 and £1 million to £60 million. The wide spread of the estimates causes alarm in the industry, and it feels that the power could be wide-ranging and damaging. If the power were properly targeted, it would be a worthwhile exercise and less threatening to the industry. The amendments have been tabled to ensure that closure orders are properly targeted and made only in genuine cases of fault on the part of the landlord or the staff of the premises. It should not be a blanket approach, but effective and targeted.

Another aspect of concern is the practicality of closure orders. They will involve a senior police officer making a decision as set out the proposed new sections of the Licensing Act 1964. It is true that the senior police officer will be able to act on the basis of information given to him by other officers, but he will have to make the order. The Police Federation inspectors committee has considerable concerns about how practical that will be because, in reality, the inspectors will be the senior police officers.

The Brewers and Licensed Retailers Association and others in the industry support most of the official Opposition's amendments, including amendment No. 81. It is similar to an amendment that has been tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate, and would require the senior police officer not simply to believe that disorder is likely, but to have reasonable grounds for that belief. The Minister might be able to assure us on the legal effect of the current words, but we think that there should be an element of evidence and of reasonable grounds, which is more substantial than a judgment about likelihood. We should be grateful if he would help because, given the potential for substantial losses, it is important to licensees that the process is transparent.

Proposed new section 179A refers to the likelihood and presence of disorder ``in the vicinity of'' the premises. Amendments Nos. 34A and 35 would change that to say:

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

The Minister might say that if a licensee is responsible for an area, it is part of the licensed premises. In that case, he might want to deal with the matter in other ways than through the amendment. Amendments Nos. 34A, 35 and 77 are intended to probe the question of fault, and the suggestion that the landlord or staff of the premises might not have done everything expected of them.

As drafted, the provision is wide and seems to apply to an unspecified vicinity. The feeling in the industry is that if a licensee is responsible for trouble that has occurred, he should be liable, but if that is not the case, there is a risk of unfair closure. The BLRA wants to ensure that a licensee could not be unfairly penalised by the extended closure of his establishment unless he could be held responsible for the anticipated or actual disorder. That would establish a clear ground rule that the closure of premises must be based on disorder directly linked with those premises, and cannot be justified by general local behaviour alone. Responsible publicans who actively discourage rowdy and unacceptable behaviour should not be penalised because they happen to be sited in an area where there is disorder unconnected with the pub.

Amendment No. 36 relates to the same issue, specifying that the disorder, or likely disorder, should be in the immediate vicinity of the premises. As the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey has observed, that is what is said in the explanatory notes. The words ``immediate vicinity'' are used in paragraph 38, with which I know the Minister is familiar—he is looking at it as we speak. It says:

``To make a closure order, the senior police officer must reasonably believe that there is likely to be disorder in or in the immediate vicinity of the premises in question''.

It seems that the amendment is pushing at an open door, as the amendment contains only the words in the explanatory notes.

Amendments Nos. 82 and 83 would provide that a disorder should not only be in the immediate vicinity of premises, but related to them. The Minister's previous presentation suggested, as do the notes, that the Government's aim is that there should be a relationship between the licensed premises and the disorder. Why, then, can he not accept the point?

Amendment No. 83 concerns whether an action

``is necessary in the interests of public safety''.

That is the current wording. We think that

``will significantly assist in securing public safety'' would provide a stricter test, and ensure that closure orders are used only where they will have a positive effect. If the Minister can assure us that his wording is just as rigorous, we will accept it, but it is important that there should be a strict test, where the interests of public safety, and the securing of those interests, are concerned.

Amendments Nos. 84 and 92 would ensure, as would amendment No. 4, some procedure whereby the licensee or his staff would be requested to perform as the police wanted. If they failed to do so, proceedings would be taken to make an order. Amendment No. 84 would provide that a request would have to be made

``to the holder of the licence to act reasonably by reducing or ceasing the emission of noise from the premises'' before an order was made. The Minister may say that he expects that to happen, but it would be useful to provide for it in the Bill, as it would for the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey.

Amendment No. 92 makes a similar point, suggesting that a warning system should enable the operator to take action to address excessive noise before extreme closure action takes place. Amendments Nos. 84 and 92 are supported by the Brewers and Licensed Retailers Association.

Amendment No. 39 would provide that

``A closure order may only be made on the grounds specified in subsection (1)(c)''— the noise provision—

``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''.

Again, that is an early warning provision.

Amendment No. 39 would provide that

``A closure order may only be made on the grounds specified in subsection (1)(c)'' if notice has been given. It is a similar amendment. In fact, it is the same one; I have reread my notes. I apologise. Winston Churchill once read his notes twice when making a speech to the House and, when challenged about it, he said that it showed how important the point was.

I shall put the amendments in an overall context. They raise three basic issues. The first is the reasonable grounds and proper warnings that a senior police officer has to believe and give in order to close premises. The second is the link between the premises and the decision made. Is it possible to define ``in the vicinity'' so that it clearly relates to premises owned by the licensee? Should the reference not be to the immediate vicinity? Should the whole relationship be closer? The third issue is whether the closure would significantly assist public safety.

The industry feels that it has strong support among its members and those involved for firm discipline in licensed premises. It is already involved in a range of partnerships with the police and the community. As the Minister will recall, last year he launched the BLRA partnerships initiative, which we think has worked rather well. Co-operation has been active, and 84 industry representatives have been allocated to local partnerships. There have been considerable benefits from working partnerships between the industry, the Government, local communities and the police.

Just outside my constituency, in Hitchin, the Unique Pub Company has worked closely with Hitchin police. Superintendent Jon Caldwell and Mr. Raynsford of Unique recently met to emphasise the way in which their close co-operation is working. Both have said that they have been impressed by their approaches to and the effects of close working.

The industry should not be pictured as being full of unreasonable people who want to serve their drinks without any let or hindrance, and who do not care about discipline. They clearly do care about it, as no one wants to run a rowdy pub. It is important that the proposed measures be well targeted.

The coverage in the trade papers shows great concern. For instance, The Licensee and Morning Advertiser on 1 February said that the first reason—namely, that there is likely to be disorder—would give wide scope to the police. It continued:

``If there is a football match in town and the police think that fans might descend on `the circuit', are they going to close down all the pubs in the area, or wait until trouble happens? What is the situation where fights are developing in the street? Does the nearest innocent pub warrant a closure order while they sort it out?

As the Bill now stands, it is not just so-called `rowdy pubs' which are in the firing line. Many readers of this newspaper will know from personal experience that a fight can start in an instant, and they want it to end just as much as the police. It would be most unfortunate if an innocent landlord gained a double punishment—by having his bar trashed and then being forced to close for 24 hours as a result.''

The Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers, too, is worried. It says that the Bill's provisions may prove excessive and it protests that not enough checks and balances are in place to protect the legitimate business and commercial interests of licensees. It says:

``Under the proposals as drafted, the `senior' police officer does not even have to be at the premises but would have the right to shut any put where violence or disorder breaks out on the recommendation of the junior officer on the spot, and regardless of the reasons behind it, the pub's previous history or the landlord's efforts to control it.''

It also explains that the issuing of warnings is not prescribed in the Bill, a point that the amendments seek to deal with, and that no mention is made of discussing the reasons for closure orders.

Of cases being taken to court, the association states:

``The Bill recommends that this happen as soon as possible, but allows police to extend the closure order if this cannot happen immediately. In the meantime, the livelihood and income of many small business may be jeopardised. The ALMR believes that the appeals mechanism set out in the Bill must be strengthened and a statutory requirement be imposed on the licensing authority to meet in emergency session to review the closure order the following day. Police should not have the power to enforce extended periods of closure''.

The association then talks about the effect that improperly targeted measures would have on the relationship between the police and the licensees. It states:

``We are also concerned that these proposals may inadvertently lead to a breakdown in the relationship between licensees and the police. The regime may discourage licensees from calling the police if trouble breaks out in their premises for fear that it may lead to a closure order being issued or if the incident may be referred to in future licensing reviews.''

The association quite reasonably points out that

``there are certain pubs which do not comply with best practice and act as magnets for disorder, violence and drug dealing. Similarly, some pubs will persistently breach noise regulations.''

It supports the general intent of the provision, but it is concerned, first, that there should be adequate protections to relate the trouble to the premises in question; and, secondly, that there should be an element of fault.

The Minister told the Brewers and Licensed Retailers Association that his concern in using the words ``in the vicinity'' was centred on fighting among drunken and disorderly customers that spills out onto the street outside public houses. He said that such fights would be directly connected with the public house and that they would not have happened if the pub had not been open and serving alcohol in the immediate vicinity. I understand that he made his concern known to the BLRA in a letter.

Our amendments mirror the Minister's concern—for instance, that the disorder should be related to the premises and in the immediate vicinity. I venture to suggest that it should be possible for the Committee to reach agreement on the safeguards that are needed. I hope that we shall not have a lot of talk about guidance, although I know that he is expert in such sweet words. We need something in the Bill to safeguard the industry. Amendments Nos. 82 and 83 are particularly important. In the light of his views, he should be able to reach some agreement with us.

Finally, I turn to views of the Police Federation, and particularly those of the inspectors central committee. John Francis, the secretary of that committee, has written to me about the reduction in the number of inspectors over recent years, commenting particularly on the power to close down licensed premises. His letter states:

``Provisions within the planned Criminal Justice and Police Bill include powers to close down licensed premises due to disorder by a `senior police officer'. This `senior police officer' is defined as `a police officer of or above the rank of inspector'. Where they are going to find this senior police officer when a disturbance is occurring, I cannot imagine. As an inspector myself from 1986, in a rough part of the East End of London, I remember many occasions where I stepped in and took action to control disorder at a very early stage. There was an expectation, as an Inspector that you would control licensed premises when on duty and not wait until it was so out of control that urgent measures were needed to `close them down'. This was the case with all my colleagues when they had the capacity to respond to such incidents.''

He is concerned about the practicality of involving an inspector in the process.

Fred Broughton, the chairman of the Police Federation, also refers to the matter in letters to me. Is the Minister satisfied that there are sufficient inspectors and that they will be sufficiently available? How does he imagine that the process will work? Is it a question of a mobile phone? Is it a question of ringing through or of asking the inspector to attend?

The provision is similar to some of the others that we will come to later in our consideration of the Bill. The police are expert in judging a situation. That expertise is based not just on what somebody says to them down a phone, but on their experience of the situation. When one talks to both junior and senior officers, they all make the point that the more experienced officer, who is used to dealing with and controlling situations, is best at judging what the proper approach is. The number of officers of experience is currently decreasing. If the Government win another general election—let us hope that they do not—they hope that they will be able to recruit sufficient youngsters to cover for those experienced officers over the succeeding years.

The Government state that in a force that will, if their plans work out, have more and more young constables, such decisions can be made with the inspector at arm's length, or further away—in another police station, in a car or on a mobile phone. I am concerned about whether that is the proper approach. I should be grateful if the Minister would amplify his view of how the process will work for the inspectors.

The Government are always introducing new powers, because they think that it is good for the headlines. In some cases, they no doubt even believe that they will work. That is all very well, but if the effect of introducing a new measure is to burden the police with further responsibilities, duties and paperwork, and if there are not sufficient officers to do the job on the ground, it is a worthless exercise. We need the Minister to supply a concrete analysis of exactly how the procedure will work in practice, to clarify the provisions.

The challenge for the Committee is to ensure that there are proper safeguards for the industry while retaining the ability to close rowdy public houses in short order, which we support. I look forward to hearing the Minister's response. I have not referred to the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate, because I know that he will explain them, and it will be interesting to hear his views.

Photo of John Grogan John Grogan Llafur, Selby 12:15, 27 Chwefror 2001

I agree with two of the points made by the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire. He mentioned The Licensee and Morning Advertiser. I should declare that I am an occasional columnist for that newspaper. Although he did not quote from my column, I was living in hope.

There should never come a point at which a responsible licensee is afraid to call on the police because of the prospect of a closure order. That is to some extent dealt with in the notes. Paragraph 40, on page 8, refers to the fact that a police officer should

``in deciding whether to make a closure order...take account of any conduct of the licence holder or manager of the premises in relation to the disorder and disturbance.''

I consider it important that that message should be conveyed to the trade. Publicans have nothing to fear, and when they need to call the police they should do so. Furthermore, the police will take into account a licensee's behaviour in deciding whether to make a closure order.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has also noticed the Government's commitment in paragraph 373 on page 68 to issuing guidance explaining that a closure order should be avoided unless it is absolutely necessary. That is helpful, but does he agree that safeguards should be in the Bill?

Photo of John Grogan John Grogan Llafur, Selby

I believe that a high threshold should be set. There are arguments for including such a safeguard in the Bill, which none of the amendments deals with. Perhaps we should return to the matter on Report. The second point on which I wanted to agree with the hon. Gentleman is that on this and all questions relating to the closure orders, a high threshold should be maintained. That is why I disagree with amendment No. 37. The wording in the Bill, requiring closure to be

``necessary in the interests of public safety'' is a higher test than requiring that closure should ``significantly assist in securing'' public safety. I should be interested in the Minister's views on that. The regulatory impact assessment was mentioned, rightly; my hopes are for a lower rather than a higher figure.

Amendment No. 84 deals with noise. One thing that the Chamber has in common with pubs and licensed premises is that both are occasionally the subject of complaints about noise, excessive exuberance and disturbance. In both cases, the judgment to be made is very subjective. Sometimes the Chamber at its noisiest is at its best, in a democratic sense. Equally, it is difficult to make fine judgments about whether noise in pubs is excessive. Sometimes noise wafting from a pub, such as jazz on a summer evening, could entice people in. Heavy metal late at night when children are trying to sleep is clearly different.

I am interested in why the issue of noise has arisen with regard to closure orders. The licensing White Paper contained reference to closure orders with respect to disorderly and violent conduct, and the preservation of public safety. However, excessive noise seems now to have become a relevant issue. I do not know that there is a strong lobby among the police for such an addition to the reasons for making a closure order. I fear that there could be a danger of confusion. Should a householder call the police or environmental health officers first about a problem with a pub next door?

The statute book contains quite a body of legislation on noise. The Environmental Protection Act 1990 gives local authorities strong powers to deal with statutory nuisances, which are defined as

``noise emitting from premises so as to be prejudicial to health or a nuisance''.

If a noise deemed to be a nuisance is occurring, or is likely to occur or recur, an abatement notice must be served by the local authority, which can even seize noise-making equipment. The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 allows councils to issue antisocial behaviour orders to deal with harassment, alarm or distress, including noise pollution. If closure orders were to cut environmental health officers out of the loop difficulties could result.

I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Minister has reaffirmed the Government's commitment to liquor licensing reform. Several hon. Members have referred to the importance of flexible hours in combating crime, and of changing the drinking culture in our country. However, the licensing White Paper proposed not only flexible hours but a new licensing system, which included a premises licence. That White Paper contained much debate about including restrictions on noise in the premises licence. An advantage of the premises licence is that if there was a noise problem, a range of sanctions would be available to the licensing authorities. Under the Bill, if a pub is closed because of excessive noise and the case reaches the magistrates, very little can be done beyond withdrawing the licence completely.

The issue of noise must be treated carefully. The amendment refers to warnings, but I wonder whether the police have to be involved. There could be a situation where noise is not creating disorder but is still an immediate problem, and the police might need to act on the advice of environmental health officers because they cannot deal with a situation straight away.

I want to stress the importance of crime and disorder partnerships to the community and industry. As the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire mentioned, many members of the Brewers and Licensed Retailers Association are involved in them. Two or three years ago, Selby had a bad reputation, but it is now safe for me, as a Member of Parliament, to go out on a Friday night to have a drink. Through a mixture of partnerships, a pubwatch scheme and closed circuit television, violent alcohol-related crime has been reduced. York, part of which is my constituency, has also been innovative in developing such partnerships.

Although I recognise that closure orders must deal with extreme circumstances, the way to combat alcohol-related crime in the round is to develop partnerships and reform our licensing laws so that, over time—and I appreciate that it will take time—England and Wales will develop a culture with a more civilised attitude towards alcohol.

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Ceidwadwyr, Reigate 12:30, 27 Chwefror 2001

I agree with the thrust of the hon. Gentleman's comments.

The amendments break down into three issues. I remind the Committee that we are phrasing law that will guide the police. If we thought that the police were capable of doing everything, were always right and never abused their powers, there would be no point in our taking care to make laws and we could just leave them to get on with it. They would then be responsible for enforcing the law without checks or balances. However, our purpose is to ensure that the police operate under rules that everybody understands. That is a particularly sensitive area. Police and those who run licensed premises have different interests, and that could lead to difficulties. We have set in place the licensing system to patrol that. For example, people must go to a magistrate for a licence. The police can give evidence but the magistrates determine whether someone can be given a licence.

The Bill is wrong because it produces a situation where a policeman can decide to close a premises of his own volition because he believes that disorder might occur in the vicinity.

That leads on to amendment No. 130, which is similar to amendment No. 81. If a senior police officer is to make a judgment about the possibility of disorder, he should be acting on evidence. The evidence test would not have to be sufficient to convince a jury beyond reasonable doubt or even on a balance of probability, but evidence must exist.

It would be wrong for police officers to be able to say that they believed that something might happen without having to offer supporting evidence in dealing with the difficult problem of licensed premises. They will have built up a picture of a particular publican's pub in a particular area. A police inspector who is particularly officious or oppressive in his policing may wish to a target a publican for reasons wholly other than the prospect of disorder around a premises. For whatever reason, he may have a downer on the publican and use all his powers to target him. If the Bill draws police powers too widely, police inspectors will be able to act oppressively towards an individual, in circumstances beyond what I understand to be the Government's intentions, as set out in the explanatory notes that accompany the Bill.

This provision must be amended in one way or another. If the Government accept the official Opposition amendments, I will support them and not press mine, because they would improve the Bill and make the test for the police clearer. However, I prefer amendment No. 130, which simply substitutes a need for evidence for the test of the police officer having reasonable grounds for belief. Evidence would have to be produced, irrespective of how valid or weighty it is. The evidence could be only a complaint of a disturbance, but the police officer would be able to give that as his reason for imposing a closure order.

I want to deal with the matter of ``the vicinity of'' where the disorder will occur. My hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire rightly tabled amendments that make it clear that the disturbance should be in the ``immediate'' vicinity of the premises, rather than simply ``the vicinity of'' the premises, and that the disturbance in the vicinity of the premises must be related to the premises in question. I would support those amendments but I think that amendments Nos. 131 and 132 are slightly better and clearer because they would simply remove the phrase

``or in the vicinity of''.

The Minister described a situation to the Brewers and Licensed Retailers Association where people leave a pub and engage in a fight in the street. If the police are faced with that, they arrest the people who are fighting on a charge of disorder. However, it is being suggested that the pub has become a production line. Nobody misbehaves inside the premises, but all go outside and have a punch-up or create disorder. It beggars belief that such a production line would continue so as to necessitate the closure of the pub.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

As a supporter of the general proposition that such situations do not occur, I happened to be talking to the acting borough commander about the issue on a road that is well known for its pubs and late licences—the Old Kent road. If we examine the incidence of reported crime, arrests and police activity, we see that most cases occur on the premises during licensing hours. Contrary to the general view that kicking-out time causes all the problems, there are fewer problems after licensing hours outside the pubs.

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Ceidwadwyr, Reigate

I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman's point.

On the amendment, I think that ``in the vicinity of'' is too widely defined. My house in my constituency is in the vicinity of Horley, which happens to be two or three miles away, so what do the words mean? Such a wide definition could cause all sorts of problems. Although inserting the word ``immediate'', as my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire suggested, would be an improvement, it would still be a matter of definition. What would in the ``immediate vicinity of'' mean? After working that out, we would still have to establish that the disturbance was ``related to'' the premises.

We should be clear about what the licensee is responsible for: conduct and behaviour on his licensed premises. He cannot be held responsible for what happens on the street once people have left his premises. It would be much better to remove

``or in the vicinity of''

and I urge the Government to consider it seriously. If the disorder or noise comes from the licensed premises, the licensee is clearly responsible and, if the police make that judgment, he deserves to be subject to a closure order. That is serious, as we can see from the proposed punishment for violation of the closure order, which we will discuss later. The current drafting is too vague and could be unfair. I hope that the Minister will accept my amendments. If he does not, I hope that he will accept the offical Opposition amendments, which would at least establish in the Bill a link between the licensed premises and the disorder.

I want to address the question of notifying the landlord, or the person in charge of the premises at the time, that he will be the subject of a closure order. Amendment No. 4 would insert

``Following a first and second warning''.

In practice, the police could issue both warnings by just saying ``Here's your first warning'' and then ``Here's your second warning.'' The warnings could just be a form of words that the police use to get round the requirement. If there is to be a warning, and it is to be a proper warning, only one is necessary.

I disagree slightly with my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire on amendment No. 39. It would insert the words:

``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.''

I wholly agree with the sense of that. The licensee must be given a warning. The Bill as it stands is unfair, as under it a closure order would suddenly be slapped on the licensee with no notice and no opportunity for him to put right what has gone wrong.

The only problem that I have with amendment No. 39 is the use of the words ``senior police officer''. My hon. Friend drew attention to his letter from the central committee of police inspectors, which said that, in case of widespread disturbance, one would not be able to send an inspector into every licensed premises to deliver that warning. I hope that he would therefore consider amendment, No. 133, which suggests the wording:

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

Amendment No. 133 would meet a situation in which the senior police officer in charge of a shift, who might be faced with considerable disorder across the whole of his division, was trying to control the division from a central position. He could say that he had received evidence that he needed to shut down any number of licensed premises to stop the source of disturbance. Having made the closure order, he could give instructions by radio or other means from his central location to a uniformed police officer on the scene. That officer could give the warning that if the problem could not be sorted out, the premises would have to be closed down.

It would be unreasonable to expect the inspector, in all situations, to go to all premises to issue the warning. It is essential that a warning should be issued, but the balance of judgment is that only one warning should be given, and that it should be given by any uniformed police officer rather than necessarily by the inspector.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 12:45, 27 Chwefror 2001

I do not want to stand firmly to the two-warning position, although I want a warning procedure. The only addition that I would make to the hon. Gentleman's proposition is that the legislation must give a reasonable period in which a reasonable licensee could act on the warning before any action as envisaged in the legislation could take place. A warning procedure is required, as is time to act on it, if we are to have rational legislation.

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Ceidwadwyr, Reigate

I agree in a sense, but there is a question about practicality. The test is between what is realistic for the police in the circumstances and the reality for the licensee. It would tie the police's hands unnecessarily if the Bill stated that the licensee had 15 minutes to sort out the problem, yet it was plain to the police that the place needed to be closed down as soon as possible because it was completely out of control and the licensee did not have a cat in hell's chance of sorting it out, however long he was given.

Some judgment must be exercised about the powers to be delegated to the police in those circumstances. It would tie them too much to say that the warning order had to be followed by a set length of time. That judgment must be made by a police officer.

I hope that my amendments will commend themselves to the Government, as they would achieve exactly what they have set out to do. I fear that the Bill is currently much too widely drawn. The matter is already controlled, as people have to obtain a licence in the first place. To a degree, there will be tension between the police and those who run licensed premises, as there is already, so I hope that the Government will consider my amendments.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

This has been a most interesting discussion, and I would like to make some general points at the outset.

As hon. Members will know, the Portman Group is a respected organisation that works closely with the licensed industry. The group commissioned a MORI survey, which it published in January of this year, in which 14 per cent. of people reported that they had been the victim of violence in pubs. That seemed to me a very large figure indeed. About 20 per cent. of frequent drinkers had been victims of violence in pubs. I was struck by those figures. It seems to me that, overall, although many such polls are simply a matter of subjective assessment, the data show that there is an issue that must be tackled. That is why the Portman Group published them.

Secondly, I want to pay public tribute to the industry itself and its various organisations, some of which have been referred to by the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire, which have worked closely with the Government, and across government, to develop a more positive approach to all the matters. As my hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Grogan) said, the industry and its organisations believe that it is important that we reach a state of affairs where alcohol is not seen as a cause of crime; where people can go and have a quiet drink in the evening and that can be seen simply as a normal part of life. The organisations, the brewers and the licensees know that it is important to ensure that people who work in their industry but do not live up to its standards should not be seen as representative of it. They have been positive about many of the proposals that we have discussed.

Thirdly, it is important to emphasise the point made by the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire, and reinforced by my hon. Friend the Member for Selby, about the importance of partnership. Soon after I started doing this job I was most impressed by a visit that I paid to the city of York, where there is a joint operation run by the police, the local authority and the licensees. That operation is a close partnership, with a whole set of requirements about the way in which people work together. It is designed to achieve the kind of position that my hon. Friend is talking about, where licensees feel confident in the police and work with them to tackle the issues that arise as they arise, and where police respect licensees. I pay tribute to what has been done in the city of York. I will not take up the Committee's time by giving further examples, but there are many places other than York where that kind of joint work has been positively developed. Nothing in the Bill should be seen as undermining that type of critical relationship.

Fourthly, the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire made a point about safeguards for the industry and proper targeting—that constellation of issues. Just as we support partnerships, we share entirely the aspiration expressed by the hon. Gentleman in relation to the matter. It would be appalling if powers in the Bill were to lead to a disentangling of the relations through improper targeting, if that is the right phrase, or through blanket operations in particular chunks of cities, or by any other means.

We agree with that point, and we agree that it is right to debate the amendments that have been put forward by the industry to clarify and draw out the issues in a constructive way. In that context, it is necessary to have a high threshold for action to be taken, so that it will be seen as a rare rather than a frequent event for any of the actions set out in the Bill to be taken. I emphasise that the Government do not believe that thousands of pubs around the country are acting in an unacceptable way, on which, through the powers of the Bill, the firm hand of the law will come down. Incidents of unacceptable behaviour are isolated, but the matter must be dealt with. Isolated targeting is at the core of our approach.

My next point relates to the remarks of the hon. Member for Reigate. This is an issue for all of us. The hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire decries guidance, but police conduct is an issue. It is a matter of how the police are trained, under what guidance they are operating, and how they normally proceed, for example in the area of warnings, which we will discuss in detail in a moment. It is the practice of the police, who have constantly to decide on different uses of their powers, to warn. I suspect that, usually, they would warn on many occasions, because they are the first to recognise that if they use their powers in a way that is perceived as arbitrary or dictatorial, they will not succeed in making the law work.

Our guidance will deal with those matters in the most effective way. I believe—it is not an evasion—that it is our job as legislators to set the legal framework, but that its implementation is a matter for guidance. How it is to be implemented should be a professional matter for the police, and it should be the subject of consultation and debate—including debate by the House.

I want to make one final, general point. There has been talk—not here today, but on other occasions—suggesting that the powers could be thought of as draconian. That is not right. I refer to what the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire said at the start of his speech about costs and the implications for business. New section 179A(2) defines a closure order as

``an order requiring relevant licensed premises to be closed for a period not exceeding twenty-four hours beginning with the coming into force of the order''.

It might often be a great deal less time than that; it might be until midnight, until what would otherwise have been closing time, or from 10.30 pm until 2 am. It is not right to describe such a power as draconian. I am not trying to put words into the mouths of Opposition Members, but in debates on later amendments we shall be discussing the work of magistrates and so forth. It is not an arbitrary power that could put someone out of business; it is a particular power to deal with the particular circumstances of disorderly pubs. That is the context in which I want to address the amendments. I shall deal with them one by one in a moment.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

An important point of principle, which the Minister and I have debated on other occasions, is that the law should set down the powers that Parliament wants to give to the police; but it should be restricted to that. Ministers often present measures that are widely drawn and then say that guidance will be issued to ensure that they are properly focused. There is a difference between us on that. I believe that the law should state clearly what the powers are. I admit that a case can be made for guidance, but if the law is wrong, guidance will not provide justice.

I hope that the Minister agrees with me. If he is saying to the industry that it should be the immediate vicinity, as he does in the notes, how can he not accept an amendment that says so? If he is writing to members of the industry, saying that it is related to the premises, why will he not accept amendments that say just that? Guidance is no substitute for getting the law right.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

I shall come to the amendment on vicinity in a moment; I wish to answer the serious points that have been made on that subject. However, I must first address the practical and principled point raised by the hon. Gentleman.

The principled point is as follows. I do not accept—I doubt whether the previous Government accepted it—that we can write into primary legislation every bit of guidance on how we want it to operate. I accept what the hon. Gentleman said about its being necessary to make it clear in legislation what the powers are and when they should be used, which is what we seek to do, but I do not accept that we need to give guidance on every aspect in primary legislation. That is why we have secondary legislation. That is why we have a hierarchy of documents that are not even legislative that can be used to develop best practice, to ensure that all parties can take part in the debate and so on. I am not sure from the hon. Gentleman's response whether that is a difference between us—[Interruption.] I am glad that he has confirmed it. In that case, I agree with him that there is a principled difference of opinion between us, and I shall take it to the barricades if necessary.

It is right to respect the hierarchy of law making; it has existed for decades under Governments of all parties. It goes from primary legislation to secondary legislation, guidance and so on. It is a good way to legislate, and I defend it in principle. I also defend it in practice. We have that structure because circumstances change; the question is whether it is necessary to return to full primary legislation to reflect those changes. On many occasions, we have been handicapped by the relative slowness and stickiness of Parliament to legislate to reflect such changes. For instance, the industry has changed. The average town centre is fundamentally different from when the hon. Gentleman and I were in our late teens or early 20s. The sort of places that exist, the role that we might wish the police to have, and the role of the licensee are all different. We should be able to change and deal with that situation in a practical way.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I am sorry to keep troubling the Minister, particularly with only 59 seconds to go, but if the law is written tightly and effectively, it safeguards the interests of the industry and the individual. If it is written as wide as the Bill, a publican in a bad case could be closed down—

It being One o'clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned till this day at half-past Four o'clock.