I beg to move amendment No. 38, in page 10, line 25, after 'retail', insert
', provided that the premises have been proven to contribute to alcohol-related disturbances'.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments:
No. 39, in page 10, line 28, at end insert
', provided that the premises have been proven to contribute to alcohol-related disturbances'.
No. 17, in page 10, line 28, at end insert
', provided that in every case the local authority and the Secretary of State think it reasonable so to do.'.
No. 18, in page 10, line 28, at end insert
', provided that no charges shall be payable by any persons or clubs unless the local authority is satisfied on the basis of evidence that it is reasonable to impose charges on those particular persons or clubs.'.
No. 15, in page 10, line 31, leave out from 'the' to end of line 32 and insert
'purpose of reducing alcohol-related disorder in the locality.'.
No. 16, in page 10, line 33, leave out from 'as' to end of line 37 and insert—
'(a) the Secretary of State considers appropriate for securing that the funds that he considers appropriate are available (after the costs of the scheme have been met from the charges) to be used for any purposes specified or determined under subsection (2); and
(b) are commensurate with the level of responsibility for alcohol-related disorder in the locality of the persons or clubs so charged.'.
No. 40, in page 11, line 9, leave out 'and'.
No. 33, in page 11, line 13, at end insert
(c) the sale of alcohol has not contributed to alcohol-related disorder in the relevant alcohol disorder zone.'.
No. 41, in page 11, line 13, at end insert
(c) the holder of the premises licence has implemented and taken the steps necessary to make the designation of the premises unnecessary, in accordance with the action plan set up by the local authority or the local chief officer of police.'.
No. 8, in page 11, line 22, leave out 'may' and insert 'must'.
No. 7, in page 11, line 23, at beginning insert 'the imposition,'.
No. 9, in page 11, line 29, after 'appeals', insert 'to the court'.
No. 12, in page 20, line 36, at end insert
'or to a term of 51 weeks imprisonment or both'.
I suppose that this chapter is probably where lies most legislative disorder. In all the amendments, I am trying to separate the chaff from the wheat, the good from the bad, and the honest and good landlord from the misbehaving landlord. We have concerns about the one-for-all and all-for-one approach in the imposition of alcohol disorder zones. We have been promised that guidance will make a differential in charging between the good and the bad, but as yet we have not seen formal guidance of any clarity that would allow us to have confidence that there will be a sufficient differential so that good landlords are not penalised.
There should be cause and effect, and punishment should be set out in the Bill. There seems to be more emphasis on location than on behaviour. I am not sure that that is a good principle or approach in terms of charging. We need a more causal link to establish whether premises or a pub have contributed to alcohol-related disturbances. Amendments Nos. 38 and 39 would establish a causal link between the alcohol-related disturbance and the licensed premises, be they a club, a pub or whatever.
If responsible establishments are caught in an area where ADZs are brought into being and those responsible find that they have to pay the charge, that is not only unfair but is a disincentive for licence holders to maintain good standards, when they are effectively to be penalised by the irresponsibility of other establishments. This approach appears to be somewhat contrary to the Government's consultation paper, "Drinking Responsibly", which has very much targeted responsible premises.
As for amendment No. 33, as I have said, there needs to be a more causal link. For example, an area might border an alcohol disorder zone. That area might be blamed for disorders that occurred when it had nothing to do with the adjacent area. However, it could be included in an exemption. The adjacent area would bear the brunt of the result of drunken and disorderly behaviour.
In stepping out of an ADZ one might go down a road along which there is a quiet pub where citizens are drinking responsibly until various times of the night, causing no disturbance. However, people coming from the ADZ make a noise and are riotous, and therefore are responsible for an extension of the zone. Through no fault of their own, the good pub owner becomes subject to charges.
The terms of amendment No. 41 were not even considered in Committee. They raise an interesting point to explore with the Minister. It reads:
"the holder of the premises licence has implemented and taken the steps necessary to make the designation of the premises unnecessary, in accordance with" an agreed
"action plan set up by the local authority or the local chief officer of police."
Once consulted on and agreed by the local authority and police officers, some establishments will comply with the eight-week action plan and spend money to facilitate and adopt it. However, they might get to the end of the eight weeks and find that others in the group have not adhered to it and have not undertaken the steps agreed. The local authority will then impose the ADZ and charge those establishments that had done everything that was asked of them. They will be punished alongside those who did not follow the plan. That is inordinately unfair and was not considered in Committee. I hope that the Government take that on board.
I am pleased to be able to speak against the amendment. The proposals for the alcohol disorder zones are an important tool to deal with the specific syndrome that has developed around drinking in some of our towns and inner cities. Of course some licensees are good, but others are worse. However, the sum effect of having a large number of drinking venues in a small area is a cycle of behaviour that is destructive to the environment in a town centre and to behaviour in general. It also has an effect on what happens to crime and disorder in those areas.
We all know of that type of behaviour, which I described to some hilarity in Committee. It ranges from the mildly disorderly to the outrageously criminal. Some serious fights can happen in the course of an evening. If we are to crack that behaviour, which damages the economy in the town centre, spoils the environment and is a massive drain on police resources, we must have an effective tool. The alcohol disorder zone provides just that. It makes it possible to consider the servicing of a designated area and to make the industry realise that if it is going to take large amounts of money from young people in the area, it also has to deal with the consequences of their behaviour.
Many sections of the leisure industry oppose the measure. Indeed, I consulted some licensees in my area and they were opposed to it. I can understand why. No one wants to pay out money, and they do not want to pay what they perceive to be an extra amount when they have already paid their business charges. However, there is good reason for saying that it is appropriate to charge people in the sector extra for the services that they receive.
One argument to support that is the amount that is made out of alcohol. When I went around with the police in my patch some time ago, I talked to licensees about the money that people spent across the bars. Northampton is reckoned to be part of the golden triangle for 18 to 24-year-olds, and they have one of the highest levels of disposable income of people in their age group anywhere in the country. The owner of one of the venues in the town centre thought that some of the best clients spent about £1,200 a person a month just on drink. That is an astonishing amount. High profits are to be made, and it is only fair that the industry is told about the costs of running the sector.
Any town centre business has to pay for a certain level of policing because town centres need extra policing. They also need more street cleaning because there is a heavier footfall. I would also argue—the industry needs to consider this—that the cost of policing the late-night leisure industry is a disproportionate burden that should not be borne by general council tax payers. There is a disproportionate amount of littering from all kinds of sources. There is also more substantial cleansing because of people's behaviour when drunk. In addition, there is the completely disproportionate cost of policing.
The policing of Northampton town centre—I guess other areas are the same—is a drain on the routine police resources that are supposed to cover the whole county. It is unjust that people who expect to pay for policing to cover burglaries and crime in the suburbs should have the staffing resources pulled into the town centre on a Friday and Saturday night to manage the behaviour of one section of the community—the young people—and to manage objectionable events, such as fights, which can also be serious crimes. People do not think that the police should spend their time chasing drunken young people and managing their behaviour in the middle of town. The football industry has had to take account of its special policing needs and the costs fall on the clubs. We should say to the leisure industry in certain areas, "Look. The costs are disproportionate and you have to bear some of them."
I hope that Northampton borough council takes note of the Bill and uses it to sort out the town centre. The problem with the amendment, as with other amendments throughout our deliberations, is that it would make the measures unworkable. That is wrong. On the causal link, the problem is what happens in a town centre as a whole, not in one pub. Young people will go from one licensed premises to the next in the course of the night. They will end up in the worst place, where the drinks are cheapest, but there will be problems right the way down the line. It is wrong to table an amendment that would make the provision unworkable.
The Liberal Democrats have to be honest. If they amend the provision and make it unworkable, they cannot turn around at a later date and say, "By the way, we want this, that and the other town centre to have an ADZ because it will sort out the problems." If we are to tackle the problem, the legislation must be workable. Tabling wrecking amendments shows that they oppose the provision and are using weasel words to get around it.
I oppose the amendment. It is much better for the Liberal Democrats to stand up and say that they oppose alcohol disorder zones, if that is the truth of the matter, and I accept that there is an argument against them. However, I very much support the proposal. It is an important tool.
That is not the case. We think that we have to tackle town centre disorder and believe in the "polluter pays" principle, but we want to make the legislation more workable because there might be the unintended consequence of small businesses going broke. Does the hon. Lady think that it would have been more convincing if the Government had widened the powers of local authorities to apply saturation policies and limit the number of establishments? She is right: most trouble is caused where many places are close together.
When we talked about another provision in Committee, the Liberal Democrats said that we could not issue drinking banning orders without psychiatric reports. That was nonsense—I was going to say nutty—because, again, it would have made the provisions unworkable. Young people move around a town centre where there are a number of licensed premises, drinking as they go. It is ridiculous to ask, "Where did you drink the particular tot that got you over the top?" One might just as well ask where they ate their fish and chips that night and ban the fish and chip shop.
In that case, why does the hon. Lady reject the idea of capping the amount that could be charged? In Committee, the Government rejected a cap of 3 per cent. of the rateable value, which might have provided some security to the businesses involved. Given that there will be no cap, businesses are scared that they will go broke.
Of course businesses will claim that they will go broke, but that happens for all kinds of different reasons. The issue is how to manage the behaviour that is seen in town centres and encourage the industry to act more responsibly. The Bill contains a range of measures, and the provision for alcohol disorder zones is an important one. The zone and the charging can be structured in various ways, but it will not work if only applied to bad licensees. No one will admit to being an irresponsible licensee.
Does the hon. Lady agree that if more complete and definitive guidance on charging had been available, we might have been less nervous about the provisions?
No, I do not, because some areas have had voluntary charging schemes that have worked fine. However, the problem with a voluntary system is that it cannot be implemented in areas where the licensees are being difficult. I can understand it if hon. Members need more information about charging regimes and regulations, but that is very different from tabling an amendment that would make the proposal unworkable. The proposals would be tough on the industry, but the voluntary schemes have proved that the industry is capable of dealing with them. Some sectors of the industry are also making a large amount of money. The schemes will be tough for some businesses, but they will also be an important weapon for the local authorities and police to have in their arsenal to deal with what has become a real problem. It is a problem not only in the demands it places on the police and local services, but for the viability of certain town centres. The sort of things that go on in Northampton town centre on Friday and Saturday nights every week are also damaging for business.
I support the Government's proposals and I oppose the Liberal Democrats' amendments because they would make the proposals unworkable.
In contrast to Ms Keeble, whose contributions in Committee I respected, I view the Liberal Democrats' amendments favourably. They draw our attention to an important aspect of the alcohol disorder zones, which is the basic unfairness of blanket coverage across a locality instead of targeting premises that are more culpable than others.
Clause 12 creates the power to impose charges on licence holders, but it is vague and uncertain. I cannot see how the House can properly be expected to debate the clause when it contains so many references to the Secretary of State making regulations on important matters. I may have missed something, but I do not think that I have seen details of those important regulations. For example, clause 12(2) states:
"The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision requiring a local authority"— to do something. Clause 12(4) states:
"Regulations under this section fixing the rates of charges may fix different rates for different descriptions".
How wise can we be about the rates that might be fixed?
Clause 12(7) states:
"Regulations providing for a discount . . . may make a discount"— in certain circumstances. We have not seen those regulations. Clause 12(8) states:
"The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision about . . . the payment, collection and enforcement of charges."
I do not know whether the Secretary of State has made those regulations yet. If he has, I hope that someone will draw them to my attention, because the House needs to look at them carefully. Perhaps the Minister will be able to tell us when the regulations will be published. Can we be sure that they will be available for debate in the other place? May we have a date for the production of the regulations? The vagueness and uncertainty of clause 12, coupled with what may be a basic unfairness, trouble my party, and that is why the Liberal Democrat amendments are commendable.
I tabled amendments Nos. 17, 18, 15, 16, 8, 7, 9 and 12. It may well be the case that we will wish to test the opinion of the House on amendment No. 18, which addresses the fundamental proposition that we face tonight. Clause 12(1) states:
"The Secretary of State may, by regulations, make provision for the imposition by a local authority of charges to be paid to the authority for each month by"— licence holders, in effect. Amendment No. 18 would add the words:
"provided that no charges shall be payable by any persons or clubs unless the local authority is satisfied on the basis of evidence that it is reasonable to impose charges on those particular persons or clubs."
I seek to establish the principle that charges should be paid by licensed premises and clubs only if there is some tangible evidence that they are culpable in relation to the incidents of alcohol-related disorder in their area. It would be nonsense to penalise small and innocent licence holders when the problems have been created by others.
We all know that there is immense alcohol-related disorder on the streets at night, but when it happens in our constituencies we know the premises from which the trouble emanates. The provisions would condemn sports clubs, cinemas that sell alcohol and restaurants from which no trouble emanates—or if it does, it does so rarely. They should not be punished for the problems caused by some pubs. I know a pub in the north-east of England where I tried my luck on the slot machine. I put a token into the slot, pulled the lever and instead of three cherries coming up, a sign says, "Next drink free" or "Next drink half price" or "Sorry, next drink normal price". Many premises contribute to the incidence of alcohol-related disorder in their area by their conduct. Happy hours are extended for a long time. Some pubs give young girls free drinks to get young boys to go into the pub. We know that pubs serve people who are drunk and who should not be given drinks in that condition But how different are they in terms of guilt for disorder in their area? How different is their position from that of other licensed premises? It is that essential element of fairness that leads me to propose strongly to the House my amendment No. 18, which requires the local authority, before imposing charges, to be
"satisfied on the basis of evidence that it is reasonable to impose charges on those particular persons or clubs".
The Government are getting extremely used to quoting the police and saying that if the police say something it must be right. I have a feeling that they said that in a debate in the House last week. The Government said "Well, the police think so, therefore it follows that it is right." In that case, what do the Government say about the fact that the Association of Chief Police Officers does not like the concept of alcohol disorder zones? ACPO takes the view, as do many others, that such zones not only highlight hot spots but may in some cases exacerbate problems and attract troublemakers to an area.
Will the Minister deal with what is meant by the word "locality" on page 11, line 43? Yet again, the meaning of the word is vague and needs to be defined carefully by the Minister. The Collins dictionary defines it as a neighbourhood or an area, but other dictionaries offer a different explanation and state that it is a site or the scene of an event.
Amendment No. 17 is the forerunner to amendment No. 18. It takes an alternative approach to line 28 on page 10, requiring that in every case, before imposing charges,
"the local authority and the Secretary of State think it reasonable so to do".
I have already spoken to amendment No. 8.
May I refer the Minister to subsection (6) of clause 12 which deals with the possible exemptions from charges for which regulations may provide? Again, we are no wiser about which exemptions will be laid down in relation to persons or licence holders who will be exempt from charges. The provision refers only to regulations that "may provide", so will the Minister discuss with us the position of non-normal, slightly unusual, licensed premises?
The explanatory notes are well worth reading, as they state that the purpose of subsection (7), which deals with regulations providing for discounts or exemptions,
"is to ensure that premises such as restaurants, cinemas and gyms, which do not significantly"— a word of some interest: what is meant by it?—
"contribute to the problems of alcohol-related violence and disorder, do not have to pay the charge."
Can the Minister tell us what will be the position of those premises? These are key questions. Many licence holders and holders of club registration certificates will want to know whether they will be exempt and are scratching their heads about that interesting point in the explanatory notes—I appreciate that the Minister did not draft the notes personally—which states that a person may be safe if they do not "significantly contribute" to the problems of alcohol-related violence. May we cover restaurants, cinemas and gyms?
May we also cover private clubs? In every constituency, there are a number of law-abiding private clubs, mostly sports clubs, but also political clubs with a licence where people mainly go to drink. Many premises need to be covered, so we need an explanation from the Minister of what the regulations will say. Who will be covered and who will not?
Does my hon. Friend agree that more alcohol is consumed in some restaurants than in some pubs, so those restaurants would be contributing more substantially to the problems that the Government want to address, yet their purpose as restaurants is not primarily the supply of alcohol?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. That is undoubtedly true of some restaurants. He hammers home the point that we need a real explanation from the Minister about which premises will and will not be covered, and in what circumstances premises would find themselves saved from the need to impose the charges.
In some areas, the distinction may be a fine one, but does the hon. Gentleman accept that there is a world of difference between a restaurant where people have something to drink with their meal and a vertical drinking place where young people drink as much as they can and are shoved out on to the street? It is the second that causes the problems in a large number of our town centres.
The hon. Lady makes a fair point, but we must decide what the Bill says and means. Although it is undoubtedly true that standards of behaviour vary between premises, it is equally true that the clause will affect little corner shops or specialist trade off-licences whose contribution to alcohol-related disorder is zero. Of course, many of us think that some pubs need attention and that some restaurants might, but some pubs might not. That is where the measure is so vague. In Committee and throughout our debate today, there has been a complete absence of further explanation from the Government about what on earth they mean by the clause, so it is difficult for us to decide whether it is appropriate.
Will the Minister make the clearest possible statement about clubs such as night clubs, where people predominantly go to dance—or do they? Do they go to such clubs for alcohol? I do not dance—[Laughter.]—if I can help it. By mistake, I took rock and roll dancing lessons about two years ago. It was a pathetic sight. However, people in the trade want to know about the position of night clubs where there is a serious combination of music and heavy drinking. Will they be exempted under subsection (6)?
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman accepts that constituencies differ, as do town centres. Does not he feel that the appropriateness of the provisions in a particular area—their effect on restaurants and so on—would be taken into account by the crime partnership before considering an alcohol dispersal zone? Is not it a tool that can be used effectively in places where local crime partnerships feel it important? I cannot understand why he does not want to give that option to councils, such as Stockport, which have huge problems of alcohol-related disorder in their town centres.
The hon. Lady makes a sensible and accurate point about different problems in different constituencies. One would want to ensure that sensible discretion is used, but I remind her of what I said a few moments ago: we are debating a Bill and we need to ensure that it leaves the House in a state that we can understand and predict. Although the hon. Lady and I might agree that premises that are not the cause of alcohol-related disturbance should not be charged, that is not in the Bill. We need much more explanation from the Minister about the meaning of the clause.
Clause 12(2) deals with the use to which sums received by the local authority will be put and is a tremendous example of vagueness. It states that the Secretary of State may make regulations—terrific—
"requiring a local authority that imposes charges . . . to use sums received by them in respect of those charges for the purposes specified . . . under the regulations."
How on earth are hon. Members supposed to have a meaningful debate about that? Frankly, it could be no more than a tax-raising exercise by local authorities. Why is it not possible to insert, as I seek to do in amendment No. 15, a requirement that the purpose should be to reduce alcohol-related disorder in the locality, as opposed to any purpose that the Government might deem appropriate when they make some regulations, as suggested in the Bill.
I assume that the hon. Gentleman's point relates to policing and crime, but does he not accept that major issues, such as cleansing and other services, are key to what happens in the town centre and closely linked to drink-related behaviour? The proposals are not just about policing costs. Street cleaning and design are important in helping to deal with the problem, as the Minister would agree.
Funnily enough, that may be true, but the problem is that none of it is set out in the Bill and we will never see the regulations. It is right to insert a requirement that the money must be used for the purpose of reducing alcohol-related disorder in the locality. Frankly, if the Government had introduced a Bill in which they had set out certain other purposes for which it should be used, including street cleansing, as least we would have something to debate tonight, whereas the truth is that we have nothing to debate at all.
Constituencies such as mine do not have a primary town centre and public houses are in residential areas, where vast disturbance is caused to residents. Does my hon. Friend agree that, in such areas, money should be directed to stop the cause: antisocial drinking and antisocial behaviour? Surely, that would make more sense.
Again, my hon. Friend makes a good point—I cannot but agree with him—but in a sense he reinforces the fact that we simply do not know what the Government have in mind under the Bill. We would like to know what they have in mind.
Amendment No. 16 takes the matter not much further in the sense that it is a repetition in a different part of the Bill of a point that I made earlier, and it is to the effect that the charges should be
"commensurate with the level of responsibility for alcohol-related disorder . . . of the persons or clubs so charged."
Surely the Minister would feel it appropriate to accept amendment No. 8. Clause 12(7)(b) states that the Secretary of Sate "may" by regulation make provision about the payment, collection and enforcement of charges. I may have misunderstood the word "may"—it may have some parliamentary meaning that has completely escaped me—but I am not sure about that. It seems that the word "may" means that she may or may not. I see absolutely no reason why the word "must" should not go into the Bill, as I suggest in amendment No. 8. Likewise, amendment No. 7 says that the regulations should deal with the imposition of charges, which is to say the basis on which charges are imposed on licensed premises.
Amendment No. 9 is quite important and relates to clause 12(8)(b), which states that the Secretary of State may by regulation make provision about
"appeals against decisions determining such questions."
The appeals point is very important indeed. My amendment suggests that the appeals should be made to the court. The reason I tabled that amendment is, yet again, that the Government have included the most vague statement: they may make regulations about appeals. We must face the fact that some licensed premises or, indeed, trade organisations will decide that they want to appeal against the imposition of such charges on their own premises. What can we debate about the appeal?
Bills that relate to crime normally at least include a provision of appeal to a court and deal with matters such as legal aid. One can get one's teeth into that, but it seems quite vague to say that regulations can make provision about appeals. Can the Minister specifically tell us today to whom the appeals will be made? Is there an undoubted provision for appeal? Who has the ability to overturn—if she thinks that it is not improper to overturn—the decision of the local authority?
Amendment No. 12, which is linked to this group, relates to a different clause, which deals with selling alcohol persistently to children—one of the new offences that we discussed at some length in Committee. My amendment is simply a probing amendment. Whereas I always thought that it was an offence to sell alcohol to under-18s, the Government suggest another offence of persistently selling alcohol. There might be another offence next year of persistently selling alcohol persistently. It is either an offence or it is not.
The Minister may tell me how many people have been charged in the past 12 months with selling alcohol to under-18s. Does she know? Perhaps she would like to intervene to tell me now, because that might shorten my next comments. It appears that she is not entirely sure whether anyone has been charged with the existing offence under the law.
Police officers have told me about the difficulty of using young people's evidence to get a conviction. The offence of selling alcohol to children is phenomenally difficult to prosecute. The police might know that it is going on, but they find it difficult to get the evidence.
It may indeed be a difficult offence to investigate and bring charges, which is clearly why the Government have made it so much easier by giving us the new offence of doing it three times. Of course, that will ease the position, and the hon. Lady's undoubtedly sincere doubts about the ability to enforce the law will be eased by the fact that, now that it is an offence to do it three times, it will be a matter of great simplicity for the police force.
I merely wonder in amendment No. 12 whether a custodial sentence for that very serious offence should be inserted in the Bill. I shall bring my remarks to a close by saying that those who are engaged in the wine, spirit and pub world are universally worried—very properly so—about the whole concept of alcohol disorder zones and would undoubtedly support my proposition that the charges should be imposed only where there is an element of guilt.
The Campaign for Real Ale was one of the first to write to me saying that the zones might
"inhibit moves towards a more responsible drinking environment by treating", as the Bill does,
"all licensees the same regardless of steps taken to encourage responsible drinking."
CAMRA, like many others, believes that there should be discounts for well-run community public houses.
Justice, which is a very respected organisation, is again
"concerned that these zones discriminate insufficiently between premises that are a cause of alcohol-fuelled crime and disorder and other premises that merely happen to be in the same locality."
It is concerned about clause 12(7)(b), which provides that
"premises whose main purpose is the sale of alcohol may not be exempted from charges."
It believes that
"those premises that are not contributing to offending behaviour should be exempt from charges.
It is also right in saying that
"premises for which exemptions are allowed by clause 12(7) may include those that are contributing substantially to disorder—there may even be legal argument as to whether nightclubs are included."
I hope that the Minister will comment on that.
I had a long meeting with Tesco, which represents several people interested in the supermarket trade. It, like many others, is extremely responsible in its approach to the sale of alcohol. There is a strong argument that such supermarkets should be excluded from the provisions altogether, because the main purpose of entering them is not to buy alcohol. The Government's assertion that off-licence shops and supermarkets are a significant cause of alcohol-fuelled disorder is not good because their consultation in January conceded that any causal link between the behaviour of an individual and off-sales of alcohol was "tenuous".
The British Retail Consortium is among other bodies that have added their objections to the concept. It talks about its attitude towards responsible retailing and expresses concern about the absence of an appeal. Interestingly, it points out that
"this legislation applies to all retailers who hold a licence to sell alcohol. This would include shops such as John Lewis, Boots and Next who sell alcohol at promotional times of the year but are in no way connected with the problem of alcohol fuelled violence."
Will the Minister confirm whether such premises would be exempt?
The Wine and Spirit Trade Association, which is a responsible body, says:
"We are concerned that the introduction of alcohol disorder zones . . . will have unintended consequences."
It says that the zones will
"penalise small businesses on the basis of their location and will levy charges on responsible business to pay for less-conscientious retailers."
It feels strongly about the matter. Apparently, Home Office officials have made it absolutely clear that
"all restaurants and hotel bars will be exempt from charges".
Will the Minister confirm whether the Home Office has said that? If so, is it wise?
A principal objection is the catch-all and unjust nature of alcohol disorder zone provisions. I repeat again that the Association of Chief Police Officers opposes the concept. The British Hospitality Association is worried on behalf of restaurants, cinemas and gyms. It is concerned about the unfairness of many of the provisions that face it.
Amendment No. 18, which addresses charges in alcohol disorder zones, would ensure that we include in the Bill at least a reference to the fact that payment should be made by those who are culpable, rather than those who are not. The rest of my amendments draw the House's attention to the fact, which must by now be absolutely plain, that clauses 12 and 13 are riddled with uncertainty and vagueness. The Minister has a duty to the House to put us straight on exactly what she means.
I was not intending to speak in the debate, but I have been somewhat incensed by comments made by Opposition Members.
Mr. Malins read into the record many objections to the proposals by a variety of interest groups in the licensed trade. My constituents are hugely worried about alcohol-related disorder and offences in the town centre. The problem arises not only on Friday and Saturday nights, but on Thursdays, Wednesdays, Tuesdays and Mondays. Young people go out for the night, visit numerous pubs and night clubs in the area and end up the worse for wear. They can be assaulted while in a vulnerable state, or assault other people while fuelled by alcohol. There are ways of prosecuting such people, but if we accepted the Liberal amendments we would have to find out which pub caused the alcohol level that induced the violent offence, which would be absolutely impossible. If the Liberal amendments were accepted, nothing would happen. We would have a totally ineffective measure on the statute book.
Does the hon. Lady accept that the police in Stockport and her constituents will have a fair idea about the premises that cause the most problems? Does she not think that it would thus be possible to identify the premises from which most problems come?
Yes, but suppose that a young person who had committed an offence had had four pints in one pub, two vodkas in the next pub and a couple of drinks of whatever in another pub. Which pub should be prosecuted? The situation would be absolutely impossible.
Perhaps the answer to the hon. Lady's question lies in the fact that it is an offence to sell alcohol to an intoxicated person, so the last pub must be the culprit.
That is very interesting, but I defy the hon. Gentleman to identify the point at which a person drinking alcohol reaches the point of total, rather than relative, intoxication. The process of becoming intoxicated is gradual. A person is not, one moment, not intoxicated and, the next, intoxicated. That makes it almost impossible to prove which pub is relevant to the intoxication.
An alcohol disorder zone is a good idea because all licensed premises in that area will have a duty to ensure that anyone drinking in them, or indeed leaving them, is in a proper state. Until we are able to establish alcohol disorder zones, everyone will suffer from the current problem of young people on the streets who are in a state in which they should not be. I do not want to see any more young people being knifed and beaten up in Stockport town centre by other young people who are drunk because they have been out in pubs and clubs that are not responsible enough to control their behaviour: enough is absolutely enough.
Stockport council will not have to apply for the town centre to be an alcohol disorder zone—the crime and disorder partnership need not bother. However, the council should be given the option of doing so because that is what local democracy is about. The tool should be available for it to make such an application and local people can then hold it responsible for their actions.
We in Stockport are fed up with the situation. We are also fed up with the mealy-mouthed words of Opposition Members about any proposal that the Government make to try to sort things out—live in the real world.
I share the passion of Ann Coffey to see something done about drunken and disorderly conduct in town centres. The issue before the House is not whether we wish to tackle such gross abuse of our town centres at night—everyone in the House wishes to do so—but how we can do that most effectively and justly.
I support the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend Mr. Malins, especially amendments Nos. 18 and 16, which go to the heart of the issue. It would be not merely unjust to impose a tax or levy on licensed premises or restaurants with licences that are perfectly well run, but totally ineffective. Just as the hon. Member for Stockport is passionate about wishing to control disorder in Stockport, I am passionate about wishing to control disorder anywhere in our country, especially places near my constituency. However, I do not for one moment believe that if we impose an extra tax or levy on those who run orderly premises in our society, it will have any impact on disorder. We need to get to the cause of the disorder.
Licensed premises in some towns and other centres might be breaking the rules of their licence, or breaking the law. If they are knowingly selling alcohol to minors, they should be prosecuted. If they are knowingly selling alcohol to people who have already had too much—and visibly so—we are all in favour of action being taken. However, Conservative Members are worried about an ineffective and unjust proposal that will allow any premises with a licence to be clobbered because people misbehave, although many such premises will have had nothing whatsoever to do with the offence and the misbehaviour.
It is likely that in many cases a locality will mean a complete town centre. In a town such as Reading, which I know well because it is just over the border from my constituency, or even a small and relatively well-ordered town such as Wokingham, it will be difficult to draw a line between different streets. Drunkenness spills out across the town centre, and councillors are likely to want to make the whole area into a zone. It is therefore vital that the Minister tells us in general what exemptions would be permitted inside such a large area, which will include many licensed premises that have nothing to do with the trouble.
The Government argue that the people who cause the problems ought to be made to pay. However, those problems are caused primarily not by individuals running licensed premises and businesses but by the drunks themselves. How do the Government propose to make sure that they pay their fair share towards cleaning up the mess and dealing with the damage, and towards the cost of the extra health and policing services that are needed?
Why do the Government think that it makes good or effective law to charge innocent people who are trying to run decent businesses in a town centre and who may offer a countervailing pressure to the unruly behaviour of a minority in a limited number of premises? That would not improve the situation, and would clearly make it worse. The only thing that it is likely to do is drive more of the decent businesses out of town centres to areas where they will not become part of a zone, thus compounding the problem in the town centre, where the wrong kind of businesses will remain. I hope that the Government take seriously the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Woking, and introduce a provision along those lines.
I, too, support the amendments that my hon. Friend Mr. Malins has tabled, particularly amendment No. 18. Alcohol disorder zones have the potential to be not only unfair but counter-productive in many ways. The unfairness has been dealt with in detail by other hon. Members, so I will not address it at length. However, the problem does not, as Ms Keeble suggested, stem from the fact it is difficult to isolate individual premises that supply the drink that makes someone drunk or pushes them beyond that point, causing them to come into conflict with the forces of law and order. The problem is that the Government are introducing proposals that financially penalise businesses that operate in the alcohol disorder zone, whatever they do, whether it is right or wrong.
Under those circumstances, the burden of proof rests with the Government to demonstrate that all those businesses share the blame. There is a risk that the proposals will be counter-productive. In Committee, the Minister talked about various programmes and schemes, including the "best bar none" scheme, to which premises could subscribe. They could sign up to best practice proposals and do everything that the Government and the rest of society expected of them by refusing to serve people who were drunk, by behaving responsibly, and by operating their businesses in a way that minimised any disorder outside their premises, but they would still be liable for payment in an alcohol disorder zone. If that is the case, there is a danger that those businesses will simply throw up their hands and say, "Why should I bother? Why should I sign up to all the schemes that the Government want me to join and still have to pay my money?"
I argued that we could not trace the final pint. However, the industry will, by its very nature, incur extra costs. I will not go into detail, but I believe that the industry should bear a greater proportion of the costs.
If the hon. Lady is saying that people who supply alcohol to individuals who become drunk and cause disorder should bear the burden of costs, I agree. However, I do not agree that we should assume that every supplier of alcohol is therefore irresponsible. The assumption made by those who framed the proposal is that people who live or operate and work in a particular area of town that the council has designated an alcohol disorder zone must be contributing to the problem and will therefore be charged for the expense of sorting it out. That is fundamentally unfair. If we want premises to comply with all the wonderful schemes and positive measures that have been introduced they will not be encouraged to do so if they are subject to a financial penalty, whether or not they take those measures. The Government must address that difficulty if alcohol disorder zones are to be as effective as they want them to be and, even more worryingly, if they are not to cause our town centres, pubs and clubs to be less inclined to do precisely the things that they would like them to do.
I welcome the concept of alcohol disorder zones and I trust that one day the legislation will be extended to Northern Ireland, where there are areas of great disorder associated with licensed premises. There is the added effect of sectarian behaviour by the people who use those premises.
The principle of the polluter pays together with the use of market forces to meet the social costs incurred by businesses is well established. Our debate has centred on whether everyone engaged in the licensed trade is responsible to some extent for those social costs. A number of hon. Members have concluded that some people in the licensed trade sell alcohol but do not contribute to the social costs and, if we accept that argument, the legislation is unjust and unfair. I have listened closely to all the arguments, and some Members said that some individuals are more culpable than others. It was said that some are culpable, but others are not culpable at all.
We have heard a wide range of examples, but when people sell alcohol, especially in an area with a collection of pubs and licensed premises, everyone is culpable to some extent. As has been pointed out, when people go out for the night, they often go from pub to pub until the alcohol in their blood stream builds up and they engage in antisocial behaviour. It is difficult to pinpoint the premises concerned because, as all our constituents know, the disorder is not always associated with premises. It does not happen inside or immediately outside the door—it could happen half a mile away. It is therefore difficult to identify who is culpable.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that it is possible to sell alcohol responsibly? If so, can a responsible seller of alcohol work next door to an irresponsible one in an alcohol disorder zone, and would it be right to penalise him?
Whether one sells alcohol responsibly or not, someone could buy one drink in one pub and another drink in another pub. A youngster could visit 10 pubs, and in each of them people could sell him alcohol responsibly. In each pub, he would have only one drink but there would be a cumulative effect, so that that youngster, or a group of youngsters, would go out and behave in a disorderly way.
No, I am not. I am arguing that where there are antisocial effects as a result of commercial activity there must a way of recouping the costs. I would like to put some questions to the Minister.
Thank you for your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
Does the hon. Gentleman recognise that, very often, the people in question will have three or four pints outside any given zone before entering the zone and enjoying themselves further until they reach the point where they are beyond the pale? Does he accept that, in his terms, people outside the zone are equally culpable?
It is a difficult question. We have to define the zone fairly well, but just because there are difficulties we cannot take the view that we should not try to recoup some of the costs associated with alcohol-related disorder.
I accept that some sellers of alcohol are more irresponsible than others. I therefore ask the Minister for some reassurance regarding the practical implications of the measure. The Bill provides for the fixing of
"different rates for . . . different descriptions of premises" and different rates of discount. Will the Minister give examples? Will such conditions and provisions ensure that differentiation of premises is possible? I do not accept that we can take a black-and-white view in which some are wholly guiltless and make no contribution to the problems. We would run into great difficulties if we tried to do so. No landlord will say, "I am a bad landlord." All will say that they are good landlords, but we know that some try to get as much money as they can from youngsters in as short a time as possible. Those people will be penalised more than those who attempt to reduce the effects of the sale of alcohol.
The hon. Gentleman talked about someone going to 10 pubs and having one drink in each. Does he agree that it is likely that the landlord of the 10th pub is being less responsible because the chances are—it depends on the individual's tolerance—that by that point the individual is already intoxicated and selling alcohol to them is already an offence? Does he agree that enforcing the existing law is a way of dealing with the problem.
That point has been made, and I accept it. However, it is not just the last landlord—others have contributed to the individual's drunkenness. Disorderly behaviour does not require a person to be totally drunk—sometimes their inhibitions are lowered simply by the consumption of some alcohol. It would be difficult to establish a cut-off point—to determine the point at which the person became drunk and hold only the one landlord responsible.
I seek some assurances from the Minister because I believe that there should be some differentiation. I shall listen carefully to her reply.
I have to tell the hon. Members for Woking (Mr. Malins) and for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone) that I am unable to be as generous on this group of amendments as I was in earlier debates. I propose to resist every one of them.
The whole idea of alcohol disorder zones is that they will be a last resort. It is not that we think that police and local authorities should seek an ADZ in the face of one or two irresponsible premises. They should use the powers under the Licensing Act 2003 and the much strengthened powers available under our new licensing legislation to bear down on individual premises. An ADZ is designed to deal with a significant number of premises and a general problem, and the process of applying for an ADZ makes that clear. In Committee we debated the process at some length—there will be an initial proposal, then an action plan and time to implement it, and only if that does not work will the point of designating an alcohol disorder zone be reached. Just as drinking banning orders are designed to achieve behaviour change on the part of individuals, ADZs are intended to secure behaviour change on the part of licensees of licensed premises, nightclubs and other organisations. Our aim is to ensure that people take some collective responsibility for the problems that all too often beset us in our town and city centres. Sammy Wilson made some good points about differentiation, which I shall deal with later in my speech.
Liberal Democrat amendments Nos. 38 and 39 are about culpability—their aim is to make a connection between the behaviour and the charge. My hon. Friend Ann Coffey gave a most passionate explanation of the policy and made it clear that if we were to accept the amendments, ADZs would be unworkable. The note I made asks, "Was it the gin and tonic in the cocktail lounge that caused the bad behaviour, or was it the pint of lager in the Rat and Parrot that made the people drunk and get involved in a fight later, when they were seeking a kebab or a taxi?" It is almost impossible to ascertain which was the drink that tipped someone into committing the sort of violent crime and disorder that we want to tackle.
Having said that, we have tried to ensure that the charges that we shall introduce relate to the degree of risk emanating from individual premises and reflect as far as possible the extra services that will be provided to those premises, whether they be extra enforcement visits by the police, extra test purchasing by trading standards to determine whether alcohol is being sold to under-age youngsters, or extra street cleaning directly outside the premises to deal with the unfortunate behaviour of the patrons of those premises. A real attempt is being made to make sure that we take a bespoke approach.
I am pleased to hear the Minister talk about behaviour change because more emphasis should be placed on that aspect. Bournemouth has a lot of challenges with the night-time economy. Clause 12(2) states that provision will be made for a local authority to impose charges. What might the maximum charge be?
I am aware that the hon. Gentleman's constituency experiences a lot of night-time disorder and I commend his local police force, which was one of the first to issue fixed-penalty notices in the city centre, which has made a big difference. I am not in a position to say that there will be a specific maximum charge; I am trying to ensure that there is some local flexibility regarding different premises.
I say to the hon. Member for Woking that no, we do not have the regulations before us. However, since before the Committee stage the hon. Gentleman has had a fairly extensive paper that set out the range of costs based on the level of interventions and on factors such as basic pay, allowances, national insurance and superannuation. The paper offered a detailed calculation of the potential costs. It described several options for charges and we decided on option 1, which is to aim as far as possible for bespoke charges for individual premises without creating a completely bureaucratic system. The paper discussed exemptions from the compulsory charge—restaurants, hotels, theatres and gyms would be exempt under the two limbs of the exemption clause. We set out the process for obtaining an alcohol disorder zone designation and, in annexe B, we set out in some detail all the types of activity that could be funded under an ADZ, including employment of door staff and taxi marshals and additional street cleaning. It is uncharacteristically unfair of the hon. Gentleman to say that that information was not provided. The paper was a lengthy exposition of the matters that will be covered in regulation and guidance.
Does the Minister agree that local knowledge will be extremely important in relation to alcohol disorder zones? If she does, does she have peace at night when she considers the Home Secretary's plans to regionalise police forces such as West Mercia police, which has that local knowledge? Regionalisation of police forces will not increase local knowledge, but diminish it.
I sleep very peacefully in my bed, when I get to it, knowing that this Government are introducing neighbourhood policing in every community across the country, which will make a real difference to our constituents.
Mark Pritchard has taken issue with the hon. Member for Woking, who tabled an amendment that would allow the Secretary of State to make decisions in Whitehall. The power is meant to be local and flexible, which has divided opinion on the Opposition Benches.
The hon. Member for Woking has said that the Association of Chief Police Officers does not support alcohol disorder zones. In its letter of
Can the Minister see that it is difficult for hon. Members to make a fair judgment on the proposal if we do not know how big a charge might be imposed on businesses in such zones and what kind of discount might be available in certain circumstances? If she wants us to eat her dish—she says that it is tasty—she should tell us its price.
We will introduce regulations, which will be subject to debate, but today we should debate the principle of alcohol disorder zones.
I am happy to confirm to the hon. Member for East Antrim that different charges will be based on a risk assessment of extra enforcement activity in relation to individual premises, and the risk assessment for a 1,000 capacity nightclub may be very different from that for a small local pub. We will also examine discounts, which cannot be introduced until we have introduced the principles and standards code of practice to which the industry will sign up. Once that agreement is in place, people who abide by the provisions in the code of practice will be eligible for discounts, which, at least partially, addresses the point raised by the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green that people who comply with the action plan should be subject to a lower charge. When bar and pub owners do their best to be responsible, it should be acknowledged.
I want to discuss the individual amendments, because we need a little time to discuss some of the other provisions in the Bill. I reject the amendments that seek to establish an audit trail and culpability, which is not the idea behind alcohol disorder zones. I reject the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Woking on decisions being made in Whitehall, which would be extremely bureaucratic. This is a local power and it should be used locally. When an area is defined, tension may arise, which is why I said in Committee that the police and the local authority must be careful when they draw the boundary and make sure that it is not either too wide or too narrow to catch the mischief that they are seeking to address.
Opposition amendments Nos. 15 and 16 would prescribe the purposes to which funding may be put, but we do not need to include such a provision in the Bill. I made it clear in Committee that the range of additional interventions will be set out in regulations and guidance and I discussed police enforcement and trading standards test purchasing. For example, environmental health officers can deal with excessive noise, which causes a significant problem for many of our constituents, and areas such as street cleaning are important, too.
Liberal Democrat amendments Nos. 33, 40 and 41 seek to widen the exemption. At the moment, the exemption has two limbs—whether the principal use of the premises is the sale and supply of alcohol and whether the principal reason why people visit a premises is to obtain alcohol. In order to obtain an exemption, people must meet both limbs of that test, and as I said in Committee, hotels and restaurants—I also mentioned gyms and theatres in my letter—would meet that exemption test.
The Liberal Democrat amendments seek to narrow the exemption test in one way and to widen it in another. Under those amendments, an irresponsible hotel or restaurant would be responsible for the charges, despite having met the test. However, that returns us to the first issue, which is that one would have to be able to see that that individual premises was causing the problem. If an individual premises causes a problem, consideration should be given to using the powers in the Licensing Act 2003 to address that narrow point.
Amendment No. 41 seeks to widen the limb, but it is not appropriate. It would allow people who comply with the action plan not to contribute to costs, but that might be difficult. If the action plan included making a financial contribution in order to facilitate the introduction of proper street-cleaning services, the viability of the alcohol disorder zone might be at risk if several premises did not have to contribute.
In Committee, I tabled an amendment about moneys going on other services, such as cleaning, but the Minister said that it was not necessary because services in an alcohol disorder zone will be provided by the police and the local authority only, so there will be no need to distribute any other money.
I said that the local authority could commission services, so it is necessary to authorise the police and the local authority only to spend the money.
Amendments Nos. 7 and 9 address the regulations. In Committee, I said that regulations will be introduced to cover appeals on payment collection and enforcement of the charge. I cannot give the hon. Member for Woking the precise details of the appeals process, but the procedure to appeal against local authorities' charging facilities is well established and I am sure that we will follow it. If we intend to depart from that course, I will let him have the information.
Amendment No. 9 includes a more general right of appeal to a court and, again, we have been over that ground before. The process of making an alcohol disorder zone includes sufficient checks and balances to make a formal appeal structure—which would simply drag out the process—unnecessary. The joint local authority and police trigger means that both of those bodies must consent, and there is also a formal consultation process, the eight-week period to allow the commencement of an action plan and a formal three-monthly review of designation. Those robust checks and balances should be sufficient for us not to have a formal appeal process.
The final issue concerns the offence of persistently selling alcohol to under-age youngsters, which is clearly important. The hon. Member for Woking wants to increase the fine to a level not exceeding £10,000. However, the Licensing Act 2003 increased the fine from £1,000 to £5,000, which is proportionate, and it also includes the power to suspend a licence for up to three months, which is a vigorous remedy. A premises licence holder could be based in London while their business is located in Manchester, and if their offence is simply a matter of neglect, even if it is criminal neglect, a custodial sentence would be a harsh punishment.
I have dealt with all the amendments and urge the House to resist them all. The alcohol disorder policy is a policy of last resort, but it will be hugely welcome in some of our town and city centres. I hope that it will result in the good, responsible pubs and clubs getting together, taking collective responsibility and helping to change behaviour.
On alcohol disorder zones being a last resort, does the Minister agree that in an area in which a problem clearly exists, local authorities should consider the power in the Local Government Act 2003 to introduce, with the consent of local businesses, business improvement districts, which would deal with many such problems at a much earlier stage?
My hon. Friend has concluded the debate on a very positive note. We want to encourage people to enter into voluntary arrangements, which has happened in many city centres across the country—for example, Manchester Citysafe and the Tranquility project in Stockton, which has brought peace to that area. Businesses are increasingly realising that it is in their best interests to tackle such problems locally. A safe night out is the kind of night out that people will return to week after week after week, because they have a great time without experiencing the problems of alcohol-fuelled disorder that unfortunately beset far too many of our communities.
I urge the House to resist the amendments.
All Members want to tackle alcohol-related disorder on the streets of our cities, and I give credit to them for that. This debate is about trying to find the best way to do that. The amendments were tabled because the Government are asking us to take so much on their say-so. I hope that more detail will be made available on charging and capping when the Bill goes to another place. With that hope in my heart, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment proposed: No. 18, in page 10, line 28, at end insert—
', provided that no charges shall be payable by any persons or clubs unless the local authority is satisfied on the basis of evidence that it is reasonable to impose charges on those particular persons or clubs.'.—[Mr. Malins.]