Clause 15 - Designated public places

Criminal Justice and Police Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:15 pm on 15th February 2001.

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Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Conservative, Reigate 4:15 pm, 15th February 2001

I beg to move amendment No. 127, in page 8, leave out line 7.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

With this we may take the following amendments:

No. 56, in page 8, line 8, leave out subsection (1)(b) and insert

`(b) any area to which members of the public have or may gain access'.

No. 57, in page 8, line 14, after `been', insert `or may be'.

No. 58, in page 8, line 14, at end insert—

`provided that a constable may lawfully exercise any of the powers in section 14 whether or not the place has been so designated if he reasonably believes the place of the offence is a public place.'.

No. 31, in page 8, line 14, at end insert—

`(2A) An order made under subsection (2) shall have effect for such period (not being greater than 12 months) as shall be specified in the order.'.

No. 28, in page 8, line 17, at end insert—

`( ) to specify that the order shall not apply to a particular area within a designated public place.'.

No. 29, in page 8, line 17, at end insert—

`( ) to specify that the order shall apply at particular times, or on particular days, only.'.

No. 30, in page 8, line 17, at end insert—

`( ) to specify that the order may be suspended for a period of not more than 48 hours by an officer or committee of the authority with the agreement of a superintendent of police.'.

No. 128, in page 8, line 17, at end insert—

'(2A) All orders must be confirmed by that local authority at least every five years or they will be deemed to be spent.'.

No. 59, in page 8, line 19, at end insert—

`and shall issue guidance to police and local authorities as to the exercise of police powers, and implementation by local authorities of these provisions and any relevant related by-laws operated by such local authorities.'.

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Conservative, Reigate

It was rather surprising that the Minister was not aware that amendment No. 138 was tabled in his name, but there we are.

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

It was no surprise at all, but I am very young and unaccustomed to the procedures of the House, and I was so shocked to be in the company of Opposition Members that I simply had to disassociate myself from it. I am delighted with the clarification given.

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Conservative, Reigate

Speaking from the Back Benches, I shall be taking particular care. As it appears that the Front Benches are both in agreement, there is almost certainly something up. That amendment will need a good deal of attention.

I move on to amendment No. 127. I confess that, when I read the clause and drafted the amendment, I misread the Bill and failed to spot that (a) and (b) must be satisfied together. It has to be a public place in the area of a local authority, and to have been identified in an order made by that authority under subsection (2). If both (a) and (b) are needed, surely a local authority could only make such orders within a public area that was the responsibility of the local authority. Assuming that that was not the case, I tabled amendment No. 127 to test whether it was otiose, and whether a local authority simply would not have the authority to order me not to drink in my front room if I am in the borough of Hammersmith and Fulham.

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

I do not know whether my hon. Friend had noticed that in clause 18 there is a definition of public place as

``any place to which the public or any section of the public has access, on payment or otherwise, as of right or by virtue of express or implied permission.''

I do not know whether that helps

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Conservative, Reigate 4:30 pm, 15th February 2001

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend. I am sure that it does help, and I am grateful to him for drawing it to my attention. Therefore I do not expect to press amendment No. 127.

I shall move on to the more important amendment No. 128, which is in the form of a sunset clause. The local authority will be dealing with the situation where an unwelcome pattern of behaviour has built up, in that people are drinking in certain areas and that drinking is leading to offence. The authority will then see fit to designate that area as one where no drinking should take place. In principle, I do not think that we should be saying that it is unreasonable for people to have a drink in a public place. What is unreasonable is when drinking in a public place leads to an offence, and it leads to offence when a pattern of behaviour is established. My concern is that when such regulations are passed by a local authority, rather like the licensing laws passed to deal with munitions workers in the first world war—[Interruption]

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

Order. If the Chairman can hear private conversations, they are conversations that should be held outside the Room.

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Conservative, Reigate

We may find that, rather like the licensing laws that were first introduced to ensure that munitions workers were kicked out of the pubs at lunchtime to get back to work making shells for our troops on the front line, the designated areas become permanent—even though, after a period has elapsed, the pattern of behaviour has been broken by the fact that people are no longer allowed to drink in that area according to regulations properly enforced by the police. The nature of that place may then change, and it may no longer be a place where people should not be allowed to drink in the ordinary course of events. The designated area might be a public park that had acquired a bad reputation, was then cleaned up, and might then be a place where people might like to have picnics.

Amendment No. 128 is simply a sunset clause, which would require local authorities to reconsider every five years the list of areas that they have designated to be nominated under this legislation. Five years is probably the right interval, because the sort of people who display such behaviour will have grown out of the 16 to 21 age group, which is likely to cause these problems. The pattern of behaviour in relation to that place may have changed. All that I am seeking to achieve is to make local authorities re-examine properly, after a period of five years, whether they still need to have a place designated. If there is a continuing problem that obliges them to continue the designation, that should be done, but I do not think that once the designation is written into a local authority byelaw, it should remain for ever and a day merely because there is too much inertia to get people to examine the issue again.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

I support the amendment tabled by Conservative Members. May I start by following the principles that lie behind amendment No. 128? Of course from the Front Bench we accept the idea of sunset provisions; indeed our amendment No. 31 moves toward the same object. We hope that the Minister will address the issue of sunset clauses, because we entirely agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate just said, and it links with the comments made by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey on the previous group of amendments about whether laws should be constantly added to by a process of accretion. We are unaccustomed to hearing those comments from a leading spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, because in my experience they are usually in favour of adding more and more laws rather than taking them away, but a sinner who repenteth is always welcome.

I entirely agree that there is a need to look at whether the provisions that the Government are setting up should be set in stone. Local authority byelaws can change. My hon. Friend the Member for Reigate made the valid point that the areas where trouble happens may move; new nightclubs may open and new town-centre developments may come about. It is wise to set a time limit. Amendment No. 31 says:

``An order made under subsection (2) shall have effect for such period (not being greater than 12 months) as shall be specified in the order.''

We are proposing a tighter time limit, but I accept that my hon. Friend is right to raise the general issue of sunset clauses, because Conservative Members believe that sunset clauses are always helpful. If one establishes the principle, it is then only a matter of deciding when to set the time limit.

On one point I did not go with my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate 100 per cent. of the way. I know from the advice that we receive from the chief constable of Surrey police that, sadly, some of the trouble that is caused in town centres such as Guildford—which he and I have both seen on closed circuit television video—is not caused by 16 to 21-year-olds only. Unfortunately, some of the drunken yobs are well into their 20s and should know better. One knows from practice in the courts that sometimes offences of drunken violence are committed by people well into their 20s, or even 30s. However, that knowledge does not undermine the sense of all that my hon. Friend said.

I shall briefly discuss our other amendments in the group. We are probing the Government. I hope that the Minister will accept that in this group we are again seeking to be constructive and to discover the Government's intentions. We also want to make life easier for the police officers on the front line who are taking difficult decisions.

I lay particular stress on our amendment No. 58. If a police constable is trying to exercise his powers in a very difficult situation with a crowd of drunken yobs in a town or city centre, he will not necessarily know, when a big disturbance is going on, exactly what has been designated as a public place. We want to protect the police officer faced with these difficult policing issues and decisions, perhaps in the early hours of the morning, from any allegation of false imprisonment or false arrest.

By saying that the constable

``may lawfully exercise any of the powers in section 14 whether or not the place has been so designated if he reasonably believes the place of the offence is a public place'', the amendment would give the police officer proper protection. It is pretty well known that in our law we have a number of occasions when, as long as a police officer reasonably believes something to be the case, he is not exceeding his powers. I hope that, even if our drafting may not be perfect, the Minister will at least be prepared to say that this is a genuine issue, which he is prepared to treat seriously. We tabled the amendment in that spirit.

I shall briefly mention amendment No. 57, whereby we seek to insert, in clause 15, line 14, the words ``or may be''. It would provide helpful clarification and make the law more flexible. We hope that the Minister will accept that we are trying to give the officer slightly wider powers—slightly wider discretion—which we consider would be helpful. I hope that, in considering our amendments, the Minister will consult the Police Federation, which represents ordinary police officers. I am sure that they would find greater flexibility helpful.

Photo of Mrs Jackie Ballard Mrs Jackie Ballard Liberal Democrat, Taunton

We support the idea of a sunset clause, as in amendment No. 128. It is good to revisit legislation every now and again to decide whether it is still needed, particularly if a local authority in the circumstance mentioned by the hon. Member for Reigate decides that an area should be a designated place. That will not necessarily be the situation in perpetuity, so the amendment is sensible.

I almost intervened on the hon. Member for Surrey Heath to ask him what evidence he has to say that Liberal Democrats want more legislation rather than less, but I decided not to waste the Committee's time, because I suspect that he does not have a sensible answer.

I do not support amendment No. 32, because I believe in minimum intervention.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

On a point of order, Mr. Gale. The hon. Lady is mistakenly referring to amendment No. 32, which is not in the group that we are debating.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

The hon. Gentleman is correct: amendment No. 32 is in the next group.

Photo of Mrs Jackie Ballard Mrs Jackie Ballard Liberal Democrat, Taunton

I am sorry, Mr. Gale, I must have picked up the wrong piece of paper.

I support amendment No. 30. I am thinking of an example from my constituency. We have a park that is well used, but there is not much trouble in it, so I cannot imagine that it would need to be a designated place. There are occasions during the year when it is used for concerts, to which people take picnics, perhaps with champagne. If for some reason that park became a designated place, it would be useful for the local authority to have the power to suspend the designation for 48 hours.

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

Our general assessment is that the amendments would complicate and make more difficult the local authority's role, although I am sure that that is not the intention. A whole series of qualifications are set out. Prescribing, in a way that I can describe only as Conservative in tone, the detailed procedures to be followed by local authorities in making designation orders, including the need for decisions to be taken by the full council, would constitute over-prescription. All of us who lived through the years of Conservative Governments would say that that is characteristic of the way in which they operated.

Amendment No. 127 would remove the requirement that a designated public place must be a public place within the area of a local authority. The hon. Member for Reigate said that he would not press the point. The Government want to maintain the principle that restrictions on public drinking must be made by designation order made by the local authority covering public places in the area. The principle of an order is clear, and I can tell that he understands the point that we have made in that respect.

Amendment No. 56 would remove the requirement for designation and make the powers available for all public places. That would be going too far. The nanny state, which says that all public places should be subject to such a restriction, is not the society that the Labour Government are trying to create—it is the society that the Conservatives tried to create over many years.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath 4:45 pm, 15th February 2001

Despite the perfectly understandable party political point that the Minister is making, he may not understand that under this group of amendments we were seeking to make clearer the link between the definitions at the beginning of clause 18, and clause 15, which was pointed out when my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire intervened on my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate. I hope that the Minister will take at least that point seriously.

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

On that basis, I can only withdraw any suggestion that the previous Conservative Government sought in any way to restrict freedom. The country would recognise that as an absurd allegation. I quite understand the hon. Gentleman's clarification.

Amendment No. 57 would change the test for designation from being an area that has been associated with public drinking, nuisance or disorder to one that ``may be'' associated with such problems. We think that there is no need to attempt to cover areas that may in future experience such problems. Local authorities will be able to make designation orders in respect of such areas should they begin to experience problems. There is an issue about liberties and freedom in suggesting that a local authority should be able to designate potential problem areas, without any evidence or material to substantiate its view. I appreciate that this was a probing amendment. Our view is that there should be some kind of evidence. It may be helpful if I give examples of the kind of evidence that we are talking about.

The accident and emergency department of the University hospital in Cardiff, for example, conducts a detailed analysis of its patients. As elsewhere in the country, about 80 per cent. of the people coming into the department have alcohol in their blood. When I first learned that figure, I found it truly shocking. Provided that the data from the accident and emergency department indicates clearly where the injuries were sustained, it is often better than police and other data. One can establish from a simple mapping process where the problems occur. That has been extended to some other areas, including Birmingham and Cumbria. It is a powerful way of addressing some of these issues.

Such evidence that can make a substantive difference. Police data can also do that. I was looking earlier today at a map of street robbery in some parts of London that the Metropolitan police produce. It shows a clear series of localities. That is the kind of evidence that should be taken into account, rather than a more speculative approach. I recognise that the amendment was intended to probe.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

I accept entirely the Minister's case. Strictly speaking, would evidence from an accident and emergency department fit in with subsection (2)(a) and (b)? I am not sure that a local authority would be entitled under the Bill, as drafted, to take that data into account.

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

The wording is quite clear. Subsection (2) states:

``A local authority may for the purposes of subsection (1) by order identify any public place in their area if they are satisfied that'' a nuisance or disorder

``has been associated with the consumption of intoxicating liquor in that place.''

The key word is ``satisfied''. What is the basis of that satisfaction? I think that it is data and evidence. The data and evidence that might be presented by an accident and emergency department come into that category. There is no requirement for the local authority to send its own employees to look at particular areas. It can consider material from the police, the health authority or another local authority.

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

It would be interesting to know a little more about this. Could the Minister allow us to see some of this information? Can he make it available over the recess?

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

I would be happy to do that. Without being patronising, I know that the hon. Gentleman is an assiduous Opposition spokesman on police matters. He will have seen the mapping technology that is now available for certain types of crime. Some of it is very striking and shows the power of police data. There are some complicated issues relating to data protection and data sharing, but it is interesting. The kind of data that hospitals can produce is similar in character. I am certainly happy to show him examples. I do not think that there is anything that would surprise him or affect very much the deliberations of the Committee, because he knows the kind of data that exist and that the local authority would want to take into account.

That is why we think that amendment No. 57 is not right and believe that the less arbitrary power of requiring the local authority to be satisfied about the situation is a better way to proceed.

Amendment No. 58 would provide the exception to the principle that the clause 14 power should be exercisable only in areas designated by the local authority, allowing it to be applied in any area that the constable believes to be a public place. I find that a matter of concern. There is a question about whether it is the local authority or the constable who decides. I am foremost in wanting to give more powers to the police to deal with difficult situations, but it is not right to do it in a manner that is not accountable in any way, other than through a police complaints process after the fact. We believe that a designated public authority, the local authority, rather than a police officer, should take the decision about designating these areas.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

Amendment No. 58 would not take away the responsibility from the local authority, it would simply provide the police officer, who may have had a very difficult decision to make, with a defence to an allegation that he has exceeded his powers. I hope that the Minister will not only understand the spirit behind the amendment but be prepared to consider introducing a Government amendment on Report, because we are only talking about a situation in which a police officer may have got it wrong and tried to exercise the clause 14 powers outside the designated area. If the police officer has a reasonable belief, he is protected, and that is what we are seeking to achieve.

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

I understand the point in that spirit, and in a very general sense I will consider it. Without getting into the signs or no signs discussion, it is quite important that it is widely understood where the designated areas are. In my city, Norwich, where there are byelaws about antisocial drinking, there is a controversy about the areas where the powers should exist—the city centre and other areas. Who should resolve this problem? It is an issue that the police are very much aware of, and that is important, but we believe that, ultimately, the local authority should take the decisions.

Under amendment No. 31, designation orders would automatically lapse after 12 months, and under amendment No. 128 they would have to be revisited after five years. We believe that both amendments go too far and are too bureaucratic in tone. Subsection (3) says:

``The power conferred by subsection (2) includes power—

(b) to revoke or amend orders previously made.

I consider that a reasonable power for the local authority to have. It can be and should be flexible. At the risk of using guidance again, I am sure that we as a Government would want local authorities to be flexible, but to put in particular guillotine points seems to be an unnecessarily bureaucratic approach. For that reason, we oppose those two amendments.

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Conservative, Reigate

If there is no guillotine approach or way of making local authorities re-examine the orders periodically, we all know what will happen. Council members will not reconsider the orders unless it is brought to their attention, perhaps in a bureaucratic way, that they have to do so at a particular time. If we have a power that can be revoked, but need not be, we know perfectly well that the areas will stay permanently designated.

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

I hate to remind the hon. Gentleman that democracy is an important part of all this—I am not sure how widely it exists in Surrey. We are giving these powers to the local authority council because it is an elected body—and it may not be elected entirely on a party political basis. That is how local government works. That is the strength of our system: it is not simply a bureaucracy. Local government can, of course, be bureaucratic in many respects, but I have no doubt whatever that councils will take an interest in the powers and debate them fully. Councillors in the Mancroft ward, right in the centre of the city of Norwich, where such powers already exist, actively debate whether the powers are used rightly, and not just every 12 months or five years but on a regular basis.

If we were talking about the national health service or the Benefits Agency, I could better understand the hon. Gentleman's point, because they are more bureaucratic, but local government has a key elected element that makes all the difference.

Amendment No. 28 would provide the local authority with the power to identify an area within the designated public area, in respect of which public drinking powers will not apply. The power as drafted—I have just read out the relevant clause—is sufficient to cover that.

Amendment No. 29 would allow the local authority to specify, in the designation order, that it does not apply at certain times. I accept that the amendment is well motivated and would allow for greater local flexibility, but it creates a potential for confusion about time boundary zones—if we had a 6 pm to 10 pm, or a 6 pm to 2 am bar in a particular area, for example—and could lead to serious difficulties.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

There may be areas in any town or city, where—because of a particular local festival, or on new year's eve—regular public events are held, but one would not want those to be designated for the whole year, or for a period of years. Would the Minister consider that it might be useful to have the flexibility in the Bill to cope with that situation. We both know there are many such local festivals, which may only happen one day a year or—as the hon. Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood will appreciate—once upon a Preston guild.

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

I do not even understand that. I do understand, however, the hon. Gentleman's point about particular days. I think that that is a more powerful point than times. I will consider that point, but again I am wary about it, because in the question of drinking in public, it is important that we have consistency that is understood across the whole range.

I have dealt with the substance of the points of that have been made. The statutory guidance proposed in amendment No. 59 does not add anything. One further point, in response to the my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood, is that we consider the role of the parish councils in giving advice to local authorities in such matters to be important. We want to elevate the role of the parish councils, and to encourage local authorities to take full and proper account of representations from them when taking their decisions on designations order.

I urge the hon. Member for Reigate to withdraw the amendment and support the clause.

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Conservative, Reigate

I will withdraw amendment No. 127. I will vote in favour of amendment No. 31 if it is pressed to a vote. If not, I certainly want to press amendment No. 128 to a vote. The Minister has not satisfied me that the orders will not simply remain local authorities' statute books indefinitely unless there is some provision to draw local councillors' attention to them.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment proposed: No. 128, in page 8, line 17, at end insert—

`(2A) All orders must be confirmed by that local authority at least every five years or they will be deemed to be spent.'—[Mr. Blunt]

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 5, Noes 9.

Division number 11 Adults Abused in Childhood — Clause 15 - Designated public places

Aye: 5 MPs

No: 9 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

It being Five o'clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to Order [6 February].

Adjourned till Tuesday 27 February at half-past Ten o'clock.