With this it will be we may discuss the following amendments: No. 126, in page 7, line 27, at end insert—
`and reasonably believes that their behaviour may lead to an offence.'.
No. 26, in page 7, line 33, leave out `for' and insert `which contains'.
No. 53, in page 7, line 33, leave out from `liquor' to end.
No. 27, in page 7, line 35, leave out `he considers appropriate' and insert—
`the chief officer of police for that area has specified'.
No 54, in page 7, line 38, leave out `2' and insert `5'.
No. 55, in page 7, line 40, leave out subsection (5).
No. 106, in clause 31, page 24, line 12, after `liquor', insert—
`or any item containing such liquor'.
No. 75, in clause 31, page 24, line 12, leave out
`(other than a sealed container)'.
The amendments relate to Chapter II. I take a strong personal interest in how the authorities may respond appropriately to combat public drinking, especially in inner cities. A successful pilot project was started under local authority byelaws in the city of Coventry. Like the Parliamentary Secretary some time later, I was in practice at the Bar in the west midlands from the late 1970s and did a lot of criminal defence work in the Coventry courts. There was a substantial public alcohol problem in Coventry and other midlands cities, where a large number of people caused a great deal of nuisance and committed other criminal offences.
After the appalling bombing of the city of Coventry in the second world war, the city centre was substantially redeveloped. A lot of drunks gathered in the shopping centre, but because the area was pedestrianised, police cars found it very difficult to get to them when they caused a nuisance.
The hon. Gentleman may know that there is a similar byelaw in Blackpool. The Lancashire police say that the ban works well in making Blackpool a safer place. Does he agree that the ban is successful when the police work together with the local authority and with the business and wider communities and that is important to involve all those partners?
I do indeed agree. That is why I used the phrase ``the authorities''. The city of Coventry was a pioneer among local authorities in introducing modern byelaws to control street drinking—there were, of course, long-established, Victorian byelaws in some places—and its example was followed by many other local authorities, including Blackpool.
I want to make it absolutely clear that Conservative Members are not opposing in principle what the Government want to do to build on those byelaws. However, we want to discuss whether the wording in the Bill as drafted is the most appropriate way to strengthen police powers. Statute law may be able to build on what the byelaws have achieved in towns and cities such as Coventry and Blackpool.
The Minister knows that we are trying to be constructive in finding ways to improve the Bill, and I hope that he will consider the amendments in the spirit in which we tabled them.
I am sorry to hear that, but I hope that I shall convince the Minister that we are trying to be constructive when I speak to the amendments.
Amendment No. 25 would make it clear in the Bill that the constable should be in uniform, which is only a small point; much more substantial is our suggestion that we need to take out the words in brackets at the end of subsection (2)(b):
``other than a sealed container''.
If I explain to the Minister what was in our mind in tabling the amendment, he might realise why I say that we are trying to be constructive. Those of us who have practised in the criminal courts know all too well that, when police officers try to detain or arrest for public order offences people have consumed a substantial amount of drink—precisely the type of disturbance targeted by the legislation—the protagonists quite often use sealed containers as weapons. Over the years when I did such work at the Bar, I frequently read in police officers' witness statements when cases went to court words to the effect of ``The defendant then tried to hit me over the head with one of the several cans of beer that he had.''
That is why we were initially puzzled when we saw the Bill's drafting, because the Government sought to exclude a sealed container. We can see that there is a clear distinction between something that is sealed and something that is unsealed, but we are not sure that the Minister and those who advise him have taken fully into account the frequency with which sealed containers are used as weapons. The deletion of those words from the Bill would be a helpful addition to police powers.
I understand that amendment No. 26 would restrict the confiscation powers to alcohol containers that still had liquid in them. It would thereby preclude the confiscation of empty containers that had the potential to be used as weapons. I would be grateful for the hon. Gentleman's clarification as to whether that is his intention.
``(other than a sealed container).''
I will use the wording of the Bill, which I hope will make our intention clear. Under subsection (2),
``The constable may require the person concerned . . . to surrender anything in his possession which is, or which the constable reasonably believes to be, intoxicating liquor or a container for such liquor''.
The police officer will be able to require any person to surrender something that contains intoxicating liquor or a container for such liquor. The power should extend to sealed containers, because that would strengthen the police's hand.
I am sorry if I have failed to understand the hon. Gentleman, but it sounds as if the removal of those words from the clause would mean that someone who had been to an off licence to buy four cans of beer and was carrying them home to drink could be liable to be stopped and picked up, even though he or she had no intention of drinking the beer in the street. Leaving the words in means that the police will be unable to make that mistake, because the container would have had to be opened.
I entirely accept that there is a danger that the police might on occasion make the mistake of wishing to take into custody someone whom they think is on the verge of committing an offence, but who is in fact a law-abiding person. However, if we talk to police officers at the sharp end, who patrol our town and city centres, they will tell the hon. Lady or any Committee member that having the power to take a container from someone who may be committing an offence or involved in trouble only if it has been opened, and not having the power to take away a sealed container that could be used as a weapon, will limit their ambit of operations. I accept what she says, though, which is why I said that these were probing amendments. We want the Minister to explain why they would not assist the police. Our drafting may not be perfect, but our intention is to extend the powers of the police—we hope, not too far.
I am not sure that there necessarily is a distinction in terms of their use as weapons, but the rest of the clause talks about intoxicating liquor. The restriction set out by the Government seemed to us unnecessary. We shall no doubt hear from the Minister in due course that he and his advisers chose that drafting for very good reasons, but we wanted to probe the matter because we know from talking to police officers that they appreciate fairly wide discretion to control what are in any view—I am sure that all members of the Committee would agree—very difficult public order offences. If one has been out, as I and other members of the Committee have, patrolling a town or a city centre with the police late at night, one sees how difficult the job of policing is for the ordinary PC in a panda car called to a disturbance.
I recently saw some closed circuit television footage of the policing problems in the centre of Guildford; the chief constable pointed out to all Surrey Members of Parliament the sort of behaviour that his officers had to face late on a Saturday night outside the nightclubs in Guildford. Local young men, whom he called the Guildford warriors, were wading into unprovoked, drink-fuelled attacks on law-abiding trainee solicitors studying at the law college who were just walking through Guildford town centre. Because of those difficult policing decisions, it seemed worth probing whether the Government have got that right or whether their wording, which may have been inspired by civil libertarian concerns, is unduly restrictive. That is perhaps the most substantive probing point in the group of amendments.
I shall deal briefly with the other amendments. Amendment No. 54 suggested that it might be sensible to have a higher fine available. The Minister will no doubt explain why the Government have chosen level 2 on the standard scale. It seemed sensible to probe the reasons for that, particularly when level 5 has been chosen elsewhere in the Bill—as we shall see in later clauses—and for the courts' not having at their disposal a higher level of fines. Amendments Nos. 106 and 75 are consequential on clause 31; it is logical for them to be in the group because they match clause 14. That would keep the different parts of the Bill in line with one another.
Amendment No. 55 proposes the deletion of subsection (5). It may have been that amendment that caused the Minister to intervene to say that he did not think that we were being constructive, but I repeat that it is a probing amendment. We want the Minister to explain the reasons for the choice of procedure for a police officer faced with difficult public order policing. There may be very good reasons for the inclusion of subsection (5) and I do not want the Minister to think that the amendments are wrecking ones. We are approaching this in a constructive spirit. We want to probe and see what the Government have in mind. We look forward to the Minister's response.
Broadly this is a sensible clause, but certain aspects need to be clarified. The amendments are helpful probing amendments, particularly amendments Nos. 25 and 26. I am not sure whether I understood the interesting intervention that the Minister of State made in relation to amendment No. 26.
It seems sensible that subsection (2) should apply to a constable in uniform; a brief explanation as to why it should not be so limited would be welcome. It makes good sense to have a constable in uniform because we are dealing with difficult policing in a public place. One would normally expect constables carrying out public order functions to be in the regular force rather than the Criminal Investigation Department, and to be in uniform, not plain clothes.
The next question, under subsection (2)(b), is the ability to require a citizen
``to surrender anything in his possession which is, or which the constable reasonably believes to be, intoxicating liquor''— that is clear enough—
``or a container for such liquor''.
The amendment suggests the words, ``which contains such liquor''.
This is where I did not grasp what the Minister was intervening to say, but I took it to be that officers want the power to confiscate containers that might become weapons. With the thought of glassing in mind—when a person breaks a bottle or glass, and sticks it in someone's face—it is obviously sensible that the police officer should have the power to take that kind of weapon off someone. However, if that is the purpose of this part of the clause, I suggest that consideration is given to substituting a new subsection that makes that more explicit. At the moment, the subsection says,
``containers for such liquor (other than a sealed container).''
That does not make clear the aim of the clause. Our amendment, which states,
``container which contains such liquor'' is probably otiose, because the police officer is already entitled to take intoxicating liquor anyway.
Amendment No. 27 relates to subsection (3). The subsection concerns a constable's ability to
``dispose of anything surrendered to him . . . in such manner as he considers appropriate.''
Although the wording may not be perfect, the suggestion in amendment No. 27—that it should be in such manner as the chief officer has specified—has some sense.
People whose liquor is taken may get upset, and if they feel that it is taken in an oppressive manner, that will make policing no easier. In many sets of circumstances it will be extremely difficult for the officer to know what to do with the drink, and it may be best to pour it away quickly and to dispose of the bottle or container in a rubbish bin or bottle bank.
However, if an officer took a pack of 24 untouched bottles of lager from some youths because the officer reasonably believed that they might be drunk later, there could be problems if the drink was disposed of. In those circumstances it would be more sensible, particularly if the officer had a van available, to ascertain the name of the person, scrawl that on the drink, take it off to the police station and tell the youths that they could get it back later. The officer should then do his best to give it back. That would simply be better policing.
I would not like the idea to get around that these sensible powers should be used in a way that is likely to exacerbate, rather than calm the situation.
The absurdity of the clause as currently drafted, unless amendment No. 53 is accepted, is that in the circumstances that my right hon. and learned Friend described, where a person has a pack of 24 bottles, opens one and commits the offence of drinking in the designated place, the police constable would not be allowed to confiscate the other 23 bottles and put them into the police van. That is why it is so important that amendment No. 53 is agreed to.
My hon. Friend makes a good point, which I confess I had not noticed. They would, indeed, all be sealed containers, and would consequently be excluded.
I shall first speak to amendment No. 126 before commenting briefly on the others.
The purpose of this part of the Bill is to combat alcohol-related disorder, and there should be a proper test. The police will be required to deal with the type of disorder that will lead to an offence. If the Bill is not amended in the way that I propose, there is a danger that perfectly innocent people may be unwittingly caught up by oppressive police action in particular areas. Law-abiding people, who are having a drink at a particular place and who are not causing offence to anyone, may be unaware of the new legislation and be caught because the police feel that they must to enforce the law rigorously. People who were never intended to be caught by the section of the law dealing with alcohol-related disturbance may be caught.
From experience, I support that view. We increasingly find that people are unaware of parking regulations, because they vary from local authority to local authority, particularly in areas such as London. The penalty period and the length of time for which one may park differ from area to area. It is sensible not to assume that everybody who goes to a place has collected all the information about where the law would apply in certain respects. The hon. Gentleman's point will be increasingly important since more and more people are travelling for entertainment, days out and holidays. They cannot be expected to know where designated no-drink areas are.
The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) gives my argument more force than I have given it so far. No-drink areas will be designated by local authorities, which implies that local people will know the areas in which drinking should not take place. Society does not work like that. The Government must simply go back to first principles. What is involved in the Bill, and what is it designed to do? That test should be part of a police constable's decision on when to intervene. Of course, if a nuisance is created to others through drinking, that would be an offence and would meet the test.
Is my hon. Friend not particularly concerned about the definition of designated public places in clause 15(5), which says that the local authority must, of course, publicise them, but which does not say that a notice must be put up in the designated place? If that is what the Minister intends, could he not answer my hon. Friend's point by saying that if there is a clear notice saying ``No drinking'', people would know not to drink?
I suppose that that would answer my point. However, there are quite enough officious signs around already, without our running around to put up more and further deface the environment as well as putting local authorities to further expense. All that could be avoided if the police simply had to meet the test that the relevant behaviour was going to lead to an offence. For that reason, I hope that the Minister will be able to accept amendment No. 126.
I support amendments Nos. 25 and 26, which seem very sensible. The constable should be in uniform, particularly when dealing with what I assume would be people who were drunk and intent on causing mischief, rather than law-abiding citizens who just happened to be having a drink in the wrong place.
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman made that point, because an organisation that has contacted me about this part of the Bill is concerned that areas that may be used, for example, as a picnic spot or somewhere to have a summer's day lunch with the family could face such a threat. Does he agree that that is a concern?
I would like to present a slightly different perspective. As I mentioned earlier, in Blackpool there is a byelaw against public drinking, but having notices up in the centre of Blackpool is very important, because people come there to enjoy themselves who do not live there and may not know that there are byelaws. Having notices ensuring that both visitors and residents know the rules. Can I ask the hon. Gentleman to reconsider the point made by the hon. Member for North Wiltshire about the importance of public notices so that people do not unwittingly break any law?
That would be a matter for the local authority in Blackpool, which contains the people best placed to judge whether they want their environment defaced by signs or whether they want the corresponding benefit that people know that the byelaw exists and will obey it. In an area such Blackpool, which has a vast number of visitors coming in from all over the country, that is a proper judgment for the local authority to take, but it would be wholly inappropriate for the Government to say that every local authority in the country must put signs up to say which areas are designated. Such judgments are best taken locally, but I fully take the hon. Lady's point.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the amendment would make it extremely difficult for a police officer confronted by a group of people drinking, one of whom may be behaving in a particularly disorderly manner, to single out just one person, using the definition that the police officer can reasonably expect that person to be acting in an offensive manner, without apprehending the rest of the non-offensive drinkers in the vicinity?
We are inviting the police to make a judgment. If a police officer reasonably believes that that group of drinkers would cause trouble, that would result in an offence. The officer would have to have some reason for coming to that conclusion, and the hon. Member for West Bromwich, West (Mr. Bailey) is pointing out that people will behave in ways that differentiate them from perfectly law-abiding people. He has made my argument for me by saying that if the police officer is reasonably able to make that differentiation, that is the simple test that he must apply. My amendment is designed to protect perfectly good, law-abiding people who find themselves unwittingly caught out by a local authority regulation about designated areas, not least as described by the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mrs. Brinton).
I have a slight concern about the amendments—Nos. 26 and 53—tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire. I accept my hon. Friend's argument about the possibility of taking sealed containers from people in the circumstances described by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire, putting them to one side and returning them later. That would seem sensible, but the Bill should state, in that case, that any sealed container taken in those circumstances would, in effect, be confiscated for a short period before being returned to the individuals concerned. Furthermore, they should be taken only if a police officer has a proper reason to do so.
I am nervous about that idea, but I accept that there is an argument for it. I am more concerned about the situation in which the police are dealing with people who have sealed containers and who are likely to use them as a weapon. In such circumstances, the police should make an arrest, rather than taking sealed containers away from people. The circumstances in which sealed containers could be taken should be absolutely clear, though I believe that it would probably be better if they were not taken. I entirely take the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire about the challenge faced by police on the street, but if someone is about to lob a full beer can at them, they should make an arrest to deal with that disorder.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend because these are matters of judgment and there will be different views on both sides of the Committee. Does he consider that these are difficulties of judgment for any individual police officer? Does he not think that it would be wiser to leave the maximum discretion? Does he not understand why we on the Front Bench are asking the Government why they should limit the powers? It is the Government who are saying that the power will be created, but that they want to limit it by taking away the power for a police officer to exercise his judgment to take away a sealed container.
I understand that point. My concern is that if the amendment were to be pressed, it should have to be more detailed about the treatment of sealed containers and their return to their proper owner. In addition, some form of test should be provided for the circumstances in which sealed containers could be removed from people. The containers, after all, are people's property and are not being drunk from.
I have some concern about amendment No. 26. Does it mean that police would not be able to take empty containers, which is, I think, its purpose? If people had empty bottles, the police would want to remove them. The change of language to ``which contains such liquor'' would mean that empty bottles could not be taken. I see the intention behind the amendment, but I draw that point to the attention of my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire and the Minister.
Going back to the question of the return of the sealed containers, would the hon. Gentleman consider it, as I do, entirely inappropriate for those containers to be returned to someone from whom they had been confiscated if the person was under 18?
Yes. I am quite sure that such people should not be in possession of containers in the street. I am not certain of it—not being a lawyer, I labour under a disadvantage—but I assume that that would be an offence in any event, and in those circumstances it would be inappropriate to return them. However, if we get into the business of seizing people's property, we will need rather greater protection for the citizen than my hon. Friend's amendment provides. I fully understand the general thrust of the amendment and look forward to the Minister's response to it. It was tabled as a probing amendment, so I quite appreciate that it has opened up a very proper debate on how the police should handle disorder and the difficulties that we must weave around in trying to make the Bill clear.
My hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath suggested that the fine should be set a maximum £5,000 rather than £500—that is level 5 rather than level 2. That might be a bit steep, but I look forward to the Minister's comments on that and hope that he will be able to give the amendment careful consideration.
I share the view of the hon. Member for Reigate about the desirability of keeping the fine at the level proposed, and not the higher figure that would result if the Conservative amendment were agreed to. I also support the Conservative amendment that would require the constable to be in uniform. That is exactly the sort of case where only someone who is visibly in authority, rather than a special branch or a plain-clothes police officer, should do the job. There are many precedents in statute for limiting powers to a constable in uniform. There could be an inelegant and unfortunate parallel. My understanding is that for drink-driving offences a constable in uniform is required, which is why the only time that I have ever been stopped—
I expected that that would be the next question.
I remember seeing the police officers donning their hats so that they were properly in uniform. Just to complete the story, it was a Friday night in my constituency and what was slightly embarrassing was that the breath test was carried out on the edge of a main road just as a large number of people whom I knew were going past. Although I was entirely innocent, it prompted a few questions.
I have never worked it out. I guess that, if it looks as though the local Member of Parliament is stopped like everyone else and does not get any special favours, it probably earns him a few more votes.
I am very sympathetic towards amendment No. 126. We must try not to create more offences if we can avoid it. I remember the late David Penhaligon showing some people around the Lobbies downstairs. I will not attempt to imitate his Cornish accent, but he was looking at the volumes of Hansard, next to which there is a two-volume list of statutes that are still in force. The first volume is statutes from 1285 to 1951 and the second is statutes from 1951 to 2000. He made the point that, although we have apparently legislated 300 times as often in the past 50 years, we do not appear to have done any better as result. Everyone nodded approvingly and seemed to think that that was a profound Cornish truth.
I make the point seriously. It is like regulations and deregulations. We should avoid making regulations whenever we can. The same is true for offences: the fewer, the better—and the more straightforward they are, the better. It is better to change this strict liability offence, because that is what it would be, into an offence of intention or one where there is assumed to be a risk to the public because of the activity. I understand the Blackpool example cited by the hon. Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble). The Coventry example is the best known. Where there has been regular trouble, local authorities have used byelaws to designate areas, particularly in the centres of market towns and tourist resorts, to ensure that there is no antisocial drinking. The problem is not just visitors but the old lags, who gather together with their cans of lager and sit there all day and rather spoil the place for others.
I agree with 99 per cent. of the thrust of the hon. Gentleman's remarks. He talked about strict liability offences. I do not think that the clause introduces such an offence. I hope that it does not.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is right. I was inaccurate in that. A person has to be consuming intoxicating liquor or intending to do so. The hon. Member for Reigate seeks to add the rider that the constable has to believe that the behaviour would lead to an offence. He would insert an additional condition before an offence is committed. Drinking, of itself, is not enough: it must be drinking with a risk that an offence will be caused.
We must realise that, no matter how well intentioned local authorities may be, people may not see the signs for perfectly good reasons. They may not even be there, or they may have been taken down. A lot of us spend a lot of time trying to reduce street furniture—posts, pillars, signs and indicator boards—which can be unhelpful to people with disabilities, blind people and the like, making pavements much less accessible. Our towns and cities will not be improved by more signs.
I want to give a practical example. One of my great periods of employment was when I was the assistant local authority sign erector for Hereford city council. Actually, I have overpromoted myself—I was the assistant deputy sign erector. We were required to be at work at 7.30 am and were not allowed to do anything until after the tea break, so we had a quiet first hour and a half. We then went out with a barrow and the sign to be erected; we were allowed to take only one sign at a time. We took our barrow and sign, normally to the furthest part of the city, on foot. With any luck, we arrived just before the lunch break, leaving the barrow and sign, and then going off for lunch.
Several hon. Members rose—
What a lot of interest this story is provoking.
After lunch, we would erect the sign—there were two people on each job—and return to the office. At the end of the day, if we were lucky, we would have put up one sign. That was unproductive enough in itself, but the local authority was so unreconstructed that signs were put up everywhere. We had a blitz one summer, and put up signs to stop people cycling on pavements. We were sent out—I kid the Committee not—for three days to put up ``No Cycling'' signs at the top and bottom of sets of 50 steps that no one, apart from a complete lunatic, would ever have thought of cycling down, let alone up.
It is not only the Minister who is predictable.
My serious point is that we should avoid signs for aesthetic reasons in lots of conservation areas. Hereford provides a good example; it has a conservation area in an attractive city centre that is not enhanced by lots of signs. Chippenham, which I know, is similar. No decent market town is enhanced by more signs prohibiting people from doing things.
If anybody wants a good example of how to ruin a good place, I recommend to the Committee, when its members are not on parliamentary business, a visit to any of the larger Channel Islands, which have signs on every blessed lamppost, path and so on. People are generally law-abiding on the islands, which have low crime. Yet there are everywhere signs saying ``Do not park'', ``Do not spit'', ``Do not smoke'', ``Do not do anything''. That is a complete ruination of what would otherwise be a perfectly pleasant place.
Following the hon. Gentleman's dissertation on signs, would he agree that, rather than putting up extra signs, it might be a good idea for an officer to have the power to take action against the youths creating the mayhem outside any nightclub advertising itself as ``The Granada'' or ``The Broadway'' or whatever, where the sort of behaviour to which the Bill relates takes place?
That goes to the heart of the clause. My hon. Friend the Member for Taunton and I have no problem with the idea that local authorities should be able to designate areas in which antisocial drinking can be prohibited. That is why I said on Second Reading that we are happy with this area of the Bill, provided that it is properly drafted, but there is a problem with imagining that people should know that a particular road is a permitted drinking area, and another is not. We cannot assume that it is practical or possible for people to understand that. That does not work with parking, and people are regularly caught. I was caught once myself. People may have to spend time looking for the sign without being able to find it. In the end, they are caught through no fault of their own when they had had every intention of avoiding the offence if at all possible.
That is a serious point. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Minister will have to address not only the issue of signs, which as the Chairman has pointed out comes under the next clause, but amendment No. 27, which relates to the chief police officer's specification? Does the hon. Gentleman accept that that is why we were probing that particular issue?
Mr. Hughes rose—
Order. We are in some difficulty, and I appreciate the Committee's position. I have to accept that there is a specific reference to designated public places in line 26. That is what has generated the debate. I must point out to the Committee, however, that the whole thrust of clause 15 relates to designated places. I am prepared to allow that discussion to continue to its logical conclusion, as I suspect that the Minister will wish to respond. However, if I start to impose injury time on any stand part debate on clause 15, I am sure that the Committee will understand.
I was seeking to pick up the points reasonably put by the hon. Member for Reigate on how people might know the position that they were in. I entirely understand that a linked debate will follow. I have made my case and hope that amendment No. 25, about constables in uniform, will be accepted, that the Government will respond sympathetically to the hon. Member for Reigate, and that we can make the law as clear as possible and have as few regulations and additional pieces of legislation and offences as we can.
I support amendments Nos. 53 and 27, which address an important point. The purpose of the clause is that when a police constable happens on people drinking in a designated place, he will be able to require them to do two things. We are not talking about an either-or situation, or a case of 2(a) or 2(b): the word ``or'' does not appear. The first thing that the people involved are required to do is stop drinking. The second is to surrender whatever they have been drinking from. That seems eminently sensible. Some fellow is there, drinking out of a bottle of whisky or a can of beer. The policeman can take the bottle of whisky or can of beer away and tell the person that he cannot have another drink.
The bizarre part about the phrase
``other than a sealed container'' is that if the fellow has two cans of beer, the policeman may not remove the second can, even though there is an absolute certainty that the offender will open it and start drinking. It seems only sensible, if we are going to enact that part of the Bill, to allow the policeman to remove from the offender both unsealed and sealed containers. What then happens to the containers may be of concern to my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate, and may be a matter for further consideration. Quite frankly, however, if the police constable makes a reasonable presumption that the person is drinking wilfully—clause 1(1) makes that clear—it is plainly perfectly reasonable that the police constable should permanently confiscate the offender's drink.
May I clarify the hon. Gentleman's point? He will correct me if I am wrong, but I understand that he would be happy if the police had the power to confiscate two unsealed containers. He believes that if there is one sealed and one unsealed container, the police should have the power to take both. What would he say if there were two sealed containers? He made the point earlier about a six-pack or whatever it might happen to be. Is he saying that they shall have the power to remove those two sealed containers even though there are no unsealed containers anywhere about?
That would seem entirely sensible. If someone has a six-pack, that should indeed be confiscated. It is common sense that the police constable should have the power to do so—particularly because there is an internal inconsistency in the clause, which worries me quite a lot. In subsection (1), the police constable has the opportunity to confiscate if the person is drinking or
``intends to consume intoxicating liquor''
We must presume that, if the person is not consuming intoxicating liquor, any container that he may have—one, two, three or six—will be sealed.
Let us suppose that a fellow is standing around, saying ``I'm going to open this can of beer and drink it'', and the constable reasonably assume that the fellow intends to consume. The words ``intends to consume'' are very important. As the clause is drafted, the police constable would be unable to remove the can of beer or bottle of whisky at all. He would have to say, ``Please don't do that, Sir. I should be most grateful if you would kindly put that bottle of whisky away.'' Even if the fellow holds up the bottle and says, ``The moment you're around the corner, constable, I'm going to open this bottle,'' the constable can do nothing about it except to say, ``Please don't.'' Amendment No. 53, which would give the constable the ability to remove a sealed container, would allow the constable to say, ``Oh no you won't, Sir, because I intend to confiscate your bottle of whisky.''
The words in subsection (1) and the words
``other than a sealed container'' in subsection (2) (b) are internally inconsistent; we can have one or the other. Equally, if the Government were not prepared to accept amendment No. 53, it would be necessary to insert the word ``or'' between paragraphs (a) and (b), so that the police constable may require the offender to cease drinking, and/or confiscate the sealed containers. It does not seem unreasonable to imagine the situation where the policeman would confiscate everything that the offender has. I suppose that if the offender is carrying a very large quantity of drink indeed it might be unreasonable, but we are not envisaging that sort of situation.
If amendment No. 27 is accepted, the local chief officer of police will be able to stipulate what happens to said sealed or unsealed containers. It might be sensible for the constable to take a name and address and to undertake to return said sealed containers at such a time as might seem sensible. As the clause is drafted, it would have no effect whatever. The offender would cock a snook at the law and say, ``Here am I. I know that you cannot confiscate this can of beer. Even if I swear on the Bible that I will open it, you, Mr. Constable, may not remove it under the law.'' That seems absurd, particularly in light of subsection (1).
I want to ask the Minister a question about amendment No. 106, which deals with clause 31. I believe that the Confiscation of Alcohol (Young Persons) Act 1997 was once popularly known as the Spink Act, because Bob Spink took it through the House. One problem with it has been that although it has been possible to confiscate alcohol in certain circumstances since that Act came into force, there has been a problem with the containers. Clause 31 exists to tighten up that provision.
Amendment No. 106 goes a little further, to ensure that ``container for such liquor'' does not mean only a bottle or item of the sort that is particularly for liquor, because it is well known that youngsters put alcohol in lemonade bottles and all sorts of other things. The amendment is simply intended to probe the Minister—it is a short point, but it is important to get it right this time—to ensure that it would be possible to confiscate a lemonade bottle that contained liquor.
I invite the Minister to retract his perhaps rather churlish characterisation of our amendments as not raising serious issues. He has now heard a number of interventions from Labour Back Benchers who have taken up points made by my hon. Friends and he has no doubt realised that we are serious about probing the issues. I hope that this serious debate, which has addressed a series of real issues raised by hon. Members on both sides of the Committee, will encourage the Minister to recognise that we are trying to improve the legislation and make it more workable for police officers who face difficult decisions on the street.
Many issues have been discussed, and I will go so far as to acknowledge to the hon. Member for Surrey Heath that a significant number of contributions have been constructive in tone and have illuminated the debate. That is not true of all the contributions, but I acknowledge that this has in general been an interesting debate. In trying to disentangle the various points, I may stray for a second, Mr. Gale, and say a word or two about clause 14 to set the context of this complicated group of amendments, but I will not repeat them under clause stand part.
The clause makes it an arrestable offence for a person to consume intoxicating liquor without reasonable excuse in a designated public place after being required by a police officer not to do so. I emphasise the words ``after being required by a police officer not to do so.'' Subsection (4) states:
``A person who fails without reasonable excuse to comply with a requirement imposed on him under subsection (2) commits an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 2''.
Not acceding to the police officer's requirement is the offence, rather than simply drinking in a designated public place, which is not a trivial distinction. The picnicking point is correct. A person's not acceding to the request of a police officer who shows up and says ``Look, you mustn't drink here'' creates the offence, not his or her drinking in a designated public place, wherever it may be.
The clause will also give the police the power to confiscate and dispose of alcohol and opened alcohol containers in those circumstances to prevent further public drinking and the potential use of those containers as weapons, to which the hon. Member for Surrey Heath referred. Failure to surrender alcohol or containers at the officer's request without reasonable excuse will be an arrestable offence. The clause will apply only to those areas designated by the relevant local authority for the purpose. As you said, Mr. Gale, we shall deal with that under clause 15.
Evidence of the mischief that this and subsequent clauses are designed to address is provided by the fact that 109 local authorities have so far adopted a model byelaw to restrict drinking in designated public places. That information may be new to the Committee and shows that there is wide support in various parts of the country.
I accept that point. As I said in an unusual concession to the hon. Gentleman, much of the debate has been constructive in tone.
Replacing byelaws with what will be an adoptive power will provide the police with a direct power, which they do not have at present, to enforce the provision by arrest if necessary. It will certify the procedures for local authorities, speed up the process and allow for a uniform and comprehensive approach in all areas. People in the position of the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood will know that, wherever they travel in the country, they will have to deal with a broadly similar pattern in the different localities, even though there will be different adoptive situations in different areas. That is the background to the clause.
The Minister accepts that, whereas of course the proposal is to give a countrywide context within which these powers can be exercised, there is another geographical limitation, which we shall discuss in relation to a later clause, which is that one then has to have the designated place provision. The controversial aspect is how people know that they are in one of those places, rather than the general proposition that there should be designated places.
That is true. I was trying to say, in my acknowledgement of the helpful intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood, that although local authorities in different areas of the country will decide for themselves how to operate such policies, it will be better if they at least do so within the coherent national framework that the Bill provides. That will be an improvement on the current position. At present, local authorities want to adopt a string of byelaws—109 local authorities have done so—that are not necessarily the same in every respect.
Amendment No. 25 restricts the power of the police to intervene in cases of public drinking in designated public places to those officers who are in uniform. We have some sympathy with the proposed amendment to restrict that power. If it would help the Committee, I should like to confirm and give an assurance that in normal circumstances we would expect that the power would be exercised by uniformed officers.
I shall answer the specific question raised by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey on breath tests. I do not know how many breath tests he has had, or how much guidance. He has had a tremendous amount of experience in his life and his ever-intensifying efforts to identify with his constituents, of whatever criminal propensity, must be impressive to us all in deciding how we conduct ourselves as Members of Parliament. A constable does have to be in uniform to demand a breath test, as the hon. Gentleman implied, but he does not have to be in uniform to arrest if the test is positive or is refused.
The requirement to be in uniform under section 6 of the Road Traffic Act 1991 is to apply the test but not to arrest in the event that the test is positive or is refused. That is one of those interesting aspects which I know are of tremendous interest to lawyers on the Committee, but the rest of us find it difficult to understand how it arose. That, of course, is the responsibility of our predecessors, over 30 years of appalling history.
To make a non-lawyer point, I am very glad that the Minister has helpfully accepted that there is some merit in our amendment. He has not said that he will accept it today. He has given a Pepper v. Hart indication. Will he consider, during the forthcoming recess, with his officials, whether at a later stage he might be able to bring back something akin to this as an amendment on Report?
I am always interested in the Pepper v. Hart amendment, as in the salt and vinegar amendment or any other combination that one might possibly bring forward. I was going to finish what I had to say on amendment No. 25 before coming to the point raised by the hon. Member for Surrey Heath.
It is the case that the existing power to confiscate alcohol from young people, which is provided by the Confiscation of Alcohol (Young Persons) Act 1997, does not require the officer in question to be in uniform. In general, that power has worked well. It is possible that there may be circumstances in which an officer who is not in uniform may wish to intervene in respect of persons drinking in a designated public place, and we should not wish an officer to be banned from doing so or barred from doing so just because he or she is not in uniform. The effect of the amendment would be to say that if an officer is not in uniform, he or she absolutely cannot intervene in that situation. We consider that that would be an unnecessary restriction, given the way in which the legislation is working at the moment.
Police officers may make use of their powers to stop and search, even when not in uniform, provided that they show their warrant card as proof of their identity. We consider that this should be the position in respect of the new powers of the police in respect of public drinking offences.
Clause 14(5) provides an additional safeguard, to which I have referred, which is that the constable imposing a requirement not to drink or to hand over the drink, must first warn the person concerned that failing to comply is an offence. That warning is an important point, which I shall address when we debate a later amendment.
In summary on this important amendment No. 25 about uniform, the fact is that although one has to be in uniform to conduct a breath test, one does not have to be in uniform to arrest on the basis of the outcome of that test. In line with the Confiscation of Alcohol (Young Persons) Act, a police officer is not required to be in uniform, and the powers work well. We accept that in normal circumstances the power would be exercised by uniformed officers. We also accept, in respect of these new powers, that officers should show their warrant cards as proof of identity if they are not in uniform. We do not accept an officer who is not in uniform who shows his warrant card and goes through the process should be prohibited from exercising the powers. That is why we are not inclined to reflect further on that point, although I was courteous about it earlier for genuine reasons. We thought that it was an appropriate debate to have.
I have heard and understood the Minister's arguments. The weakness of the argument for allowing constables not in uniform to exercise the powers is that someone in uniform is much more obviously a copper than someone who simply produces a warrant. Someone who has been drinking is much less likely to be persuaded by a warrant. Not everyone knows what a police officer's warrant looks like. They can vary in different parts of the country. Having seen police officers' warrants, in perfectly respectable circumstances, I consider them a much less persuasive piece of evidence of authority and much less likely to bring respect for the law than a constable in uniform exercising his job.
I understand that point. I tried to accept it by acknowledging that in normal circumstances we would expect the officer to be in uniform. We also believe that it would be more consistent with what is happening in other aspects of legislation. The question that the hon. Gentleman and others who support the amendment must consider when deciding whether to press it, is whether they want to exclude the possibility of an officer not in uniform intervening in a situation that may arise. Our view is that we should not do that, although we are prepared to give all the qualifications about the normal circumstances and so on. That is why we do not accept the amendment. That is a choice that the Committee must make.
I accept the Minister's response. Will he at least contemplate that amendments Nos. 25 and 55 are linked? When a police officer is confronted by a bunch of drunken yobs, it is difficult to require him to inform or warn them, as subsection (5) currently does. As the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey says, it would be better to require him to be in uniform. That is a much better signal to a bunch of yobs, and that is why the amendments fit together.
I agree that a uniform is a better signal. That is why I have talked about the process. I also accept the invitation to link amendment No. 55 with amendment No. 25, as they are indeed related. Amendment No. 55 would delete subsection (5), which states:
``A constable who imposes a requirement on a person under subsection (2) shall inform the person concerned that failing without reasonable excuse to comply with the requirement is an offence.''
We oppose the amendment because we think that that requirement to warn is important. That is why it is in the law. The requirement to warn, whether in uniform, which we expect will normally be the case, or by presentation of a warrant card, in the unusual circumstances in which a uniform is not worn, will provide a safeguard. We oppose amendment No. 25 because we do not want to deny an officer who is not in uniform the ability to intervene. We oppose amendment No. 55 because we think that the requirement to warn should be there.
I am struggling hard through the string of amendments, and I took Nos. 25 and 55 first. I hope that the Opposition will not press them to a vote.
Amendment No. 26 would restrict the confiscation powers to alcohol containers, including open containers, that still contain liquid and it would preclude the confiscation of empty containers that have the potential to be used as weapons. There may have been a misunderstanding; perhaps the hon. Member for Surrey Heath will confirm that he accepts that we do not want to preclude the confiscation of empty containers which have the potential to be used as weapons and that his remarks were focused on amendment No. 53, rather than amendment No. 26.
The Minister is right; I was talking about amendment No. 53 when I made the point about the sealed container. I understand that the Minister is saying that our amendments do not perfectly achieve our aim, but I ask him to direct his mind to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire when he referred to the Spink Act, to which clause 31, and the linked amendments, relates. We want to make this part of the clause fit with our attempted improvement of that Act, as the Minister's officials and police officers will have advised him that there are gaps in its operation.
I will come to every point raised, although that may take time, as it is important to deal properly with each amendment.
Amendment No. 126 would add a requirement that, before exercising the powers in clause 14, the officer must have a reasonable belief that the individual's behaviour may lead to an offence. The amendment would require the police officer in every individual case—I emphasise that phrase, which relates to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood about how groups are dealt with—to make a judgment about whether an individual who is drinking in a designated public area may go on to commit an offence if allowed to continue doing so before exercise of those powers.
We are anxious that the process of making an individual judgment would inevitably lead to disputes about the officer's judgment, because there will always be a question for every individual about how that judgment is made. In practice, it may also mean that officers may be seen to be treating people differently, permitting some to continue drinking because it seems unlikely that they will go on to commit an offence, requiring others to stop and confiscating alcohol from them. That will seem divisive and could, in some circumstances, of itself fuel further disorder.
Amendment No. 126 would weaken and complicate police powers to contain public disorder situations where alcohol misuse plays a part. We are concerned that the need to exercise judgment in respect of each individual may have an impact on the ability of the police to use the powers to defuse potential public disorder situations.
In the light of what was said earlier, I emphasise that just drinking in a designated area will not be an offence; there will be an offence only if the constable requires a person to stop and warns him that it is an offence not to comply. It is a police power available to be exercised, not a simple blanket offence.
I acknowledge the spirit in which the hon. Member for Reigate tabled the proposal; it is a desire to ensure that the innocent cannot be caught in such circumstances. That is why I said that the picnicking point does not apply because it is an individual who does not comply with the police who is in breach of the law, rather than one who is consuming alcohol in those circumstances.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman accepts that the way in which a police officer operates in such circumstances relies on individual judgment and experience and to further complicate the situation would make it more difficult. I hope that, on reflection, the hon. Gentleman will not press the amendment to a vote.
Amendment No. 53 would remove the exemption from seizure power from sealed or unopened containers, which are a different matter. There is more likely to be a dispute about whether an individual intends to drink from a container that is sealed, or which has not been opened and which is the property of the individual concerned. We are worried that the power proposed in the amendment would go too far; power to seize sealed containers would bite on supplies purchased to drink at home. The power is designed to prevent drinking in public, hence the power to seize alcohol in open containers. It is open containers, glasses and bottles that are important to us here; I recall the point that the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Bedfordshire raised about glassing. A balance must be struck, but I tell the hon. Member for Surrey Heath that I am prepared to think a bit more about the point raised by amendment No. 53. On the other points that have been raised, I do not agree with the amendments that have been tabled and I urge hon. Members not to press them, for the reasons that I have given.
On balance, amendment No. 53 is probably not right, but I thought that the hon. Member for North Wiltshire had a point with the picture that he drew about the situation, because the power is constrained by the overall power in clause 14(1). The police officer has to make his or her judgment on the basis of what is in that subsection and ``intent'' is an important concept, in the context of that clause, that helps the police officer to make the judgment. As the hon. Gentleman asked: how different is a six-pack that is all sealed from a six-pack, one can of which is open and the remaining five sealed? There is a real issue there, and I wish to reflect on that amendment to see whether we might go some way to meet that argument. However, I am not as strongly concerned about that amendment as I am about some of the others.
Amendment No. 27 would potentially restrict the options open to the officer at the time to decide on the most appropriate method of disposing of confiscated alcohol and containers. My response to that fairly straightforward point, which was not given a great deal of attention earlier in the tabling of amendments, is that we do not believe that this is a practical proposition. It is difficult to see how the chief officers could prescribe the manner of disposing of alcohol and alcohol containers seized in accordance with clause 14 without having a very bureaucratic and sometimes ineffective approach.
I was in Devizes yesterday, talking to officers in the Wiltshire force. One of the concerns raised with me was the requirement for an officer to report too much on some of the things that he or she was doing, creating the feeling that the officer was not trusted enough to make his or her own judgments in those circumstances. The amendment might take us too far down that line.
Amendment No. 54 would significantly increase the maximum fine for conviction from level 2 to level 5. I am fairly sceptical about this point. The offences that we are mainly concerned with here are offences that are, or could be, committed by people at a relatively low level, and I consider level 5 to be too high. It is obviously a matter of judgment and ultimately we all make our judgments on these questions, but I think that level 5 is too high a level of offence for this. I cannot offer a great argument of principle, but it seems to us that level 2 is more appropriate.
I have dealt with amendment No. 55.
Finally, amendments Nos. 106 and 75 would restrict the adjustments to the Confiscation of Alcohol (Young Persons) Act. We are more sceptical of those proposals. We understand the arguments that are being made and it may help if I confirm the point made by the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire, that the basis for our opposition to these amendments is that we do not wish to create an inconsistency between this Bill and the Confiscation of Alcohol (Young Persons) Act in relation to the powers to confiscate alcohol and alcohol containers. We thought that consistency was an important virtue. However, as I have agreed to look again at amendment No. 53, I am prepared to look at these amendments also although not, I emphasise, from the point of view of raising expectations about the matter. I acknowledge that consistency is of itself only one argument, and not necessarily the most powerful. We have to look at the application in these circumstances.
I urge hon. Members not to press any of the amendments, with the assurance from me that with regard to the related points of amendments Nos. 53, 106 and 75 taken as a group, I am prepared to review the questions and see what can be done. I do not, however, want to mislead. We shall review not necessarily with the objective of agreeing, but because an important point has been raised, which the Government will want to consider when we read Hansard and have a chance to look more carefully at the arguments that have been advanced.
I am grateful for the constructive way in which the Minister has responded. In the light of what he says about amendments Nos. 53, 106 and 75, and his statement that he is looking at those again, I will not press the group of amendments that we have tabled to a Division.
I simply ask the Minister, when he is considering that group of amendments, to consult in particular with the representatives of the Police Federation. The Minister mentioned that he had been talking yesterday to ordinary police officers in Devizes, the neighbouring constituency to that of my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire. This is, however, particularly and pre-eminently a matter for the organisation that represents the police officers at the sharp end—the PCs and sergeants who have to attend these town and city centre disturbances. If the strong urgings of representatives of the Police Federation persuade the Minister to table on Report something akin to our amendment No. 53, and the related amendments, we shall be very pleased. I am happy that the Minister is looking at this again; I accept that his undertaking is limited, and that he is not making a commitment to change his proposals. Given that we have concentrated our probing on amendment No. 53, we have had a good debate, and I welcome the Minister's response to that. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
The Chairman, being of the opinion that the principle of the clause and any matters arising thereon had been adequately discussed in the course of debate on the amendments proposed thereto, forthwith put the question, pursuant to Standing Orders, That the clause stand part of the Bill:—
Question accordingly agreed to.
Clause 14 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Before we move on, I should like to clarify the situation that arose earlier. I said that the apparent discord in the Committee was uncustomary, and of course it was not discord at all. Those hon. Members who studied with due diligence the Amendment Paper for 13 February will have noticed that amendment No. 138 in the Minister's name is identical to the amendment published in the names of other hon. Members. In those circumstances, the hon. Member who tabled the amendment first has the lead name. All other names are added to that name, so concord would appear to have broken out. Clause 15 Designated public places