Clause 22 - Applications for closure orders

Criminal Justice and Police Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:30 pm on 27th February 2001.

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Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath 9:30 pm, 27th February 2001

I beg to move amendment No. 73, in page 19, line 9, leave out ``six months'' and insert ``one month''.

The amendment is designed to direct the Government's attention to an unusual delay period, in which we see dangers. It is a truism to say that justice delayed is justice denied. However, under this part of the Bill, a police officer could make a complaint and the matter might not be brought before a court until nearly six months later. That is far too long. During a six-month period, witnesses' observations may have clouded and it might be difficult to establish clear evidence. We were surprised that a period as long as six months was written into the Bill. A shorter period would be much better.

In view of the Minister's comments about firing warning shots and involving the courts, making some time provision is understandable. Unlike with licensed premises, when matters have to come before the court extremely quickly, we are not suggesting that the business can be done in a matter of hours. Six months, however, is far too long and I hope that the Minister will respond constructively and grant a more reasonable period, as the amendment suggests.

Photo of Mr David Lock Mr David Lock Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department

I understand why the amendment was moved, but I hope that when I explain the reasoning behind the Bill, the hon. Gentleman will withdraw it. I refer him to clause 22(3) and the conditions that must exist before a complaint can be made to the court by the constable or the local authority—either the use of the premises for the sale of intoxicating liquor has resumed, or there is evidence that they will be so used in future.

The amendment would undermine a key element of the Bill. The key problem in the west end of London is that after premises have been raided, staff arrested and alcohol seized, the criminals behind the operation absorb the losses and prepare for reopening. The service of a closure notice under clause 21 puts those responsible for the premises on notice to clean up their act. From the moment the closure notice is served, the police or local authority can, if problems re-surface, go to court to have the premises physically closed.

If the notice had effect for only one month, the police could expect to see the premises back in business one month and a day after service. Six months is a suitable period not for a complaint based on the activities that happened six months previously, as the hon. Gentleman—whose concern I understand—suggested, but to allow the police or local authority to monitor activities and force the owners of the property to return the premises to legitimate use.

What is a suitable monitoring period during which, having served a notice, the police and local authority should have the right to go to court and prove one of the two grounds in clause 22(3)? The Government believe that six months is a suitable period during which the owners of premises will have to sharpen up their act and return them to legitimate use. One month would be too short because it would be needed to re-engage staff and restock with alcohol and within five weeks of the original raid and closure the premises would be back in business and the police would have to start the process again before being able to go to court to apply for a closure order.

I hope that my explanation is useful and enables the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his amendment.

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

I understand what the Parliamentary Secretary is saying and I am grateful to him for acknowledging our reason for tabling the amendment. I accept that there are particular reasons for the procedure in areas such as the west end of London, where the Parliamentary Secretary might want the procedure to operate as he described, but I suggest that there may be a halfway house. If one month is too short, perhaps three months would achieve what the police and local authorities in areas such as the west end of London and other cities might want.

This is not an issue on which I want to detain the Committee now. I have raised our concern and have heard the Parliamentary Secretary's response. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 22 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 23, 24 and 25 ordered to stand part of the Bill.