Licensing Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:30 pm on 15th May 2003.
''as soon as reasonably practicable''
in subsection (1) seem to give the police far more time in certain circumstances than they ought to have. The amendment would delete those words so that the responsible senior police officer would have to apply to
the relevant magistrates court at the same time as a closure order came into force. There is no need for a time lapse, and a police force could interpret the wording in subsection (1) in all sorts of ways. The closure order would seriously affect the business of a licensed premises, so the sooner it is put to the magistrates court the better all round. That is the reason for the amendment.
We have had a number of discussions about phrases such ''as soon as'' and ''reasonably practicable''. As drafted, the clause requires the police to apply to the magistrates court as soon as the practicalities allow. That requires notification promptly and efficiently, but without placing undue or unrealistic burdens on the police. Unlike the closure powers set out in clause 159, which are predominantly anticipatory, the arrangement under clauses 160 to 168 enables the police to act urgently and without delay in the interests of the public when there is disorder or public nuisance, or where either are in all likelihood imminent. Those powers will be used when the police are called to a disturbance at a pub or similar premises—for example, where an instant decision must be made and it is not possible to make an application to the court to deal with the matter. In the interests of protecting the public, the first priority of the police must be to quell the disturbance and disperse any crowds before they do anything else. The action of the police in making such a closure order is likely to happen on the spot.
Sometimes the practicalities of the situation mean that a simultaneous application to the court cannot be made. An order may be served in the early hours of a Saturday morning, when God-fearing court officials are probably all tucked up in bed. The order would therefore be seen neither by court officials—who would need to make the arrangements for a hearing either the following morning or as soon as is practicable—nor by the licensing authority, which the police would be required under amendment No. 481 to notify at the same time, until the following Monday morning.
To require notification at the same time as the order is served will not always be practicable or necessary. However, the flexible way in which the Bill is drafted allows contact to be made with court officials either virtually immediately or as soon as the practicalities of the situation will allow. That is fair and reasonable both for police and courts, and for businesses and others affected. I appreciate the concern of the industry that there be no uncertainty for businesses or licensees, but that means that there is no scope for delay or lengthy gaps between an order being given and its being considered by a magistrates court. The police must act promptly.
I should emphasise that the closure powers are intended principally as a deterrent, to encourage licensees to prevent these situations from developing, and to take control of their premises. I do not anticipate that the police will use the powers more than a dozen times a year in England and Wales. Since December 2001 I have been aware of the powers,
which exist under current legislation in respect of alcohol licensing, being used only four times. That is testimony to the effective co-operation between licensees and the police.