On a point of order, Mr. Benton. It is a significant point of order, and I have been able to give you brief notice of it. I apologise for the fact that it might take a little while, but it is a matter of considerable importance not only to the Committee but to a much wider audience.
A huge part of the Bill deals with firearms and replica firearms. As was said in our debate on the sittings motion, tens or even hundreds of thousands of persons in the country pursue genuine, innocent hobbies that relate to firearms. Over the past few months, they have lobbied my hon. Friends and me in considerable detail—correctly so—in relation to matters of importance to them. My hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Djanogly) has had the closest involvement in these extremely complex issues. My hon. Friend and I and others have prepared a series of amendments in relation to this contentious part of the Bill. It is astonishing that, as late as the day before yesterday—which in real terms means yesterday, given that they had to be printed—the Government had the audacity to table a series of new amendments to the Bill dealing with many of the vital issues that need to be debated at some length. We have been taken utterly by surprise.
Is it not astonishing, Mr. Benton, that having had the whole of the summer and most of the autumn to take a new stance and prepare more amendments, the Government failed utterly to tell the Committee what they were doing? [Interruption.] I am putting my point of order, even if the Minister does not like it.
Thank you, Mr. Benton. It is astonishing that those on the Government Benches can behave so poorly.
In view of the absolute need to consider the matters in detail, to take advice from those outside the House and to prepare ourselves properly, I ask you, Mr. Benton, in the strongest possible way to condemn the Government for their behaviour in springing it upon us and, more important, to adjourn the Committee for seven days to enable us properly to consider the measures that have been sprung upon us so disgracefully late.
I have listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman. First, whether or not I am sympathetic to the point being raised, he must know that it is not within my power to comment on the time of presentation of amendments. My function is purely to oversee the running of the Committee. Although I may have some sympathy with a lot of what he said, it is not within my power to do anything about it. However, I am sure that his comments have been noted. I trust that the usual channels will consider the matter, separately from the Committee. That deals with the point of order.
On a point of order, Mr. Benton. I back my hon. Friend. I find the Government’s actions reprehensible—
It is a fresh point of order, Mr. Benton. This morning, the Minister tried to establish that Committee members had received a letter explaining her actions. I can say only that my hon. Friends and I have received no letter. That adds to the confusion on what is, as my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Malins) says, a complex issue. That is another reason why, if we reach clause 30, there should, at the very least, be a delay of proceedings until next week.
I repeat that it is not within my powers to suspend proceedings. Although the hon. Gentleman’s last point did constitute a fresh point of order, it was really a development of the first one. It is not in my power to rule in the manner suggested. Nevertheless, the observation made will, I am sure, be noted.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Benton. I hear what you say about the extent of your powers, but may I explore a little further whether you have at your disposal the power to liaise with the Minister—who is conscientious, but in understandable difficulty—on whether we could have a little more time, by means of an adjournment? That way, we could consider matters properly, do our jobs properly and conscientiously, and do justice to the important interests that wish to be part of this debate.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Benton. A letter was prepared, and I signed it; my apologies if it has not reached Members. I understood from my office that it was sent by e-mail on Tuesday afternoon a hard copy was sent on Tuesday evening, and that the amendments were circulated on Wednesday morning.
Be that as it may, I have a couple of points to make. First, on the provisions, we have of course been consulting in some depth with firearms manufacturers, the industry, and people who use firearms. These are complex matters, and I entirely take the point that we need the opportunity to scrutinise them properly.
Secondly, in the Programming Sub-Committee, we offered an extra sitting if necessary, but at that stage Opposition Members did not feel that it was necessary. I am perfectly prepared for the Programming Sub-Committee to reconvene at the end of our sitting, either this morning or this afternoon. Obviously, it is up to you, Mr. Benton, but I do not think it likely that we will reach the relevant provisions this morning. However, if we need to reconvene the Programming Sub-Committee to consider granting extra time, I am perfectly prepared to do that.
It is not that the Government are bringing forward amendments that they want to rush through using some kind of subterfuge. These are important issues, and I want them properly scrutinised. I want a Bill that is practical and enforceable to come out of the Committee; I have said that before. I am certainly prepared to consider whether the Committee needs further time for thorough scrutiny and debate.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Benton. Can you, as Chairman, ask the Minister why these amendments have come through so late, and whether she is prepared to apologise for the desperate inconvenience to us?
“The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision requiring or authorising a local authority that imposes charges by reference to an alcohol disorder zone to use sums received by them in respect of those charges for the purposes specified in or determined under the regulations.”
My purpose is to tease out from the Minister what exactly that provision means. The Committee needs to know the following: when the regulations will be made and when they will be debated, by us or by the House; what details of the charges will be contained therein; and what instructions, if any, the regulations will contain regarding how local authorities spend the money. Will the Minister give us at this stage the fullest possible detail of the meaning of subsection (2), and tell us how she intends it to be fleshed out in coming weeks?
I rise to speak to amendment No. 133, which continues that line of argument, inasmuch as the regulations are not before us and we want to know whether the moneys might be paid to parties other than police authorities. A Labour Member mentioned the problems that the male of the species might have after excessive alcohol intake and the possible unintended consequences in public. As a result, cleaning provision might be needed. It should, therefore, be possible to spend some of the money on cleaning. I simply draw attention to whether local authorities will have the power to determine what the moneys should be spent on.
I shall respond first to the points raised by the hon. Member for Woking in relation to his probing amendment. I refer him to my letter of 11 October, which he has received and which I hope he has studied in depth. In it, we set out our proposals for alcohol disorder zones and the three options that we might pursue, which are: to have a flat-rate charge; to charge individual premises for additional bespoke services; or to have a charge that aims to reflect both the extra costs for individual premises and our policy aim of ensuring that there is collective buy-in to the alcohol disorder zone. The letter indicated that our favourite approach is option 1, which is to charge individual premises as far as possible, so that there is fairness in the apportionment of the charge. We want to give some local flexibility, because alcohol disorder zones will be different in different areas, but it is also important that there be parameters to the way in which money is spent on services. We have therefore tried in drafting the Bill to ensure that within certain parameters, local authorities and the police can determine their priorities and exercise discretion.
We are clear that income from alcohol disorder zones should not be used simply to subsidise existing activity. The charge is a special one and should be used to fund extra enforcement, particularly on the premises that cause the most problems, because that is how the community will get a real benefit from the measures. If the money were used simply to subsidise existing activity, local authorities and the police might have a perverse incentive to keep a zone in place because of the extra income generated from it. The policy intention is that the zones should be a last resort: they should serve as an incentive for people to get their house in order, and they should be lifted when that happens. That is why they are to be reviewed every three months. Zones should not be long lasting, but should make a difference. We also want to ensure that the premises that cause the most problems feel the heat of having to pay the extra charge, which is why we want it to reflect the stepped-up enforcement activity rather than general information campaigns.
I hope that my reply satisfies the hon. Gentleman on our approach. We set out, in fairly lengthy detail, the way in which alcohol disorder zones will work and how the regulations will set the parameters for expenditure. I reiterate that I am not in a position to say when the regulations can be debated; we are working on them as fast as we can but we have the Bill before us, not the regulations. I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his amendment.
Amendment No. 133 would require the local authority to distribute the moneys collected in the alcohol disorder zone among the local police authority and other relevant authorities. That is simply not necessary, because the services provided in respect of an alcohol disorder zone will be provided only by the police and the local authority. There is therefore no need to distribute money elsewhere.
The hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone) asked—very delicately—whether there might be a need to provide more public conveniences. I am sure that there will be in some cases. An example that comes to mind is Westminster city council, which has provided a huge number of extra toilets on the streets. That has made a great difference to disorder on the streets and is exactly the sort of thing that we envisage for alcohol disorder zones.
Government amendments Nos. 77 and 78 are technical amendments that refine clause 12 to take account of the sort of targeted services to be delivered to premises under the charge and existing legislation that allows the police to charge for special services.
The amendment to subsection (2) removes the words “or authorising” by allowing the Secretary of State to require through regulations that the sums collected be spent on specified services. That should be sufficient to ensure that a range of services targeted at the premises and their customers are provided, as I said, but it leaves the local authority with flexibility regarding what is done.
Subsection (3) is not required because the police authority already has the power under section 25 of the Police Act 1996 to determine the amount that can be charged for special police services. The Secretary of State does not need to become involved in that transaction. The police will simply charge the local authority, and the local authority will pass on the charge to the individual premises under the alcohol disorder zone regulations. Those subsections are not required and should be removed from the Bill.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 135, in clause 12, page 11, line 8, leave out paragraphs (a) and (b) and insert
‘the supply of alcohol is not permitted between the hours of 8pm and 8am.’.
No. 290, in clause 12, page 11, line 8, leave out ‘or include’.
No. 291, in clause 12, page 11, line 10, leave out
‘or one of the main reasons’.
No. 136, in clause 12, page 11, line 13, at end insert
(c)the sale of alcohol has not contributed to alcohol-related disorder in the relevant alcohol disorder zone.’.
No. 173, in clause 12, page 11, line 13, at end insert—
‘(7A)The conditions for exemptions from charges under subsection (7) are—
(a)that the sale or supply of alcohol on the premises has not caused any nuisance or annoyance to members of the public, or disorder, in or near the relevant alcohol disorder zone, or
(b)that the sale or supply of alcohol on the premises is not likely to cause any nuisance or annoyance to members of the public, or disorder, in or near the relevant alcohol disorder zone.’.
No. 187, in clause 12, page 11, line 13, at end insert
(c)the sale or supply of alcohol is not permitted between the hours of 8 pm and 8 am.’.
No. 137, in clause 12, page 11, line 14, leave out subsection (8).
I shall not speak at length to amendment No. 172; nevertheless, it is vital in terms of the principle involved. Subject to what the Minister says, I shall ask my hon. Friends and any other member of the Committee who feels strongly about this issue—I am pretty sure that there are Government Back Benchers who do—to join me in testing the will of the Committee.
The amendment is, of course, closely linked to amendment No. 173. The clause states that there will be exemptions from charges. We have always said that those who are innocent—to use a generally used word—of wrongdoing should be exempt. There is a clear distinction between premises that cause a problem in a locality and those that do not. As I have said before in debates, we all know of licensed premises that have a bad reputation and from which trouble in a locality often arises. Equally, however, we know of premises with licences, usually off-licences but supermarkets as well, where it is an rarity for anything improper to happen.
I want to insert a provision exempting certain premises by specifying certain conditions. The rationale behind the amendment is that it is wrong in principle financially to penalise a licence holder who has not been responsible for some form of disorderly conduct. Such collective punishments—the imposition of the charges is, in a sense, a collective punishment—are by their nature unjust. Disorderly conduct relating specifically to the licensee or licence holder must have happened before any punishment is levied against him. The amendment requires the sale or supply of alcohol to have caused, rather than to have been associated with, nuisance, annoyance or disorder, as that implies a “but for” test, while being associated requires no such causal link.
I have received great numbers of representations relating to alcohol from those in the industry—probably as many as my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon has had about guns. Universally, there is a feeling that imposing universal charges throughout an alcohol disorder zone is unfair and should be stopped by an amendment in Committee. The Wine and Spirit Trade Association is but one of the groups that have contacted me that do not agree with the principle in the Bill of charging all licence holders in an area. The association says that it is unreasonable and inequitable to expect responsible businesses to pay costs associated with local irresponsible licence holders and antisocial individuals. That must be right. It goes on to say that it is proper to refute any assertion that off-licence shops in general and supermarkets in particular are a significant cause of alcohol-fuelled disorder.
The Minister knows that the Government’s consultation, “Drinking Responsibly”, issued in January, plainly conceded that any causal link between an individual’s behaviour and off-sales of alcohol is “tenuous”—I think that that was the word that the Government used. No doubt the Minister will be able to read that passage to us to support our argument that it is rather unfair to treat everyone in the same harsh way.
In the previous sitting there was a consensus about collective responsibility in the retail trade. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there should be collective responsibility in the retail trade?
The hon. Gentleman makes a good and interesting point. There must of course be a sense of collective responsibility about conduct among particular groups in society. I would say yes to collective responsibility in the sense that all licensed premises in an area have a duty to converse with each other about problems and, if possible, to take a unified approach. However, collective responsibility is a concept utterly different from collective blame; that is the distinction that we are trying to make in the amendment. I understand the hon. Gentleman’s approach, but collective blame as a concept is wrong and must be stopped at this stage.
Subsection (7) would provide for exemptions to be made for premises whose main use is not the supply of alcohol. Does not that cover supermarkets and other outlets that sell food or other goods?
The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point—and one to which I was coming. I think that the Minister will be able to tell the Committee today about the types of premises that are to be dealt with under the clause. We will have noted during the summer months references to nightclubs and clubs. Is the principal activity in such places drinking or not? Do people go to dance so that drinking is incidental, or is it the other way around? Those are rather difficult questions, on which it would be helpful to have an authoritative answer from the Minister.
There are supermarkets that have the principal purpose of selling food; then again, I know of off-licences that also sell food. One could go in and not be entirely sure whether the principal purpose of the premises was the sale of alcohol or of other articles linked to daily life. The Minister owes us a duty not only to say which premises will be exempted but to give us a firm indication of her definitions, so that premises that are potentially affected will know their position well in advance.
It is such a pity that we do not have the fullest details of regulation and guidance before us. We cannot scrutinise matters with which we are not yet familiar. To turn to off-licences, in my experience they are often shut during periods of disorder and have nothing to do with the disorder in question. There are many matters that the Minister should deal with and explain to us.
We argued the fundamental principle at length the other day, and I will not repeat it at length—I have made my points. The fundamental principle is the question of how fair it is to have a scale of charges and to bring into the so-called guilty area a series of premises that may be and probably are entirely innocent. For that purpose I seek to amend the clause and insert an amendment that deals directly with the issue of blame.
I have listened with great care to the remarks made by the hon. Member for Woking and have considerable sympathy with them. I shall listen to the Minister’s response before deciding what to do. Amendments No. 290 and 291 are along the same lines but address a different problem. The purpose of my amendment is to find out who is to be exempted and how the exemptions should work. I am grateful to the British Hospitality Association for the briefing that it has provided for me, and I must also say that I am a past panel chairman of the association so I have a little bit of an interest.
The extremely helpful explanatory notes on subsection (7) state that it
“is to ensure that premises such as restaurants, cinemas and gyms, which do not significantly contribute to the problems of alcohol-related violence and disorder, do not have to pay the charge.”
The BHA believes—and I believe that it is right—that the wording of the subsection does not give effect to that desire, because of the requirements of paragraphs (a) and (b). Paragraph (a) reads:
“the principal use to which the premises are put does not consist in or include the sale or supply of alcohol” and paragraph (b) reads
“the availability of alcohol on those premises is not the main reason, or one of the main reasons”.
The words “or include” in paragraph (a) and
“or one of the main reasons” in paragraph (b) mean that the subsection does not achieve what the guidance notes state. I know that the Minister has been in correspondence with a number of people in the industry and that the Government intend that hotels, gyms and so on, which are clearly not part of the problem, should be exempted.
However, from discussions that the association has had with the Minister’s officials, it appears that the exemptions will be set through guidance, presumably issued under clause 16. The association’s fear is that the guidance will be in conflict with subsection (7), and that it will be open to local authorities not to take cognisance of that guidance, but to proceed to include hotels.
My amendment would leave out the words “or include” in paragraph (a) and the words
“or one of the main reasons”. in paragraph (b). That would clarify the subsection, and enable the Bill to deliver what the Government have stated that they wish to achieve. My amendment is not in any way contrary to the Government’s aims, but there is genuine concern in the industry that as the legislation is currently drafted, what we all seek to achieve will not be achieved. I would be grateful if the Minister could provide some clarification.
I shall speak to amendments Nos. 135, 136 and 137. Amendment No. 135 would remove subsection (7)(a) and (b) and at the end insert:
“the supply of alcohol is not permitted between the hours of 8pm and 8am.”
Those hours could be altered; the point of the amendment is to find out from the Government what room for manoeuvre there is for those who might wish to change their trading hours to exempt themselves from an ADZ charge. For example, an off-licence might wish to apply to the licensing authority to change its licence so that it no longer traded between 8 pm and 8 am if there was disorder during that period that led to the imposition of an ADZ charge, in order to be exempted from the charge, on the grounds that it does not contribute to that disorder. This is a probing amendment, and there is no logic to the inclusions and exclusions. I hope that the Minister will offer us some clarification.
Does the hon. Lady accept that most youths who cause disorder purchase alcohol before 8 pm, even though it is only later on in the evening that the consequences of the consumption of that alcohol manifest themselves and cause disruption to the community?
My point is not specifically about those hours; it is that there should be some variation or flexibility with the hours, the circumstances of which I would not wish to prescribe. I am simply trying to flesh out the point about whether it is possible for establishments to change their manner of trading to exempt themselves.
Amendment No. 137 addresses the argument about terms and conditions not being set by regulations. It is unclear who will qualify for discounts or exemptions and what tests they would have to pass. Under the Licensing Act 2003, licensed premises are accountable to local residents, the police, environmental health and trading standards agencies, and a number of other responsible authorities. Therefore, if such premises are associated with any particular problem, there are already powers under the licensing laws for that to be dealt with. If they are not associated with such a problem, should they not be allowed to continue with their lawful business without sanction?
There is a concern that by making premises live up to another set of conditions—which will be specified by regulations that I have not seen, and which are unavailable to the Committee—the Government are in effect creating a second licensing regime. Accreditation already exists under the Government’s new legislation, and there is concern that businesses will be forced to foot the bill for the development of such a scheme, when legislation already exists to deal with the problem.
The purpose of amendment No. 136 is to ask the Government for clarification. The amendment would protect areas that border an ADZ from being swallowed up by it. For example, an ADZ may have been imposed and someone behaving in a disorderly way, perhaps singing rowdily, might be wandering home past a quiet orderly pub just outside the zone. Later, we will discuss extensions of ADZs, but that pub might be asked to pay for something to which it did not contribute, just because it unfortunately happened to be on that individual’s trail home. I am reinforcing what the hon. Member for Woking said—that the causal link should be better established.
Would the Minister add a little more clarity to the point raised by the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso) about clause 12(7), which suggests that the principal use of the relevant premises, and the main reason for people entering them, must be the supply of alcohol? I have been contacted by a number of people about this.
My concern is sports clubs, particularly rugby clubs. Other than rather limited use on Tuesday and Thursday evenings for training and 80 minutes on Saturdays for matches, even at the low level of district rugby, their bars may be open seven days a week. The people who drink in those places may be rowdy inside, but are unlikely to cause trouble and tend to be well behaved when they leave in a taxi or bus to go home. That is a serious point about the definition, because some such premises are used in a limited way for their main or ostensive purpose, but the bar may be open for a considerable period during the week. I am sure that the intention of the provision is not to penalise such premises and I would appreciate some clarity on that subject.
We have had a lot of discussion about rugby in this Committee, and I am afraid that my knowledge of rugby clubs, other than the club in Salford in my local league, is limited. It is an excellent club. Its patrons are always very well behaved, and I am sure that they are never disorderly.
Amendments Nos. 172 and 173 cover ground that we have debated at length, and I am grateful to the hon. Member for Woking for recognising that and not expanding his argument. All I would say, again, is that in the details that we have sent out we have tried to be clear about the basis for charging. It will reflect the interventions that the police and local authorities make and will be based on a risk assessment so that premises that need the most enforcement because they are the most irresponsible will pay more. We have tried to make a definite link rather than simply going for a flat-rate charge. I hope that that reassures hon. Members. As far as we can, we are trying to ensure that the people who cause the most trouble, and so need the most enforcement, pay the higher costs.
We have also tried to be clear about the sort of factors that will be included in those costs. We have discussed intervention by targeted policing activity, trading standards operations, licensing enforcement, joint agency visits and noise abatement enforcement. We have tried to give a clear framework for what might make up those costs: the basic pay of the officers involved, plus their allowances, national insurance and superannuation. We have tried to give as much detail as possible in the documents that I have supplied to the Committee, to reassure the industry about what the regulations will contain.
The Minister’s response has been very helpful, and I appreciate her whole approach to the matter. She mentioned higher charges for the blameworthy. Will she give the Committee an assurance and an undertaking that premises that are not deemed guilty of any deplorable conduct will not be charged, and that a mechanism will ensure that they are not charged?
No, not only can I not give that undertaking, I do not wish to. I have explained before that the intention of the policy is to try to get licensed premises in an area where there is serious disorder due to the misuse of alcohol to take some collective responsibility for that, and to come together to agree an action plan with a local authority before an alcohol disorder zone is ever designated. If they agree a plan, and they get together to ensure that behaviour in their neighbourhood is conducted responsibly, there will be no need to designate an alcohol disorder zone.
The policy intention is that off-licences, on-licences, pubs and clubs—including rugby clubs—in an area where people’s behaviour is out of control as a result of consuming alcohol, will come together and say, “We have a responsibility to do something about this”, they will agree with the local authority about the action that needs to be taken, implement it, and make a difference, so that there is no longer a problem, and we do not need an alcohol disorder zone.
If we were to reach the point at which people are not prepared to abide by that action plan or to take any responsibility, it would be perfectly proper in that area to impose charges related to the extra enforcement that the police and the local authority need to protect the local community.
As far as we can, we shall ensure that the premises that cause the greatest problem, pose the highest risk and need the most intensive and targeted enforcement, pay the highest costs. However, we are not in the business of letting people simply say, “It wasn’t me. It wasn’t in my pub that someone had the four alcopops that two hours later led them to fight in the bus queue or conduct a serious assault against somebody on the way home.”
It is unrealistic to try to apportion costs, particularly when we are dealing with alcohol. My hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire, North (Jim Sheridan) made the point that consuming alcohol at 8 o’clock may well lead to disorder on the streets at 10 o’clock, midnight or even later. It would be wrong of me to say that the hon. Member for Woking misunderstands the policy intention. He does appreciate it, but I genuinely cannot give him the assurance that he requires, and I oppose his amendments.
In my constituency, and I suspect in those of other members of the Committee, one particular rogue licensee has been recognised as being the principal problem. Where someone runs a perfectly orderly licence but happens to fall within the zone, does the Minister not recognise that they will feel a sense of unfairness, and that there should be proper enforcement against the rogue licensee down the road, not an increase in the orderly licensee’s overall tax burden?
No, the position is not unfair, because where there is one rogue licensee, the police and the local authority should use their enhanced powers to bring swift and targeted enforcement under the licensing changes that we are introducing. They will have powers to close premises, and they should use them against individuals. I am clear that police and local councils should not reach for an alcohol disorder zone as a first resort. I have said time and again that the measure is the last resort, when other measures have failed and people do not take responsibility. Individual premises must be targeted, and powers will be strengthened under the Licensing Act to enable authorities to do that.
The Minister referred to the point made by the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire, North about supermarkets. Is not one problem the fact that in some communities, such as some that I know, the supermarket is a long way from the area in which licensed premises are situated? The hon. Gentleman is right: kids go in, buy alcopops, consume them and then go to the other area where the disorder is. Is there not the possibility that the actual perpetrator—the person who supplied the alcohol—will be left out, while the people who suffer the problems are put in?
Hon. Members are raising several important issues about how we tackle the problem of alcohol misuse generally. In the case that the hon. Gentleman illustrates, if supermarkets sell alcohol to under-age youngsters there are stronger powers in the Licensing Act 2003, such as a much-increased fine for selling to such youngsters. Later, we shall consider the possibility that premises persistently selling to young people will have a closure order placed on them, which will hit their profits markedly. There are increased powers to review, suspend and revoke licences as a result of selling to under-age youngsters.
Those are all indications of how seriously we take the matter, but the alcohol disorder zone is primarily designed for towns and city centres where there is a concentration of premises. Local authorities and the police will have to be careful about where they draw the line around such zones, taking into account issues such as displacement, and they will need to be sensible about where they draw that line. A supermarket selling to youngsters ought to be prosecuted, and the full force of the law should be brought to bear on its activity.
Does the Minister agree that this is another weapon in the armoury of local authorities and the police to crack down on antisocial behaviour? It adds to the excellent measures in the Licensing Act, 2003, which I saw when I served on the Committee that considered it. It is ironic that the Opposition parties oppose such provisions, which they also did during consideration of the Licensing Act.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for emphasising that the Government are trying to be as creative as possible in ensuring that the police and local authorities have a full range of powers to attack the difficult problems we face. I hope that all Committee members will support our measures because such problems face every one of our constituents in every part of the country. I hope that by the end of our discussion, we will have exercised our force of argument and got wide support for our proposals.
The hon. Member for Woking raised our “Drinking Responsibly” consultation document. He claimed that we had said that the links between off-licences and the problems we face were tenuous. I ask him to examine carefully paragraph 2.10 of the document, which relates to off-licences. It does not say that the link between off-licences and disorder is tenuous but makes the point that the link may be more tenuous in the case of particular premises. That is an important point. I feel strongly that off-licences and on-licences have to take some responsibility when they contribute to the problems of alcohol disorder. I would not like a distinction to be made between on and off-licence premises in that regard.
We think that alcohol disorder zones should recognise good practice. We have made provision for regulations to include provision for discounts. At the moment, we are working on a code of practice with the industry. It is based on the Manchester city safe model and the models now operating in Leicester, Swansea and Cardiff, where town centre premises have come together and voluntarily agreed to operate in a responsible way. If we can get the industry code of practice recognised to get rid of the way in which alcohol is marketed by irresponsible promotions, we can have a situation where there are accredited premises.
In Manchester, there is a scheme called “Best Bar None” where the best bars are given an accreditation mark that covers not just what happens inside the premises, but door supervisors, whether the premises are well managed and whether they contribute to the liveliness of the city centre without encouraging alcohol disorder. If that sort of code of practice can be established, it may be that we can give accreditation and discounts for establishments that sign up to the code of practice and implement it properly.
I am interested in changing people’s behaviour. The people who run pubs and clubs should run them to a really high standard so that people can have an excellent night out in complete safety, while still being in a vibrant city centre with none of the problems that currently exist. We are keen to move on to discounts, but we cannot do so until the industry code of practice is well established and pubs and clubs have signed up to implement it.
I have listened to what the Minister said about discounts, and I see the logic of what she says. However, does she accept that if a bar or a club operates in accordance with all the standards she mentioned and has all the accreditation she talked about, it will still face a charge within an alcohol disorder zone—even if it is a reduced one—despite having done everything the Minister wanted it to do.
Indeed. We want to ensure that there is a degree of targeting, so that people who cause the most harm face the most charges. However, we want collective action, because action by good operators can often influence those who do not operate to the highest standard. We want some peer pressure so that we can raise standards more generally. Again, the best operators already take that approach voluntarily through their involvement in pubwatch schemes and their work together. I am afraid, however, that we shall have to use these provisions as a last resort in some circumstances, because we need everybody in an area to come together and say, “We want our area to be a great place for people to have a night out. We’re going to squeeze out irresponsible behaviour.”
When Ministers speak, they help with future interpretation of the legislation, so I would like the Minister to add to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Jeremy Wright). Will she confirm that the Government do not intend the provisions to be implemented when there is no clear absence of responsibility on the part of the other traders? As we have all said, there is often one rogue, and the Minister hopes that the better traders and licensees will apply pressure on that person. If the other licensees make a clear effort to do so, but that person turns a deaf ear, is it not important that those who seek to enforce the Bill—should it be enacted—will know from our deliberations that the Government do not wish people to be fined when they have clearly taken reasonable steps?
I take issue with the hon. Gentleman’s language, because we are talking not about fines or punishments—we have been down this route before—but about charges for the extra enforcement activity that the police and local authorities will need to carry out to ensure that the area is safe. We are talking about charges for extra enforcement activity that is designed to solve a problem.
The hon. Gentleman knows that there will be a process for designating an alcohol disorder zone. There will be a proposal to designate and an action plan that has to be agreed. Eight weeks later, if there are no signs that the plan is going to be implemented, we move to designation. We must therefore take a lot of steps before we designate an alcohol disorder zone. As I have said clearly on the record, if there are one or two rogue premises in an area, we should not necessarily reach for an alcohol disorder zone as our first tool. I would envisage us using the enforcement powers in the Licensing Act 2003 to make a difference.
Liberal Democrat amendments Nos. 135 and 187 deal with exemptions and discounts for the off trade. I have explained that off-licences have a big role to play, particularly in enforcing the no ID, no sale message. They must make sure that they ask every young person who comes in to purchase alcohol for their ID. We have been promoting the PASS system, which makes use of holograms that are difficult to replicate. We must have a culture in which young people who seek to buy alcohol automatically produce their ID because they know that they will be asked for it. Off-licences have a real responsibility in that regard.
It is always open to specific premises to meet the terms of the exemptions set out in clause 12(7). Convenience stores that sell alcohol as a sideline could show that the sale of alcohol is not part of their principal use. They might also be able to meet the requirements of the patronage test if the sale of alcohol is not the main reason, or one of the main reasons, why people enter their premises.
In the letter that I sent to Members, I tried to set out in some detail the exemptions that could apply to various establishments. For retailers whose principal purpose is not the sale of alcohol, such as corner shops and supermarkets, we envisage the possibility of a rebuttable presumption in the regulations. Retailers open after 8 o’clock, or something of that nature, would be able to say that their principal purpose was not the sale of alcohol, or that that was not people’s main reason for coming to their premises. However, that is properly a matter for local discretion, although I take the point made by the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone).
Amendments Nos. 290 and 291, which were tabled by the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso), would widen the two limbs of the exemption test, and it is on those grounds that I will resist them. If we widened the tests, we would lose the words “or include” and
“one of the main reasons”.
I think that I understand where the hon. Gentleman is coming from, and I can give him a degree of reassurance. He helpfully mentioned the British Hospitality Association at our last sitting. I recently wrote to Mr. Cotton of the association to try to reassure him. The BHA is particularly concerned that restaurants and hotels could be subject to the alcohol disorder zone charge. Our policy intention is that hotels and restaurants will be excluded from the charge. We do not need to qualify the tests to achieve that because there will be practical guidance for local authorities based on well-established planning definitions, relating to the categories that premises fall into, to try to resolve such issues.
It is clear that the principal use of restaurants is the provision of food. People may have a glass or two of wine or beer with their meal, but that does not make the supply of alcohol a principal use of the premises. The principal use is the provision of food. Nor does the fact that people have a drink with their meal mean that one of the main reasons why they go to restaurants is the availability of alcohol. I genuinely think that restaurants do not have anything to fear from our test.
The principal use of hotels is the provision of overnight accommodation and not the supply of alcohol. There might be a mini-bar and guests might use the hotel bar, but the principal reason why people go to a hotel is for accommodation. I do not accept that hotels need to be concerned about the tests in the Bill, which refer to “the principal use”. The hon. Gentleman ought to be reassured that, on examination, the exemptions will include restaurants and hotels.
On amendment No. 137, I did not really understand where the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green was coming from in seeking to remove the provision of regulations initially. She has explained that she wants to try to reward good practice. I have dealt with that in terms of discounts, accreditation schemes and so on.
Liberal Democrat amendment No. 136 takes us back to the debate about clearly linking offenders in the public space with particular premises. I have gone over that ground. An alcohol disorder zone is not about having an audit trail back to specific premises. The example that she used of a person wandering past a particular premises and causing a problem could be dealt with by means of a drinking banning order on that individual rather than by seeking to make the premises responsible. That is why the Bill contains a range of powers: some aimed at individuals, some at businesses and some at trying to ensure that there is collective responsibility for the problems that we face. There are a variety of powers that can deal with the kind of problems that the hon. Lady has raised.
On those grounds, I ask the hon. Member for Woking to withdraw the amendment.
I wanted to respond to things that the Opposition have said about the role of off-licences. I have heard Member after Member on the Opposition Benches assert that off-licences are not a major contributor to alcohol disorder. When they say that they must be thinking of the wine merchants to which they pop out for a bottle of Beaujolais to have with their dinner.
Other Opposition Members have attempted to assert that off-licences do not contribute to alcohol disorder. As I say, they are thinking of wine merchants in the more salubrious parts of the country. I want to take a minute to enlighten them on the role that off-licences play in relation to alcohol disorder in the inner city. As a number of Members have asserted, people who go out to get drunk for the evening do not go to just one premises. They often tour a number of premises. For reasons of cost, young people often start out in an off-licence to give themselves enough alcohol to get going. In my area, gangs of youths frequently cause serious social disorder, having got drunk on extra-strength alcohol that they have bought at an off-licence. It is not true to assert, as some hon. Members opposite have done, that off-licences do not make a substantial contribution to disorder caused by alcohol—they do.
I am tempted to respond to the observations of the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington, but I shall not. [Hon. Mems: “Go on.”] Those on the Government Benches are urging me to say a little louder what I was saying a moment ago sotto voce.
Let me try to boil this down to a simple issue. It is about blame and fault. If we return to my amendment, which would say that
“the sale or supply of alcohol on the premises has not caused any nuisance ... or disorder”, the word caused is rather interesting. Of course, I cannot object to anything that has been said about off-licences needing to play a big part and having to show responsibility; that is right. However, let us think about blame. Assume that a man aged 25 goes into an off-licence at any time of the day, buys a bottle of gin, goes to his flat round the corner, drinks the bottle of gin, and then goes out into the street and behaves outrageously. Can anybody tell me whether it was the sale of the bottle of gin or the man’s criminal instincts that caused the problem? Where is the fault? That is an important aspect of the debate.
That is entirely correct, but the hon. Gentleman has made my point for me. Whose fault was it? What caused it? There is an absurdity here.
The hon. Gentleman must listen. The point about cause and fault lies at the heart of the debate, because we are faced with the prospect that countless premises will sell alcohol to the public without being at fault because they are permitted by law to do so. They will be selling to adults, and behaving utterly in accordance with the code in accordance with which the Minister wants them to behave. Nevertheless, violent behaviour will result. Where is the fault? It is far too easy for the Minister glibly to say that it is not a punishment for a premises to be charged under the alcohol disorder zone provisions. That is a penalty, and it penalises them.
There is a point of principle about where the blame lies. We would not be having this debate if the existing law on drunkenness and criminal behaviour were properly enforced by the police, and if the proper number of closures of licensed premises that we know to be at fault had taken place in the past year or two. The emphasis should be on proper enforcement of the existing law. It is wrong in principle—this is key—for blame, charges and penalties to be levied against premises that behave in accordance with the law and sell alcohol to adults, as they are entitled to do.
In my experience, the individual described by the hon. Gentleman would not consume a bottle of gin, although he might drink a bottle of extra-strong cider or other beverage. The measure would not be used to deal with one individual. The Government are trying to deal with areas that suffer constant disorder and large numbers of people; the solitary individual would not be dealt with like that.
I use the point to illustrate a matter that has not been properly addressed in the debate, which is blame. What causes what? Who is to blame? Rather than heap the blame on lawful suppliers who behave responsibly, which is what the Bill does, we should heap the blame on the person or persons who conduct criminal activity. If the current law was properly enforced, we would not need to debate the subject.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones) outlined some of what I wanted to say. If a person over the age of 25 who consumed a bottle of gin and went on to cause antisocial behaviour, an antisocial behaviour order or a drinking banning order would probably be imposed. The blame would not be laid on the off-licence that sold the alcohol; it would be laid on the individual who caused the problem.
I understand what the hon. Lady says, but she misses the point. [Interruption.] She can speak again if she wishes, but she cannot deny that alcohol disorder zones can be created for areas where licensees have behaved responsibly and been honourable in their dealings. The Bill provides no exemption for premises that, according to the amendment, have sold alcohol but have not caused nuisance or annoyance to members of the public. In a sense, the amendment would assert that those who are guilty should pay the penalty, and that those who are not guilty should not be swept into the alcohol disorder zone and have charges levied upon them.
My area may be one of those where such measures might be considered. The industry makes a large amount of money, and it imposes an undue burden on one service—the police—because of the level of crime and disorder associated with that industry. Does the hon. Gentleman not consider it completely unfair that the wider population should have to pick up the bill, and suffer the consequence that policing resources are raided from the suburbs to manage the problem? Does he not consider it perfectly fair for the industry to pay for the consequences of a problem that is associated with it?
Associated is the key word. I do not think it fair for the industry to pay for a problem that should properly be sorted out by the police. We are talking about criminal activity, which is a police issue and can be dealt with under existing law. If the industry is behaving lawfully, it should not be penalised. Again—it increasingly happens under the present Government—the blame is moving in society from the person who is guilty to someone who is not.
I am a little concerned about the hon. Gentleman’s use of the word blame; I hope that he can clarify the matter. The point is also about responsibility. When I was a licensee and had charge of a licence, and I knew that I had a legal responsibility to the people to whom I was selling alcohol, and that if they got drunk it was my duty to stop serving them. In the pub, the hotel or the bar, it is the person on duty who has that responsibility. Although the same duty applies in the supermarket, if the person buying the gin is stone cold sober, the store has discharged its legal responsibility. This is about responsibility.
It is. The hon. Gentleman makes a good point.
The Minister has not satisfied me on the amendment. A number of bodies have constantly raised queries and doubts about the merits of imposing alcohol disorder zones. This is our opportunity to reinforce those doubts. We have explained them in debate and have repeated them ad nauseam, but the Government have not really taken them on board. It is therefore my wish that the amendment be put to the test.
We have some understanding of the Government’s intentions in those areas where it is as plain as the nose on one’s face that there is serious criminal activity and disorder as a consequence of alcohol, and we certainly wish to deal with that, but the prescribed solutions are somewhat draconian on one level and muddled on another. The unintended consequences of trying to tackle a real evil in our midst may be complete mayhem.
There is a lack of clarity about the zones. I do not agree with the Minister that the authority on one side of a road should be able to impose a zone while the authority on the other side should not be compelled to work with it in some way. The charging regime seems to be a mess as well, although that is hard to tell, because there is nothing in the Bill and no regulations for us to consider.
On the charges, is it not correct that the hon. Lady just voted along with her colleagues for local ratepayers to pick up the tab for disorder in their communities? Will she be saying that in her local “Focus” leaflet?
I do not think I should dignify that with a response.
There is nothing in the Bill. Therefore, if the innocent could be charged as guilty, we should have sight of the regulations to determine whether the distinction that the Government assure us will be drawn can in any way be upheld. We are being asked to take a leap of faith, and I question the Government’s sincerity in asking us to do that. The regulations have not been provided so that we can make any sort of real judgment, which is the reason for opposition to the measure.
The unfairness also leads to a concern that small businesses may go out of business. The regulations may so punish them that they become unsustainable. Another issue is that the Secretary of State seems to have the absolute right to vary anything at any time without a positive resolution of the two Houses.
I am happy to work with the Government on sensible and well planned proposals to deal with town centre issues, such as those that we have discussed, but I do not consider the present provisions adequate. The threshold at which an ADZ is triggered is so low that it would apply almost anywhere. The intention is obviously to apply it in town centres with extreme and persistent disorder, but anywhere could be designated. The simple designation of a place as an alcohol disorder zone could be significant for the wider community, as the hon. Member for North Durham suggested, in its effect on residents or businesses when they want to sell up or get insurance.
Most of the detail is left to regulation, which, as I have said, is not, sadly, before the Committee. I must hold the Government to account because there has been so little effort to use current law to deal with many aspects of what they want to deal with through alcohol disorder zones. I should be more impressed if the horse came before the cart. They have not introduced local authority minimum pricing policies to end happy hours. They refuse to look at saturation policy; much of the disorder that the Government mean to tackle through ADZs is caused by the number of establishments in close proximity in one area. Yet they were not prepared to consider creating, in the Licensing Act 2003, any cap, or power to cap, for the number of establishments in one area, although that factor is a prime contributor to disorder.
The clause seems ill thought out and possibly unworkable. If we are to support the Government the entire premise should be workable.
I am sure that the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green is as aware as any member of the Committee of the problems that our constituents face because of the misuse of alcohol. It is a widespread problem and the Government are determined to ensure that the police and local authorities have the powers that they need to make a difference on the streets of our country. Those include the new powers under the Licensing Act 2003 and the power to impose alcohol disorder zones with a relevant charging regime.
Time and again constituents have told us that they are sick and tired of police officers being dragged into fights and disturbances in town and city centres as a result of people’s misuse of alcohol, because it is then difficult for them to police the rest of the community. It is right that premises in an area that has, as a last resort, been designated, should contribute to the extra police and local authority costs in dealing with those problems. I should hope that the hon. Lady would support a measure designed to support communities and ensure that they are not victims of alcohol disorder.
The hon. Lady says that our policy is draconian. I do not regard it as draconian. I regard it as a proper balance to enable us to protect decent, law-abiding citizens. She mentioned small businesses. It is important that businesses can thrive, but they have a responsibility to conduct their operations in a way that does not harm innocent people. People are besieged sometimes by the activities of completely irresponsible individuals, as well as businesses. I ask the hon. Lady to bear that in mind.
There is a provision for consideration every three months of whether the alcohol disorder zone is still necessary. If all the operators have come together and implemented the proposed action plan and there has been a significant impact on the relevant behaviour, the designation will be lifted. I do not envisage alcohol disorder zones as long-term solutions. That would be a matter of accommodating our current problems. The policy intention is to prevent them, and to reduce the mayhem that goes on in town and city centres. We shall keep the policy under review. The test of success is making sure that our town and city centres, including those in rural areas, are safe places for the decent majority to go and have a night out without being forced out by unacceptable drunken and violent behaviour resulting from people’s alcohol misuse.