[Mr Joe Benton in the Chair]
Written evidence to be reported to the House
PR 73 JUSTICE
PR 74 Environmental Protection UK (EPUK)
PR 75 Consumer Focus
PR 76 Association of Police Authorities (APA)
PR 77 West Yorkshire Police Authority
PR 78 The Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council
PR 79 Cheshire Police Authority
PR 80 Punch Taverns plc
PR 81 Roland Emmas-Williams
PR 82 Opera House Casino, Scarborough
PR 83 Gloucester City Council
PR 84 The UK Drug Policy Commission (UKDPC)
PR 85 Westminster City Council – additional Memorandum
To clarify matters, Mr Benton. We are covering drugs and alcohol this morning, so I suggest that we discuss alcohol up to 10 o’clock, and drugs afterwards.
Good morning. I wish to start by asking generally about the licensing provisions in the Bill, about the perception that the Licensing Act 2003 was weighted towards the trade, and whether the provisions in the Bill will redress the balance. Will communities have more of a say about licensing in their areas? Will panel members make some overall comments on those matters?
Richard Kemp: Perhaps I can make a start. As a ward councillor as well as a more strategic councillor in Liverpool, I have had concerns about the 2003 Act and how it has over-extended our city centres. In particular, it gave us not as much control as we would like in our district centres, often where drinking takes places next to where people live and when they are trying to get their children to sleep.
As for redressing the balance, I see the Bill as a step in the right direction, but one that does not necessarily go far enough. For example, we welcome the late-night levy but, in Liverpool, it will not give us a police officer for a night. I like the idea of minimum pricing for alcohol, but I do not think that it is set high enough. There are some useful first steps to build on. I am not decrying most aspects of the Bill, except police commissioners, which we might or might not be dealing with. If the Bill is something that we can build on, it is good. If it is by itself, it is no more than a first step.
Councillor, the levy may not pay for a police officer for a night, but will it not act as a disincentive for places of entertainment and places where alcohol is being sold, and can be used to increase their security to pay for door staff, for example, to prevent access to those already in drink when they seek to enter the premises, and perhaps, in other ways, to improve a business’s actions towards those who might be disorderly?
Richard Kemp: At the level at which the levy is set, I doubt that it will effect any real change in behaviour from licensees. On rateable values, you might be talking about £4,000 from a big property, if I have read the Home Office’s rules correctly, which is perhaps the cost of another doorman for two or three nights a week. If we want to address the way in which some licensees behave—there are many good licensees, and I do not wish to be too critical of them—frankly, it is a question of education and of working with them and supporting them. With the turnover on a place that can take 1,200 people a night, £4,000 here or there is probably not going to effect much change.
We have to balance out the need of individual licensees to do business and to stay in business. For example, public houses have closed at the rate of 50 a week in recent years, and we should balance out such aspects. The figure that the Bill currently refers to will have at least some effect on those businesses and will cause them to give careful consideration to what is going on.
Richard Kemp: Again, there are other ways of dealing with the problems of small pubs. If we look at this subject just as a financial matter, we are doomed to failure. There are changes in society, in the way our district centres work, in rural areas and in the way our villages work—coming from Liverpool, I am not an expert on that. We cannot assume that we can make fundamental changes by minor tinkering with the costs of licensing. Some fundamental issues need to be addressed, but it is fairly marginal as to whether that relates to a village pub or a Yates’s pub.
As a Liverpool councillor, you will be aware of what city centres were like back in the ’80s and ’90s, and of how they have been transformed over recent years, especially in the northern cities of Liverpool, Leeds and Manchester. What role did developing a night-time economy play in that city centre regeneration, and was it worth it?
Richard Kemp: I am not a great expert on any city after about 11 pm, so this is not from personal experience. [Interruption.] Honestly.
Clearly, the night-time economy is an important part of the offering of a city or big town. Our concern is that, because city centres have become over-alcoholed, that has had a good effect on licensed premises, but a poor effect on other people wanting to use city centres. In Liverpool, the Liverpool One development is a safe cocoon of activity, with nice hotels and restaurants. People who go there and stay there do not venture into other parts of the city, which is true of any city and not just of Liverpool. For example, the idea of people going to the theatre on a Saturday night and having a meal afterwards is probably not happening in such cases, because of the association in people’s minds with what happens between 10 and 12 o’clock. They have had a nice visit to the theatre, but wonder what they will encounter when they leave the restaurant at midnight. There have been good points, which I am not knocking, but the idea of a 24-hour city is that you can do everything, and not just drink, at 2 o’clock in the morning.
Martin Rawlings: To come back to the original question, before the 2003 Act, councillors had little or no control over licences. It is important to remember that that Act took away control from magistrates and gave it to councils. The night-time economy was not invented by that Act; it existed before. It was the only area in which councils got involved, because they granted late-night licences under the public entertainment licence system, which was subsumed into the licensing system under the new Act. Councils had that control over later licences, but not over the earlier licenses.
On city centres, most councils agree that they generate economic activity, provide jobs and so forth. We could talk long and hard about trying to solve the issues of town centres. Our association and others have done a lot of work, particularly on business improvement districts, which have had massive effects on crime and disorder. Our angst with the Bill is that there is not enough recognition of what is going on. Best Bar None is a scheme that we are involved in and which we promote around the country—Purple Flag is another one. There are lots of things going on that seek to address the problems in town centres in a collaborative way.
We would agree that some of the changes to the Act could be useful for public representation. We do not have a particular issue with regard to vicinity, except to say that the solution to that in the Gambling Act 2005 is rather better, because the provision as it stands means that a local resident who lives on the other side of the street in a different authority would be debarred from making a representation to a bar on the other side of the street. That seems to be an oversight in the drafting of the Bill. I am happy to answer more on that as we go through it.
I did not want this session to be dominated by the Local Government Association, although it has interesting views about different parts of the Bill. I want to return to the original question and ask particularly Mr Beadles but also Dr Rawlings about their views on the Bill and the night-time levy.
Jeremy Beadles: On the balance that has been achieved, I think any piece of legislation on the scale of the 2003 Act takes a long time to bed in, and there will be problems in how it does so. We are now at a point where the majority of local authorities and businesses around the country understand the Act and how it is used. It is working well in most instances. There will always be instances of local authorities having trouble with a particular area or premises. There will always be rogue premises that need to be dealt with. Some of the changes that are being introduced seem to be about tackling a very small minority of businesses or local authority issues, and the risk is that they impact on a whole range of businesses and local authorities that do not need them.
Jeremy Beadles: No. I do not believe that that was the intention of the Act in the first place. I think the intention was to change the licensing system by taking it away from magistrates and giving it to local authorities to manage.
On the late-night levy, my main concern is that it has to apply to an entire local authority area. If you are trying to sort out a problem in a town centre, I am not sure why you are levying an extra tax on a local pub 10 miles down the road. That is a risk. Also, you have a whole range of licensed premises—hotels, restaurants and shops with 24-hour licences—that may not be the target of local authority action, but would be brought into a late-night levy scheme and potentially be paying more in their late-night levy than for their licence. So there are still serious concerns about how the late-night levy will operate.
Martin Rawlings: This is the fourth time in five years that the Act has been revisited since it came in in 2005. We think that that is rather too much. I would reiterate what Jeremy says: what is good for business and for local councils is certainty. Changes that keep coming are producing uncertainty in the market. You referred to 50 pubs a week closing. I am pleased to say that that is down to 30 a week, but that is still 30 pubs a week where jobs that are good for the economy are going from this industry. You may have read in yesterday’s papers about youth unemployment. This sector is a big employer of youth in this country, and there is still big potential for that employment to grow.
Our concern is that there are costs involved. We should not be dismissive about the way in which they could impact on businesses that, in the Minister’s own words, are the vast majority, and the vast majority are responsible businesses. We recognise that there are irresponsible businesses. There were some 13,000 reviews of licensed premises last year. It is not a huge number in a total of 190,000, but it shows that the Act can work, and it is working.
What I think this and the previous Government have recognised is that there is still some learning to do on enforcement. The Government had a session last year going round telling people how to enforce the Act, and they are doing it again now. There is clearly some work to be done in that sense. If enforcement fails, you do not solve that by putting more burdens on to the businesses of those who are being enforced, because most people will do what they are told to do—small businesses particularly.
If you come with potential conditions and laws, that can be difficult, particularly for the small rural pubs—my daughter runs one, and I know how difficult they are to run, particularly with a whole new raft of legislation, that really does not apply. We know and identify that the problems exist in town centres, and those should be addressed, but that has to be done in the right way. Regarding your question on the levy, we understand that it is drafted as it is because it is a local tax. It cannot be right, therefore, to address a problem in a town centre by taxing a pub that might be 50 miles away and that would get no benefit from that service.
I have been asked to stand up because I have no microphone. You would agree that it is down to the discretion of the local authority, so I believe that Ministers are introducing legislation that will enable district councils, to which you have particularly referred, to look at their local areas, rather than the Government deciding from a top-down approach. It is down to the local authorities. Perhaps we could hear the view of the LGA from Councillor Kemp.
Richard Kemp: I agree with the industry on that. In the Localism Bill, which is currently before Parliament, we are seeing a neighbourhood or community approach. What is right for one community is not right for another one on the other side of the council area. You are right that it is better that the council rather than the Government deals with it, but the council cannot say, “We know our patch well. We ought to do something in the west that is different from something in the east.” I support the industry on that matter.
The 2003 Act introduced alcohol disorder zones, which were based on geography; this provision is based on time, so there is a different focus, which is based on hours. I shall ask the panel, but I think I am right to say that alcohol disorder zones did not work, because, as far as I am aware, not a single authority imposed them. Is that not a tragic failure—one of several—of the 2003 Act?
I understand that the Council of Her Majesty’s Circuit Judges, which represents some 600 circuit judges who pass sentence on individuals, was also very critical of the alleged café culture proposals of the 2003 Act. This is a fresh approach, is it not? The geographical approach is not the focus of the Bill; it is based on hours of operation.
Jeremy Beadles: There was a flaw in the process. In addition, the administration and bureaucracy behind the measure did not make it worthwhile commercially or financially for a local authority and a police district to get into.
With alcohol disorder zones, the idea was that a local authority identified a problem area, and any business that was trading after a certain time within it would pay a particular amount. There is potential discretion in the late-night levy about identifying a problem area and taking it away, and the entire local authority being designated as somewhere that needs to pay more money for policing, whether it needs it or not. Our concern is that problem businesses should be tackled and should come up with the resources to tackle their problems, but businesses that are trading responsibly, and will not get any extra services, should not be taxed.
The media play highly on under-age sales and drinking. Do you think increasing fines and shutting premises for longer periods will help? Will that address the problem, or will it not address the problem? This is something that Governments of all colours have failed to tackle and failed to solve over many years.
Jeremy Beadles: By working together, the industry and local government have made huge progress in tackling under-age sales. However, the majority of people working in the industry and local government recognise that a lot of young people are getting alcohol through different routes, not least through proxy purchase.
Jeremy Beadles: The industry, through the retail sector’s challenge 25 approach and the pub sector’s challenge 21 approach, has made huge steps forward in tackling under-age sales. Building on that, projects such as community alcohol partnerships, which we run with Best Bar None and the pub industry, have made greater steps forward with local authorities working together to tackle the issues.
We have made a lot of progress. Do I think increased fines and increased closures will make a difference? No. A fine at the maximum level of £10,000 has not been imposed, so I cannot see why increasing the maximum level would make it better. As for increased closures, a business can take a penalty of closing itself for 48 hours, but closing itself for a week has fairly serious commercial impacts, particularly for small companies. If you increase that closure time and businesses decide to fight the case in court, the risk is that you will have a longer process that does not get over the problem.
Martin Rawlings: One of the things that we tried to get into the 2003 Act is another remedy; it is an alternative, rather than a replacement. Training orders work. If there is a failure in enforcement—pubs, clubs and shops enforce the law, that is what they are trying to do—giving them a training order to readdress that and to get their staff to work better has to be the right way to go.
The problem with the persistent selling offence is that it does not include intent. There is a lot of difference between somebody on the staff who makes a mistake, or, indeed, does it wilfully, and the owner of the business. It is quite possible under the provisions for two members of staff to fail a test purchase without the knowledge of the owner of that business, who has no intention to sell, but falls foul of this law.
We would like to see this taken as a remedial approach, because the problem with under-age selling is a question of supply and demand. We tackle the supply. We recognise the responsibility of that, and it is reasonable that there are penalties, but the demand from young people does not diminish. We looked at this a couple of years ago and did a survey of our members, and our estimate was that 1 million people a month were trying to buy alcohol. We think that has diminished somewhat, but it is still there.
There is a huge demand out there that needs to be tackled. We need to say to the young people, “No, do not try this.” Most kids now—my youngest son is 22—cannot get a drink in my area without an ID card, but, as Jeremy says, there are other places where they can get drink. I understand that the Home Office is now seriously looking at internet sales. There is displacement down the chain. You take the alcohol away from pubs, bars and shops, then you take it from the parks, where people will sell it to them, but it goes into internet sales, which is a growing problem.
Richard Kemp: Our view is that detection and shaming is probably going to be more important than an increased fine or other penalties. I echo the point that great strides have been made where the industry and the local authority work together. It is a question of whether finance makes that much of a difference. I do not think that it does.
I think the industry has made strides. The problem, as you have said, is with people selling it out the back of vans, or, in many cases, with parents buying alcohol and giving it to their children. I do not know, but that is very difficult to square off.
I want to jump back to the late-night levy, and Dr Rawlings’ legitimate concern about pubs that are not in town centres, particularly in rural areas, which are going to be affected by a generalised levy. I understand the concern, but the Act makes it clear that the period of time to which the levy will apply cannot start before midnight.
Based on your experience, how common is it for the sort of rural pubs you are talking about to be open on a regular basis from midnight onwards, compared with the pubs in town centres where the problems generally occur?
Martin Rawlings: It is true to say that such pubs would not regularly open after midnight. The problem is that they only have to open once after midnight to be caught by the levy. A lot of those pubs will have new year opening, as a grandfather right from the old regime, when the Government of the day decided they could open for 36 hours at new year. They would be caught by the levy as the Bill stands at the moment. Quite a few pubs will have extended opening hours at bank holidays. There may be a dozen or so occasions where they have prior permission to open.
I notice in the Bill that that permission can be removed, so as not to fall foul of the levy. However, for new year they would then have to apply for a temporary event notice. That would greatly expand the temporary event notice procedure, which would put a burden on councils. I do not want to burden councils any more than they are, and we certainly do not want to pay any more than we do—because that has a cost to it as well.
Why do you want a system that it was not designed for? My view is that temporary event notices were never designed for pubs in the first place, but because of the way the Act has evolved, they have increasingly had to use them. It is, if you like, an abuse of the system.
The alternative way of doing things is that there should be a specific area of town designated as where a levy or tax might apply. Is there not a negative effect on that area of the town, if such a designation is given to it, and does that not also affect the members and businesses you are responsible for?
Jeremy Beadles: I agree with that. We should be looking at a different type of approach—a partnership approach—to tackling these issues. Where we have seen local businesses working with local police and local authorities on schemes, such as Best Bar None and community alcohol partnerships, what you see coming through from businesses is finance and support for things that they believe will make a difference to tackling the problems, working together.
Moneys from enforcement find their ways into other routes of tackling the problem, because there is no longer the hammer-and-tongs relationship between the licensing authority and the licensees—they are working together to solve problems. Our strategy is a localism approach based on partnership, rather than simply trying to extract more money from businesses. Businesses have got money to spend but they prefer to spend it on things they think will make a difference, working in the local area, rather than just having a tax basis.
Richard Kemp: The reality of life also is shared. People already know where to get a late-night drink—legally or illegally for that matter—in any town or city. These areas self-designate, so for them to be officially designated will not make much difference. It is clear that in Liverpool there are five streets where you can go and drink until 3 am. That already happens. I do not see that as a particular problem of casting aspersions on a neighbourhood.
Martin Rawlings: May I turn back to our evidence, where we have put a small amount in at the back so as not to overburden you? Places such as Birmingham and Nottingham business improvement districts show a clear decline in alcohol-related violence. All indicators are that it is coming down, so why do we not improve on that and work with local authorities—as they do—and with the Home Office to promote those schemes and push them further? That clearly has to be the way to solve the problem.
In response to that, what are the alternative proposals to the late-night levy and the funding it will provide to go back into policing costs, for instance? Why should the polluter not pay? Local communities have to fund enormous sums of money for their police officers to be deployed on Friday and Saturday nights, abstracting officers from other duties. It is very burdensome on police forces and, arguably, unfair to all other residents who are not doing the drinking and enjoying of those premises. Why should the polluter not pay?
Martin Rawlings: If I refer back to the session you had on Tuesday, which I had a look at yesterday, the police commissioner for the west midlands said that he did not think it would work either. Policing is a public service and we have a duty to make sure that that policing is as low as is possible. At the end of the day, it is not the bars and pubs—unless they are behaving badly—which are polluting, it is the individuals.
You are making money from it. I am asking you what alternative proposals you have to assist in funding the necessary public service that deals with this harm, which is being created by the fact that there is late-night drinking.
So, you are opposing the levy, but you have no proposals yourself or any means by which funding could go back into the local community to make some contribution to the policing costs. You have no proposals.
Martin Rawlings: I am sorry. My proposal is that business improvement districts are used, which fund exactly that. Our members pay into that, to improve town centres in those areas. That money goes to the local community. In Birmingham, some of it is spent on flowers. That might seem ridiculous, but in improving the ambience in Broad street—as well as through the street wardens and all the other things that the industry is paying for—the BID has had a dramatic effect on crime and disorder. We are not against paying, but we want that money to be a collaborative effort with everybody, so that it works well.
Richard Kemp: The logic of what Mr Herbert has said is that the late-night levy should be set—if you are going to have one—at a level which brings in enough money to do something. Our suggestion, based on Home Office figures, is that the amount raised will not do all that much. Collecting it as a levy, rather than collecting it as part of the licence, just adds an extra administrative burden. If you really want to achieve something, you have to set it at a level that is worth while.
You also have to recognise that this is not just a late-night problem. In my own ward we have pavement cafes. There may be an international match on, such as Mexico v. Brazil. Those who want to support Mexico for the day go to one side of the street, into a pavement café, and the ones who want to support Brazil go to the other side. It takes three quarters of all the policing from south Liverpool to deal with pavement cafes, sometimes at 2 o’clock on a Sunday afternoon. If it is a “polluter pays” principle, we have to go a lot further than the late-night levy, and extract real charges that will reflect policing and so on.
Do you think that, because the people who run bars and pubs—the high profile presence on the high street—are associated with alcohol, it tends to distort people’s approach to alcohol policy and that it does not give the overall picture of what is causing the problem?
Martin Rawlings: I think that that is right. The vast majority of pubs are not in town centres. Only some 12% of pubs are in those locations. Thinking about alcohol, without getting too philosophical, it is what people do and it is what is socially acceptable to most people. We understand that some people abuse it, and they need to be dealt with. The Government announced last week that there will be a royal wedding and that it would be a good idea if all the pubs and bars were open until 1 o’clock in the morning. We think that that is a good idea and so does the vast majority of the country. People do not go into a coffee shop when the royal wedding is on, they go down the pub and they have a good time and a chat. We want them all to do it sensibly, safely and to enjoy themselves.
Not everybody will enjoy themselves—certainly not Councillor Kemp, as he has already pointed out. The late-night drinking problem—people who are tanked up late at night—is not only caused by the pubs in the town centre, is it?
Richard Kemp: The biggest problem is identifying whether the person who is absolutely drunk on the street actually got drunk in the last pub, or whether they got drunk before they even went to the town centre. I will not mention which of my daughters this is, but there used to be a general gathering of 12 18-year-olds, with a load of stuff that they had bought for nothing from Tesco, and they were halfway there before they got in the taxi. That is the general experience, which is why things such as minimum prices are useful, but probably not at the level set yesterday.
Would you say that the late-night levy is a blunt instrument, which does not actually hit the target, because it hits people who are selling alcohol late at night but they are not the sole source of the problem?
Jeremy Beadles: They are definitely not the sole source of the problem. When it comes down to it, the individual is the source of the problem, but people buy alcohol from a whole range of different places and consume it in a whole range of different ways during the course of an evening. So, assigning a responsibility to the last place they were at is wrong.
One of the most visible problems we have with alcohol and young people in my constituency, for instance, is with the peer group around the age of 18—some are under 18 and some above. Because we are so efficient at keeping people under the age of 18 out of pubs, the under-18s go to a local convenience store and they get drunk in the community. That problem is not addressed by a late-night levy.
Jeremy Beadles: That is a very significant problem. Proxy sales are becoming the retail sector’s biggest issue, in terms of how they tackle alcohol misuse. Where we have had significant success in tackling that is through using community alcohol partnerships, and the approach that has been adopted there. They started looking at how you tackle young people drinking, and particularly young people drinking in a public environment, such as sitting in a park, when 19-year-olds have bought alcohol for 17-year-olds. The results from those projects that are rolling out around the country—I think that we now have 37 of them—have been very successful in local areas at tackling locations of that nature.
On that point, because several of you have mentioned 18-year-olds and youngsters drinking before they even go out to pubs, do you not feel that we have to have harsh deterrents on traders who actually sell to under-age people?
Jeremy Beadles: It does still happen and there are two reasons why. First, there are businesses out there that intentionally sell to young people, and they should be closed down and have their licences taken away. We support that. Secondly, mistakes happen. All the processes that the pub and retail sector put into place, around challenge 21 and challenge 25, are to stop that from happening. However, it still does happen. People make bad judgments about how old someone is.
When we were introducing challenge 21 and challenge 25, we took groups of young people up and down the country and met local authorities and local police. It was extraordinary how few of them were able to assess the age of the young people there in front of them, and they had quite a long time to look at them in a shop or pub environment. You have quite a short time in a busy environment to make that judgment, which is why, for the retail sector, we have moved to challenge 25. I get more letters of complaint about that than just about anything else now, from 25-year-olds who do not like to be asked for ID, but that gives us a better ability to make a judgment about someone’s age.
Martin Rawlings: I agree with what Jeremy said entirely, but one thing I would add is that in the papers only over the weekend there were articles about how easy it is for young people, and 13 or 14-year-olds to obtain illegal drugs and alcohol. There is a whole criminal fraternity out there that makes money by selling to under-age kids, which is not something we have any control over at all. I am sure that the Government and everybody else share concerns about it, but traders cannot stop it.
The Bill proposes changes to temporary event notices, making them more flexible in some areas and constraining them in others. With apologies to Professor Iverson, I am interested to hear what the other three on the panel think about the changes.
Jeremy Beadles: You are looking at me, so I will start. Temporary event notices are not a speciality for us and our organisation. I come across them more in my role on the parent teacher association and seeing my mother trying to run her local village wine club. We need a balance between ensuring that people do not abuse the temporary event notice system—and tightening that up—and not making life impossible or incredibly bureaucratic and difficult for people who want to run a school fête or a village hall event. That is the key to the balance, but, as I said, this is not an area of expertise for us and our organisation. Martin is much more au fait with the issue.
Martin Rawlings: To be honest, we do not have a lot to say about temporary event notices. We understand where there should be conditions, but in the main, particularly where pubs take on temporary event notices, common sense would prevail and you would carry on those conditions. If you normally have door staff until 12 am and you have a temporary event notice until 1 am, you will not send the staff home. If there are concerns about that, we understand them and we do not have a particular issue with that.
Richard Kemp: We would support the industry in that the main licensing regulations should carry on into the temporary event notice, except for what the notice has been applied for. The only thing I would add is that it is a peculiar fact that a temporary event notice does not need an event. You apply for it because you want 15 extra nights a year, so you find reasons for doing it. We had a case recently of a Tesco store that put its licensing application for a new store in late, so it wanted to apply for four lots of four days of temporary event notices to fill the gap. There was no event, just a reason for putting in a quickie licence application, which is absolutely unchallengeable unless you can prove criminal intent or particularly perverse consequences. I do not think a temporary event notice should be a dodge round proper licensing constraints.
May I take this back to the generality of the Bill? One key thing that the Committee has been talking about is police commissioners. I wonder if Councillor Kemp, particularly, might like to comment. Do you have any concerns about the role of the police commissioner with the local licensing committee of a local authority? Do you see any problems there? Is there anything you would be concerned about?
Richard Kemp: The Local Government Association’s views on police commissioners as a whole are well known: we think they are an answer to a question that is not being put. There are conflicting matters that the Government need to resolve, such as the relationship between the police commissioner, or even a police authority, and very localised matters. Another concern is the relationship between the planning authority and the licensing authority, which are the same body wearing two quasi-judicial hats. What happens if a licence can be given under licensing law but, under the new community planning activity in the Localism Bill, local people do not want it? Who is the arbiter there? That is already a problem in some areas. For example, the pub opposite me has a 1.30 am licence, but has to close at 11.30 pm because we control that under planning law. It is very confusing to explain why under one law the council gives a 1.30 am licence but under another law an 11.30 pm one. If there was a pavement café, it might get a 6 o’clock licence. Someone needs to bring through all the elements of localism so that when I, as a local councillor, go to my community, I have something that I can easily and readily explain.
Richard Kemp: I do not see how they will have a role because they will never have the grain of local knowledge. This must be something that local councillors do through licensing and planning matters. What someone responsible for £1.45 million is going to make of a problem in Allerton road in my ward is probably very little at any time.
Dr Rawlings has already indicated that if we went for a whole council-based area and did it on the basis of time, you would define those areas that would be most affected, such as the rural areas and those more problematic areas. Do the witnesses also recognise that on the issue of responsibility—some important points have already been made about business improvement districts, community alcohol partnerships, purple flag, Best Bar None—enabling discounts and other provisions to be made in there to allow flexibility might assist local councils in promoting prosocial behaviour?
But there is nothing in the Bill that mandates local councils to do that. If they have an area that is being well run they do not have to put one of these in place.
Richard Kemp: But the levy, set as it is for each individual property, is unlikely to make much of a difference. The trouble with all the schemes that have been advocated—I support all of them—is that the good landlords come and participate. They want to train and they want to help and work with the police. The bad landlords do not, and £1,000 for a property will not make a bad landlord behave better.
Alcohol disorder zones were part of a legislative framework, and I know that Mr Coaker lived and breathed this over the years as well in trying to get such a structure to work. I am surprised that you said you would not have a problem with an area being designated a problem area. That was not the view of local councils at that time. It is interesting if you are taking a different view now.
Richard Kemp: I was saying something slightly different. The fact is that we know where one goes for certain types of entertainment. They designate themselves. Everyone knows where they are, so designating somewhere as a late-night drinking area and imposing a levy just for that part of the city would not be anomalous because that is effectively what happens now.
Just to be clear, councillor, you believe that it is possible to get a map and draw an area that would be capable of withstanding legal challenge and judicial review?
Could I press you on that point? Presumably you would then ignore the issue of pre and post-loading in terms of other outlets outside your specific zone opening later as well, even though they may be contributing to the problem.
Richard Kemp: They do contribute to the problem, but when one thinks of a city there are clearly city centres, district centres and neighbourhood centres. I think those types of centres need a different approach. A council knows its patch. For example, some district centres do not have anyone living near them. Some district centres have people living 15 yards from where people are having a smoke in the street. That is why I believe that localism is very important. We know our areas well and we can come to appropriate planning decisions for appropriate neighbourhoods, districts and centres.
Even though you advocate the localist agenda—we can discuss to what level that is—you do not welcome a proposal that gives local councils greater flexibility?
Richard Kemp: I do. It is better that local councils do it than central Government, but local government still does not have enough discretion in the way this is done to go to the grain of localism that is being advanced at the moment in the Localism Bill. This is better than the current situation. I am asking you to go further.
I think the Minister was heading down the road that I wanted to go down. If we are going to allow councils to choose an area, how exactly do we define what they are allowed to choose? You have referred to “neighbourhood.” Do you think that designating a whole neighbourhood, rather than a whole council area, could work? Would that be effective in this regard?
Richard Kemp: Again, I refer you to the Localism Bill. That is what the Government think should happen in terms of planning. Planning and licensing, with regard to licensed premises, go hand in hand, because you have two different sets of constraints. To put it crudely, one is the effect on the community, and one is the effect on what happens inside the premises, but I know that it is more complicated than that. There seems to be logic in trying to put two Bills together, so that they align. At the moment, it is incredibly difficult for me to explain to my constituents why I am saying different things at different times, depending on which quasi-judicial committee I am going to, about the same licensed premises. I would like coherence, because that is the only way that I can explain that to my constituents in a way that will allow us then to come up with the neighbourhood plans required in the Localism Bill.
One of the issues that I have with licensing is the vicinity test. We want to give all those who are affected by a premises the chance to comment or seek a review without opening the door to too many national campaign-type things, which are not really focused on the local issue. We are making progress with that, but, in my seat, I have a nightclub in the green belt and the walk-home route goes through a different county and district. What proposal would work best to allow the people who live along that walk-home route to seek a review, without spreading it for 20 miles? Does anyone have any ideas as to what the best option would be?
Martin Rawlings: We would propose that you take the provisions under the Gambling Act 2005. They state exactly what you say, which is that if you are directly affected by it, you should have the right to say something about it. At the end of the day, the local authority can decide whether that is a valid reason, whether to put conditions on it or whether to refuse permission.
Effectively, if it received a request or a comment, the authority could use its discretion to say, “No. That’s not at all relevant to this.” That would almost allow representations from anybody, no matter where they lived.
Effectively, you would be happy with the planning system coming into licensing, so that anyone can make representations and the council can choose what weight to give them.
With licensing, however, there is a provision for ongoing attempts to review, which slightly changes the balance. Do you think that there is scope for a different test? For initial applications, you allow a wide consultation, but you try and scope it down for reviews.
Jeremy Beadles: We certainly have some experience of recent reviews in which people have tried to change their morning licensing hours, and we had more than 50 objections. Most of them proved utterly unnecessary, and a lot of the people who objected did not actually turn up to the hearings, but the hearings went on and on while the objections were being heard. In the end, the review was allowed, so a discretion that allows a council to knock out a few that it does not think are necessary would go well.
Professor Iverson, thank you for being so patient with us, but I want to discuss the temporary class drugs order. Dr Rawlings has already said that drugs were much more of an issue than alcohol, and drug-related crime is certainly a major issue for me in west London. Given how fast science is moving—you are certainly the expert to tell us about this—are there things that we need to do to get classification right and, in terms of the process, get it happening as soon as possible? Do you feel that the temporary class drugs order is required?
Les Iverson: The council was fully consulted by Ministers when the changes to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 were being drafted. We discussed the proposals, we were able to give detailed comments back to Ministers and we are fully supportive. The temporary class drug order will have a useful place in the control of drug misuse, but we hope that it will be used very sparingly. Any time a temporary order of this type is imposed it will be incumbent on our council to do further investigation and in due course recommend whether the drug should become an illegal substance.
I see this as a two-stage process. If you see something coming over the horizon that looks as though it might be dangerous, you impose a temporary class drug order. We hope that the Minister would consult us and agree with us before taking such a radical step. Later, the council would return with a more reasoned, evidence-based case.
If I take the example of mephedrone, which is a very good examples, the advisory council first became aware of this entirely new chemical in July 2009 when it began to be sold at music festivals, first of all in the Isle of Wight. We could see the use of the substance growing and it was easily available; with a mobile phone and a credit card anybody of any age could order mephedrone. By the end of 2009 we were sufficiently concerned about it that we wrote to the then Home Secretary alerting him to the possible dangers of the drug and telling him that we intended to pursue a much more detailed review, which we did. In the first three months of last year we took evidence from a number of experts, and we came up with a recommendation at the end of March—quite a short space of time—that this drug and a range of related chemicals should be placed under the Misuse of Drugs Act as class B substances.
The problem was that we had already told everyone that we were going to review the drug in detail and everyone, including the media, had assumed—correctly, as it happened—that we would end up by recommending that it be banned. Meanwhile, the availability and use of mephedrone shot up astronomically in the first three months of this year. You can tell that from the number of people contacting the FRANK helpsite or the national poisons unit for help, and from admissions to accident and emergency units. That was very serious, almost of an epidemic proportion. Meanwhile, the drug was freely available at a relatively low price; you could buy 1,000 doses for £2,000 and sell each dose on for £10 or £20, so it was a very nice little business. We suspect a good deal of stockpiling occurred before the ban was later imposed. If we had had a temporary class drug order, I am quite sure that we would have requested the Minister to impose one. We should not assume that the temporary class drug order will always come from the Government or the Minister, because it may equally well come as a recommendation from the advisory council as we do our horizon-scanning activities.
So, we are in favour of it. I have only two concerns about the temporary class drug order. One is that we hope that Ministers would consult us beforehand, but that has not been written into the Act. I am not quite sure why, but it has not been. I am also aware that this will place an extra burden of work on the advisory council in terms of assessing the potential dangers and the societal dangers, which is part of our remit, of such an agent. Many of these new drugs are wholly synthetic chemicals that have never been seen before, on which there is no data in the scientific literature, and we will be trying to assess them. It will be a difficult job, and we have impressed strongly on Ministers that we will need to do some research, or at least we will suggest that the Home Office or some other body maintains a research capability in order to do some simple research on these new compounds to facilitate our evidence gathering.
Professor, I also note that the Bill proposes to make some constitutional changes to the advisory body. Given some recent controversies between the Government and the advisory council, do you have any concerns that that might be used as a means to avoid scientific advice and criticism of Government policy?
Les Iverson: I have seen the reports that you refer to, which at one point say that I have been neutered by the changes and will not be able to have any say in the composition of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. The proposal is to remove the statutory requirement for six members, which was laid out in the 1971 Act. Out of those six, only one or two are scientists. The requirements are for a chemist, somebody with knowledge of the pharmaceutical industry, a GP, a vet and a dentist—that is where we stand.
Times move on, and the drugs scene moves on. We welcome more flexibility in deciding what sort of new members we need. In the recent round, with the new members announced yesterday, we have appointed social scientists, psychologists, another judge and people dealing with drug treatment. None of those are really scientists, but you could say that a qualification in social science or psychology is in science. If I count out the numbers at the moment, I would say that scientific membership is already at about a third, and I cannot see any Minister wanting to remove the scientific component from the group. Otherwise, I do not know where the expertise to make any judgments is gong to come from.
Les Iverson: As you may know, we are working out a draft protocol with Ministers on the working relationship between the ACMD, drugs Ministers and the Department of Health. That will almost certainly include some statement about areas of expertise that should normally be included. However, that is not the position at the moment. We have six statutorily required positions. If any of the people filling one of those posts resigns, as happened in 2009, that leaves the council inquorate and unable to make any legal recommendations. For that reason, in the first several weeks of this year, we were effectively neutralised and unable to offer any advice. I do not want to see that happen again. It is an unnecessary and burdensome requirement. Many Government advisory councils have no such statutory membership requirements and seem to function perfectly. So I am quite keen to see those statutory requirements go, although the particular expertise may well be kept.
Thank you. I would like to ask a quick question about the temporary bans. You said that that would be a two-way street, and that the council would recommend temporary bans on some substances that are identified while an investigation is undertaken. Would you recommend that the Secretary of State be required to consult the advisory council before a temporary ban is introduced?
Professor, is it therefore accurate to say that the provisions will strengthen the scientific input in comparison with the current system? That is based on the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, which is a little outdated regarding the composition of the advisory council, for the reasons you have already said. Is that correct?
Les Iverson: Yes. After all, that Act is now 40 years old. Times move on, and the drugs scene in this country is changing rapidly. Therefore, I am in favour of having more flexibility in deciding the composition of the council’s membership and of removing the impediment of an overnight resignation making the council unable to act.
That has serious consequences, as we know. Delaying action when a new substance has been located, and the concomitant media attention, can lead to stockpiling, and an increase in the availability of the drug until it can be dealt with.
Les Iverson: Yes, I agree. Mephedrone provides us with a very stark example of just how quickly a new drug can catch on. Young people who had never used illegal drugs in their life were getting out credit cards and mobile phones, and ordering the stuff, thinking that it would probably be safe because the Government had not banned it.
The new compounds will keep emerging, but this will enable you and your council to be more flexible in dealing with them quickly when they are discovered.
Les Iverson: Yes. My colleague and predecessor, David Nutt and his group, reported this week that they could count up to 40 legal highs that were still available from internet dealers. I do not suppose that the Minister or I would ever contemplate issuing 40 temporary class banning orders. We have not quite got the solution to the new problem of legal highs, and we may have to take more radical action in the future to curb the new cottage industry. I do not know whether we can find something that works, but let us hope that we can.
On the issue of the long-term trends in drug and alcohol abuse among young people, what assessment has the professor made of the impact on civic society, social capital, and community engagements? We looking at measures to combat drugs and alcohol at the point of offence, but are we missing a trick? Could legislation take into account all the stages, and what is turning young people towards drugs? What impact would a 35% cut in local government funding have on the infrastructure that is in place to support leisure and extra-curricular activities, and the activities that could divert young people away from negative engagements into more positive engagements?
Les Iverson: That is a very good question. I am not allowed to talk about alcohol; it is not part of my remit. We need more education of young people about the harm of psychoactive drugs, particularly about the popular misconception that, because a drug happens to be legal, it is therefore safe. There is then the whole issue of treatment of those who become addicted to psychoactive drugs, and again there is a great deal to be done in that area. The advisory council working group on treatment outcomes is measuring how effective the various programmes have been in achieving their objectives. That report will be coming out in a few months’ time.
We are also looking at poly-substance abuse. As has been implied, drugs are taken commonly in conjunction with alcohol. More than one drug might be taken in one session and, as we know, some drug combinations are potentially very dangerous. For example, when cocaine and alcohol are taken simultaneously, the body manufactures a new chemical called cocaethylene, which is a particularly nasty nerve toxin. We can provide scientific evidence on such issues and, hopefully, push out the message to the community. One of our jobs is the sending out of a public health message.
Richard Kemp: We would rather keep the 7% than lose it. It will be difficult. We will have fewer enforcement officers, so one of our concerns about the measure is whether our trading standards officers will be expected to know all of it and enforce it in the interim period, because I am not sure about it.
Richard Kemp: On the positive side, I want to say that we welcome the return of public health to local government. It will enable us to create an interface of all those activities dealing with education, support and changing attitudes. We are very much in favour of that part of the Health and Social Care Bill. It will enable us to use what limited resources we have—if I can explain matters that way, Chair—to better effect.
Can I come back to drugs and the Bill? The ACMD is required to keep under review drugs that have harmful effect sufficient to constitute a social problem—that is in the wording of the Act. How do you interpret the section about a social problem? What does it mean in the original Act? It is not just harmful effects: they have to constitute a social problem.
Les Iverson: I will take the example of mephedrone again. At the end of 2009, when we first alerted the Home Secretary to a potential danger, we had no real indication of the impact that this drug was going to have on UK society. What we saw subsequently was an alarming increase in the use of the drug. As someone who has worked in the pharmaceutical industry, I should say that these drugs have not been subjected to any safety assessment. They have come straight from a chemistry lab on to a website. That is potentially very dangerous.
We measured the societal harm of mephedrone in terms of what I was saying before: that it was creating a whole new class of psychoactive drug users, among people who were quite prepared to buy the legal drug but would never dream of going down the back street to the illicit drug dealer and buying cocaine or heroin. That is a societal harm, as very often those people have got into the regular habit of using a psychoactive drug. The next stage is that they cannot do without it. Societal harm is very hard to assess in the short space of time we have available nowadays, but we can make some informed guesses.
Les Iverson: It is a statutory requirement, as you say. Section 1(2) of the Act refers to drugs that are being, or appear
“likely to be misused and of which the misuse is having or appears…capable of having harmful effects sufficient to constitute a social problem”.
So that is part of our statutory remit.
I want to go back to the membership of the council. Most members of the general public find it a bit strange that we are going to pass some legislation to remove the requirement for specific categories of people on the council. I understand what you have said today and the explanation. Would it not be easier just to say that there was not this requirement to have all the different categories filled in order for you to meet? Would that not be a simpler way to get round the problem?
Les Iverson: It is a possible way. You are right that there has been a lot of misunderstanding about the issue. It is six positions out of a total of 26 council members, by the way. I do not know how we can combat that misconception. I referred earlier to the working protocol, on which we are on the verge of agreement with Ministers. I am pleased to say that on 7 February, Mr Brokenshire and Anne Milton, Minister for Public Health, will meet the ACMD council at a full council meeting to discuss the final draft of that working protocol, which will include naming certain areas of expertise that ought to be filled, but without statutory requirement. I hope that partly answers your question.
I think there is a lot of merit in the temporary banning provision. I am less sure about the composition of the ACMD.
Professor Iverson, I was interested in your comment that the Misuse of Drugs Act is now 40 years old. This provision is clearly trying to address a particular problem that has arisen and, to be fair, I think it will be an improvement. Given what we have been talking about—the role of local authorities, the link with alcohol, the fact that the Act is 40 years old, the fact that something else will no doubt arise, the need for public education and all the other issues, such as the change of composition of the ACMD—do you think there is a need for a broader look at the whole area of drugs legislation? This proposal may be a welcome improvement, but it is a sticking plaster for one particular aspect of the problem. There is a broader issue about what the legislative framework should now be for drugs in our society.
Les Iverson: That is an interesting idea. My job is to administer the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. I am not really the person who can answer that question. Many people would welcome such a move. Imposing criminal sanctions, whether a drug is class A, B or C, does not seem to have that much effect on use. Take the case of cannabis, which, God forbid, we should ever have to review again—
Les Iverson: We have done it three times in the last decade. You will remember that cannabis went from B to C and the newspapers predicted that there would be an explosion of cannabis use. Then it went back from C to B. If you look at the Home Office crime survey statistics, which include drug use, you will see a steady decline from 2000 to now in the declared use of cannabis. That very steady decline is statistically highly significant and there is not the slightest blip in that graph when it goes from B to C or C to B. It is as if cannabis users either do not know or do not care. So we need something other than criminal sanctions or in addition to criminal sanctions.
The advisory council does not deal just with class A, B and C recommendations. We have had a number of working parties, including the “Pathways to Problems” working group, which looked at the social aspects of why young people get into drug use, usually through alcohol and nicotine—the usual progression. We have also had a much wider brief in alerting the public to the hazards of injectable drug use, initially in terms of HIV/AIDS and subsequently and more recently, in terms of hepatitis C. These are public health warnings, if you like. I hope you do not have the impression that we are just sitting round dealing with temporary class drug orders and classes A, B and C.
These proposed temporary class drug orders effectively last for a year. Is that a sensible time frame? Do you think you can get through the process you need to get through in that time to decide whether it becomes an illegal drug? Do you think that initial period will need to be longer?
Les Iverson: That is a very good question. It is something that we worry about. The onus will be on the advisory council to conduct a review and produce some sort of recommendation. If you ask the Home Office lawyers, they say, “It takes us six months to enact the legislation so you’ve only got six months.” But they showed in April this year that they can do it in about 10 days, so I am not taking that too seriously. You are right. I hope that the 12 months will not be too prescriptive. It should be capable of being negotiated if the advisory council feels that we need more time.
Professor Iverson, do you accept that the criminal law can be an important way of directing patterns of behaviour? We are looking at the temporary class drug order. The experience of mephedrone suggested that because it was legal, people equated that in some way with safety. There are issues as to how people might view a drug. Do you think having the legal element there acts as a stimulus to how people behave?
Les Iverson: You are quite right that I overstated my case a few minutes ago in saying that imposing criminal sanctions has no effect. Of course it has an effect. As we said in the case of mephedrone, whether a drug is legal has a major impact on large classes, particularly of younger people, who would not want to take an illegal drug. I suppose what I am criticising is the classification system. Classes A, B and C tend to get blurred. Perhaps another look at that system at some stage is needed, but that is not part of the present Bill.
Order. I am sorry, we are at the end of the session. On behalf of the Committee, I thank the witnesses for their attendance this morning. Thank you for the enlightenment that you have provided—it is appreciated.