Criminal Justice and Police Bill

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Mr. Heald: The hon. Lady makes an interesting point. When we reach clause 18, which defines local authorities, she may want to ask the Minister whether the Government have got it wrong.

Mrs. Humble: I am sure that we will examine clause 18 in detail, but I am talking about clause 15 and the regulations that will govern the responsibilities of local authorities when making decisions. It is important that an opportunity exists in the setting up of those regulations for the widest possible debate. Parish and town councils must have their say, and I urge the Minister to consider that when drawing up the regulations.

10.45 am

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): I strongly support the amendments. Chapter II, and particularly clause 15, proposes that special regulations should govern some parts of the public domain. Any such restrictions on liberty should be subject to a decision taken by a democratically elected authority, meeting in public with all its members present, and able both to participate in the debate and to vote. It would be wrong for such a decision to be delegated to officers, which is why amendment No. 33 is appropriate. It would also be wrong for such a decision to be delegated to any other part of the local authority that does not meet in public.

The only plausible argument in opposition to the amendments—that the matter is one for the local authority to decide—does not wash. We are determining, at national level, that there may be restrictions on liberty in some parts of the country. It should not be for local authorities to decide how to go about making those restrictions. Such decisions should be matters of national policy, to be made by central Government, which local authorities can then opt into, and implement, if they so wish. I strongly support the amendments, and hope that the Minister will accept them either in principle or in detail.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): I, too, support the amendments. They cover the points made by the hon. Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble) about the inclusion of town and parish councils. In my experience, there is much double representation: many town councillors are also borough councillors. That may be a sad reflection of the difficulty these days in finding people who want to be involved in local politics. I suspect that it is as true in her party as in mine that one falls with great enthusiasm on any talented person who takes a local interest. That person can then end up as a representative on almost as many local bodies as he or she has the capacity to deal with. In my local area, some Horley town councillors and Salfords parish councillors are also representatives on Reigate and Banstead borough council, and even on the county council.

If the amendments are accepted, there will be an opportunity for a full public discussion of the drinking bans, and any previous discussions that have taken place in a borough or district, at town or parish council level, may be taken into account publicly. Representatives of such subsidiary authorities will probably take part in the full public debate. If the debate were limited to the local authority executive—under a Cabinet-style system, or where there is a directly elected mayor—rather than being in public, and undertaken by the whole authority, there would be no way of knowing whether town and parish council discussions were being taken into account. That is one of the benefits of the proposals, and I hope that the Minister will find a way of incorporating them into the Bill.

Mr. Clarke: I leave aside the party political badinage, and apologise to you, Mr. Gale, if I played any part in encouraging it. I was simply seeking to respond to the remarks made by the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins), which I thought were ignorant.

I think that the Committee is in general agreement about the substance of the debate. The Government have sympathy with views that hon. Members have expressed today, and with similar points that were made on Second Reading. Hon. Members think it important to ensure that the local authority functions exercised by the full council are not delegated to one council member or to an official in council employ. We believe, however, that that concern will be more appropriately dealt with through the regulations that the Secretary of State will be required to make, and I will clarify the process that will be involved.

First, the regulations will be made by statutory instrument, and will be subject to parliamentary scrutiny. Secondly, they will describe the procedures to be followed by local authorities. We accept that the Local Government Association and other bodies that have an interest in the matter should be consulted about the precise nature of those regulations. Detailed drafting has to follow these stages of the Bill.

The Government's intention is that the regulations should cover all relevant matters, including consultation with the police and others before making the designation order, to ensure that the local authority satisfies itself that the area concerned has experienced the problems associated with public drinking. They should also address the procedures to be followed within the local authority. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we shall take full account of the views of Committee members about both the key role of elected members in these decision-taking processes and the need for decisions to be taken in the full public arena, so that they can be fully and properly debated.

Thirdly, the regulations will deal with publicity, including the need to ensure that such areas are clearly identified as being ones to which the powers will apply.

Fourthly, I should like to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood for the way in which she put her point, which was supported by hon. Members on both sides of the Committee. She was right to emphasise the role of parish and the town councils in informing the decision. My hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, Central (Ms Winterton) has also taken up the point very energetically on behalf of her constituents. The point has been powerfully made in Committee and elsewhere in Parliament.

However, we do not believe that parish and town councils should have statutory responsibility—that should remain with elected local authorities in the conventional way. I can assure my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood that the regulations will oblige local authorities to look at the position of parish and town councils, and will positively encourage such councils to participate in deciding what should be regarded as public places in their areas. That might not go as far as she hoped, as it would not replace the elected local authority with the parish or town council, but it would go some way by giving those councils a specific role in the process.

Mrs. Humble: I do not seek to replace the role of the district council. My concern was that the district or borough council, in making its decision, should consult parish and town councils in its area.

Mr. Clarke: I can give an absolute assurance on that point. The regulations will meet that specific point.

Mr. Hawkins: The Minister is being very helpful and constructive. He has said that he expects that the secondary legislation will deal with some of these points. Will he go one step further and say that he is prepared to consider some of the points that we have made—particularly that the matters should not be delegated to officers and that meetings should always take place in public—and table appropriate amendments on Report?

Mr. Clarke: I will consider that. I can give the assurance that the hon. Gentleman seeks, but I do not want to mislead him. The regulations that will be required and set out by statutory instrument and debated in Parliament by virtue of subsection (4) will deal with a number of issues, including the need to consult; the role of parish and town councils, which was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood; the procedures to be followed within local authorities; and the need for proper publicity so that there is public information about what happens when the decision is taken. I am not convinced that there is a case for primary legislation to cover all the issues mentioned, but I shall bear in mind the points that have been made, and consider whether we should table amendments on Report.

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we agree with the thrust of his point and shall seek to ensure that it is reflected in the regulations. I hope that he will withdraw the amendment.

Mr. Hawkins: As I have said, the Minister has been helpful and constructive and has taken account of the points that have been made, including that made by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes). As the Minister has acknowledged that these are serious points that need to be considered further by the Government, I hope that he will consider tabling amendments on Report. It is always preferable for a serious point to be dealt with in the Bill rather than by secondary legislation.

In the light of the Minister's assurances and constructive responses, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 15 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 16

Places which are not designated public places

Mr. Hawkins: I beg to move amendment No. 60, in page 8, leave out lines 29 and 30.

The Chairman: With this we may discuss the following amendments: No. 61, in page 8, leave out lines 31 to 33.

No. 62, in page 8, leave out lines 34 to 36.

No. 63, in page 8, leave out lines 37 to 40.

Mr. Hawkins: The amendments are intended to help the police and to clarify the situation. In previous debates, I referred to the difficult choices that an ordinary police constable on the beat may face. We ask the Government to consider the reality of policing in a town or city late at night, or in the early hours of the morning.

There should not be too many exceptions or limitations in the clause. We do not want an ordinary police officer, making difficult decisions about his powers of arrest, to face too many arguments about the legality of the arrest and about whether the person detained was in a public place. The Government have perhaps been too cautious by including paragraphs defining exceptions to designated public places in the Bill.

The Minister took seriously the matters raised by our amendments to the previous clause, and we hope that he will take these amendments equally seriously. We want to ensure that officers at the sharp end, who face difficult decisions while policing public places, will have the opportunity to make arrests in what they consider to be such places.

In an earlier group of amendments, we sought to give an arresting officer a reasonableness exception. If the officer reasonably believed that somewhere was a designated public place, the arrest would not be rendered unlawful if it was discovered later that it occurred just outside the designated public place. These amendments have the same purpose.

If it is clear that a place is a designated public place, there should not be too many restrictions on that, but the Bill makes the exceptions that

    ``A place is not a designated public place or part of such a place if it is...a place within the curtilage of any licensed premises''

or where there is occasional permission, or where sale of intoxicating liquor is not for the time being authorised by an occasional licence. There is a danger of many legalistic arguments arising at a later stage.

We will be interested to hear the Minister's response concerning whether the Government are being too complex and too taken up with niceties. We are concerned about the problems that an ordinary police officer will face when exercising the power that he will be given, and he should not have to face later legalistic arguments.

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Prepared 27 February 2001