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Lynne Featherstone: That is not the case. We think that we have to tackle town centre disorder and believe in the "polluter pays" principle, but we want to make the legislation more workable because there might be the unintended consequence of small businesses going broke. Does the hon. Lady think that it would have been more convincing if the Government had widened the powers of local authorities to apply saturation policies and limit the number of establishments? She is right: most trouble is caused where many places are close together.
Ms Keeble: When we talked about another provision in Committee, the Liberal Democrats said that we could not issue drinking banning orders without psychiatric reports. That was nonsenseI was going to say nuttybecause, again, it would have made the provisions unworkable. Young people move around a town centre where there are a number of licensed premises, drinking as they go. It is ridiculous to ask, "Where did you drink the particular tot that got you over the top?" One might just as well ask where they ate their fish and chips that night and ban the fish and chip shop.
Lynne Featherstone: In that case, why does the hon. Lady reject the idea of capping the amount that could be charged? In Committee, the Government rejected a cap of 3 per cent. of the rateable value, which might have provided some security to the businesses involved. Given that there will be no cap, businesses are scared that they will go broke.
Ms Keeble: Of course businesses will claim that they will go broke, but that happens for all kinds of different reasons. The issue is how to manage the behaviour that is seen in town centres and encourage the industry to act more responsibly. The Bill contains a range of measures, and the provision for alcohol disorder zones is an important one. The zone and the charging can be structured in various ways, but it will not work if only applied to bad licensees. No one will admit to being an irresponsible licensee.
No, I do not, because some areas have had voluntary charging schemes that have worked fine. However, the problem with a voluntary system is that it cannot be implemented in areas where the licensees are being difficult. I can understand it if hon. Members need more information about charging regimes and regulations, but that is very different from tabling an amendment that would make the proposal unworkable. The proposals would be tough on the industry, but the voluntary schemes have proved that the industry is capable of dealing with them. Some sectors of the
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industry are also making a large amount of money. The schemes will be tough for some businesses, but they will also be an important weapon for the local authorities and police to have in their arsenal to deal with what has become a real problem. It is a problem not only in the demands it places on the police and local services, but for the viability of certain town centres. The sort of things that go on in Northampton town centre on Friday and Saturday nights every week are also damaging for business.
Mr. Malins: In contrast to the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble), whose contributions in Committee I respected, I view the Liberal Democrats' amendments favourably. They draw our attention to an important aspect of the alcohol disorder zones, which is the basic unfairness of blanket coverage across a locality instead of targeting premises that are more culpable than others.
Clause 12 creates the power to impose charges on licence holders, but it is vague and uncertain. I cannot see how the House can properly be expected to debate the clause when it contains so many references to the Secretary of State making regulations on important matters. I may have missed something, but I do not think that I have seen details of those important regulations. For example, clause 12(2) states:
I do not know whether the Secretary of State has made those regulations yet. If he has, I hope that someone will draw them to my attention, because the House needs to look at them carefully. Perhaps the Minister will be able to tell us when the regulations will be published. Can we be sure that they will be available for debate in the other place? May we have a date for the production of the regulations? The vagueness and uncertainty of clause 12, coupled with what may be a basic unfairness, trouble my party, and that is why the Liberal Democrat amendments are commendable.
I tabled amendments Nos. 17, 18, 15, 16, 8, 7, 9 and 12. It may well be the case that we will wish to test the opinion of the House on amendment No. 18, which addresses the fundamental proposition that we face tonight. Clause 12(1) states:
"provided that no charges shall be payable by any persons or clubs unless the local authority is satisfied on the basis of evidence that it is reasonable to impose charges on those particular persons or clubs."
I seek to establish the principle that charges should be paid by licensed premises and clubs only if there is some tangible evidence that they are culpable in relation to the incidents of alcohol-related disorder in their area. It would be nonsense to penalise small and innocent licence holders when the problems have been created by others.
We all know that there is immense alcohol-related disorder on the streets at night, but when it happens in our constituencies we know the premises from which the trouble emanates. The provisions would condemn sports clubs, cinemas that sell alcohol and restaurants from which no trouble emanatesor if it does, it does so rarely. They should not be punished for the problems caused by some pubs. I know a pub in the north-east of England where I tried my luck on the slot machine. I put a token into the slot, pulled the lever and instead of three cherries coming up, a sign says, "Next drink free" or "Next drink half price" or "Sorry, next drink normal price". Many premises contribute to the incidence of alcohol-related disorder in their area by their conduct. Happy hours are extended for a long time. Some pubs give young girls free drinks to get young boys to go into the pub. We know that pubs serve people who are drunk and who should not be given drinks in that condition But how different are they in terms of guilt for disorder in their area? How different is their position from that of other licensed premises? It is that essential element of fairness that leads me to propose strongly to the House my amendment No. 18, which requires the local authority, before imposing charges, to be
The Government are getting extremely used to quoting the police and saying that if the police say something it must be right. I have a feeling that they said that in a debate in the House last week. The Government said "Well, the police think so, therefore it follows that it is right." In that case, what do the Government say about the fact that the Association of Chief Police Officers does not like the concept of alcohol disorder zones? ACPO takes the view, as do many others, that such zones not only highlight hot spots but may in some cases exacerbate problems and attract troublemakers to an area.
Will the Minister deal with what is meant by the word "locality" on page 11, line 43? Yet again, the meaning of the word is vague and needs to be defined carefully by the Minister. The Collins dictionary defines it as a neighbourhood or an area, but other dictionaries offer a different explanation and state that it is a site or the scene of an event.
May I refer the Minister to subsection (6) of clause 12 which deals with the possible exemptions from charges for which regulations may provide? Again, we are no wiser about which exemptions will be laid down in relation to persons or licence holders who will be exempt from charges. The provision refers only to regulations that "may provide", so will the Minister discuss with us the position of non-normal, slightly unusual, licensed premises?
Can the Minister tell us what will be the position of those premises? These are key questions. Many licence holders and holders of club registration certificates will want to know whether they will be exempt and are scratching their heads about that interesting point in the explanatory notesI appreciate that the Minister did not draft the notes personallywhich states that a person may be safe if they do not "significantly contribute" to the problems of alcohol-related violence. May we cover restaurants, cinemas and gyms?
May we also cover private clubs? In every constituency, there are a number of law-abiding private clubs, mostly sports clubs, but also political clubs with a licence where people mainly go to drink. Many premises need to be covered, so we need an explanation from the Minister of what the regulations will say. Who will be covered and who will not?
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