House of Commons
|Session 2007 - 08|
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Public Bill Committee Debates
Draft Local Authorities (Alcohol Disorder Zones) Regulations 2008
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Glenn McKee, Committee Clerk
attended the Committee
The following also attended, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(2):
Third Delegated Legislation Committee
Monday 12 May 2008
[Mr. Peter Atkinson in the Chair]
Draft Local Authorities (Alcohol Disorder Zones) Regulations 2008
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Vernon Coaker): I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft Local Authorities (Alcohol Disorder Zones) Regulations 2008.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Atkinson. I welcome you and all members of the Committee to our deliberations this afternoon. I am sure that none of us can think of anywhere better to be on a glorious sunny afternoon than in Committee Room 12 at the House of Commons.
In 2005-06, nearly one fifth of all violent incidents were committed in or around pubs and clubs. Police and local authorities have a wide range of tools and powers available to them to tackle alcohol-related crime and disorder. A key tool is the Licensing Act 2003, which gives licensing authorities a wide range of powers to tackle alcohol-related crime, nuisance and disorder, including violent crime and under-age sales, if it can be attributed to individual premises. The powers include the modification, suspension or revocation of licences on review. However, while a wide range of tools and powers is available to the police and local authorities, it is not always possible to make a clear link between the crime and disorder happening in or around one or more licensed premises, and the premises themselves.
Alcohol-related crime and disorder in the public space is perhaps the cumulative result of people drinking in a number of on-trade licensed premises or of purchasing alcohol in one or more off-licences when, for example, they are already intoxicated. In such cases, the provisions under the Licensing Act might be insufficient to deal with such premises to make sure that they act in a collectively responsible manner. There will almost certainly be a need for additional enforcement activity. As such, as a measure of last resortI emphasise, as a measure of last resortalcohol disorder zones have been designed to enable local authorities, in partnership with the police, to tackle high levels of alcohol-related crime and disorder within a defined zone by requiring licence holders in the zone to pay for additional police and local authority enforcement services. If licensed premises are part of the problem, it is only right that they be part of the solution.
I am not saying that all licensed premises are part of the problem; in fact, I am not saying that the majority of licensed premises are part of the problemfar from it. Many trade responsibly, they do not sell to kids, they do not sell to drunks and nor do they have promotions designed to get people so drunk that they do not know what day of the week it is. They make sure that at closing time, dispersal is managed in calm, efficient way
However, we know that such points do not apply to all pubs, clubs, off-licences or supermarkets. Too many sell to under-18s and to people who are drunk. Too many do not trade responsibly, and as a result of their Its not my problem attitude, collectively they make the spaces in some of our towns and cities unpleasant in the evenings.
James Brokenshire (Hornchurch) (Con): The Minister mentioned supermarkets in the context of outlets that trade responsibly or irresponsibly. Can he give a categorical assurance that supermarkets will be covered by the regulations?
When all other options have been exhausted, ADZs should be considered to ensure that licensed premises collectively behave responsibly. Critics of ADZs will say that they are unnecessarily bureaucratic, but they have been designed to ensure that licensed premises are given an opportunity to change before any charges are imposed on them. There are three key stages to an ADZ: proposing to designate an area as an ADZ, the action plan stage and, finally, the designation and operation of a full ADZ. If, following the proposal stagein which a local authority consults about whether to have an ADZ in the first placeit decides to move ahead, it would then publish a voluntary action plan jointly with the police, setting out the specified locality such as the high street or town centre. The action plan will set out a combination of measures that should prevent alcohol-related crime and disorder from taking place in that specified public place.
Mr. Don Foster (Bath) (LD): The Minister makes a strong case for ADZs, although I suspect that he might not get the support that he hopes for. Within the action plan, he talks about the local authority working with partners and coming up with a scheme. That will involve additional bodies on the streets, but it could include a number of other measures. Is he aware that the guidance for licensing legislation makes it illegal for a local authority to promote its own scheme? It can promote a national scheme introduced by the industry, but it is not allowed to promote its own scheme. How will he get round that?
Mr. Coaker: What we are proposing is a voluntary action plan and on my understanding, in those circumstances a local authority would be able to promote that. In the spirit of having these Committees, which are pretty pointless unless we try to take on board what others say, I will look at that matter and, if necessary, address it in the guidance. My understanding is that because it is a voluntary action plan[ Interruption. ] Well, if there is an issue we will look at it, but my understanding is that, given that it is a voluntary action plan, the local authority can move ahead because it is working with others to promote that plan. However, I will consider the hon. Gentlemans point.
The action plan will involve the local authority, police and the licence holders by setting out what is to be expected from each of them. For example, the police may agree temporarily to put on additional officers during the early hours, and expect licensed premises to sign up to an approved accreditation or award scheme such as Best Bar None. Under the action plan, the affected licensed premises will be given a chance to make the necessary changes and if they do, there may be no need for the local authority to take further action. However, where there has been insufficient implementation of the voluntary action plan on the part of the licensed premises, the local authority may designate that locality as an ADZ.
Designation allows local authorities to levy compulsory charges on certain licence holders for above-normal levels of enforcement activity by the authority in question and the police. That includes frequent visits by police officers and police community support officers to licensed premises, or additional activity by trading standards officers. Let me be clear: a local authority should consider designating a locality as an ADZ only after other measures available to that authority, and the police, to tackle high levels of alcohol-related nuisance or disorder have been tried and have failed to solve the problem. ADZs are not intended to be used like any other toolthey are a measure of last resort. In any event, an ADZ must be reviewed every three months to ensure that it is still required.
Mr. Foster: Can the hon. Gentleman clarify one point about the measures that can be taken? Could, for example, the scheme include a minimum price for alcohol within the proposed ADZ area?
Mr. Coaker: No, at the moment it cannot do that. It is not known at this stage exactly how many ADZs will be designated in the first year. The regulatory impact assessment estimates that 30 areas will start the ADZ process in the first year, but that could mean that all, or none, move towards full designation. That will be entirely dependent on the success and take-up of the voluntary action plan.
I now turn to some of the specific issues relating to ADZs. On the charging mechanism, the first step for a local authority in calculating charges that will apply to licensed premises is to work out the total cost of administering and enforcing an ADZ. That will be the total cost to the local authority of imposing, collecting and recovering charges and of reviewing the ADZ, plus the cost of additional policing and local authority services. Local authorities should aim to keep the cost of administering charges and reviewing the ADZ as low as possible. We expect those costs to be recovered over the first three months of ADZ charges, and that the level of charges will be reduced after that time.
James Brokenshire: The Minister will be aware that part of this process involves drawing up a baseline cost when trying to assess what additional services have to be provided. Does he accept that if this is to be a last resort, that baseline cost is likely to have already been escalated and is therefore not the true baseline?
Mr. Coaker: Not at all, because the baseline starts before the 28-day consultation on any ADZ and before the eight weeks in which the action plan would be
James Brokenshire: The Minister clearly said that the measure is intended to be a last resort. Therefore, following his logic, all sorts of different interventions are likely to have been put in place. Although the baseline created is for a period prior to the consultation on the action plan, surely the associated cost is likely to be much higher, reflecting the fact that there is a problem in the first place.
Mr. Coaker: As I said, obviously, the police police such areas and they take action, as they do in all sorts of areas. However, where that fails to deliver the results that we want, notice will be given of the intention to establish an alcohol disorder zone. The three months will be calculated before that is put in place.
Mr. Foster: The Minister is being generous. Just to help me, in terms of the cost borne, particularly by the local authority, but other agencies as well, is there a mechanism by which the set-up coststhe initial costs incurredcan be recouped during that three-month period? What happens if it is decided that there is no need to go ahead with the enforcement of the ADZ after those costs have been incurred? How will the local authority and others recoup those costs?
Mr. Coaker: The local authorities will not be able to recoup their costs before the ADZ is in place. One of the decisions for a local authority will be whether it considers that pursuing an ADZ is worth its while. There is no compulsion. If a local authority decides that the costs it would incur would be disproportionate or if it decides that it would not want to incur the costs, it would not pursue the setting up of an ADZ. That would be a matter for the local authority. As the hon. Gentleman knows far better than me, local authorities choose to incur all sorts of costs because they believe them to be in the best interests of their area.
Having worked out the total cost of administering and enforcing the ADZ, the second stage in calculating charges is to spread the total cost of an ADZ among individual licence holderswho are not exemptin accordance with regulation 16. That is done by local authorities using the national ADZ charging formula, which allows for local flexibility. The formula comprises two indicators: premises rateable value, as a proxy for capacity, and hours of opening during the ADZ service period. All licensed premises will be scored against both indicators. The formula sets out that individual premises total scores are calculated by either multiplying or adding together their scores under each of the two indicators. The local authority may give more or less weight to either of the two indicators. The total score that each premises receives will determine the charge that it has to pay. There is further detail in the guidance.
Going back to the question asked by the hon. Member for Hornchurch, some have also asked if supermarkets will be exempt from the charging mechanism. As I indicated earlier, the short answer is not necessarily. If the availability of alcohol is one of the main reasons
Mr. Foster: Just for clarity, what will be the position of, for instance, a supermarket that decides during the operating time of the ADZ to sell no alcohol, although it will still be open?
Mr. Coaker: If the primary purpose of an establishment is not to sell alcohol, it will not be covered by the regulations so it is possible that there would be no charge in those circumstances. To be fair to the hon. Gentleman, I can think of all sorts of examples about which it is quite fair and proper to ask, as no doubt can he. Local authorities, in consultation and liaison with the police, will have to determine whether an establishment is trying to deal with alcohol-related disorder, or whether it is trying to get round the charge. That would be best done at local level.
ADZs represent a solution to the current problem, where it is not possible to get a collective change from a number of licensed premises in a given location. They are designed, as I have said time and again, as a measure of last resort. Even then, it is hoped that licensed premises will avoid having to incur compulsory charges by choosing to comply with the voluntary action plan. Where they do not comply, it is right that a tougher approach be taken and that those responsible for contributing to crime and disorder pay for the services of those who have to deal with it. With those remarks, I commend the regulations to the House.
James Brokenshire: Welcome to the Chair, Mr. Atkinson. I also welcome other members of the Committee.
There is little doubt that the impact of the Governments policies on alcohol in the context of the regulations before us has been somewhat troubled. In the last few years, there has been a surge in violent crime committed in the early hours of the morning since the Governments introduction of 24-hour drinking. The Home Office admits in its regulatory impact assessment at paragraph 2.23 that
61% of the population think that alcohol-related violence on the streets is increasing.
We have seen accident and emergency department rates of alcohol-related admissions soar, with an increase of 26 per cent. since the introduction of the Governments licensing laws. In 2005, there were around 128,000 finished admissions; by last year that number had jumped to 162,000 and rates of death due to alcohol continue to climb.
In that context, I understand why the Minister may wish to propose measures to deal with this serious issueto address some problems of the Governments own causing. We have before us the Governments proposals for alcohol disorder zones, which they describe as a highly selective power for local use as a last resort, as we heard from the Minister. The idea is that these proposals will solve the problem of booze-fuelled crime where all other activity has failed, but the Committee should be aware that, aside from the Minister and the Home Office, nobody appears to think that they will do so.
Even the Government have hardly been falling over themselves to bring alcohol disorder zones into effect, and to say that the gestation of ADZs has not been smooth is to underplay the situationit has been chaotic from start to finish. This apparently important measure was first dreamt up over three years ago and it seems to have been a nightmare ever since.
So that the Committee understands these matters, it is worth considering the chronology of how we reached the current situation. The measures were announced in January 2005 and became a Government manifesto commitment in April 2005. They were introduced as part of the Violent Crime Reduction Bill, which was announced in June 2005quite a long time ago. The VCR Act 2006 received Royal Assent in November 2006; it is now May 2008.
The Government have made a number of attempts to bring the regulations into effect. The first regulations were published on 21 November 2007, with the expectation that ADZs would be introduced by January this year, but they had to be withdrawn because of typographical errors and the interesting provision that British Transport police was to receive notification of all ADZs, regardless of whether there was a station or any other direct BTP interest in that regard.
As The Daily Telegraph reported at the time:
A Home Office spokesman said it remained the Governments intention to introduce the ADZ powers when drafting problems were ironed out.
The spokesman added:
It is important we get this legislation right. We expect the regulations to come into force in January.
Well, sadly, they did not. In fact, the second set of regulations was issued to the House on 8 January 2008, which happily coincided with my 40th birthday. It may have been a gift from the Home Office because it took only until 23 January for the House of Lords Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee to determine that special attention of the House should be drawn to the ADZ regulations. It said that, although the policy is optional, it is complex, adding:
We wonder how many local authorities will actually take it up, and we draw the Regulations to the special attention of the House on the ground that they may imperfectly achieve their policy objectives.
The Prime Minister reiterated on 28 January that the Government would be proceeding with ADZs and
We wonder how many local authorities will make use of this policy given its complexity.
I have described what was certainly not a particularly happy run-up to this afternoons consideration of the ADZ regulations. Even now, they are still riddled with uncertainty. It is also worrying that, despite all the time that has elapsed since 2005, the Home Office felt it necessary to rush through the latest version of the draft guidance notes. Rather than consulting fully, industry partners were given four days to consider the last draft, which is unacceptable in the context of trying to get the regulations right, which is what people intend to do.
I have a lot of time for the Minister and I have some sympathy with him for having picked up a poisoned chalice. However, even at this late stage, it is not too late for the Government to perform another U-turn and consign this flawed plan to the bin. I do not want the Committee to take my word for it, so let us consider what others have said about ADZs. DAC Chris Allison, the Association of Chief Police Officers lead on alcohol crime, believes that ADZs are highly bureaucratic and that it is doubtful that any local authorities will take up the new powers even if they are introduced.
The Local Government Association, representing the councils that are supposed to benefit from the additional measure in their toolkit, has serious misgivings about the policy and said that ADZs will prove to be
a costly, complicated and unwieldy tool for local authorities, particularly the costs involved in preparing and implementing an ADZ and the additional burdens involved in attempting to recover these costs.
LACORSLocal Authorities Coordinators of Regulatory Serviceshas warned that local authorities are
likely to be open to all sorts of challenges, e.g. from challenging the level of intervention tried before considering an ADZ designation; down to challenges over exemptions and discounts. It seems highly unlikely that this piece of legislation will ever be used.
As I have said, the Lords Merits Committee says that even now it is
still left without a clear idea of how ADZs offer benefits additional to the other methods for combating alcohol-fuelled disorder that are already available to the local authorities,
and added, with suitable understatement that the regulations
may imperfectly achieve their policy objectives.
If ADZs were such a good idea, one would expect local authorities to be banging on the door of the Home Office to set one up, showing their interest in and enthusiasm for the proposal. However, when I asked the Minister a parliamentary question on how many local authorities had expressed an interest to the Home Office in setting up an ADZ, the answer was none.
Sections 15 to 20 of the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 give local authorities the power to designate, with the consent of the police, a locality as an ADZsomewhere there is a problem with alcohol nuisance and disorder. That is the context of the debate. Aside from the general principles attached to the creation of ADZs and the VCR Act, there are a number of significant flaws in the principles of this plan. The Minister has already highlighted onethe bureaucratic nature of the process. In the guidance notes, we have the proposals to designate a locality. We must define where the area is, consult on proposals and draw up an action plan, which, I note, the guidance says is
in the hope that this will make it unnecessary to designate a locality as an ADZ.
It is always great when Government policy is based on hope.
We then get on to the designation and operation of an ADZ, bringing it into force and trying to get the charges through. There is then the three-month review of ADZs once they are in force. Interestingly, there is no long-stop date on thema point I will come to in due course.
This is all about showing that ADZs will be put in place only when everything else has proven insufficient. Again, that highlights a number of important issues and defects in the regulations.
Mr. Foster: While the hon. Gentleman makes the point that there are no limits imposed, how does he react to the fact that there is no limit or cap proposed on the resources that local authorities could gather from businesses in their area through this mechanism?
James Brokenshire: The hon. Gentleman highlights the open nature of the charging regime. I am sure that hon. Members will be delighted when we move on to regulation 16 and the complicated mechanism that has been created. It seems to allow local authorities to come up with whatever they feel like, and does not provide any scope or certainty. In my judgment, that leaves it wide open to legal challenge. That in itself will probably discourage local authorities from going down that road, aside from the fact that the legislation and drafting are poor.
On the bureaucratic nature of the regulations, the LGA briefing states:
The LGA and LACORS are also concerned that the time taken to implement an ADZ is lengthy and the steps required are cumbersome for local authorities. A 28-day consultation period, then an eight-week period to take steps to implement the action plan is required, then the local authority must wait until two months after invoicing the premises for ADZ charges before they can suspend the premises licence for non-payment of ADZ charges. This process will result in a licence suspension five months after the initial actions that initiated the implementation of the ADZ.
Dr. Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test) (Lab): I have listened with interest to the hon. Gentlemans account of the detailed problems that there may be with ADZs. Perhaps he will be clear: is he saying that ADZs in principle are always a bad idea or that they could be a good idea if the circumstances under which they were organised were to be changed?
James Brokenshire: The regulations are fundamentally flawed, and I do not apologise for going through the detail. It is important to put on record the problems that exist in relation to them. It is argued strongly that creating an ADZ will create a stigma for the area attached to that ADZ. Ironically, an ADZ could make matters worse, with the risk of displacement and somewhere becoming a magnet for trouble.
Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton) (Lab/Co-op): Such areas already have considerable stigma attached. Will the hon. Gentleman tell us clearly whether he is completely against the concept of ADZs or just against the regulations?
James Brokenshire: The concept of an ADZ, as before us here, is utterly unworkable because of the cost, its nature and the bureaucracy. ADZs are intended to be a tool for promoting partnership, as suggested in the regulations. The regulations are intended to build on the concept that an ADZ will assist in getting local areas to work together.
I pay tribute to a lot of the work done by local authorities up and down the country with existing partnership schemes, whether it be schemes referred to in the regulatory impact assessment or other things, such as business improvement districtsthe Broad street BID, for examplewhich are actively targeting such areas. Other projects, such as that in St. Neots in Cambridgeshire, involve early intervention and pulling together the police, trading standards, schools and education in a structured way.
The point is that I strongly believe that ADZs could undermine all that good work by imposing the structure in the regulations. ADZs could fundamentally undermine the concept of the good partnership work that local authorities have been striving for.
What are the supposed benefits of ADZs? Paragraph 2.4 of the regulatory impact assessment tells us:
Alcohol disorder zones would...Help improve operating practice in a number of premises, without having to go down the route of a licence review for each one. These improvements could be things like rigorous proof of age checks or a clear policy on drinks promotions
or they could help to manage the public space. The problem could be caused by a lack of late-night transport facilities, for example, or a need
for staggered closing times to avoid letting a flood of people out on to the streets at the same time.
However, how can an ADZ improve operating practice without the need for a licence review if the draft guidance makes it clear that all other avenues would need to have been exhausted before proceeding down the ADZ route? How can an ADZ manage public space through staggered closing times? Closing times are a licensing issue. That also contradicts the draft guidance, which says that ADZs should not be used to tackle problems that are attributable to individual licensed premises.
Mr. Foster: The hon. Gentleman has rightly made the point that some of the proposals simply cannot be done, for a variety of reasons. I draw his attention to one other. He rightly referred to a possibility that many of us would like to be a power of local authorities,
James Brokenshire: There is an issue about the pricing of alcohol. I believe strongly that the issue of low-cost sales is a key factor that needs to be addressed. However, I appreciate that that is outside the scope of the regulations, Mr. Atkinson, and it would be better for me to focus on what we have before us, rather than speculating more widely on other relevant themes and issues.
There seem to be a number of false assumptions contained within the regulations, such as the assumption that 30 local authorities will start the ADZ process in the first place, justifying the benefits that are supposed to be attributable to the regulations, as stated in the regulatory impact assessment. As everyone seems to be suggesting, it seems inconceivable that there will be 30 in the first year, assuming that all my points about the defects, problems and fundamental failures of ADZs are right.
The benefits assumed in the regulatory impact assessment are based on voluntary, not compulsory, schemes. Reference is made to Manchester city centre safe and other similar schemes. I am sure that they are very good, and I hope to be able to visit those areas in due course, because such a local impact can make the difference. However, the attempt in the regulatory impact assessment to extrapolate that to benefits is fundamentally flawed.
Mr. Adam Ingram (East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow) (Lab): If I understand correctly, the new Mayor of London has announced an alcohol-free zone on London transport. Is that right or wrong? How will he regulate it, and what are the implications for the hon. Gentlemans opposition to the regulations?
James Brokenshire: I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for mentioning alcohol-free zones on public transport and the Mayor of Londons innovation, but that is very different from an ADZ. I suspect that the Chairman is about to correct me on that.
The Chairman: Order. Indeed I am. We are debating something quite different, not alcohol-free zones.
We come to the question of who is covered by an alcohol disorder zone, which I partly flagged up to the Minister. Regulation 12 states clearly that there is a two-stage process. There is the principal purpose test, in which it is assessed whether the principal use to which the licensed premises are put is covered, and there is what might be described as the patronage test. For licensed premises to be exempt from an ADZ, it has to be shown that their principal purpose is not the sale of alcohol and that the patronage test is met.
There still seems to be huge doubt about who will be caught by the regulations and who will not. We have mentioned some who might be excluded, but we must consider things such as hotels. We are told clearly in the
reiterate our concern that hotels will be exempt, as many councils have a large number of stag and hen hotels where drinking on the premises is an issue.
In response, the Government said merely that they disagreed, stating:
This would require amending the original ADZ policy as agreed by Ministers and Parliament.
The approach to which outlets will be caught and which will not is quite variable. The guidance seems to make it clear that whatever problems are caused by certain bars or nightclubs in hotels, even in an alcohol disorder zone, they will not fall within the zones ambit.
The Minister mentioned supermarkets. He started off by saying that they would fall within the regulations, but then he qualified that by saying that they would not do so necessarily. That underlines the uncertainty about who will and will not be caught by the regulations. That uncertainty is understandable if we examine the principal purpose test and particularly the patronage test. Page 25 of the draft guidance makes the following clear:
If the proportion of non-alcohol related transactions is higher than alcohol transactions then the patronage test is passed.
We need only to examine that accounting method to see that if there were more non- alcohol sales than alcohol-related sales, a premises would fall within the exemption and not be caught. That seems to suggest strongly that supermarkets would fall outside the net of ADZs. The market in which people consume and buy alcohol is moving more and more towards off-trade and off-sale premises. If we are really trying to get at the issues, ADZs will not help. In my judgment, they fall outside the ambit of the regulations.
We must also consider issues such as pre-loadingI do not know whether you are familiar with this, Mr. Atkinsonwhich is drinking lots of alcohol before even going out on the street for an evenings entertainment. We are trying to define the zones in which disorder happens, but licensed premises may not be the primary or principal cause of the consumption of alcohol in the first place. There is a disparity in the effects that the disorder zones are meant to cover. Again, they seem pretty wide of the mark in how they will operate.
Then, we come to the wonderful provision on calculation and rates of charges.
Dr. Whitehead: I must confess that I am becoming increasingly puzzled and concerned. My purpose on this Committee is to judge whether the regulations should be passed. As our discussions cannot amend the regulations, there is a substantial difference between the suggestion that they should not be passed because they ought to be amended, and the suggestion that no regulations should be passed at all and that nothing should be done about the subject on which the regulations seek to take action. Which line is the hon. Gentleman pursuing? Is he suggesting that the regulations should not be passed in order that new, amended regulations can be passed that ensure that ADZs cover the points that he talked about; or is he suggesting that no regulations should be passed, and that no action should be taken on the subject that we are discussing?
James Brokenshire: I am encouraging the Committee not to support the regulations this afternoon because they are fundamentally flawed. I am happy to consider whatever regulations the Home Office might come up with, but on the basis of its three failed attempts to get this right, I have little faith that any further drafts will do so. The basis for how the measures will be calculated and put into effect is fundamentally riven with errors. It is a failure in concept as an attempt to address the problems of alcohol-related crime.
Linda Gilroy: I appreciate the hon. Gentlemans giving way. Is he saying that regulations on the concept of alcohol disorder zones cannot be brought forward in any shape or form that would satisfy him and the Conservative party?
James Brokenshire: In terms of the definition of an alcohol disorder zone in the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006, I find it hard to see how it would be possible to do so. As far as I can see, that is also the view of all the stakeholders to whom I have spoken, because of the problems that I have highlighted to the Committee. Frankly, the mindset and logic of the measures are fundamentally flawed. That is shown in the calculation of charges, the mechanisms and implementation of which come from the 2006 Act.
Take, for example, the concept of the baseline assessment. I listened carefully to the Ministers reply about how the baseline will be measured, but if there is a problem in a particular area, the baseline will inevitably be higher for that area anyway. It is difficult to see how the ADZs will work in trying to assess or equate the cost attached to a particular area and apportion it out, because it will start from a high base in the first place, or what additional services would be appropriate, given that, as he said, ADZs are intended to be a last resort when every other possible option has been exhausted. The guidance notes make that clear. That highlights the fact that the zones are open to challenge. People will say, Actually, you havent done this, this or this. That is one of the weaknesses in the regulations.
We have not even considered the additional cost of trying to get the additional information needed to justify what the baseline services are in the first place. While the guidance notes state that they will not generate an additional data collection burden on authorities, it is difficult to see how that could not be the case. The zones in question may well not neatly cover ward boundaries or particular areas, so it seems inconceivable that there would not be a cost for gathering the data in the first place, whatever the guidance notes say. That is without taking into account the point made by the hon. Member for Bath about the preliminary action plan costs and the fact that they would be irrecoverable.
On regulation 16, to be fair to the Minister he did make reference to the scoring system that is to be appliedthat is, the rate of value and the hours of opening that will form the two levels of test, to provide what the regulatory impact assessment calls a consistent national formula to set charges. It does not look consistent to me, given that one can effectively add or multiply, or seemingly do anything that a local authority would wish to do by virtue of paragraphs (5), (6) and (7) of regulation 16. That creates huge uncertainty and a risk
carefully consider the consultation responses, to improve the quality of its decision (and as a consequence reduce the risk of legal challenge),
thereby admitting that there is a significant risk of legal challenge. Moreover, there seems to be confusion about how the discounts would apply, and the statutory instrument says that these discounts may rather than will apply.
I turn to the duration of alcohol disorder zones. Despite the fact that they are supposed to be a temporary measure with a three-month review period, there is actually no cut-off point and nothing to say that once an ADZ has been created, it will end. In many ways, the problems I am highlighting regarding the risk of legal challenge are exacerbated by the fact that there is no mechanism within the process of ADZs to challenge, question or appeal. As the guidance makes clear, there is no bespoke appeals process, as it so succinctly puts it, heightening the risk of legal challenge and putting local authorities off in the first place.
In conclusion, it is worth referring to the 18th report of the House of Lords Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee, which states at paragraph 5:
We are left with the impression that the system will be unduly bureaucratic and without a clear idea of how ADZs will fit in with the other items in the local authorities toolkit for combating alcohol-fuelled disorder. We were not clear why this policy was required in addition to voluntary measures such as Business Improvement Districts, or enforcement action such as suspending the licences of delinquent bars, or charging delinquent individuals under existing legislation.
Mr. Coaker: On business improvement districts, which the hon. Gentleman has mentioned a couple of times, will he concede that the difference between those and alcohol disorder zones is that the former are voluntary, whereas ADZs, as a last resort, introduce an element of compulsion?
James Brokenshire: Clearly, there is a difference between a business improvement district and an alcohol disorder zone, and that is why, apparently, they are needed and why we are considering the measure this afternoon. The Minister says in the regulatory impact assessment that the way forward has to be promoting a concept of partnership and a sense that people will work together. I hear what he says about the last mechanism of compulsion, but I say to him that this plan is so fundamentally flawed that it seems inconceivable that we would even get to compulsion because of the errors, weaknesses and doubts in the structure of the plan. As we have heard, it does not seem as though those people whom the mechanisms or measures are intended to benefit actually need or want them. Alcohol disorder zones are unwieldy, unworkable and unwanted. They were a back-of-an-envelope solution to a complex issue, and they simply will not deliver any change to the problems of alcohol-fuelled crime over which the Government have presided. They have been overtaken by events, leaving huge scope for uncertainty and legal challenge, even if
Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): I do not want to aggravate hon. Members, Mr. Atkinson. I am not a member of the Committee, but I am exercising my right to speak because I feel strongly about the matter and I want to urge colleagues to support the measure. I am bewildered and surprised by the attitude of the hon. Member for Hornchurch. I listened carefully to every word that he said. I can understand an Opposition spokesperson pointing out some of the disappointments about, or deficiencies in, a measure. However, after doing that, to conclude that this is a waste of time and to urge the Committee to reject the measure is a serious abdication of responsibility to our communities and, in particular, to our poor communities.
I noticed that the hon. Gentleman prayed in aid a report from the House of Lords. I do not know where Members of the House of Lords live, but they probably do not live in the poorest areas. It is the poorest people who are the victims of the harassment and aggravation that comes from alcohol-related crime and disorder. I understand the hon. Gentleman questioning the Minister about whether hotels and supermarkets are covered and the patronage issue. One has to say that my hon. Friends the Members for Southampton, Test and for Plymouth, Sutton were right when they saidand I put it in my own wayHands up, has he got a better idea?
I have been a critic of some of the things that the Government have done, particularly regarding how they have helped alcohol-related industries, but this is a very worthwhile measure. Inevitably, it is ground-breaking. It could be subject to judicial review, but there is no harm or disgrace in thatwhen one is breaking new ground, that inevitably happens. By that process, one creates new law. Although the measure cannot be amended this afternoon, the Government and the House can return to it if they want to introduce another statutory instrument in the light of experience.
One of the criticisms made by the hon. Member for Hornchurch was that the measure was open-ended and there was no mention of how long the alcohol disorder zones would last. I suspect that some will endure a long timeI do not apologise for thatbecause we need to keep a cap on the problem. If the various regulatory authorities, including the police, local authorities and environmental health, wish to contain the problem and demonstrate that they will no longer tolerate behaviour that causes such distressagain, I make the point unashamedly that it is mostly, but not exclusively, poor people who sufferit might be that they will have to exist for some time. I do not think that we should apologise for that at all.
It is clear, both from what the Minister has said and the guidance notes, that the measure is part of a tool kit. Other measures exist. I wish that local authorities were using some of them more, particularly those under the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001 saying
I want to ask the Minister one question. Presumably, if we have such disorder zones, people cannot go drinking in the streets, leave their glasses by the kerb and so on. If that is not the case, I want that to be put in the file for when Parliament revisits the issue. We want to stop this business of people getting drunk and stealing glasses from pubs, and we want to demonstrate zero tolerance.
Incidentally, in relation to the order, there clearly needs to be enforcement. As part of enforcement, if police officers confront people who are drunk or who have taken glasses from licensed premises, they should charge them. People should be prosecuted for having those glasses because not only is it theft, but it presents a serious hazard to people[ Interruption. ] I see that the hon. Member for Bath wants to intervene. I am keen to give way because I cannot tell from his peculiar body language whether he is for or against the measure. Perhaps he will reveal whether he is with us or against us.
Mr. Foster: I am agin the hon. Gentleman, but slightly more supportive of his position than othersI will explain why. I am enormously grateful to him, as the Committee should be, for drawing our attention to enforcement. Does he agree that we might not have to go down this route if existing legislation on many such matters was being enforced?
Andrew Mackinlay: I would like many pieces of legislation to be enforced more rigorously. I have already indicated that more local authorities should use their powers to designate areas in which one cannot drink alcoholfor example, the streetsand that those designations should be enforced. However, that does not detract from this measure.
This measure means that local authorities will have to consider whether to exercise their powers. That should legitimately become a matter for debate in the community. For instance, I will take the regulations to my local authority and invite it to be a pioneer in this area. I hope that it will do so. I do not make a party political point, but if my local authority, which is a majority Conservative council, supports me, I will applaud it. If it does not, I shall use its decision as evidence against the Conservatives in the next municipal election, and that would be perfectly legitimate. If I see a Liberal Focus from some part of the country saying that the measure should be implemented, I shall point to the fact that the hon. Member for Bath said that he does not support it. This is what politics is about, and it is legitimate.
The Government are breaking new groundthey are pioneering. Nobody is suggesting that the measure is absolutely correct, but it will mean that local authorities will have to consider the situation, as will the police authority and the individual commander. Of course, he or she might be attracted by the fact that might be additional resources for which he or she could apply in a particular area[ Interruption. ] If I could just get the Ministers attention for a moment, it seems that, under various powers, many local authorities have appointed enforcement officers in addition to the police. A district
I see that the regulations have been extended to bring in the British Transport policequite rightlywhen an ADZ is proposed in close proximity to a railway station. I very much welcome that because many of these problems either emanate from railway premises, or are associated with them.
One of the interesting things about the point on which you stood up, Mr. AtkinsonI hope that I am in orderis that the proposal to have alcohol-free public transport is right, but not right politically. I say that it is left. It liberates people from the unacceptable levels of sexual and racial abuse and other forms of harassment that occur on trains I mention that as an aside, but I welcome that measure. The ADZs that we are discussing will complement that measure, and they will complement provisions of the 2001 Act that allow for no-go areas for alcohol.
People look to Parliament to be more robust about, and intolerant of, the kind of behaviour that blights relatively small hectares of our towns and cities. It is spurious to say that such a zone will reflect badly reflect on an area. In my view, it will enhance an area, because people will stay in one place. Estate agents will say, We are in an alcohol disorder zone, isnt that a good thing?
The hon. Member for Hornchurch, or it might have been the hon. Member for Bath, asked about pricing. If the zones endure, of course the cost will eventually be reflected in prices. I make no apology for that; it is a good thing. If such an industry is a source of disproportionate aggravation to residents, that industry should pay, and it is appropriate for the price to work through to the customer. I cannot see anything wrong with thatit seems to be profoundly logical.
Mr. Foster: The hon. Gentleman is right. If costs are put on to the on-trade and the off-trade, those costs will be reflected in the prices that are charged. However, depending on the pricing regime, would we not have the ludicrous situation of doing absolutely nothing to help to address the disparity between the ridiculously cheap prices in supermarkets and the sadly ever-increasing prices in our pubs? Surely we want something that disproportionately weighs more heavily on the supermarket.
Andrew Mackinlay: I have been in politics a long time, so I know what the hon. Gentleman is trying to do. By raising the legitimate point that perhaps there should be higher prices for alcoholic drinks in many areas, which I support, he is using that as an excuse. If anybody reads the official record of todays debate, they will see that, with great dexterity, he is justifying the extraordinary move of voting against the measure, although at some stagein Bath or another part of the countryhe will criticise the Government for presiding
Dr. Whitehead: Does my hon. Friend share my puzzlement that apparently, if someone is very drunk and stands at a bus stop waiting for a bus, taking action against them is a bad idea; however, once they get on a bus and it is moving, action is a good idea? That appears to be a contradiction.
Andrew Mackinlay: I am coming to the end of my remarks, but I am pleased that my hon. Friend intervened. I want to respond to him, even if it is not within the footprint of the order. One of the problems, Mr. Atkinson, is that when you and I were boys, if a person was drunk in the street, there was a degree of shame associated with it. Police arrested them and they were put in the slammer that night and appeared in a magistrates court the following morning, with additional shame. We do not have that now for health and safety reasons. I think it is a big mistake but the police are frightened of deaths in the cells and the problems of monitoring people who are drunk. Not unreasonably, I understand that the police do not like people throwing up in their cars, so people are not arrested. In my view, people should be arrested. I hope that the next debate on an order that I attend is to do with one in which the Minister will be tightening up the legislation so that police authorities arrest people who are drunk and disorderly, put them in the clink over night and have them appear in the magistrates court. Why? Because such behaviour is threatening, menacing and dangerous to them and to others.
That is the first of my interventions in the area. [ Interruption. ] I move on. I can see that the Clerk is making legitimate signals to you, Mr. Atkinson, but I did not raise the issue; another hon. Member did and you allowed him to broach the subject.
The Chairman: Order. I have been quite tolerant so as not to interrupt the hon. Gentlemans flow, but he is going off the mark at this stage.
Andrew Mackinlay: In any event, you will rest assured, Mr. Atkinson, that I feel content that I came to the Committee today to persuade hon. Members to support the measure. I have been able to articulate my wider canvas and to say that, in clamping down on antisocial behaviour, the Government should be supported by the Opposition. The measure is at least in part designed to combat antisocial behaviour and I applaud the Government for it.
Mr. Foster: I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Thurrock and am particularly delighted to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Atkinson. I am well aware that it is totally against parliamentary convention
Whatever their views, all hon. Members who have contributed so far have shared the view expressed so eloquently by the hon. Gentleman that regardless of what we believe to be the cause, the current levels of antisocial behaviour linked to the misuse of alcohol are unacceptable. As he said, we must be more robust and intolerant of such behaviour in all our communities, and I entirely agree with him.
The debate is not about rehearsing, as others have done, the statistics about the rising number of admissions to accident and emergency departments and the number of sales to under-age people. We could all do that and play a game with the statistics. I hope that we all accept that there is a problem. I also hope that we agree that some good measures have been put in place around the country to try and address the problem. Those measures are a result of partnership working in a range of local authority areas and elsewhere. As others have done, we could list themChallenge 21 led by the British Beer and Pub Association and individual cases in Manchester and so on. In my local authority area in the city of Bath, there has been some wonderful partnership working, for example, bringing in street and taxi marshals to sort out getting people away from the city centre at night by re-jigging public transport arrangements.
Much good work has been done, and I have been concerned that until recently there has not been enough effort to co-ordinate and bring together examples of good practice and disseminate it. I am delightedand slightly surprised that the Department of Health has done itthat in the last brief period of time the Department has funded work by Alcohol Concern called HubCAPPHub of Commissioned Alcohol Projects and Policiesthat will bring together examples of good policies and practices and disseminate them. That is crucial.
If we agree that we must do something and accept that good things are going onalthough more needs to be donethe question is whether, as currently conceived, the alcohol disorder zone provides an additional tool in the armoury. The hon. Member for Southampton, Test asked the hon. Member for Hornchurch the critical question. In effect, he said, Are you opposing these measures in principle, in practice or both? May I answer the question of the hon. Member for Southampton, Test, as if he had posed it to me? I am not opposed to measures being in place that are available as a last resort if partnership working with licensed premises, the local council, police and others has failed to address the problems that exist in a local community. I am not opposed to there being something in place as a final step, but regulation should always be the last resort. We should first pursue voluntary approaches.
I say to the hon. Member for Thurrock that my problem is that I genuinely believe that there are so
There are real concerns about the proposed charging regime. It will lead to many licensed premises challenging the charges that are set. Because there has been, as we all know, a problem with the appeals procedurewhich was one reason for the legislation getting yet another reincarnationall the answers that we have got about the appeals mechanism is that it will rely on judicial review, ombudsmen and so on. That will be incredibly complicated and will frighten a lot of people off.
There are also concerns that we are perhaps not considering what problems will be associated with the fact that the measure butts up against separate pre-existing legislation. I asked the Minister in an intervention how he would deal with that problem, in relation to the guidance in the Licensing Act 2003. That guidance makes it clear that if there is a national scheme to, for instance, get rid of happy hour drinking, it is possible for a local authority to promote it. However, the guidance specifically states that if the local authority came up with its own scheme, it would be illegal to pursue it.
I have raised that point numerous times, whenever the issue has been debated. It is a fundamental mistake that we should be debating opportunities for local authorities to do things, while those authorities are hamstrung by other legislation from doing things that they think right for their areas. I am grateful that the Minister has agreed to consider the issue, because I think that he will find that there is in the guidance notesI may be wrong, but I think it is at paragraph 10.4a fundamental conflict between his proposal about ADZ and what is permissible under the Licensing Act 2003.
I am also concerned about other aspects of the charging regime. It was very clear from interventions on the Minister, and from his answers, that there is still confusion in the minds of the Government about how they imagine the regime working. Of course, they can get off the hook by saying they have given so much freedom that local councils can solve the problems. However, that makes things more difficult for the councils. We cannot say that there will be a national charging regime and then leave all the difficult decisions to councils, because they will come up against charges of maladministration.
Mr. Coaker: The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point, but, if I turned it on its head, how would he envisage a national charging scheme that gave local authorities no flexibility to determine things on the basis of what was happening in their area?
Mr. Foster: The Minister and I are not that far apart. I entirely agree, and believe in local decision-making. However, he is imposing a way for the charges to
The patronage issue is interesting tooincredibly complicated to sort out, as the hon. Member for Hornchurch said. The Minister might want to intervene to correct me, but from my reading it is not clear whether the volume of non-alcohol-related sales is based on price or on something else. Is it on the amount of money taken? If so, imagine what will happenthe supermarket near the edge will discount its alcohol prices still further, to avoid getting into the charging arrangement. That has to be pretty nonsensical.
Other hon. Members said that it is no good standing here and saying we are against something. I have to know what it is that I want to do. I have to be able to say that there should be something at the enda way forwardif voluntary mechanisms do not work. So let me say to the hon. Member for Thurrock that the first thing that I would dowhich I mentioned on interveningis to have existing legislation properly enforced. It is frankly ludicrous that there have been minimal prosecutions of those who sell alcohol to under-age people. If they are prosecuted, the level of fines that they are charged is also miniscule. The number of licences that have been taken away is almost miniscule. It is frankly ludicrous that hardly anyone in a pub or club or wherever is prosecuted for selling alcohol to someone who is already drunk. I know what the policing difficulties are, but hardly any prosecutions take place in any single year. There is the whole business of not enforcing areas where one is not allowed to drink on the street and so on.
Enforcement would be the No. 1 thing that I would do. Therefore, when I look at an ADZ, for example, I would want to make sure that I am putting in place something that can easily be enforced. However, we do not know from the Minister whether a hotel that spends most of its time having hen nights and stag nights would be covered. We do not know whether a supermarket would or not. No wonder the hon. Member for Thurrock admitted that no one is suggesting that it is absolutely correct. We are meant to agree to something and he is suggesting that it is not absolutely correct; I am saying that it is deeply flawed.
The first thing that I would do is to have much greater enforcement. The second thing that I would do is to have much greater sharing of examples of good practiceI welcome the fact that that is beginning to happen. The third thing that I would do is to give local authorities far more powers than they currently have, by changing the guidance on the licensing legislation. I say to the Minister that that point is, for me, absolutely critical. If local authorities had the power, they could
The final thing that is absolutely critical for us to do is to address the issue of supermarket cheap booze. We keep being promised a statement from the Prime Minister, but it is ludicrous that 50-odd pubsmuch more safe and secure environmentsare closing every month. We would surely prefer that not to be happening, yet we have that ridiculous pricing for supermarket booze. You and I, Mr. Atkinson, are meant to drink something like 21 units a week, and no more, if we are to be responsible people. In my local pub that would cost me more than 20 quid, but I can buy that amount in my local supermarket for £2.70. Someone has got to do something about thatabout signs like booze busters and so on.
Such measures would make a difference: proper enforcement and powers for local authorities being the two most crucial in the armoury. Then local authorities could develop their own ADZs. In principle, ADZs are a good idea. In practice, the ones proposed before us have so many flaws that we cannot possibly support them.
Mr. Coaker: This has been a good debate. I will start by agreeing with the hon. Member for BathI know that the hon. Member for Hornchurch would also agree, although he did not do so explicitly. I believe that everyone on the Committee has the objective of reducing alcohol-related harm in our community, and it was a fair point for the hon. Member for Bath to make. We can dance on the heads of pins about many of the issues that have been mentioned, but the nub of the debate is how we can achieve such a reduction.
I agree with every point that has been made about the need to ensure that all existing laws are enforced. Designated public place orders are crucial. As hon. Members will know, they give police officers the power to confiscate drink from someone on the street. Alcohol disorder zones will not give the police the power to do that, and I suggest that my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock asks his local authority to impose a designated public place order. I say that to people time and time again at meetings. Local authorities have the power to do that, and it gives the police officers in the area the power to confiscate alcohol from people drinking on the street.
We are not debating whether existing powers should be usedof course they should. I have given DPPOs as one example, but there are countless others. Disorderly premises should be dealt with under the Licensing Act 2003, and to be fair to the industry, it wants rogue premises and licence holders who are causing problems to be dealt with robustly.
Mr. Foster: The Minister falls back on existing powers, such as those under the 2003 Act. He will know that except when there is a new licence or a change of licence, it is not possible for any imposition to be made on the vast majority of licences unless there is clear
Mr. Coaker: I have said time and time again that I understand that the 2003 Act could be used much more robustly against rogue premises than it currently is, and that is what I want.
We are debating an important addition to the powers that I have mentioned, which Labour Members believe is essential. It will give a further tool and power to local authorities, working with the police. If there is a problem and nothing else has worked, and all the powers that can be used have been used, they will have the power to designate an area an alcohol disorder zone. My view is that most members of the public, including most of my constituents, would welcome that if everything else has failed. They believe that it is necessary in certain circumstances.
There is a clear divide: we can say either that existing enforcement powers are sufficient or that they are sufficient in 99 per. of cases, but that there are cases in which they are not. That is the difference between us. It was interesting that the hon. Member for Hornchurchunlike the hon. Member for Bath, to be fairfailed to say whether he was opposed to alcohol disorder zones in principle or just opposed to the regulations because of what he saw as certain flaws.
There will be no compulsion on local authorities or the police in a particular area to use the new power. If they do not think that it is appropriate, and if they think that they have all the powers necessary to deal with the problems in their area, of course they can use those existing powers.
Linda Gilroy: Does my hon. Friend agree that in some areas, the mere introduction of the regulations might concentrate peoples minds wonderfully and make them get together? Some have done so voluntarily, but now the low-hanging fruit has been taken and the more difficult areas have to be tackled.
Mr. Coaker: That is a reasonable point. Alcohol disorder zones may well concentrate minds on those few areas where people do not believe such an approach to be possible.
The hon. Member for Hornchurch mentioned those who did not necessarily support alcohol disorder zones. If he reads the explanatory memorandum, however, he will see that the Home Affairs Committee recommended in the conclusions to its report in 2005 that pubs and clubs in designated areas should pay a mandatory contribution to help solve local problems of alcohol-related disorder. As he said, we have not had formal contact with the local authorities, but we have had informal contact with some of them, and they have asked whether we will introduce alcohol disorder zones. Notwithstanding some of the drafting amendments and the problems to which he alluded and which we have sought to resolve, the substance of the policy is about whether we wish to have alcohol disorder zones on the statute book so that we can use them as a last resort when all other options have been considered.
I was asked whether the level of charging could be excessively high. I remind hon. Members that the level
It is important to point out that, as hon. Members will have seen, the guidance is issued under section 19 of the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006. It is the duty of every local authority, police authority and chief officer to have regard to that guidance in exercising their powers under the regulationsthey have a statutory duty to have regard to the guidance. We will finalise the guidance following parliamentary scrutiny in this and the other place. I should add that if the actual regulations need to be amended following our debates, I will not be afraid to tell hon. Members that I will amend them in the light of experience.
I will look at and, if necessary, deal with the point made by the hon. Member for Bath about local authority powers. He was right about the need to spread good practice, which is something that we could all agree on. He also made a point about pricing measures. As he will know, a report will be published about that in the not-too-distant future, which the Government will consider. However, he needs to be patient and to wait for that report, as we all do. Finally, he asked whether price or volume would apply in relation to supermarkets, and it will be volume.
To conclude, I will be flexible on this issue. I have already made a commitment that guidance will be produced following parliamentary scrutiny. If necessary, I will amend the regulations in the light of
The Committee divided: Ayes 8, Noes 6.
Division No. 1 ]
Question accordingly agreed to.
That the Committee has considered the draft Local Authorities (Alcohol Disorder Zones) Regulations 2008.
Committee rose at one minute past Six oclock.
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