House of COMMONS
MINUTES OF EVIDENCE
CULTURE, MEDIA AND SPORT COMMITTEE
COUNCILLOR CHRIS WHITE, COUNCILLOR GEOFFREY THEOBALD, MR PATRICK CROWLEY and MR SIMON QUIN
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
Taken before the Culture, Media and Sport Committee
Mr John Whittingdale, in the Chair
Mr Mike Hall
Mr Adrian Sanders
Memorandum submitted by the Local Government Association and LACORS
Examination of Witnesses
Councillor Chris White, Chair
of LGA Culture, Tourism and Sport Board, Councillor Geoffrey Theobald,
Chair of Local Authorities Coordinators of Regulatory Services, Mr Patrick Crowley, Licensing Manager,
Royal Borough of Kensington and
Q1 Chairman: Good morning, everybody, my apologies for keeping you waiting. This morning is the first session of the Committee's new inquiry into the implementation of the Licensing Act 2003 and we are beginning by taking evidence from the Local Government Association and the Association of Town Centre Management. I would like to welcome: Councillor Chris White, Chair of the LGA Culture, Tourism and Sport Board; Councillor Geoffrey Theobald, Chair of Local Authorities Coordinators of Regulatory Services; Patrick Crowley, Licensing Manager, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea; and from the Association of Town Centre Management, the Chief Executive Simon Quin. Perhaps I could begin by asking you to give just a general overview. One of the claims that was made originally during the passage of the Licensing Bill - which I at that time, in a previous capacity, led for the Opposition and I remember well - said that it was going to have a dramatic increase on the quality of life of people living around licensed premises and in town centres. Do you think that generally the Licensing Act has succeeded in achieving that objective?
Councillor White: I think it has been largely neutral with some positive elements. I think the word "dramatic" certainly would not apply. My own direct experience and the experience the LGA is that there has been a fairly neutral effect. In some cases crime disorder has gone up and in one or two cases it has gone down. Therefore I think the best summary is that it is neutral.
Theobald: I come from
Q2 Chairman: One of the points which was made during the passage of the Bill was that it would spread the exodus from licensed premises over a longer period; but the counterargument was that actually everybody would leave at the same time and it would just be a time three hours later than previously. Which do you think has happened?
Theobald: Speaking from
Mr Quin: I think I would add that most of what you have heard is reflected from the views of our members as well, but I do think that in the larger cities, certainly where clubs are important, there has been a spread and this has actually led directly to a reduction in antisocial behaviour at two o'clock in the morning as everyone leaves at the same time and goes for the same limited number of taxis. So I think there is a benefit from that. I think the other key thing to add here is that both our members and indeed the evidence that came out in the report published by the Department earlier this year show that actually the overall impact, the overall change that has taken place, is still quite minimal. We are not talking about every town and city finding that every bar and every club is open much later and, therefore, you can look and say, "What's its impact?" In lots of places clubs and bars still close at the same time as they always closed at; and really it is only certain locations where this has been taken up to any great extent, and there you are seeing some change, you are seeing some spread. In terms of quality of life, I think what it has done is provide for those people who wish to drink later, wish to be more in control of their own timetables and their own life, and I think that is something we should be positive about. It is one of the reasons we have always been supportive of the flexibility this legislation brought forward.
Mr Crowley: To cover the whole question, generally speaking, I agree it has been pretty neutral. We still get the same level of complaints from residents. What has increased is the partnership working, and there are many aspects of that to try and resolve problems. In relation to violent crime, it has shifted later. I do not think there has been a reduction in that.
Q3 Janet Anderson: If we could just specifically talk about night-time disorder. There was a recent evaluation of the impact of the Act by the Home Office and the DCMS which found some limited evidence that alcohol consumption had fallen slightly, as well as evidence that crimes involving serious violence might have reduced, although there were more violent crimes occurring in the early hours of the morning. Do you think that is because people can drink for longer and therefore, say, at two o'clock in the morning they are likely to be more drunk than they would otherwise be and that would account for the increase in the violent crimes at that time of the morning?
Councillor White: I think there is certainly some reason to suppose that. I think you probably need to do more research on individual cases to be absolutely certain. I think also it is worth making a contrast. A lot of people feared that it would get a great deal worse than it was before the legislation was passed; so it is quite remarkable that we are only seeing limited changes of this nature. There has been evidence throughout the world that large amounts of alcohol consumed quickly is more of a problem than the same amount of alcohol consumed more slowly.
Mr Quin: I think we are seeing from some of our members there is evidence that people are going out later, so they are not necessarily drinking for longer but they are just changing the hours in which they do drink. I think that is possibly a counter to the thought you are suggesting.
Q4 Janet Anderson: It is interesting because Noctis, who describe themselves as "the voice of the night-time economy", say that they think the scale of below cost alcohol sales is now "enormous" and that people commonly arrive at late-night venues "pre-loaded". On your point, Simon, about them arriving later, could they have got themselves really tanked-up in advance?
Mr Quin: I think that is certainly the case in some instances. I think what is happening with a lot of that is that is not on licensed premises, where there are some controls; but it is people using off-licences to buy cheap alcohol and drink at home.
Q5 Janet Anderson: I cannot quite see it, but do you think the Licensing Act may have encouraged that kind of pre-loading in some way?
Mr Quin: I am not sure it has. I think the risk here is that we look at the Licensing Act and say it is responsible for all of the changes that have happened. Lots of other things have been going on at the same time. There is an argument that as we sought to reduce cheap drinking in licensed premises what it has meant is that those who do not have as much cash are then drinking at home more cheaply, and perhaps with no controls initially, and then going out later on. That might be a counterargument to the thoughts that we should ban all happy hours and other things.
Councillor White: If you want to get drunk go to a supermarket.
Councillor Theobald: I think it is a big problem - whereby young people in particular go, firstly, to off-licences get cheap drinks and such like and they then go to public houses. I think we should be looking more carefully at off-licences, corner shops and such like, and trying to ensure that these bargain offers are restricted more.
Q6 Janet Anderson: Also in supermarkets. I was told by Asda in my constituency in Rossendale that they will not, for example, sell alcohol beyond a certain time in the evening because they take the view that if people come in for cans of cider, or whatever, in the middle of the night they have only got one purpose in mind. Do you think that more supermarkets should follow that example?
Councillor Theobald: I personally think there are too many off-licences, two many convenience stores, generally available to purchase drink. You do not want to penalise everybody - this is the problem - but you have only got to see there just seem to be more of them than there were previously.
Councillor White: We certainly welcome what Asda are doing and it is something that all supermarkets should look at.
Q7 Janet Anderson: Briefly, what about the smoking ban - do you think that has had an effect. In licensed premises where there is not a secure outside area - and I know this has happened to some of the pubs in my constituency which have not got an outside area where people can smoke and they stand on the pavement - do you think that adds to the general sense of disorder and could, of itself, cause problems?
Councillor White: Yes, it certainly does. I have certainly had complaints from my residents about people standing on the pavement. It is not the standing on the pavement, it is the loud conversations which come with it. I tend to assume that it is, hopefully, a matter of time, if this particular ban works, that fewer and fewer people will smoke and the problem will solve itself - but perhaps I am an optimist!
Mr Quin: I think we are certainly seeing that borne out by the reports from our members as well in terms of the additional nuisance that is caused by people standing on pavements because of the smoking ban; that is not to say I would like to see the smoking ban repealed.
Councillor Theobald: Of course it does add to councils' costs to investigate noise complaints, and of course the litter outside.
Mr Crowley: It is noise, but it is also glasses, glass, cigarette butts and other litter which we would hope licensees would clear up themselves, but they do not always. As well as that, as you get later into the night the nuisance is obviously worse. Although the same level of noise is happening, there is less noise to hide it in the street. The later you are smoking outside the more chance you have got of disturbing people.
Q8 Helen Southworth: Could I explore a little comments that were being made about "pre-loading". My understanding is that it is an offence to sell alcohol to an intoxicated person. If somebody is coming in pre-loaded how does that mean they can then buy alcohol on licensed premises and consume it?
Councillor White: Self-evidently, first of all, it is circumstances. If you have had too many then do not go up to the bar and demonstrate you have had too many but get a friend to do it. A very pressed licensee on a very busy Friday night will not necessarily see that some of the drinks he or she is pouring will be for people already intoxicated.
Q9 Helen Southworth: That is actually a legal responsibility on the licensee, so it is not good enough to say they had not noticed.
Councillor White: No. I am not here to defend licensees but just trying to explain how I perceive that is likely to happen.
Q10 Helen Southworth: In my experience one of the issues I have discovered around this process is that everybody thinks everybody else should do something, and nobody thinks that they have a role to play in it if it is not going well. If it is going well everybody thinks they have had a part to play in it and everybody cooperates to make it work and you then see improvements. One of the things I want to ask you about is how you get that virtuous circle, rather than one that says, "It wasn't me - it was him"?
Councillor White: There is a missing piece in the legislation and I understand why it is missing; but it is not the role of the licensing authority to initiate a review; it is the role of somebody else, like the police. I think it would be helpful if the legislation were ever to be changed for the licensing authority itself, which often receives the complaints, which is in touch with councillors like me who are talking to residents about it, to be able itself to initiate a review. That gets round the problem you rightly identify of it always being someone else's problem. It should be the problem principally of the licensing authority. Indeed, the semi-judicial nature of a licensing authority should protect the licensee if that is handled correctly.
Q11 Helen Southworth: The Licensing Act in itself does not appear to be able to work in isolation. It seems to be very heavily dependent on the local cooperation and practice between agencies. How important are things like Business Improvement Districts and Best Bar None in this? Is there a real difference in places that have those sorts of schemes and places that do not?
Mr Quin: Shall I kick off and declare an interest at
the outset. We, as ATCM, are responsible
for the national BIDs pilot project which introduced Business Improvement
Districts into the
Theobald: We have a
Q12 Helen Southworth: That is one of the benefits of Business Improvement Districts, is it not, that it does allow a contribution to be made from the industry?
Mr Quin: On a voluntary basis until a ballot has taken place of businesses, and if a majority vote in favour to pay a contribution then all businesses have to pay it. It is not just the licensed trade obviously, other businesses are included in it, or can be included. We are particularly grateful that the legislation was framed as facilitating legislation, rather than particularly prescriptive, because it does allow the variation to suit the local needs.
Councillor White: I would not want the impression to be given
that it is only in places where you have got BIDs that we are getting this
level of cooperation. Licensees know,
local authorities know, that this is going to work best where there is close
cooperation. In my own district
Q13 Mr Sanders: Is it not the case that actually things are a lot better today than perhaps they were 30 years ago? There was no CCTV then; there were no taxi marshals; there were no community support officers; street lighting was not perhaps as good as it is today; door supervisors were not trained; there was no coordination, or rarely coordination, between licensed premises. In my area you have a safe bus for people; there are also street pastors working; essentially it is a safer environment today than 30 years ago. Or is it that the numbers are bigger today that makes it feel it is less safe?
Mr Quin: I think there is merit in both arguments. Undeniably now there is a much better infrastructure provision for all of the kinds of things you have mentioned - including night buses and all sorts of things which help to get people away. I think if you went back as far as 30 years most town and city centres in the UK were practically abandoned after 5.30 at night because they were just retailing centres or working centres; and there might be the odd small corner pub a few old men drank in, but most people drank out in the their suburban locations, in smaller town centres, or in pubs close to where they lived. I think the change that happened within that 30-year period was that pubs, bars and clubs came back into town; we became a more successful economy in terms of the amount of money we had available to spend, and this was what developed this sudden growth in the evening and night-time economy, taking on premises that actually interestingly had been abandoned by banks and building societies as they merged. So who knows what may happen in the future! That growth happened in a place where no-one had previously expected it. Certainly from my experience when I was a town centre manager, the police did not really have to patrol the town centre at night because there was no-one there. That was the challenge we had; and that was the period where we had a kind of ten-year chaos, where trade was growing, people were coming in but we had not got the means of putting the management infrastructure in place. I think you are right, now in most places we have and we are managing the issue and it is allowing more people to have a good time and to use their centre for longer, perhaps in a more sustainable way.
Councillor White: The question is: would we prefer to be in 1978 or 2008? I think fairly clearly I would prefer to be now for the reasons just given. It is not just a night-time economy. I remember when pubs closed at on a Sunday and it was five long hours - and really long hours - before they reopened again, and then they closed again at ten. Sundays were a wretched time in terms of enjoyment. The public, until this legislation came in, felt very helpless. You were dealing with a slightly remote magistrates' court; there were no roles for councillors; and they now know they can go along and make objections and be heard; and maybe their objections are taken into account and maybe they are not but at least they get a hearing now. I think that gives quite a lot of reassurance to the public.
Q14 Mr Sanders: The big difference now of course is the Licensing Act, and the fact that people do have a right to participate in the process. Do you think the public has actually grasped that opportunity to influence decisions on licensing?
Councillor White: Possibly not as much as we would like. One of the problems is that it is unclear the degree to which it is right and proper to advertise a new licence or a licensing chain. With a planning application it is very clear that those who are close to it need to be given notice of it; and they can object to the council, attend the hearing and lobby their councillors. With licensing it is not quite like that. The notice goes up and it is of course available in the newspaper. Some councils advertise it and some do not, fearing litigation. I think some clarity there would help. It is not unreasonable for the licensing authority to say quite neutrally, "An application has come in; have a look at it and tell us what you see", but that is not strictly in the rules.
Q15 Mr Sanders: What about using their right to have a say on reviewing a licence? Are the public getting involved in the process of the review of a licence and demanding that changes are made to its conditions?
Mr Crowley: One thing I have found from personal
experience and experience from
Q16 Mr Sanders: What can be done then to put that right?
Mr Crowley: I would suggest allowing licensing authorities to call reviews of licensed premises.
Q17 Mr Sanders: Automatically?
Mr Crowley: In the same way as they are allowed to under the Gambling Act 2005.
Q18 Mr Sanders: Can I put a contrary position that is happening with Temporary Event Notices. A Conservative councillor in my patch is very, very upset, and quite rightly, that when there is a temporary event licence application he cannot put across the views of the public; only the police are allowed to put across their views to the decision-maker. When I raise this with the police in my area they say they do not like being in that position because they do not feel that that is where they should be. Would you like to see a review of Temporary Event Notices so that they too are democratised in the way that licensing applications are?
Mr Crowley: Generally, yes, there is an issue that one of the reasons for Temporary Event Notices is that you only have to give ten working days' notice; so the extent of input maybe limited just by that. The only reason a Temporary Event Notice could go before a licensing committee is if the police feel there are crime and disorder issues. Public nuisance issues are not catered for and I believe public nuisance issues should be catered for.
Councillor Theobald: Temporary Event Notices along with the fees are the two issues and we would certainly like a review. One of the problems is, you put your application in and the police have to comment within 48 hours. If you put that in at a remote police station, which could well be closed, say, late Friday afternoon, they only have 48 hours to respond; and if they have not responded in time then they will get this. This cannot be right and there should certainly be a longer period for the police to be able to comment on this - it is ludicrous. Also it is only the police who can comment on these; and, as Patrick, has just said, we think the local authorities should be able to comment on those as well, and other bodies. Temporary Event Notices can of course also be used 12 times a year for a period of 96 hours. If one works this one out, you can therefore constantly be using Temporary Event Notices so that you are not being regulated in the same way as you would be otherwise. That is another reason why, definitely with Temporary Event Notices, the system with it does need to be reviewed certainly.
Mr Quin: Can I just make a comment on this democratisation and the involvement of people in the licence process. Whilst it is very important in licensed premises in residential locations that local residents have a significant input into that, I think in many town and city centre locations, where the number of residents is quite few, the difficulty is getting the engagement of the potential users of these premises in that process - particularly if they are younger people or they are people coming in from a distance; they may not naturally engage in processes with the local authority. The risk is that a majority view is drowned out by a few local objectors who have a strong case to make. Perhaps one of the reasons we have not seen a greater change with the Licensing Act over the years since it has been in force has been to some extent as a result of this. I look forward over the years to come to see whether we can actually change that process and perhaps be more willing to listen to the views of users of the premises.
Councillor White: That said, having witnessed on many occasions licensing committees operating, the serial complainers are noted. I suppose I would say this, but fair decisions are reached and you can filter this out and form a compromise. The legislation basically is on the presumption that a licence will be granted. Very often the argument is only around the periphery and the loud noises of people who have some axe to grind will normally be discounted by a good licensing committee.
Q19 Chairman: Just following that up, we had a specific example drawn to our attention by the Musicians' Union of the open air concerts at Kenwood where they argued that a small number of local residents had a disproportionate influence on the council, who then imposed conditions which actually had quite a damaging impact on the whole viability of the event, in terms of the time it had to finished etc. Do you think this is a problem which is now occurring, or is Councillor White right that basically councils are sensible enough to be able to overlook people who are not representative?
Mr Quin: I suspect there are different results in different places. Councillor White is correct in many instances but I do feel the risk is that some of the people - and I know they have the option to be engaged in this process but who are not but then subsequently find a decision has been made that is contrary to what they would desire - feel disenfranchised, and that it is just this small group making a case. Maybe over time the experience of that will make them engage in the process themselves, and you will get submissions from potential users, concert-goers or whatever it might be.
Q20 Chairman: Is the case presumably that councils are going to pay attention to the local residents because the local residents have votes, whereas the people visiting the concert probably are not going to be voters?
Councillor White: I think it would be dangerous to go down that particular route because of the rules as to who can sit on a particular licensing sub-committee. If you are a ward councillor you cannot sit on a sub-committee and there are no whipping arrangements, and indeed there is not political proportionality. Councillors are very good at taking very seriously their judicial roles.
Q21 Janet Anderson: I wonder if we could just pursue this subject of local authority statements of licensing policy. In quite a lot of the evidence we have got there have been complaints about inconsistency between authorities. The British Beer and Pub Association, for example, argues that some local authorities are overly prescriptive and include blanket conditions, which it claims are prohibited by the Act. One of the examples it gives, for example, is that some local authorities might require membership of Pubwatch, which might seem to be a good idea but that that is not required by the Act. Councillor White, could you tell us what kind of guidance the LGA gives to authorities, and why there should be these consistencies?
Councillor White: I will pass that on to Geoffrey, if you do not mind.
Councillor Theobald: It is a matter for each local authority if they get advice. Obviously you will be challenged, and I think that happened quite early on in a case. A particular authority had a very strong statement and they were challenged and they lost.
Q22 Janet Anderson: Was that Canterbury?
Councillor Theobald: Yes. Statements of licensing policies have to go before full councils, and councillors are aware of the fact that if they start producing statements that cannot be supported then they will lose when it comes to committees. They will look at this very, very carefully indeed to ensure that they are following the letter of the law, as it were.
Councillor White: DCMS does give comprehensive guidance. It is an interesting example about Pubwatch, because to some degree we need to have a consistent approach to this. If we think it is good to work in partnership then it does not seem wildly unreasonable to say you should actually work in partnership with the licensees; equally, if you have local government if there are going to be differences between different areas. What is remarkable about licensing as practices is how different local authorities actually are. Local authority wards are very different. I live in a ward which has no pubs in it whatever; yet I represent a division which has got some of the largest density of pubs in the country. You get that sort of variation which does need to be reflected in local documents.
Q23 Janet Anderson: Could I take you back briefly to the Chairman's point about Kenwood and the points raised with us by the Musicians' Union. It does seem, does it not, that a small group of "influential" residents, if I could put it that way, have had an effect on that policy, and the people who get a lot of enjoyment out of the open air concerts at Kenwood have not had a say. Is there any way you think the Act should be amended to make sure that happens in the future?
Mr Crowley: The Act does not prevent people speaking in support of an application at all. A representation can be for or against an application. Certainly in my experience we do get people making representations in support of an application.
Q24 Janet Anderson: There is no requirement for local authorities in a situation like that to go to the users of Kenwood and ask them what they think?
Mr Crowley: There is not. Their obligation is to advertise according to the legislation and that is not, in a sense, to advertise against an application but just to tell people an application is apparent.
Councillor White: You could make the same sort of argument about
planning law as well. My suggestion would
be in that sort of case that the applicant should make sure that the users are
aware - it is a political process as well as a quasi-judicial one. Certainly I know there has been a spat in my
local newspaper where a particular home-grown
Q25 Helen Southworth: I also represent an area that has one of the largest density of premises in the county, and my town centre, I have to say, is something which has given me cause for some considerable concern over the years. I have spent a lot of time doing night patrols with the police and meetings with all the various different people. One of the first things I learnt was not to have meetings with people separately, but to get them altogether in the same room so that they could not transfer blame across from each other. From that process I am a very strong supporter of local authorities being able to determine what is needed in a particular area and making sure it happens there. Do you think the Act is strong enough at the moment in terms of allowing local authorities to identify what needs to happen in a local area? I am thinking about things like cumulative impact areas, but also about things like polycarbonate glasses in appropriate places and appropriate timing, not just because of the guide dogs for the blind that have had their feet cut up on mornings when they have been walking round areas, but also because of the time I have spent at the local A&E seeing what has actually happened and what they have been trying to put back together again after a Friday or Saturday night. Do you think the legislation works well enough at the moment considering that a council has already lost a case; or do you think it needs to be looked at again?
Councillor Theobald: If I was here in three months' time I could answer that question better, because in my own authority we have a cumulative impact which has recently been introduced, and we have just turned down (the licensing committee) a particular establishment; but they can of course always appeal to the magistrates' courts. We have only had three appeals to the magistrates and we have lost all three; one of course was the famous lap dancing club, and I understand the Minister is looking at that issue anyway. At the end of the day you must ensure that your cumulative impact policy will stand up, because you will be challenged on it and you have to justify it, and there is always an appeal to the magistrates' courts.
Councillor White: I think there is a real dilemma about cumulative impact because it is an illiberal concept to say that "You are the next one to apply, so tough. We've now put the gate down". Nevertheless there is a frustration in town centres, and I do not need to tell you as an MP this, about where it does seem that most premises are licensed premises where there is noise and disturbance, vomiting and urinating, and all these other things which are really very antisocial, and the feeling that somebody ought to be able to do something about it. I suspect what we need to do is test whether we can move slightly further along the spectrum. As for polycarbonate glasses, that sort of flexibility for local authorities is absolutely essential; to be able to impose that for exactly the reasons given. I would not want to see a blanket national requirement for polycarbonate because I do not want to take out my beloved in February and drink out of plastic glasses - and I am sure no-one else does. There is a place for glasses and probably pubs are not the place.
Councillor Theobald: I think there is a perception by the public that councils can do more than they can under the Act. In other words, if residents do not want a particular pub to stay open later then the council can stop that; but of course the council has to operate under the licensing objectives and they can only do that. There is a perception that councils could do more when they cannot, because they are tied to the licensing objectives of the Act.
Mr Quin: To me the whole point on this would really be about ensuring that the local authority works with the licensed trade and works with the other interests and the police and, between you, you actually look at how you are managing that environment and addressing the issues that relate to it. In some places very much so - polycarbonate glasses have been an important requirement as part of the Pubwatch and Best Bar None; in others it does not seem to be as much of a problem. Really it is about working in partnership together to make the place attractive, and make the place welcoming to all kinds of people. Again, I think there is a slight presumption that we talk of town centres at night and we think of young people; but actually if you go in the town centre at night there are people of all ages there and some of them are drawn in just because now there are more people on the streets and it feels a more welcoming environment than previously, when you were not quite sure who was lurking in that shadow down there. This is not the case everywhere yet, but I think we are getting towards it and we are getting towards a sense that many more people feel comfortable out at night.
Q26 Helen Southworth: Can I ask about your response to the issues of promotions, and in particular to irresponsible promotions, and what you believe needs to be done about that?
Councillor White: I think we have to be quite firm on this one. Irresponsible promotions - how do you define that? I think we would all say something like a promotion which would actually encourage you to be intoxicated, as opposed to enjoying the drink, is something that should be stopped. Indeed, the fair trading legislation is not helping in that.
Q27 Helen Southworth: Is that a generally held opinion?
Councillor Theobald: I think it is unfortunate - and I think I did say this earlier in the evidence - where you see these happy hours and people are being encouraged to drink as much a they possibly can within a certain period of time. I couple that with drink promotions in off-licences. These are certainly things that one would not encourage. Certainly the police, environmental health officers and licensing officers are looking at these things all the time. If you can lead this back to a particular establishment where people are getting intoxicated then one can try and do something about that.
Councillor White: That is a big "if", and therefore not to happen in the first place.
Councillor Theobald: Absolutely.
Mr Quin: From my side, that comes with the caveat I raised earlier that if all drinks are expensive in licensed premises than that might encourage some people to drink more from off-licences before they actually go to those licensed premises, so you may not actually achieve a uniform improvement.
Q28 Helen Southworth: Briefly, can I give you one example from my constituency. There is a bar called The Bridgewater in Derwent in my constituency where, if you go in and order two large glasses of white wine, you get the rest of the bottle free. Would you include that in an irresponsible promotion; or would you think that is fairly okay?
Councillor White: It is fine if I am doing the drinking, I think! Cheap alcohol is not the right message. I am sorry to be hair-shirted about it, but where you are basically giving away alcohol you are saying it is fine to drink more than you can. Let us just it was for me - if I bought two glasses I could finish off the entire bottle - I would be in some degree of inebriation after that; reasonably coherent but certainly not able to drive a car. Is that a sensible way for me to be encouraged, to be told that it is alright for me to drink down a bottle of wine more or less on my own? I do not think it is.
Councillor Theobald: I am surprised they can afford that. Is this purely a bar; not a bar and a restaurant?
Q29 Helen Southworth: It is a trendy modern bar/pub. That is what they do: if you order two large glasses of wine you get the rest of the bottle free.
Mr Quin: You are paying for two-thirds of it and you are getting the rest of it. I think the issue is that this is a competitive market; retailers compete by doing sales and other types of things; but maybe what we want to look at is not stopping promotions per se but stopping promotions that are about the provision of alcohol. If you bought two large glasses of white wine and got free olives or free nuts, or something of that kind, that might well be a nice balancing act.
Chairman: I do not think there will be queues around the block!
Q30 Helen Southworth: In terms of those kinds of promotions, do you think they support or undermine policies that say you should not have opened alcohol transported round the town centre? If you have your two glasses of wine and you get the rest of the bottle free you cannot actually carry it anywhere if there is a policy that says you do not have open alcohol around specific parts of the town centre?
Councillor White: I presume they give you the bottle and you take it to your table or wherever you are.
Q31 Helen Southworth: So you drink it?
Councillor White: Yes. I do not think it would make any difference to that policy.
Q32 Helen Southworth: It seems to make quite a difference in terms of how people perceive things. If you give them a sealed bottle of alcohol that you can take away and drink at your own leisure there is a difference from giving something you have to drink there and then. You have to drink it there and then and you are going to consume it.
Councillor Theobald: I think we have said this once or twice in this evidence, but buying cans of alcohol and promotions of those sorts can be just as dangerous because young people can get all these cans.
Q33 Mr Hall: In the evidence we have got in front of us there are only two licensed outlets in the whole of the UK that drink 24 hours a day. Is that correct?
Councillor White: I believe that is correct, yes.
Q34 Mr Hall: The whole concept of this is 24-hour drinking across the whole of the UK but in fact it is two particular pubs in one particular location. My local authority with the police authority produced a paper which is aimed at going back to dispersal from having town centres as a location for drinking and dispersing people back to the communities where they come from so that they drink in their own communities. In this particular strategy they are also trying to make the price an important factor of where people drink, but that would have an impact on the restaurant trade in the town centres in my constituency. I see it as slightly incompatible. Is it feasible to disperse drinking into outlying areas rather than concentrated in town centres?
Mr Quin: I think there is some evidence that has
certainly come out of some of the northern cities. I was talking with people in
Q35 Mr Hall: This is primarily aimed at the weekend trade every weekend of the year?
Mr Quin: I am not convinced that you will change that. I think what you may find though is that those people who want to party will still go to the big town centre or the big city centre; but maybe those who are slightly older who were previously only going there because it was a place they could drink a little bit later may stay more locally. I think it is still too early in this whole position to look and say, "Have we achieved all we set out to achieve? Has there been the testing of the flexibility and changes?" Certainly from my side, we have lots of inbound visits from around the world looking at town centre management, because we are the largest organisation in the world; and the consistent message I get when they arrive is they have heard about 24-hour drinking, they come to Westminster and they struggle to drink after eleven o'clock anywhere apart from in their hotel, so they go, "What's going on?"
Q36 Mr Hall: The other part of the strategy is related to age. Some people are suggesting you should reduce the drinking age to 16. My local authority and police propose you should increase it to 21. Is there any consensus around this? Is it a very controversial area?
Mr Quin: I am not sure there is consensus.
Councillor Theobald: I have a personal view but that has certainly not been canvassed.
Q37 Mr Hall: Would it be possible to increase the drinking age to 21?
Theobald: They do in the
Councillor White: Only if you want to give a message that drinking is a forbidden fruit. That seems a very good way of doing it.
Q38 Mr Hall: On the process itself, there is an issue that the LGA have said that the new Licensing Act has actually streamlined the position, brought in lots of people networking around it; part of the beer trade have said it is actually a good move; but other people are saying that the new application process is bureaucratic and overbearing. Where are we?
Councillor White: I think simultaneously all are true.
Q39 Mr Hall: Can that be?
Councillor White: It could be better, and indeed we welcome the DCMS's simplification of the application forms, for instance, which were too long and were paper-based to an on-line application - all these things can help. I think it has been a problem for those bodies which really were not touched by licensing legislation at all in the past like schools. Work needs to be done but, by and large, we are happier where we are now.
Q40 Mr Hall: This concern that it is bureaucratic - is this just in the first-year application and it gets simpler afterwards?
Councillor White: Yes.
Councillor Theobald: Things have changed slightly. It was very, very prescriptive. If you made just one slight mistake you had to go back again.
Q41 Mr Hall: That was my next question. How many of these application forms originally submitted are actually accurate, and how much help do local authorities have to give to applicants to make sure that they get them right in the first go?
Mr Crowley: I did check up on this one beforehand. Ours are running at 65% with mistakes in, of which 30-35 ------
Q42 Mr Hall: 65% with mistakes?
Mr Crowley: Yes, of which 30-35% of those are filled in by professionals employed by the applicant.
Q43 Mr Hall: How much is this costing local authorities to put right? Is this a burden that really ought to be dealt with?
Mr Crowley: It is a burden but I do understand that DCMS are looking at the application forms and trying to simplify them and we would certainly welcome that.
Q44 Alan Keen: Can I talk about the inconsistencies between different local authorities. We have covered quite a bit of them, I think. Could I ask you: what would you like to change if you were able to put forward one or two suggestions for us? We are in the very early stages of this. We have all got preconceptions obviously because we do tend to drink now and again, different members of the Committee, I am sure, but as experts who are involved in it day-to-day what would you like to see changed to improve things, first of all, on the applications, the administration of bureaucracy?
Mr Crowley: In relation to the application process, simplified forms. In relation to other aspects of the licensing act I would say that licensing authority officers have the ability to apply for a review of a licence. Thirdly, we are suffering significantly with human resources. The fees have not risen at all and we are now losing staff.
Councillor Theobald: The Temporary Event Notices is an important one - to look at that one. There is still a perception out there that it is difficult for local authorities to refuse extensions to the early hours of the morning because the licensing objectives are quite tight. There is that perception, but how you change that is obviously more difficult.
Councillor White: I go back to fees again. We reckon that local government is now out of
pocket by £100 million, which obviously is subsidised by cutting back on other
services or increasing the Council Tax, and that is £5 a head. We would like a fee system which actually reflected
cost. We do not want to make money out
of this, but we know for instance a festival like
Mr Quin: I would entirely support that latter point. I think the other thing in one way I would like to see is to go back at times to the actual aspirations when this was brought forward, and say that we were trying to create (albeit it got trashed at the time) this concept of café culture. We may not be equipped as Britons necessarily to engage fully in café culture but I think we should think about not just freezing where we are now but looking as we go forward how do we take the lessons we have learned, how do we take the new management approach, the new partnership approach and perhaps allow things to develop a little more in certain locations.
Q45 Alan Keen: You have moved us on a long way forward. This is something which I particularly cared about. Going a step further, you are the experts that deal with the bread and butter aspect of it, dealing with the balance between people wanting to enjoy themselves and local residents. Going even further than that, do you find you get engaged by the Department of Health on public health? We know for virtually every disease the figures are tumbling down apart from liver - liver problems in young people are escalating. Do you get engaged by the Department of Health for your advice on this? We are not going back to the 1920s and banning alcohol, and you are the ones who are really quite expert at this. How do we persuade young people particularly not to drink as much without damaging that? Do you get involved or do you feel frustrated that you are not engaged in it by authorities who deal with health?
Theobald: We take this extremely
seriously. We are actually commissioning
a health impact assessment. There are
200 deaths every year in
Mr Quin: I think there are examples across the country in a number of the major cities now. The health authority is working closely with the local authority and with city centre management and others to draw attention to this and then to reach into universities and other places particularly to make awareness of the dangers of binge drinking, particularly, apparent. I guess it will always be a challenge because as we know, we are seeing it with sexually transmitted diseases as well, certain sections of society are not necessarily listening. We have to think perhaps how we engage them in the process so we are not telling them to do something - we are not acting as parents in a way - but we are actually there in a way where they feel that there is a responsibility on them.
Q46 Alan Keen: I think you went on the defensive. I was not accusing you of not doing your job. I was really asking should the Department of Health be doing more to engage with you for your advice, because you do know an awful lot about this?
Councillor White: Some of that happens already because we of course at local levels talk to PCTs and this work goes on, but more must be done to try and make sure there is a better attitude to alcohol in our society. It was interesting that you touched on universities. I heard yesterday of someone who drank themselves to death at a university in this country very recently in the last few days in a freshers' week. The concept of the freshers' week is drinking too much, staying up too late and all these other things, which we all felt was a bit of a laugh when we were doing it. It is not a bit of a laugh and we have all collectively got to grow up a little in this country otherwise we are not going to get the café culture which I sincerely hope we can start to develop.
Q47 Helen Southworth: What do you think about free tap water in pubs and clubs? Would you like to see it happen? Should this be something we take up nationally?
Mr Crowley: Yes, and to a certain degree it is available generally speaking already if it is asked for. It may not be on display but I know very few licensed premises that will refuse you a glass of water if you ask for it.
Councillor White: I think you would have to go further. One of the reasons why you need water on tap is ecstasy and similar drugs. Whilst we do not approve of that sort of thing, it goes on. If it is not freely available - which probably means on the table and in the loos - then you are going to get people dehydrating themselves to the point of critical illness.
Q48 Alan Keen: In relation to Helen's question, I often ask, when I am drinking beer and buying a round, for a pint of iced water. I have never been refused and never been charged.
Mr White: I like the Greek habit of water with coffee and I have even been to a Greek place where they brought water with Coca-Cola. It is the healthy way forward but it requires changing hearts and mind.
Q49 Chairman: Can I put to you some submissions we have had regarding the attitude of local authorities to particular forms of entertainment. I do not want to suggest that local authorities are killjoys but it was put to us that some local authorities view the position of live music as essentially creating public order problems and, equally, that they are pretty hostile to the whole concept of circuses. What is your impression of how local authorities view live music and circus performances?
Mr White: Live music is, like anything else which is an attraction in licensed premises, potentially a public order problem. If you start from that point of view, then it becomes clear what you must do. For public order problems, it behoves local authorities to find public order solutions, which is one of the reasons why working in partnership works so well. An instance in my own division is of a pub which caused an enormous problem: there were huge complaints from local residents before the legislation came in, because it was a live music venue, it had a back room especially for it, and all the tribute bands that you could imagine were there and are there. Since there has been better co-operation between that landlord and the licensing authority, the doormen are there, they are enforcing that people do not drink outside after , they are making sure the doors are closed, and that means that we have a great live music venue - and another one down the road. I think that is the normal attitude of local authorities. Clearly there have been arguments - and we are aware of the report as well - but I would not want you to think there is a general problem in local authorities not approving of live music.
Mr Theobald: On the question of circuses, where the local authority licenses all its parks and such like it is obviously easier. I think the point you are getting at really is that a circus which travels around has to fill out lots of different licences, and maybe one could look at something like a portable licence so that they could be licensed. Certainly in my part of the world, where we do have circuses, they are on council-licensed land, so it is not a problem.
Q50 Chairman: You are not aware of the concern that has been quite widely expressed within the circus industry?
Mr Theobald: I have heard that, and that is why I say - the question of them having to fill out an application everywhere they go can be quite tedious and expensive - perhaps there could be a portable licence of some kind.
Mr White: There needs to be something special, because the legislation is aimed at pubs, clubs and premises which do not move around, and they are different from that.
Mr Crowley: In relation to live music, I
have canvassed the
Q51 Chairman: I think the concern expressed previously was that venues which previously offered live music under the two-in-the-bar rule have not taken up the opportunity to continue by applying for a premises licence.
Mr Crowley: It is not reflected in
Q52 Philip Davies: Geoffrey, you mentioned the Elton Report in passing. He proposed a 7% increase fees and a £43 million reimbursement to local authorities. Have you had any indications from the Government that they will look favourably on that report and implement it?
Mr Theobald: I have been led to believe by successive ministers that local authorities would have their costs reimbursed for implementing, that implementing the Act and running it would not cost local authorities it would be fully reimbursed. We then got the Elton Report, where he came forward, as you rightly say, with £43 million and we are still awaiting. We at least assumed, given that this was an independent person who went into this very thoroughly, that that £43 million would come to the local councils and that they would be enabled to increase the fees in the way he said. The difference in costs has now increased, of course, since that time.
Mr White: I have raised this with ministers on a number of occasions. Certainly we are not being rebuffed, and we are told that it is being looked into and something will be done, but that has been over a long period of time now.
Q53 Philip Davies: He talked about increasing the fees, you have talked about increasing fees. Lots of smaller sporting clubs, for example, and other organisations locally, complain to me that the fees already are too high and that it is barely worth their while and they can barely cope with the fee structure as it is. Are you not sympathetic to those smaller community groups who find that the licence fees already are excessive?
Mr Theobald: Yes, but I think you will find that the very big establishments could well be paying less now than they were under the previous regime.
Mr White: Going back to my example of
Q54 Philip Davies: How does that work? How would anybody know what they were likely to be paying beforehand for their licence if it was on a cost-recovery basis? Would it not be rather excessive, the cost in itself, of auditing it all?
Mr White: What would happen is that the local authority would publish a scale of fees which was its best estimate of how to recover its costs in a particular year and the scheme as a whole would be audited. In other words, you would not be into a guessing game of putting in for a licence and then getting a bill sent from the local authority which was analysed like a solicitor's bill or something like that. It would be on a scale, and that scale would be reviewed on a regular basis and that review itself would be audited, perhaps on a random basis.
Q55 Philip Davies: Rather than an overall increase in the fees, would it not be better to try to find a way of reducing the costs?
Mr White: We would want to do both, hence some of the suggestions we are making. For instance, debt recovery would reduce the costs quite spectacularly, we believe.
Mr Crowley: I would mention the fee regime under the Gambling Act, where fees are set at a minimum and maximum level and the local authority fixes the fee within that minimum and maximum level according to their own cost recovery. The fees, minimum and maximum, are set by DCMS but the local authority has some discretion within that band.
Mr Theobald: You talk about reducing costs, but bear in mind that there are people out there who say there should be more noise patrols, more enforcement, more partnership working. All these sorts of things do not come cheap, as it were.
Chairman: Thank you. We need to move on to the next part of our session. Could I thank all four of you very much.
Memoranda submitted by Association of Chief Police Officers and Police Federation
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Commander Simon O'Brien, Chief Inspector Adrian Studd, Association of Chief Police Officers, Mr Simon Reed, and, Mr George Gallimore, Police Federation, gave evidence.
Chairman: We now turn to the view of
the police. Can I welcome from ACPO Commander Simon O'Brien and Chief Inspector
Adrian Studd, and from the Police Federation Vice-Chairman Simon Reed and
George Gallimore, the Representative of Inspectors in the
Q56 Mr Sanders: Would you agree with the role of the police in making the licensing system work is really one of event management, in co-ordination with others, as much as enforcement?
Mr O'Brien: Broadly, that is probably about right. Clearly our role is enforcement when breaches come to light. There is also a very important part for us now to play in problem-solving our way through some of the issues that come out of town centre management. Yes, in partnership we can do both of those ends of the scale.
Q57 Mr Sanders: Is there significant benefit in police and local government licensing teams being co-located or local authorities consulting with police forces on their statements of licensing policy? Should this not be standard practice?
Mr Studd: In relation to the
consultation, the local authority have to consult with the police, as the
responsible authority, on their statement of policy, so that does go on. Of course, it is crucial that it does happen. In my experience, it does happen. In relation to the co-location, there are
obviously a number of police forces across the country where some of the
licensing officers are co-located. In
Mr O'Brien: I think we will get to a point, as we did before the current legislation, where we are legislating our way through certain problems, but I also believe very clearly, not just from this piece of legislation but the Crime and Disorder Act in general, that working more closely with partners and getting upstream of some of these problems is where we should be going. Certainly my experience of working in partnership is that if we can look at what is the licensing position of a particular authority, where we can get a bit more teeth into that, into giving a bit of a view about what we think a town centre might look and feel like at night, that is a very useful place to be, and therefore we are not necessarily moving in there to enforce some of the activities that later happen. I certainly think, generally speaking, the way that you have brought a number of different pieces of legislation together under this particular Licensing Act has been positive. I think the number of the powers that we now have under this Act is positive. I also think that it was a little about culture change in our country. The future may look a lot more at how we get that change in culture, and we may not be able to legislate our way through that: that is more about working in partnership and problem-solving our way through that.
Q58 Mr Sanders: Can I ask you what your view is of temporary event notices, and the role you have to play in the fact that the public have no opportunity to have their say, either directly or through their elected representatives?
Mr Studd: Temporary event notices do cause us concern for a number of reasons. For a start, the 48-hour response time that the police have is completely inadequate. Once the notice is issued by the person who wants the event, the police have 48 hours then to respond. I think it has been touched on already that if that comes in on a Friday evening, the time has already gone by the time the licensing officer is back on the Monday morning. It is often addressed to the Chief Officer of Police, so by the time it has gone through Scotland Yard and gone out to wherever it is going, again two days has clearly gone. We would certainly be looking, for example, for five working days as an example. In relation to the grounds of objection, again that does cause us concern, that the police are the only ones who can object. Of course, it is not a matter of the local authority even being able to consider an application, because it is not an application: somebody merely issues the notice and, unless the police object, the event goes ahead. We very much think that it should be open to others to have a view, around the democratic process of residents and people like that, and be allowed to consider it in relation to a broader remit than just crime and disorder.
Q59 Helen Southworth: You might have heard earlier that in my town centre I have one of the highest densities of pubs and clubs in the country, so I take a very keen interest in the management of the night time economy. Could you perhaps describe what you think a local authority needs to be able to do in terms of its licensing policy for an area and in terms of things like cumulative impact areas, but, also, the broader issues around the management of individual premises, so that it can work effectively?
Mr O'Brien: It would be very useful if, in designing a place at the town centre, we look at how many, for example, vertical drinking premises there might be in a particular location, and then how and when they might start to turn out at a particular time. I think that could be done much more in a consultation and voluntary arrangement between different premises. There is a real issue, if we did talk about - and it was perhaps dismissed earlier - a café culture, in relation to what does that town centre look like at what time in the evening. Perhaps it is not just considering what the town centre looks like at three o'clock in the morning - frankly, an awful lot of places have never looked that good at three o'clock in the morning when there has been that amount of drinking going on - but what it feels like at six, seven, eight, nine o'clock in the evening. I think that a greater degree of planning, forethought, and the ability for local authorities, MPs and others to have more of a say and objections on some of that could be quite a useful way to go forward.
Mr Reed: The nature of licensed premises has changed as well. Previously we had pubs, traditional pubs, and we heard earlier about the changes that have been made within town centres. Lately we have seen the growth of far larger pubs, mainly with several floors, with thousands of patrons in them, and there is an issue about how we cope with those. We have also seen that a number of these complexes have grown up in towns, often on the edges of towns, where you will have nightclubs, bars, cinemas and restaurants all within the same complex, and, again, holding thousands of people. They themselves are a challenge in terms of policing and moving people around, and if disorder breaks out, in getting officers to them. We are seeing the nature of licensed premises themselves change considerably, not necessarily just in relation to the Act but just over the last ten or 15 years.
Q60 Helen Southworth: In terms of the Licensing Act there is a very strong focus on individual premises: how it is managed, who the licensee is, what operates there. If you are looking at how people work in a town centre, they go from place to place. In policing terms, an awful lot of issues and events happen outside the individual licensed premises. Do you think the Act needs to take that more into account, to ensure that the public space between licensed premises is brought into consideration as well?
Mr Studd: It is quite difficult for local authorities to plan the town centre, because they have very few powers available for them to do it. The license is seen as a property, and if somebody applies for a licence and they tick the right boxes, it is difficult for the local authority to say that they cannot have it. There are the cumulative impact areas and things like that which are relating to the policies, but clearly they are regularly challenged and sometimes successfully. What drives the market is what drives the premises that are going to be there. I know from my experience that people say to me, "We would like to give it over to such and such an operation, but the people who have the high volume vertical drinkers are willing to pay more for the rent and more for the lease". Inevitably, if it is market driven, they are the ones who get it. I think this has been a bit of a problem in the larger town and city centres. We touched on earlier some of the premises which have come up, banks and places like that, and really the only people who are going to pay the premium rates are the people who can sell a lot of alcohol, and if you are selling a lot of alcohol you are getting a lot of young people through the door. They are the people who drink a lot.
Mr Gallimore: I should imagine that the street drinking ban has been very useful. In the transition between licensed premises, that does not mean that you take your glass or your bottle from the last one. Working with door staff on that has been a good move. It should always be part and parcel of any planning, of how your town centre works when you are town planning.
Q61 Helen Southworth: You have led me on to the next question: If you have a street drinking ban, what do you think about places which say that if you buy two glasses of wine you get the rest of the bottle free, but that means you have to drink it before you go out of the door?
Mr Gallimore: It is difficult to say, because they are a private enterprise and we know that they are in it to make money. At the end of the day, they are a business, but with that they have to be responsible. I do not know who would decide what is sensible promotion - I suppose that is for other people in the Licensing Authority. But if you get them to drink too much too quickly they are going to cause problems, not necessarily in your establishment but possibly the next one down the road when they move down there, so excessive quick drinking should not be encouraged.
Mr O'Brien: On that particular point, obviously you would look at how many people are going to share that particular sale. For example, with a bottle of wine there may be two or three people drinking it. The fundamental point - and I think it is something that we can more visibly enforce - is that if someone is walking around with an open vessel (a) they have probably committed some offence under the Theft Act or (b) We have the power to stop that person and confiscate that. That tends to be much more of a black and white position in which the police can involve themselves. In terms of pricing structures in a freely available and lawful commodity, it becomes much more difficult for us to have some enforcement view there.
Q62 Helen Southworth: How much do you think needs to be about enforcement and how much about better management in the first place?
Mr O'Brien: Before the Act there would be problems where people drank far too much and there would be problems with certain people that did not manage their premises particularly well. I think the Act has given us some significant powers, which I think we have used very sensibly and we will continue to do so. I think, frankly, that enforcement is only one part of what we need to be doing. I think the whole view about our consumption of alcohol in this country probably needs a broader look at. That whole culture change might not come from enforcement, but could come, as we have seen with smoking and other areas, through health and education. I think that is an area we need to be focused on in the future.
Q63 Helen Southworth: Is this something, in your experience, in which there is currently sufficient involvement from health agencies in town centres, for example? Or do you think that is something that needs to be worked on? I have an example of a meeting with the owners of licensed premises in my constituency. We began it with a presentation from the consultants at A&E, who gave graphic demonstrations of injuries that had been caused to people in our own town on a Friday and Saturday night. The impact of that was very considerable. People who had not experienced it and who did not realise what was happening to people when they were outside the doors were given it very graphically. Do you think we need to do more of that sort of thing?
Mr O'Brien: Certainly there have been
some very good examples and I think we are working much more closely with
colleagues in health, both in acute trusts and the primary care sector. In
Q64 Paul Farrelly: I am the Member of Parliament for Newcastle-upon-Lyme which is a town in the Midlands, and like every town we have lots of pubs and we have the occasional problem of badly run pubs, particularly with respect to drug dealing. The latest antisocial behaviour problem concerns yobbos watching live Stoke City matches via a satellite signal that is supposed to go to Norway but comes into my town, and these pubs are co-run by a conservative councillor locally, which is quite an interesting problem and not just for the police. By far the major concern I have had about licensing in recent years was to do with the licensing of a lap dancing club in our town. There the police could not object because there were no crime and disorder problems. In fact, the police say that the people who go in there are generally far better behaved than the people drinking late at night in pubs. Of course people locally are looking for the police and licensing committees to make moral decisions. Has this issue caused you and problems? Would you like to see a separate licensing regime allowing some more local democratic involvement for what you might call adult entertainment?
Mr Studd: It is quite a difficult one. The Police Service has grappled with it over recent years, since it was introduced about ten or 15 years ago. I think you are right when you say that often people look for a moral decision on it, which is something that it is very difficult for the police or local authorities to make. I guess there are only two distinctions. It is either entertainment, in which case it comes under the Licensing Act, or it is sexual encounter, in which case it has a separate licence. A number of local authorities have their own sex encounter licences, and that brings in a much more rigid campaign. They obviously get much more substantial fees, anything up to £30,000 a year, which allows them to visit the premises, and to monitor it and regulate it in that way. If it is just public entertainment - which is what they say it is - it is ordinary dancing and it falls within that same unit as a public house. It is very difficult to know what else can be done in relation to regulating it. It is true to say that there is no evidence that they cause any crime and disorder. Very rarely. They tend to be fairly well run and they tend to have a fairly high staff ratio to customers. The people who tend to go there tend to be a bit older, so they do not drink so excessively and cause the crime and disorder problems outside.
Q65 Mr Farrelly: Would it simplify things if anything to do with nudity were brought under the sexual encounter regime?
Mr Studd: What is nudity? Some lap dancing clubs take the G-string - well, they call it a G-string: you would be hard pushed to see it but they would say there is a G-string - and say that therefore they are not nude and therefore it is entertainment. There is the three foot rule, but where is the three foot? Is it from the dancer's hair or their body or their feet? When are they touching and when are they not touching? With the best will in the world, when you get into the fine detail of it - as we have tried to do on a couple of occasions - it is incredibly difficult and you get into all sorts of arguments when you are trying to review their licence or revoke their licence around those sorts of issues.
Q66 Mr Farrelly: Does anybody else have any thoughts?
Mr O'Brien: No, I think
Q67 Mr Hall: Could we explore the correlation between the Licensing Act 2003 and the level of crime in the night economy? Since the passing of the Act has it got better, got worse, or is it about the same?
Mr O'Brien: Generally it has been pretty neutral. We have probably seen some rise in disorder, we have seen some rise in violence at certain hours of the evening, but there has not been any major spike in crime that we could directly associate with the differences in times that premises are staying open until. As the previous witnesses have given you evidence, there has been a generally neutral view on the recorded statistics. Clearly we are also very much aware that many issues of violence may not necessarily be reported either to us or to our colleagues in the local health authority. But we must work with what we had before, and the statistics that we had before and the statistics that we have had afterwards have not necessarily changed that much.
Q68 Mr Hall: Is it a fair comparison to say that now we have this Act it should have an effect on law and order in the night economy? Or is it something we have just in the general population?
Mr Reed: Could I come back to your previous question about the recording. Crime recording is a process and it is how that is interpreted. This Act coincided with the introduction of the police notices of disorder, so they were an alternative disposal to deal with some of these disorder issues. They may be masking some issues. There was an earlier question regarding the health authorities, and I think a good barometer is often the accident and emergency departments because there you see the true level of violence that has occurred - often violence that we never know about. It is often very difficult to compare different times, because there have been changes in legislation and there have probably been changes in the way we have policed as well.
Mr Studd: I think the most comprehensive review was the Home Office review which was conducted last year. That pretty much corresponds with the anecdotal evidence that I get when I speak to people across the country, which is that the levels of crime and disorder remain broadly the same but, across the whole piece, disorder and violent crime has decreased slightly in the early evening but increased later into the morning. Between and there has been an increase, and in relation to violent crime quite a marked increase (albeit it is only a fairly small percentage of the crime during the day). But, whilst you can trot out all the statistics and say that it has not gone up an awful lot, I guess the impact of that really has been that it has quite a drastic impact on police resourcing and the way that the police have to be managed, because, instead of being able to allow officers to go home at 12.00 or one o'clock in the morning before, when you then were able to bring them on eight hours later, they are on until three, four or five in the morning and it makes it more difficult then to bring them on in the morning. Inevitably that has an impact, with limited resources, on the visible presence of police officers during the day, so I think that is quite a significant impact overall.
Q69 Mr Hall: We have nothing from the Home Office survey. Those conclusions are, broadly, that it is too soon to tell.
Mr Studd: They did produce the report last year. It is difficult to tell for a number of reasons, not least because coinciding with the introduction of the Act in November 2005 was the first of the alcohol misuse enforcement campaigns. Since then, there have been a number of those and a number of underage sales campaigns, and probably in excess of £5 million poured into those in extra resourcing for the police, to ensure that the police are out there doing additional activity around licensing. Inevitably that I going to have skewed the figures. With all the other work that has gone on, it is quite difficult to compare like for like. The Home Office study was probably the most accurate.
Q70 Mr Hall: It is not a fair expectation to think that we can bring the Licensing Act 2003 on to the statue book and that should therefore have an effect on law and order in the night economy? That is not a fair assessment.
Mr Studd: No. As we have discussed, it is a much broader issue really than just enforcement. The police have been locking up drunks for a couple of hundred years and people still getting drunk. It needs a lot more work than that. I think there are good things about the Act which do help and have helped the police, and there are also other areas which still need work.
Mr Reed: I want to put some more emphasis on this issue of policing. We are bringing officers on later, to work later into the early hours. Whereas, previously, most of the disorder was finished by about , now it is plus and onwards sometimes. The impact is that police officers are being moved from what they would have been doing the previous day and often the next day to cope.
Q71 Mr Hall: This impacts across the shift.
Mr Reed: Absolutely. In town centres and city centres, as weekends have other venues such as football matches getting on, the resources are really being stretched, because you cannot always call on other officers who perhaps have been doing other venues. At times, policing is really stretched - probably more so in the smaller towns than it is in the bigger cities. My knowledge of some small market towns is that, on occasions, they are the Wild West, because they really are stripped of resources.
Q72 Alan Keen: My local authority is the Cheshire Police Authority. In the northern part of my constituency we have Holton Borough Council. It has produced a report on an alcohol strategy which is aimed at dispersing the drinking culture out of the town centres in the northern part of the constituency and back into their own communities through a pricing mechanism which would prohibit the sale of very strong alcohol and increase the price of alcohol available at retail outlets in the town centres and increase the drinking age to 21. A lot of that will require primary legislation if it is to be put in place. Do you have a take on this? You are closest to it, George. Which part of Manchester are you from?
Q73 Mr Hall: I assume you are a Manchester City fan. I thought you might be from Ashton-under-Lyme.
Mr Gallimore: No, I used to work there. The difficulty for me is how far you go in controlling people's night time habits themselves, by saying that they have to be a certain age not to drink and trying to deter you from the town centre. A lot of town centres have struggled to survive because of business getting thin anyway. Certain licensed premises have gone to the wall because they cannot get the business anyway. Really, I suppose, it is how you control business. I suppose that is the main thing for me. With policing, the more you spread it out, the harder it is to cover. If you have a drinks ban on the street and then a drinks ban in nine town centres instead of one, who is going to enforce the ban for you? When you cannot enforce it, it becomes meaningless: then they know you are not going to get challenged if you are walking with a drink. It is being manageable, for me. You have to be able to afford it and make it effective. The worry of having what you said is that every little centre could have a night time economy, and I do not think we could police that.
Q74 Mr Hall: What about raising the drinking age to 21? Is there a police view on that?
Mr Studd: We did a survey on that
recently from the 43 police forces across
Q75 Mr Hall: Would that be Cheshire?
Mr Studd: I cannot remember off the top of my head. A couple thought it might be a good idea to raise the age for purchase of off-sale to 21. There were only two or three of those, but, generally, it was felt that the status quo was probably the best and that it would cause too much difficulty trying to go through any sort of change of process and it would not achieve an awful lot. Challenge 21, which no doubt you have heard about ----
Q76 Mr Hall: It is a good scheme.
Mr Studd: Yes, it is a very good scheme. It is the one which ACPO promote very
actively. I know that some places
are doing their own Challenge 25, and I think that if you go to some places in
Q77 Mr Hall: Asda do a Challenge 25.
Mr Studd: Yes. From an ACPO point of view, we would encourage people merely to do the Challenge 21, because it keeps it simple across the country. Everyone can readily understand it and the signage is the same. An important part of it is the signage which all the premises agree to put up. That in itself was quite a challenge, because some of the larger supermarkets said, "We can't put that up because it is not corporate. We need to have our corporate colours and we do not have orange" or "we do not have blue." It was quite difficult getting them just to agree to put up a sign. That is one of the reasons we would encourage Challenge 21. Those sorts of schemes I think are probably as effective as trying to alter the drinking age.
Q78 Mr Hall: What about a ban on the sale of strong alcohol?
Mr O'Brien: To come back to your previous
point, I think that, again, we are perhaps legislating our way into what is a
problem of culture. In terms of
location, spreading out the issues from a town centre, that perhaps comes back
to the earlier point of how we can manage the shaping of that town centre in
the first place and how we change the atmosphere in that particular
location. In terms of raising the age or
lowering the age, in many ways, if you can get people to drink responsibly I
think that 18 is an age where people have reached an age to make some adult
decisions. I certainly think that if you
have a proportionate joined-up strategy of a location, then it can be that
maybe you would advise and have some voluntary agreement about what strength of
alcohol you would serve in particular bars and how you would price that. I am sure that even the big industries would
not necessarily want to put Stella
Q79 Helen Southworth: I have had quite a lot of meetings with licensees in my constituency. One of the things they have said to me that they are sometimes influenced by to carry out practices that they would prefer not to because if they do not they will lose their jobs. Do you think that is a wider spread issue?
Mr Studd: Do you mean influenced by their employers?
Q80 Helen Southworth: Yes.
Mr Studd: Somebody has already said that a pub or club is a business, and I think it is true to say that the primary purpose of them is to make money for the shareholders. Our primary purpose, obviously, is around responsibility and preventing crime and disorder. There is sometimes that friction there. Yes, if times are hard, inevitably the pressure is going to be on them to sell more alcohol, to make money. They are generally judged on and get their performance pay on now how socially responsible they are but how much they have sold and what their turnover is.
Q81 Helen Southworth: Do you think there should be a focus on premises which have a high turnover of licensees?
Mr O'Brien: We have a lawfully available substance that the whole industry is dealing with. I think it is slightly dangerous to comment on what could be an anecdotal issue of people saying they are being pressurised. If that is your business, to sell a particular commodity, I am sure there is some inducement on you in that industry. If it becomes irresponsible, and you are pushing drink down the throats of young people or people who are obviously drunk, then their responsibility as responsible licence-holders is to say, "I won't be serving that person any more." When do we get a transgression of the law which should interest the police or other authorities, I think it really comes down to how you make sure that all your staff are trained to know when to make that distinction, and therefore the pressure does not come to bear because they can say that that is against the law and they will not do that.
Q82 Helen Southworth: Would you be in favour of a code of conduct on the drinks industry so that this is dealt with corporately by the drinks industry?
Mr O'Brien: If we can get the drinks industry to agree with certain codes of conduct, that would be very, very helpful. I think we have to be proportionate about what we are asking of them and when, at what location. We talked about polycarbonate earlier. I am sure that is a very useful way to go to try to reduce injuries, but is it right that we do that in every single premises at every time? I really do believe that if we can sit down with the key stakeholders and see exactly where they are coming from and what their motivation is. I can generally see that through negotiation we get some accommodating position. I think everyone would want to see responsible drinking, lawful drinking, in town centres where people feel comfortable and safe. That is our aim. I am sure it will be the aim of many of the people promoting the selling of alcohol.
Q83 Helen Southworth: In terms of the review process, are there any issues about how long it might take to get through the process?
Mr Studd: It can take quite a long time. It can be quite a frustrating process, certainly, particularly because the premises remain open throughout the process. They obviously are aware at that stage that they are being put under close scrutiny, so for that six, eight, ten weeks, they are going to improve their standards as much as they can, even if it has an impact on their business short-term. More often, the review process goes in favour of the police or whoever has called for the review, but it then comes to the appeal and at that stage there is a complete rehearing in front of either the panel or, if it is at the court, the magistrates, and they say, "Well, we can only judge it on how it is operating now, and, as of now, it is operating fine" and so they are allowed to continue. Then, of course, the potential is there for it to slide back to operating as it was previously, and the whole process would have to start again.
Q84 Helen Southworth: The point of the review was that it was supposed to be able to give a quick response and did not involve taking the entire license away. What sort of length of time?
Mr Studd: It is difficult to give any specific length of time, but certainly six to eight weeks would be common. It is meant to be quick and simple but when you have big businesses with lots of money invested in there, they are going to be protecting their interests. If it is in their interests to delay it, they are going to ensure that they pay top quality barristers to delay it.
Q85 Helen Southworth: Is that six to eight weeks from the beginning to the end of appeal?
Mr Studd: No. That is just to the initial review.
Q86 Helen Southworth: And what length of time would it be to an appeal?
Mr Studd: Then another six to eight weeks to have the appeal hearing.
Q87 Helen Southworth: If Christmas was coming up, which is the main sales period for lots of pubs and clubs ----
Mr Studd: They could easily string it out to beyond Christmas.
Q88 Philip Davies: Could I put an entirely different premises to you from the one that has been put to you so far: that the vast majority of people in this country drink responsibly and the vast majority of young people in this country drink responsibly, and that, rather than penalising the entire country by preventing them doing this, that and the other and going about their perfectly legitimate daily, lawful business, and rather than preventing people from buying things at a reasonable price and forcing them to pay far more for it than they otherwise would, we would be better off effectively punishing the ones who create disorder in the streets.
Mr O'Brien: I think the legislation is framed in that way. Clearly we are looking to take to task those people who transgress the law. I completely agree with you: the vast majority of people in this country will drink responsibly and the vast majority of retailers will sell drink responsibly, but you will get those places - and that is where we are talking about town centres at certain times of the night - where people are not behaving responsibly and possibly people have not sold drinks responsibly. We are not frightened to take on that enforcement activity. Albeit that it brings us some resourcing issues, we will continue to do that.
Q89 Philip Davies: Would you not accept that, even when alcohol is being sold cheaply and at any particular time of the night, still the vast majority of people at any one moment in any city centre or any town centre are acting responsibly, and the vast majority of people are behaving responsibly and that, therefore, the police, rather than forcing everybody to pay more for their alcohol than they otherwise would or trying to force everybody into some kind of restriction, should be focusing their attention on those people creating fisticuffs late at night and not worry about all the other people?
Mr O'Brien: I think I have made it very clear that we can legislate our way through some of these things or we can look for a culture change in the way that we have drinking in town centres. Clearly we are going to be brought into to deal with the particular small minority of individuals that are causing mayhem, and that is what we deal with in certain town centres at certain times in certain parts of the country.
Q90 Philip Davies: Would you like, therefore, to see magistrates' courts, perhaps, or courts generally, treating disorder issues more seriously when people are put in front of them? Would you like to see tougher sentences for people who are causing problems rather than tougher sentences for people who are not causing problems?
Mr O'Brien: Alcohol as a mitigating factor can be a problem,. Alcohol when it is associated with violence should be an aggravating factor, and therefore it is for our colleagues in the magistracy and others to take that into account.
Mr Studd: If you go to any town or city centre at two or following a Friday or Saturday night, the vast majority of those people have not drunk responsibly: the vast majority of them have drunk to excess, and their behaviour is loud, noisy, antisocial behaviour for the people who are living around there. I guess it is what you call responsible drinking. Certainly if you look at the Department of Health figures and take the Government's view and guidelines, then an awful lot of people do drink irresponsibly, because an awful lot of us do drink more than four units for a man and two or three units for a woman. It depends on what your guideline for responsible is. In town and city centres, if you go out there, an awful lot of people are drinking irresponsibly.
Q91 Philip Davies: In our previous session, Simon Quinn, from the Association of Town Centre Management, said that in his view the more flexible regime of opening and closing hours has led to a spread in the times that people are leaving and that there has been a reduction in antisocial behaviour as a result of that. Is that something that you would recognise or something that you would take issue with?
Mr Reed: For the officers who police that time of day, they would probably have an issue, in that all it has done is to push this closing time further back. We have two closing times. A number of premises will shut at the old traditional time of 11.00 and 11.30 and put a number of people on to the streets then, and probably from onwards those same people are leaving other premises. We now have two dispersal times and one that can go now on until four or in the morning. It may not all result in disorder but it certainly means that it still needs policing. That comes back to us providing the resources to do that.
Q92 Philip Davies: Rather than trying to restrict opening hours or whatever it might be, is the solution not to recognise the fact that we need more police officers? Rather than trying to fiddle about with opening hours, is it not the fact that there needs to be more police officers?
Mr O'Brien: The need for more police officers is something that I would not deny and I would not want to come away from here giving that impression. That would be very nice, thank you. But there are other people who can police those particular town centres and there are other ways we can manage the particular dispersals in those, both in terms of taxi marshals and colleagues on the doors of these premises. Yes, we have to look at the risks that are presented, and whether we have a rise in violence or disorder, we still have a good number of people in a town centre late at night. We would have had that prior to this legislation. We might see more people on the streets now that this legislation is in, but in many ways some of that is for the police to deal with. But I think we can do that in a far more pragmatic way if we do it in partnership with other people, with the licensees, the local authorities and the police offices in those localities as well.
Mr Studd: We are never going to address this by addressing what is really the symptom: the disorder. If we look back to the early eighties, to the issue around football and the state we were in with football, where at most of our first division games, as it was then, there would be hundreds, sometimes thousands of police officers on duty, and we still had the reputation of the most violent fans across the world. That has now changed to the point where we now have very few police officers inside a ground and relatively few outside, and very little disorder. That has been because of working with them - because of the legislation but working in partnership with them, in not just trying to address the disorder which happens but trying to prevent it earlier in the day, and in driving that culture change around the football hooligans and the people who are intent on disorder, using the disguise of there being lots of people there to do that. It is the same with the license issue really: you only need a relatively small number of people causing disorder, being antisocial, but they are anonymous - or they think they are - within the broader context of a town or city centre when there are a lot of people there.
Mr Gallimore: Could I come back to you on the fixed penalty notice? I have dealt over the last three years quite closely with the criminal justice system side. The magistrates complain that they are not seeing enough cases, because a lot of people do not get arrested for drunk and disorder any more but are dealt with for public order and get a fixed penalty notice in the morning when they have sobered up. The magistrates are therefore not getting the chance to punish certain behaviour. They are getting less business to do and they are quite concerned that they are being edged out of the system a little bit on that.
Q93 Alan Keen: I am laughing, because what you have just said reminded me that when I was playing for an army team, years back, at Imber Court against the Met Police, I got my am broken during the game! I want to ask you about live music, but before I do that I wonder if you would expand on one of the answers you gave to Philip Davies. We have all heard in television plays a solicitor saying, "My client would not do this normally but he was affected by drink." I think that is what you were referring to when you mentioned drink being an aggravating factor. Could you expand on what you said before?
Mr O'Brien: It is one of those issues that, if put before the judiciary, may be seen as something suggesting your behaviour perhaps should be forgiven for that. I would have a clear view that certainly in terms of violence, be that domestic violence or violence in a town centre at night, it should definitely be an aggravating factor, and it should be for our colleagues to deal with appropriately at the time.
Mr Reed: We are starting to see a practice now where police officers are wearing cameras on their helmets. There are some pilots that have gone on and the scheme is going to be expanded upon, but I think that has been useful to use in evidence to show the individual and the courts at a later date that he may be wearing a suit and tie now but this was that individual's behaviour on the night in question. It is a sobering thought for everyone that people do behave in quite dreadful ways and blame alcohol for it.
Q94 Alan Keen: We are talking today very much about alcohol licensing and bad behaviour. People are going out in order to get drunk. They cannot claim, "I would not normally do this but I was drunk," because they are going out to do that, so that is very interesting. To come on to live music, the Musicians Union have lobbied me over the years many times, and they say in their submission that Sir Chris Fox, who is a former President of ACPO, wrote to DCMS saying that Kenworth was not to do with drink but just the noise level. He said that people coming to large venues for live music probably have no connection with the area and maybe misbehave more. The Musicians Union, to counter that, did a survey with the police, and that showed that really live music does not bring more trouble. Would you like to expand on that?
Mr O'Brien: Chris certainly had a view at the time when he made those comments. I think you have to be proportionate again and not look at an anecdote. I do not think we can see major statistics that would say that a particular venue playing live music necessarily brings more crime and disorder than another venue that has that amount of footfall going through it. In my view - and I am certainly speaking as the ACPO head here now - we should look at each case as it is. Certainly we now have this as part of this piece of legislation so that we can licence these particular events and I think that is probably a positive step forward.
Q95 Alan Keen: Musicians would like a bit more freedom for people to put on live music for up to 150/200 people maximum, so not the massive events. What are your feelings about that?
Mr Studd: There are two ends of the
spectrum, as we have discussed. At the
top end, the larger premises and the larger events and promotions, we find, are
what cause a lot of the problems. It is
not venue specific; it is specific promotions for groups or whatever you want
to call them. They have their own
followings, sometimes involving gangs, and it is when they are playing at an
event and the followers come together, that you get the problems. At the lower
end of the scale, even 200 people is quite a lot of people. If you think of traditional live music - as
in a pub band or that type of thing - I do not think anyone would say they are
going to cause a big crime and disorder problem, but if it is in a small
village pub with houses close by then I guess there are issues there around
public nuisance and noise nuisance to the residents. Some sort of regulation would give them some
sort of voice. We do have concerns
around the potential for these provisions to be abused. For example, as you
Mr O'Brien: I think it has to be on a case-by-case basis, so that we do not anecdotally say that music events might cause disorder, that certain music events create a certain schism in a particular part, that particular music might attract a sort of crowd. I think we need to deal with issues around music but have a voice in allowing and licensing those particular events.
Chairman: Since we are going to try to squeeze one more quick session in, we should draw to a close. Could I thank you all very much.
Memorandum submitted by The Magistrates' Association
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Mrs Cindy Barnett JP, Chairman, and Professor John Howson JP, Deputy Chairman, The Magistrates' Association, gave evidence.
Chairman: Could I first of all apologise for keeping you waiting quite so long. I hope you have found it interesting. For our final session, we turn to The Magistrates' Association and I welcome Professor John Howson and Mrs Barnett. Philip Davies will begin.
Q96 Philip Davies: Do your members report any trends in the types or numbers of cases involving how alcohol related disorder coming before you since the Act came into force?
Professor Howson: The first thing to realise is that the Act was not a big bang; it was a process or deregulation which came at the end of a series of consequences, probably the first of which and most important of which was the movement of pub entertainment licences from the Magistrates' Court to the local authorities in the late 1980s and the subsequent request by a large number of licence holders who obtained entertainment licences for supper licences to go with them (which would allow them to stay open until or one o'clock at weekends), so that by the time we came to 2005 a very large number of on-licence premises were already open for most of the hours they still are - although, as we have heard in the previous sessions, there are a number of those that have now extended that towards two o'clock, three o'clock or even four o'clock. The other big change was that of the case of the Preston Justices in the late 1990s, when the issue of need for a new licence was raised and courts were effectively told that the need principle no longer applied and selling alcohol was no different from selling shoes; that the markets would compete with each other and it would self-regulate in terms of the number of premises as a commercial decision. Both of those were well in place by the time we got to 2005. Both of those, I think, had produced some of the rise in violence related to alcohol which we saw ahead of the 2005 Act, and may explain why numbers have not gone up significantly, according to reports, since the Act came in but have been spread out, in some cases, with all the resource implications the police talked about, until the early hours of the morning.
Q97 Philip Davies: What about the point the police just made: that in crimes involving alcohol, the alcohol is treated as a mitigating circumstance when sentencing, but it should be treated as an aggravating feature.
Mrs Barnett: It is factually incorrect according to our guidelines. Those are the definitive guidelines to which we have to have regard. They do not tell us what to do, but we have to consider them. Committing an offence while under the influence of either drink or drugs is an aggravating factor. That does not mean that we would not look at each case individually and consider the circumstances. Certainly, if it is a question of the degree of knowledge and mens rea (to use the phrase) it is possible that if somebody is blind drunk we might consider that as one of the factors from the point of view of the seriousness of the offence. Generally speaking, being under the influence is an aggravating factor.
Professor Howson: I think probably the issue is the other one that the police talked about: whether it is treated as a mitigating factor earlier on in the process, before it even gets to us - as to whether or not people are bundled in the back of the ambulance and taken to A&E and not charged or allowed to sleep it off or given a fixed penalty or a penalty notice for disorder rather than being brought to court. We would certainly say that if there is anything that is alcohol related, and violence is involved, that should not be given a fixed penalty or a penalty notice for disorder but should come in front of the court in every occasion. The fact is that 10% of assaults to PCs in some areas are now dealt with by conditional cautions. If there is alcohol involved in that, it should come in front of a court - not least because we have the ancillary orders in terms of being able to ban people from licensed premises.
Q98 Philip Davies: In your evidence you have suggested changing the offence of persistently selling alcohol to a person under 18 from "three strikes and you are out" to "two strikes and you are out". Have either of you ever worked on a check-out?
Professor Howson: We have not suggested that. We believe that is Government policy. We are slightly confused as to whether it is a reinterpretation of the current "three strikes and you are out" in that it is the third strike and you are out, or whether they are intending to bring forward primary legislation to bring alcohol into line with tobacco. You cannot lose your licence for selling tobacco, because there is not one, but presumably you would lose your licence on two from the point of view of selling alcohol. We are slightly confused about that, but we understood that is what the Government are thinking about and not us.
Q99 Philip Davies: In my experience, most retailers do try to stop people buying alcohol under the age of 18 - often in very difficult circumstances, I might add, and under lots of pressure. Do you not think it would be more effective if the focus was on stiffening up the punishments for people trying to buy alcohol under 18 rather than for those people selling it? Often it is the ones who are buying it who are the only ones who know they are committing a crime. Sometimes the people who are selling it do not realise they are selling it to somebody who is under age.
Professor Howson: I am slightly confused by that. Do you mean that the retailer finds somebody who they think is under 18 and says, "I am not selling it to you. Hang on there while I ring the police because you have been trying to buy alcohol"? How would you police that in practice? We know how you can police the present situation, which is through test purchasing: you send somebody in and the retailer is clearly selling to somebody without asking them for proof of identity, proof of age or anything. But how would your system work in practice?
Q100 Philip Davies: In terms of punishing the people who try to buy alcohol.
Professor Howson: Identifying and catching them?
Q101 Philip Davies: The supermarkets would refer to the police.
Mrs Barnett: We do not think that it is for us to make that sort of comment. What we do is to apply the law as it stands. There is a very clear law, as it stands, with particular provisions in it, and that is what we apply. We do not go around saying, "It ought to be different" because that is not for us to do.
Q102 Philip Davies: Magistrates must sit in courts and get horribly frustrated at the things that go on that they cannot deal with effectively, and therefore must have an opinion about things that should be changed.
Mrs Barnett: But we are still members of the judiciary and we still apply the law as it stands. We may certainly have a view as to whether or not something could be improved but we have taken an oath to deliver the law as it is, and therefore it is not easy for us to say that something ought to be different in the way that you are suggesting.
Professor Howson: The general point is that probably the 2003 Act had more impact on the off-licence trade than it did on the on-licence trade. The on-licence trade was relatively well regulated at that point. Local authorities had put a lot more resources into the partnership types of activities for the on-licence trade. Probably more thought about the off-licence trade might well be necessary, particularly because it is a competitive environment. People are selling a product and in an environment which allows them to sell it at whatever price they can get for it.
Q103 Helen Southworth: You heard earlier the police officers describing the length of time it could take for a review. Do you have any comments about the administration of the process in terms of ensuring that there is as short a time as is proper between a case being brought?
Professor Howson: It is very difficult for us to say. Most of the process is out of our hands. We are the judiciary, not the Court Service. It starts with local authorities. Clearly, it will depend upon court time; it will depend on how it is processed. We have been concerned, in terms of appeals, in making sure that individuals were not priced out of a court service where full cost recovery for fees was the order of the day. You will see in the evidence that for an individual to bring an appeal is £75 and for anybody else to bring an appeal it is £400. We felt that it was important that individuals were not priced out of that system.
Q104 Helen Southworth: Do you have any comments about what should be appropriate for the timing?
Mrs Barnett: I would agree entirely with John that it is not easy for us to say, but there was a suggestion in what we heard the police say earlier - and I think it was something to do with big businesses in particular - that the process would be strung out and that it would be delayed. We are all trained within an inch of our lives and certainly our inclination to resist adjournments. We do not go with playing the system. We do not wish anything to be delayed. We want to get on with things as fast as possible. Provided the information is before us, we will try to proceed as fast as we possibly can.
Q105 Helen Southworth: So you are alert to these issues.
Mrs Barnett: Most emphatically. And it is not only in cases like this, obviously. It happens in other cases as well.
Q106 Helen Southworth: Could I ask you about what I think are called alcohol referral orders, reference you can make if you understand that somebody who is before you has a problem with alcohol.
Mrs Barnett: As part of a community sentence?
Q107 Helen Southworth: Yes. Can you describe how you think that works at the moment.
Mrs Barnett: Not, we think, as well as it
should - simply because it is one of the powers that we have within the 12
requirements of the community penalty, because obviously there are a large
number of cases where alcohol is a factor.
Whether or not it is a drink-related offence, something may come out
that may mean that we feel it would be a good idea to make such a referral
order. We will do so when we can, but we
understand that there are not the resources available for the treatment to be
available in all areas of the country across
Professor Howson: A considerable amount of resources have been put into drugs. Probably less resources have been put into those programmes for alcohol.
Mrs Barnett: We do hear quite frequently that there is some voluntary stuff going on, that people are being helped, that there are things going on. That is absolutely fine, we have no objection to that, but it is a power that we have that we would always impose, if appropriate, provided, of course, it is there for us to impose.
Professor Howson: Of course, one has to say that people have to commit a crime which is serious enough to have a community penalty. We have not lost what might affectionately in the past have been called "the town drunk" who is drunk and disorderly on a daily basis and comes before us for a frequent but very low level offence. They would not qualify for those sorts of programmes and the court could not order them. That is an issue for the wider society. W e tend to fine them, and detain them until the rising of the court because they cannot pay it.
Q108 Helen Southworth: Does the magistracy get sufficient information about the availability of treatment within the local community?
Mrs Barnett: We look into it. We should have regular liaison with our local and national offender management services - probation, in particular. It is simply a fact that it is not universally available, and that does not only apply to alcohol referral.
Professor Howson: One area where it has been is drink driving, which is one that has been with us for a very long time. The introduction of the opportunity for people to get up to a 25% reduction on their ban if they attend an alcohol awareness course has, I think, been very useful and may well have helped to reduce the number of second offences in that area. Clearly there are other areas where I am sure it would have an impact on reoffending if the resources were available to do it.
Q109 Helen Southworth: You may recall that I said earlier that I have had a number of meetings in the past few years in my constituency with all the interested parties in the late night alcohol industry. The representatives of the local magistrates' bench have attended a couple of those meetings in order to inform themselves of what the position is within the town centre. Is this something that you think would be useful, if magistrates were informed about areas, about particular hot-spots where there are particular difficulties?
Mrs Barnett: Information is what we work on, so, yes, of course. That is something that we welcome, provided the proper boundaries are in place. We cannot and must not attend meetings in order to be told that we have or have not sentenced properly or to have our sentencing influenced in any way. But, as people, we live in our local communities, we know what goes on, we go down the same high streets, we may go to some of the same places and have a drink in the evening - not necessarily at four o'clock in the morning - but general information is something that is definitely welcomed, provided, as I say, the structures are in place.
Professor Howson: I think most of us who sit in court see the consequence of it and, therefore, are not unaware of where the likely problems are. If there are cases involving violence that come in front of us, we will undoubtedly know which licensed premises or which areas they come from. But, as Cindy says, information is clearly helpful to us.
Q110 Chairman: One licensing officer submitted evidence to us that he felt the penalties which are available to you to impose on those who are in breach of the Licensing Act are insufficient to offer a deterrent. Is that your view or are you pretty content with the penalties you have?
Mrs Barnett: I think generally we are content. Something that is often felt is that, if a sum of money, if we are talking about a financial penalty, is considered low by someone who just looks at the figure, then it is marked a "derisory fine". It is just a fact that people do not understand it. We have to consider people's means, and therefore a fine that is related to means may not seem a lot to somebody else and it may be an incredibly heavy penalty for the defendant. The other thing goes back to information. Depending on the type of offence, if it is a question where there is a commercial gain or there is a profit element involved, then we need to know about it. We cannot sentence according to a guess; we have to have the information. We rely very heavily on that information to be given to us in court so that we can impose the appropriate penalty.
Q111 Chairman: I do not want to detain you any longer. You have made a number of quite detailed points about the way in which the Act is operating in your evidence and obviously we will take account of those. Are there any in particular that you would like to flag up?
Professor Howson: I think two. One is the issue of a national register for personal licence holders. We raised this during the passage of the Bill. We do not think from the fact that it is not in place, that there is not one. Somebody can gain a personal licence while studying for a hospitality degree at a university, get a job in the hospitality industry in another part of the country, and then commit an offence under schedule 4 in a third part of the country, and it would be almost impossible for that police force to be able to follow the audit trail through.
Q112 Chairman: Who should do it?
Professor Howson: There are two possible ways. One is that the local government gets its act together and has a national database. The other is that personal licences are taken away from those and given to a body that is a national regulator - like the securities industry agency, which is already registering people who deal with the problems outside pubs, in terms of the bouncers and others. It is challenging, particularly in terms of the protection of the children, for Parliament if personal licence holders cannot be tracked if they move to another area. The other is that you have heard concerns about temporary event notices. The fact is that I could apply for as many temporary event notices as I liked for this room in the course of a year, merely because what I am applying for in terms of alcohol is the sale and not the consumption. I could apply for a temporary event notice for your bit of the room, and, then, when I have exhausted that, move on to another bit of the room, and then to another bit of the room, and have as many as I like.
Q113 Chairman: Is that the case? I had a huge amount of complaints that my village hall had exhausted its allocation within the first three months.
Professor Howson: They probably were not taking the advice as to how to get around the regulations.
Q114 Chairman: If they just move the bar?
Professor Howson: If they just move the bar, because it is important to realise that what is licensed is not the consumption but the sale of alcohol and the sale takes place in a very specific place. Providing there is no crime and disorder objection, the police cannot object to it.
Chairman: I shall go back and tell them that. Could I thank you very much. I am sorry it was slightly truncated.