Policing and Crime Bill

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Q 49James Brokenshire: Mr. Brennan, perhaps I can ask you about the potential business impact of the changes. In particular, page 23, paragraph 19 of the regulatory impact assessment—this relates the impact assessment of the code of practice for the alcohol industry—which states:
“However, we recognise that in the short run, there is the potential for significant transitional costs including job losses and the closure of small businesses.”
How seriously should we take that paragraph?
Shane Brennan: I think we need to be very concerned about what that might entail. It is very specific about the conditions in the consultation—we are in the dark on these. If we look at the recommendations of the regulatory impact assessment, such as training requirements, the estimates are in the tens of millions of pounds for the industry—I think that those may be conservative. In other areas, such as tackling under-age sales, those requirements, which are placed on a blanket basis across all types of premises, are so inflexible that they may impose significant and inappropriate costs on premises. It is alarming that that may lead to the closure of businesses at this time.
Q 50James Brokenshire: There is a balance to be struck between harm reduction and the importance of ensuring that we deal effectively with binge drinking, but we need to do that in a proportionate way. In terms of the impact of the measure, do you have any feel of the numbers we are talking about? Are we talking about hundreds of businesses that might close? Can you give any feeling to the Committee based on what you know thus far?
Shane Brennan: It is hard to do that, because we do not have the details about exactly what has been said. Looking at the figures in the regulatory impact assessment, we have estimated a cost of about £100 million for the training requirements. Imposed on our sector, that would significantly undermine the operational ability of tens of thousands of smaller businesses. Whether it would force them to close, I do not know, but it would certainly affect them. The British Beer and Pub Association has worked on those problems in its sector.
Don Shenker: I cannot see how anyone would object to the training of people who serve intoxicating substances. People who serve alcohol are serving an intoxicating substance, and they must consider the law in relation to under-age sales and serving to drunks. It would be completely remiss of anyone to argue that there should not be any training. We need to establish that it is good practice to ensure that people are trained.
The way in which people are trained is a matter for debate. Having looked at the regulatory impact assessment, I was surprised at the cost. We found online training at a fraction of the cost outlined in the RIA for bar server training. We found a £20 per person online course from Learn2Serve. There are low-cost ways of doing this, and there are low-cost ways for licensing authorities to be confident that people who are serving alcohol in their locality have been trained, whether they are a student on a summer break or a long-term member of bar staff. It should be established that training is good practice, and large retailers and producers all talk about the training that they provide for their staff. We are asking for training to a minimum standard to be a mandatory condition to serve alcohol, which is an intoxicating substance. The question is: what is a minimum standard?
Rob Hayward: To pick up on what has been said, and on Mr. Brokenshire’s question. I think everyone knows that 39 pubs are closing a week—that is 39 families losing their businesses. We must remember, too, that they employ accountants, cleaners, bar staff and others. We are talking about a large number of people in our sector alone. We have a calculation just on duty, and we think that over the next five years, the escalator may well cost 59,000 jobs in our supply chain for brewing and pubs. That does not take into consideration the off-trade or other elements. What is striking about that quote—and there are a number of other quotes in the RIA—is that it effectively says that it is a price worth paying. I thought it was bad enough to say that to people who were losing their businesses last July when it was originally written, but to include it in a document published this winter, when we are touching 2 million unemployed, will be quite offensive to most people.
What is also striking about the RIA is that it projects the cost of a 1 per cent. fall in alcohol consumption. That has been achieved, according to the latest figures from Customs and Excise. There has been a 5.1 per cent. fall in all alcohol consumption over the past 12 months, which shows the impact the current state of the economy is having on our businesses. What is also significant about the RIA is that it contains no costing at all for unemployment—in other words all the people I have just referred to. There is, quite rightly, a costing for the impact on the economy of violence and health of alcohol and the like. There should also be a costing for the social costs of unemployment, because the state has to pay out benefits. It is not a balanced RIA, and it has a number of deficiencies.
Q 51James Brokenshire: Mr. Craik, I just want to come back to you, and then I will wrap up my line of questioning. I know that others want to come in.
The Chairman: I do not want to cramp your style in any sense, Mr. Brokenshire. I want you to have the opportunity to question witnesses as you feel fit, but I must protect the right of all parties, including Back Benchers, to ask questions. If you and Mr. Ruffley have not brought your questions to a close at, say, 4.30 pm, I will probably move on. If we have spare time left at the end, I will obviously come back to Members who have already asked questions.
James Brokenshire: Thank you, Mr. Bayley. I come back to Mr. Craik. The Bill gives some new powers to the police, although there is some suggestion that the police have wide-ranging powers anyway to deal with young people in possession of alcohol. What do you think these provisions add to what you already have?
Mike Craik: There is a lot in these provisions that we would, and did, ask for. There is some additional proportionality around the deterrent effect of the increased sentences. More importantly, the measure solves some real practical problems for the officers on the street, such as the ability to distinguish between 15 and 16-year-olds, to engage in discretionary interventions that are preventive, such as taking them home and working with other agencies to prevent them from being drawn into criminalisation around alcohol. Those first and second opportunities, particularly in clauses 28 and 30, come from our officers on the street saying, “This is quite awkward at the moment. We need clarity around this. We need to be able to do something positive with them and not just resort to arrest at the end of the day.”
There are some very positive things in the Bill. There are some practical things, such as the ability to review licensing now, not when the licence is due for renewal, and to respond to the public’s needs now. It is quite a broad and well-balanced package. If I were asked whether this largely provides what we need in relation to the licensing industry and offending around alcohol, I would probably say yes, given that there may be some unforeseen things in the future. What it gives us now is a base to take a more positive view of licensing in future. A very negative picture has been painted historically, and there is a lot of doom and gloom around drink-related violence. There is an opportunity now not just to label places as alcohol disorder zones and deal with premises as a problem. For example, the Civic Trust is currently developing purple flag zones, which are based on the concept of the blue flag for beaches. They will paint a positive picture and describe a more positive narrative of places for safe, sensible and sociable drinking in the future. That will be a credit to those places, and will bring some positivity to the debate rather than the historical negativity. There is a useful opportunity now to go forward with a different view.
Q 52James Brokenshire: The Bill makes it an offence for a person under 18 to possess alcohol in a public place without “reasonable excuse”. What do you understand by the term “reasonable excuse” in this context?
Mike Craik: Under-age drinking is about what they are going to do with the alcohol. Are they going to drink it in public? Are they taking it home, and are they demonstrably on their way home? This allows officers the discretion to take some intervention with kids who are on the street all the time. They tend to be, from my experience on the street, the same kids over and again. It is not the average kid on the block. These are a relatively small number of persistent kids who make life miserable for everybody else. The measure enables our cops to focus—not just dealing with them in the sense of prosecuting them for offending, but taking those early opportunities with other agencies to intervene and to speak to parents. An example is what is going on in south Tyneside, where, between the local authorities, youth services and ourselves, we have rented a premises, where we take the kids. We bring their parents along, and that is where the intervention starts, for both the parents and the kids. It is not just about enforcement.
Q 53James Brokenshire: But do you not already have the power to take children back to their parents if they are in an unsafe situation?
Mike Craik: Yes, if they are likely to come to harm. This is specifically for those who carry alcohol. May I tell you about an experience I had three or four months ago in the summer? The same two kids were stopped twice in the same afternoon. You take the drink off them, they go away, and they come back again. It is important that my officers have the ability to help make the problem go away from the street at that time, and not just do something that results in a prosecution. That is why I think that it is a well-balanced package in that respect.
The Chairman: I will call Mr. Holmes soon, but Mr. Ruffley may come in briefly.
Q 54Mr. David Ruffley (Bury St. Edmunds) (Con): Thank you, Mr. Bayley. I will observe your strictures and keep it short.
Chief constable, a question for you on the alcohol provisions, in particular clauses 26, 27 and 28. As you will understand, we cannot make sense of them in this Bill unless we understand the precursor provision, since those three clauses do not create new offences, but merely toughen up existing law. In clause 26, for the offence of consuming alcohol in a “designated public place” where a direction from an officer is ignored, the fine available is bumped up. Clause 27 toughens up laws against persistently selling alcohol to under- age individuals. Clause 28, in relation to under-age drinking, says that officers will be able to confiscate alcohol from under-age drinkers, whether or not there is an intention to consume that alcohol. So, we are merely talking not about new law, but about hardening existing law.
On Second Reading, there were quite a few comments from hon. Members to the effect that those existing laws that I have referred to were not being properly enforced. Could you give us a better understanding of that and anecdotal evidence? How many prosecutions or sanction detections are there under those three precursor pieces of legislation that relate to clauses 26, 27 and 28? Do you have that information?
Mike Craik: No, I do not have that data with me here now. But what my officers would see as the advantage of the hardening up is the practicalisation, if I dare make that into a word, of making the legislation operable to them on the street. There is a notion that you cannot move on some kids because you cannot tell their ages and they are not required to give you that information. This is about making it simple and workable for the cops. I do not think that it will mean more people coming in through the criminal justice system at all.
Q 55Mr. Ruffley: That is quite interesting.
I think that all of us like to be seen to be firm on law and order and, therefore, in and of themselves, these clauses are not problematic for me at all, since they are toughening existing legislation. However, a repeated theme crops up in our deliberations in Parliament: if only the existing law tackling alcohol misuse and its associated disorder could be enforced. The police do not have the resources they need. Perhaps you can furnish the Committee with a written submission on the profile of sanction detections. We are not going to pick on Northumbria, chief constable, do not worry. I would like data from the Association of Chief Police Officers on the enforcement levels of existing legislation, specifically, of the precursor legislation that relates to clauses 26, 27 and 28—not 29, because that is a new offence—so that the Committee can understand whether the existing law is working, because it may not be being enforced enough, which is what I mean by not working. It may be perfectly reasonable legislation with the right sentiments and previous Ministers may have been right to propose it, but do you, the police, have the resources to utilise the existing powers, never mind new ones? We would value your ACPO data.
Mike Craik: We will obviously provide what we can. On enabling resourcing, these are powers that neighbourhood cops and the response officers who are out there 24/7 use. They are dealing with the kids who are out late with drink in the parks, on the streets, and hanging around the estates and the blocks of flats. These are the powers that the cops on the street on normal patrol in the neighbourhood use when they are tasked with dealing with drink-related disorder in their communities. I guess that we probably have as much human resource in the police service as we have ever had, and we are probably unlikely to get more.
I was interested in this morning’s debate about the tensions. If I had more resources, would I put them into local policing, as I have just done with another 160 officers in my force, or would I use them for more serious matters? It is not simply about pouring more resources on to neighbourhood streets so that there are more officers doing more, it is about making measures practical and workable for the officers. I see the clauses as a response to demand, so officers do not have to move some kids on, when they cannot move other kids on; do not have to seize alcohol in some circumstances, when they cannot in others; and can get the job done there and then. Then the public will see the outcome there and then, and not only see that some kids are moved on, while others are not; and that some are prosecuted, while others are not; that some are taken home, while others are not. It is about giving officers the opportunity to create clarity in their responses for the benefit of the kids—so that they understand what is happening—and for the public who are disturbed by kids drinking in their streets, their parks and their neighbourhoods. It is about more than just figures, it is about workability.
Q 56Paul Holmes (Chesterfield) (LD): To pick up where we have just left off, I can see the argument about giving more clarity to officers and I can see the benefits of the change in the law that allowed officers to seize opened alcohol. I have been out on patrol in Chesterfield with officers and seen them doing that—it is effective. However, I am still puzzled by some of the suggested changes and by how much they are, in effect, window dressing. You used the phrase “deterrent effect”, but you can already fine people £500 for consuming alcohol in a prohibited area, for example, and the point was made on Second Reading that nobody has ever been fined more than £250, so what is the point of increasing it to £2,500?
Mike Craik: I think that there is a deterrent impact. You could argue about whether it works. ACPO supports something that would enhance that deterrent effect and is proportionate. We hope that that would have an effect on sentencing and the financial tariffs imposed, but that is for the courts to decide.
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