Policing and Crime Bill

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The Chairman: The sound system is not terribly good in this room. Although you are having a conversation between the two of you at that end, some of us down this end also want to hear.
Q 57Paul Holmes: If magistrates, for example, are not fining people more then £250, when it could be £500, would they go to £1,250 to split the difference again? Is it purely a psychological deterrent?
Mike Craik: It should be both. I hope that the impact on offenders is clear and obvious, that there is a reassurance value for the public, and that there is a practical application for magistrates.
Q 58Paul Holmes: You say that ACPO and the police force have supported these moves. Did you consult magistrates, for example, about whether they thought tougher sentences were needed?
Mike Craik: It is not our proposal to consult them about; we were consultees in the process.
Q 59Paul Holmes: In practical terms, it is not going to work unless magistrates use the power.
Mike Craik: The psychological impact may work and unless magistrates use that power you will find that element will not work.
Q 60Paul Holmes: A similar example raised on Second Reading was that people can already be prosecuted for serving alcohol to somebody under age on three consecutive occasions, but that measure is not very much used.
Mike Craik: It is difficult because there is time in between occasions to change the licence holder. Having the opportunity at the second offence means that we can get in quickly enough. To catch people doing that is quite an expensive process requiring undercover test purchase officers or trading standards officers. It is not an easy thing to do: it is time consuming, and having to do it three times has meant that people have been slipping through the net.
Q 61Paul Holmes: One of the things that pub landlords in my area are indignant about is that all the pressure in the past seems to have been on them, as licensed premises are the easiest to get at through regulation. Yet they will say that most of the binge drinkers who are drunk in their pubs are drunk when they arrive at 9 pm, having bought cheap alcohol and then drunk it at home before they go out. I assume you would agree with that, Rob?
Rob Hayward: There is a growing tendency socially for people to consume large quantities of alcohol before they go out. All the statistics show that. We have an obligation to which we must adhere, which is not to serve people who are drunk. I would like to emphasise that as far as we are concerned, there are clauses in the Bill that we support and that we do believe that tackling bad premises is important.
You are right, though. We feel, as representatives of the pub industry, that it is all too easy to pursue the landlord and the pub and not necessarily other sets of circumstances. As to a code, we have said in our evidence that we do not want one because that will add to the regulatory burden.
One thing that must be done, however, under any form of regulation, is to impose an equal burden on a small pub or convenience store, which has a low throughput, as on a big supermarket, for example, which has a high throughput. Otherwise, if a regulation is imposed on those small venues, it is in effect closing them. We think that there are other ways of achieving the objectives.
In relation to the chief constable’s comments on cost and the question of prosecution—and remembering that that power of three strikes is a very new one—I have here the Home Office’s “Practical guide for dealing with alcohol related problems” and on page 12 it states:
“Reviewing a Licence can be undertaken whether or not there has been a prosecution. It can prove to be an often quicker and more cost effective solution”.
In fact, although there are recommendations in the Bill for increased prosecutions, and actions taken at a tighter level, the Home Office’s own document encourages people to review a licence without a prosecution. There is an oddity there.
Q 62Paul Holmes: Shane, one of the problems with off-licence sales is that they are more accessible to people who are under age than are licensed premises—and that would apply to convenience stores. Another is using alcohol as a loss leader, which presumably you would argue is more a supermarket issue.
Shane Brennan: Yes, loss leading is a supermarket issue and I do not represent supermarkets. The point about their being more accessible is one that needs to be understood more clearly. It is illegal for any premises to sell alcohol to anyone under 18. It is an imperative responsibility of all licensees to prevent under-age people from buying alcohol in their premises. So, I do not know whether it is more accessible. There tends to be a parity of targeted test purchasing by people who seem to be a problem. There tend to be relatively similar levels of failure across all different kinds of businesses whether large, an off-licence or a pub. I am not sure that accessibility is an issue in itself with regard to under-age sales. It is about stopping those young people from getting hold of that product, which retailers have to do. If they do not do that then they have to be prosecuted or have action taken against them to prevent it from happening.
Q 63Paul Holmes: Chris, from a local government point of view, which is the biggest issue that you want to see tackled by this legislation—the issue of licensed premises or that of off-sales?
Chris White: It has to be off-sales. A previous speaker mentioned the positive aspects of licensing. We must remember that a community without a pub or small shop is in serious difficulty. Legislation should be framed to be generous to pubs and shops where possible. If they are operated properly, they are places where alcohol is sold under supervision. In many areas, shops and pubs work closely with local authorities to ensure that they are operated properly. That is surely the regime that we want to see. Although I would not advocate hammering supermarkets, legislation should ensure that outlets that are beneficial to the community and to the delivery of a good licensing policy are helped wherever possible.
The Chairman: Paul, may I say, as I did to your Conservative colleagues, that I will move on to questions from Government Members at about a quarter to 5?
Mike Craik: It is important that you remember we are not concerned just with enforcement. There are many licence holders in off-licences and some fairly hapless licensees whom we support and advise. We help them through their difficulties. If they are in a difficult neighbourhood where lots of kids persistently try to get alcohol, we work with them and help them to work with each other under schemes such as pub watch to avoid the problem. I emphasise that we are not concerned just with enforcement.
Don Shenker: The point about people who turn up to pubs drunk, having consumed alcohol from supermarkets and off-licences, goes back to the point about the rise in consumption that we have seen. Leaving aside arguments over whether that is dipping down or staying the same, rising consumption has been driven largely by the cut prices we have seen in off-sales. We must consider what are the root causes of young people drinking and of crime and disorder in relation to off-premises. Those problems are largely due to the sale of alcohol in supermarkets and price promotions in the on-trade.
We must be able to tackle the issue of price, otherwise we will see continuing problems of crime and disorder. We know that having minimum prices in the on-trade and off-trade will cut down on crime. The consultation will look closely at the effect of the enabling power on that. According to university of Sheffield research, if there was a 30p minimum price in supermarkets alone crimes would be reduced by about 3,800. There is good evidence to show what happens when minimum prices are introduced for alcohol. That would not necessarily impact on revenues for the drinks industry. Although the volume of sales might go down, the price increase would mean that the profits go up or stay the same.
Q 64Paul Holmes: I have one final question for Rob on voluntary agreements versus mandatory agreements. Pub landlords and club owners in Chesterfield had a voluntary agreement not to have happy hours, women drinking free promotions and so on. As the recession started to bite in the run-up to Christmas some of them broke ranks and were followed by others. Can such agreements be voluntary or must they be mandatory?
Rob Hayward: On pricing, we used to have the point of sale promotions policy, which we discussed with Ministers. I raised it at the Prime Minister’s summit at No. 10 because we received legal advice that our operation of it was illegal under competition law. One of the problems on the issue of price is which schemes can be operated legally by a group of pubs, even in concert with police and local authorities. Our advice is clear that such schemes cannot be operated. Therefore, they must come from other powers. We are not convinced that there will be powers that can control price, as Don has suggested. That comes back to your original point about hammering pubs as against other venues.
I was interested in the Minister’s comments during the Second Reading debate, when he said:
“It might well enable us to tackle some of my right hon. Friend’s concerns about promotions.”—[Official Report, 19 January 2009; Vol. 486, c. 589.]
I was interested in the fact that he said “might”, because I think there is a lot of doubt in the Government’s mind as to what powers they can take or give to local government to tackle the issue of price and promotions. If the Minister could clarify what is actually intended, I think every sector—the health sector, the regulatory sector, and the industry sector—would be overjoyed. We believe that you could toughen our standards document and operate it against problem venues.
Q 65Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): I want to ask about the practicality of some of the measures around policing in public places. There are obviously a number of areas that have total bans on alcohol in public places, such as several town centres, including Northampton. Can you say from your experience of policing such measures what lessons you would take from that about actually practically implementing the measures that are set out in this Bill, in terms of officers’ interpretation and management?
Mike Craik: Two things matter. One is early intervention in response to difficulties that the public express. The other is the ability to task officers to use powers very quickly to make a difference. So, there is a question of whether we can identify the problem quickly and whether we can respond quickly enough, which the measure will enable us to do. There is also a question of whether the officers have the ability, together with the powers, to make all the problems go away—together with their partners, as this is not just a police thing. There is also a question of whether we can not just get the problem moved off the street for the time being, or a day or two, as some of our powers allow, but find the individuals responsible and work with partners to stop the cycle?
Q 66Ms Keeble: On policing total bans in public areas, has that actually been manageable and possible?
Mike Craik: Yes, we would say that to get 100 per cent. compliance, it will happen on a street when we are not looking. But in terms of making a real visible difference to the people who live there, which is really what matters, I think we are capable of making a success of this.
Ms Keeble: So this is really positive.
Mike Craik: Yes.
Q 67Ms Keeble: There are particular issues, obviously, about young people drinking in public places, particularly parks, about which people have a big grievance. How are you going to manage this, and how would police officers practically police these kinds of measures, assuming that the park is a public place, and draw the line between young people who may be drinking and those who might be causing a nuisance, given that we must consider picnics, pop concerts and so on.
Mike Craik: Yes, it is fairly clear from the circumstances when you get there whether kids who should not have been drinking have been moved on by the police and have gone to the local park or riverbank to continue that misbehaviour. That is not the same thing as meeting someone who is having a picnic. You have to trust the discretion and judgment of officers on the street.
Q 68Ms Keeble: You are quite confident that all that is manageable?
Mike Craik: I think it happens day in and day out.
Rob Hayward: All the evidence that we have in relation to confiscation is that the police manage it well. I said to Vernon in a meeting that we had a few months ago with other associations that we actually wanted greater confiscation powers, because it is that public nuisance to which you are referring, such as at bus stops and in parks, that causes a large part of the grief for most of the population. Therefore, the Home Secretary announced about this time last year a campaign on confiscation around half-term, which worked very effectively. I welcomed it on the day she announced it, and I have said that we would like more confiscation powers. We believe that that works well with the police.
Mike Craik: It is important to note that confiscation, banning orders and those sorts of things should not be permanent. The idea is that we should solve the problem, and once we think we have solved it, we return to a new normality. We might have to come back to that again in six months or a year, but it should not be a permanent thing.
Q 69Ms Keeble: I want to ask about the code. Obviously, its content is for the future, and everyone seems to have their wish list of nine items that they would like in it—I know that I have mine—but the key issue for this part is the process. What is your view on the extent of the consultation? The industry will have input, but this is a massive community issue, and it is very important that young people have the opportunity to have some input. How would you like that to be managed?
The Chairman: I call Mike Craik. Forgive me for shouting your names if it is not immediately obvious to whom a question is addressed. That is for the benefit of the Hansard writers. If I really want to stop you from talking, I shall shout your name very loudly and repeatedly.
Mike Craik: You might have noticed that at the start I hesitated to be the first to suggest a list. I do not think that it should be a police-constructed list—you are absolutely right—because this is about hearing all the voices, including those concerned and particularly young people, who are traditionally difficult to reach, but are becoming increasingly easier to reach through IT, schools, the internet and that sort of thing. There are real opportunities to get some good ideas and pull them together. At the end of the day, someone has to make the choices and decisions, but as long as all our voices are heard, better choices will be made. I would not for a minute suggest that it should be just the police’s choice.
Shane Brennan: I urge that there should be no rush and that we take time to think through the implications. Some very costly and complicated things might be brought in, and I am concerned because we have been told that there will be a shortened consultation period for this—perhaps eight weeks instead of 12. That is unnecessary and could be quite dangerous, given what might come in. The biggest concern is that there will be perverse consequences. I understand that there are real concerns about targeting and whether this is the right way of doing things—that is an issue—but mechanisms might be brought in that have perverse outcomes and harm other parts of the industry more than the industry people at whom they are targeted. Those things need to be properly thought through.
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Prepared 28 January 2009