Policing and Crime Bill

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Q 70Ms Keeble: Is it right that some 14 per cent. of your members’ income is from alcohol-related sales?
Shane Brennan: On average, but there is a lot of variety in our sector—from grocers to more off-licence based businesses.
Don Shenker: From our perspective, community groups must be consulted properly. A concern that we have picked up from our stakeholders is that community groups do not feel empowered to complain about, or do not know how to complain about, a local pub or nightclub. Obviously, as residents, they have the power to do so, but people frequently do not know what the process is. We need to ensure that consultation goes to various communities and young people so that people who are affected by rowdy and disorderly behaviour resulting from premises that are not acting responsibly can have a say on the sort of measures that they would like to see in local, or even national, conditions.
Q 71Ms Keeble: Finally, what do you say to those who say that this is stigmatising young people still further?
Don Shenker: On the persistent public possession of alcohol by young people, it is not clear to me whether the offence is being found in possession three times within three months as well as failing an acceptable behaviour contract, or whether that is no longer one of the measures. The youth alcohol action plan said that we were trying to drive down youth drinking through the use of acceptable behaviour contracts, and that the Government would seek to introduce a new offence of failing an acceptable behaviour contract. Our concern is that if there is no carrot alongside the stick, you might find a lot more young people being criminalised not for behaving in a disorderly or irresponsible manner, but simply for drinking in a public place. I accept what Mike says about people who consistently upset their communities, but I would like some reassurance that this is not too much of a broad brush, and that we are looking at a mixture of carrot and stick.
Having some sort of acceptable behaviour contract would be a better approach, meaning that we could provide some support for young people who are persistently causing trouble in relation to their drinking, as opposed to just drinking. We know that more young people are drinking in public—that has been evidenced—and young people who drink are drinking more. However, we have to be careful that we do not stigmatise young people who, on a summer’s day, want to do exactly the same as any 25-year-old wants to and drink in a public park, for example.
Chris White: A couple of brief points. There is a clearly a risk of stigmatising young people generally in our society. They get a bad press and we do not give them a great deal to do of an evening, particularly at those times when they want to socialise with each other and not with their parents, and between 16 and 17. Although I am not proposing any solutions to that, we have to be wary of the press that they get and the feeling that they have, which is that the police are agin them in respect of some of these rules, albeit for reasons that we fully understand. Nevertheless, that is how they feel.
I should also like to emphasise that the complaints that I get in my community are about not the behaviour of young people, except on the margins, but the behaviour of people who should know better, including the criminal activity of people in their 20s who have too much to drink and make noise and commit disorder offences. That is the key issue in many of our communities. Although that is not particularly addressed by these clauses, it is the major problem.
Q 72Dr. Roberta Blackman-Woods (City of Durham) (Lab): I have a question on the same issue, which I shall address to Mike in the first instance. You are saying really that clause 29 will make operational and practical the powers that you already have. That suggests that more young people are going to be brought into the criminal justice system. You have talked twice about mechanisms that exist to divert young people from the sort of behaviour that might result from their drinking in public places, but how confident are you that those sort of multi-agency programmes exist in our communities? I have seen little evidence of such programmes, particularly ones directed at 16 and 17-year-olds.
Mike Craik: Yes, the one that I alluded to—the one in south Tyneside—was separately funded, but there are opportunities for that.
Although there is anxiety about the criminalisation of young people, I think that the young people whom we are talking about are few in number. We know who they are; they are already known to us in terms of being criminalised. It is not that often that completely new people come into this arena. If I go out with my night shift and late turn in any of my basic command units, I see that my officers are dealing with the same kids over and over again. They are not meeting new people. In some communities, hardly any new people come in, although there are those who may grow into such behaviour. One of the more positive things that I would like to do is to take the notion of partnership intervention beyond dealing with an individual who comes to notice three times and ask who are the younger brothers and sisters who are going to be the next generation and can we direct some partnership intervention at them as well.
Q 73Dr. Blackman-Woods: Nevertheless, would not we conclude that, even if it is a small group—I am not sure that it is always a small group in some of our cities, but let us assume that it is—without resources being directed at preventive strategies, we are going to bring more young people into the criminal justice system, and everything should be done to avoid that?
Mike Craik: Yes, and if all we do is to shotgun our resources at an area without focusing on the people who are the misusers and mis-sellers, there is a possibility of that happening. I think that we should restrict the possibility of that and focus on the people who need the preventive intervention as well as those who do not respond to it and ultimately need enforcement.
Shane Brennan: There is no desire from the industry to see lots of young people being put through the criminal justice system with courts and custodial sentences, but we think that there need to be consequences for young people’s actions. The case in point, our members will say, is that we are very aware of the consequences of doing wrong and selling to under-age people. If we sell to one person, we may face significant penalties. There are six different ways in which you can be prosecuted for under-age sales. However, the young person whom we refuse—and we refuse millions every month—can go to the next shop down the road and try it on again. That feeling of lack of consequence—a fear factor—is absolutely critical. That is why we welcome the powers, although not necessarily the ones about taking them to court. This is about making sure the police can go up to them and say, “Do not do that. I’m taking that alcohol off you. Move away from here because this is not good for the community.”
Q 74Dr. Blackman-Woods: May I move on briefly to consultation about the code? The view of my local community is that it is very hard for communities to make their voice heard in the operation of the Licensing Act 2003. When there are consultations about reviews of licensing, for example, they seem to get drowned out by the voice of the industry or police or some other institution. I wonder, Don, whether you have any advice about what we can do to make sure that community voices are better heard?
Don Shenker: That is a very good question. There are things you can do. You can work at a local level, disseminate information through local community groups, for example. The internet is another method. You have to try to work locally through local champions and use community approaches to try to engage with people. If you simply put up a consultation document on the Home Office website you are going to get the usual suspects responding to it. It needs to be disseminated through local organisations and local public health groups.
Chris White: There are two distinct issues about involving the community. There is the issue about involving them in this consultation and in consultations on local licensing policies. That can be done more easily through use of the internet and so forth, provided that we are confident when receiving the replies that they are not from an unrepresentative minority. I am concerned that you get those who are gung ho about licensing legislation and those who are very restrictive. I have come across pressure groups that have said, “No, we do not think you should be allowed to put tables outside a pub.” I think that if we could move to non-vertical drinking outside pubs, it would probably be an improvement in our social fabric. The group that advocates that in my area is deeply unrepresentative. You have to screen that out and behave intelligently.
There is also the specific issue about the degree to which local people can influence a particular licence application or variation or initiate a review. Local councillors do not have the right to represent their community at hearings. They have to be asked specifically by a resident so to do, which is a cumbersome process. While all of us in this room are confident about talking in a public place in a quasi-judicial setting, many others are not so confident, particularly the neighbours of the applicant premises, not because there would be threats but because you do not like going to a public place and saying, “My next door neighbour—as is or will be—is a nuisance to me and I do not like what they propose.” That is a very big thing to say. Likewise, there is no consistent guidance as to whether a local authority can advertise the fact that a licence application is in or is to be varied, in the way, for instance, that a planning application is. Some authorities take the view that they should do that, others take the view that the legislation tends to imply that they should not. Local people would feel more confident if they knew that, were such a proposal to be made, they would not have to notice a notification stuck to a lamp post or outside the premises concerned. That would give them a lot more confidence that they were part of the process.
The Chairman: I do not want to squeeze the Minister out of the questioning, so I will call him to speak.
Q 75The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Alan Campbell): My first question is to Chief Constable Craik and follows on from the previous question. If it comes to a choice between a mix of mandatory powers and local conditions or local permissive or voluntary conditions available to existing licensing committees, what do you think ACPO’s choice would be?
Mike Craik: We would support mandatory powers, particularly in relation to the issues I mentioned earlier, to set those initial starting conditions and to ensure that there is consistency and that people understand it. There should also be local flexibility to deal with different issues and environments wherever they may be. The obvious example is that dealing with under- age drinkers in a park presents a different set of problem-solving tasks to dealing with grown-ups who should know better misbehaving in a town centre on a Friday or Saturday night. On behalf of ACPO, I support some mandatory powers, but I think that they should be consulted upon, discussed and agreed, and I should not be the one making them up.
Q 76Mr. Campbell: Mr. Hayward, we need to take seriously your concerns about pub closures, not only at this time, but at any time. Are not many pubs closing because there are simply too many of them, given the changing lifestyle of the British public? Is that a fair comment?
Rob Hayward: It is. There are a multitude of reasons why pubs are closing. We could have a lengthy discussion about that if the Chairman would allow us, but I am sure that he would not. There is no doubt that there are a range of issues, but if you were to ask the companies and individual landlords what the factors are that burden them, as Mr. Holmes mentioned earlier, the answer would be duty and regulation. That comes through not only from my sector, but from the whole tourism and hospitality sector. One has to remember, as I said earlier, that that impacts on all licensed premises because it is mandatory policy, so there will be a regulatory burden on them all, whether it is a historic castle that happens to have a licence, which many of them do, or a restaurant.
Q 77Mr. Campbell: Mr. Brennan, campaigns have suggested that around 40 per cent. of premises sell alcohol to children on at least one occasion and that two thirds of children claim that they have been able to purchase alcohol illegally. Does that not suggest that the Government and retailers need to do more and that clause 27, which deals with the two-strikes approach, is proportionate and necessary?
Shane Brennan: That 40 per cent. comes from a campaign that targeted problem premises, although the figure is still way too high and no one is trying to justify it. Certainly, there is much more to be done to tackle the sale of alcohol to those under age. It is not a problem that will go away and there is no solution to it. It is something that retailers have to think about every day. There are enforcement campaigns that end after a period of time, but the retailers have to think about it every day because they are facing young people coming into their shops everyday, and they do refuse the majority of them.
On the point about two strikes, the concern here is that there are different people and different reasons why people sell, and those need to be properly understood. A three-strikes policy in this sense has not actually been used as it stands, and we know that reviews of licences have been brought forward in several cases against retail premises that have failed twice. In that sense, it is a general concern about possible distortions, but none the less, we know that, as it stands, many retailers face that after that period of time anyway.
Q 78Mr. Campbell: You said that there are different reasons why retailers might sell and get to the three strikes, and I think that we have discussed that before. Are you referring to the intimidation that might take place, for example, in a shop away from everywhere else, where the retailer feels under pressure to sell?
Shane Brennan: Retailer is the wrong word to use, as I mean the people working behind the counter, not the premises itself.
Q 79Mr. Campbell: So what would be a reason for breaking the law?
Shane Brennan: There is no reason for breaking the law. I am not trying to justify that. However, people make mistakes in their businesses. The reasons for that must be taken into account as well as the effects. I am not justifying such sales, but saying that there must be some thought about what the reasons are and how we can ensure that such premises and people stop doing those things in the future.
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