Policing and Crime Bill

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Q 80Mr. Campbell: But we are not talking about making a mistake. We are talking about making repeated mistakes.
Shane Brennan: Two mistakes.
Rob Hayward: In relation to the 40 per cent. figure, Vernon Coaker and his predecessors have dealt with the question of under-age campaigns, which we have supported. The police chose specific BCUs within the worst 1 per cent. of those with problems. In those BCUs, the failure rates came down markedly from the worst position, which was 40 per cent. Therefore, we are not talking about anything like 40 per cent. We are talking about only a very small proportion of targeted locations, selected on police intelligence, in the on-trade and off-trade. I am not defending them. In a number cases, they were closed or action was taken against them. We did not object to that.
Q 81Mr. Campbell: So you are telling me that it is a small, diminishing problem.
Rob Hayward: It is a diminishing problem, but I was trying to identify where the 40 per cent. figure came from.
Q 82Mr. Campbell: Okay, but it is a small, diminishing problem that we ought not to be too concerned about.
Rob Hayward: No, I did not say that. I was absolutely clear. You need to be concerned because people are given a licence to sell alcohol. They accept that responsibility. I was saying that it was a targeted operation.
Q 83Mr. Campbell: But even if it is targeted in those areas, it is still a major problem when retailers in on-sales or off-sales have been resistant to all the pressure that has been brought to bear on them to live within the law.
Rob Hayward: Absolutely. That is why I commented on confiscation and the like earlier.
The Chairman: Are there any other colleagues trying to catch my eye?
Q 84James Brokenshire: I want to come back on a couple of specific points and then discuss a slightly broader point.
Mr. Craik, as we discussed, to commit the offence of persistently possessing alcohol in a public place it must take place on three or more occasions within 12 months. What guidance has ACPO given to police forces on the recording of this information? Obviously police would need to know that someone had been caught on two previous occasions to determine whether the offence has been triggered. How will that be recorded? Will it go on the new PentiP system or the police national computer? What will happen?
Mike Craik: It will go on to the force’s local system. It is possible that if somebody wandered from Durham to my area we would not know that they had been dealt with on one or two previous occasions, unless the officers recognised the address and asked the control room to call Durham. That would not happen automatically. However, most of these cases involve local people in local areas; it is a local issue. In reality, most cops in the neighbourhood would know such information without looking at their database. They share conversations with each other at briefings each day and know who is on two strikes. They know what action is being taken and whether the person is likely to offend or not. In my force, such information is recorded on our system and available to all my officers. It would be available to other forces only if they contacted us and asked. It would not be on a national database.
Q 85James Brokenshire: As we discussed earlier, my concern with the extension of the power of directions to leave to 10-year-olds is that there are existing powers to take children back to their homes if they are at risk or if police have concerns about their safety. In what circumstances would you use this power for a 10 or 11-year-old rather than take them back to a place of safety?
Mike Craik: It applies to 10 to 15-year-olds. Officers would make a judgment. A 10-year-old who is out in the middle of the afternoon with other 10 or 11-year-olds might just be moved on. This is more likely to be applied to the 15 or 14-year-olds who are out with 16 and 17-year-olds when we want to move all of them on, not just the ones who qualify by dint of age, leaving the others behind.
It is kind of misleading sometimes to assume that, just because some are a year or two older that they are the dominant ones in the group. Some 13 to 14-year-olds can be difficult and can be group leaders. It is about giving the officers the opportunity either to move them or, if there is risk of harm, to do what they would have done anyway, which is take them home to their parents. There is also, sadly, the reality that taking some kids home to their parents does not work, because the parents are not interested in the problem that the kids are causing. There may be times when officers will seek to move them on together with the others.
Q 86James Brokenshire: But what does that say in terms of child protection issues? You are suggesting that there is a problem with the parents and, therefore, we are just simply moving it on; surely, a place of safety or child protection issues are involved. That is what I am seeing in respect of this clause and it leaves me uncomfortable. Are we saying, “If there is a young child, we simply move them on”?
I am not suggesting for a moment that a child of 10 or 11 who is vulnerable would simply be moved on to other streets with no other action being taken. There would be either an attempt to take them home or, if that was not successful, there would have to be follow-up action. However, the problem with follow-up action is that it takes until the next day or the next week and does not solve the problem there and then.
In terms of reassuring the public, it is also about letting them see something demonstrably being done to solve the problem on that day, as well as in the longer term. A child such as the one we are talking about would probably end up being subject to acceptable behaviour agreements. If just taking them home did not work and the problem went on and on, there would, then, potentially, be an antisocial behaviour order and the rest of it.
There is an escalator of responses. These additional clauses enable our officers to deal with particularly intractable, difficult situations and give them some choice to use their discretion.
Q 87James Brokenshire: But principally it is the teenagers rather than the very young children whom you would expect to be using this power against.
Mike Craik: Yes.
Q 88James Brokenshire: On the broader point, obviously there are some partnership initiatives—or less statutory measures, if I can describe them in those terms—being undertaken in various parts of the country to try to reduce the harm associated with alcohol consumption and to provide education as well. In that context, I am thinking of the community alcohol project, based out of St. Neots and also some ways in which businesses use business improvement districts in consultation with local authorities. The Broadstream BID in Birmingham, which I visited, is one example of how the night time economy is being managed in that manner.
Would the witnesses be prepared to comment on the impact of the code arrangements? Do you see those helping the situation and helping promote such partnerships or are there some risks that they will undermine some of the good work that is starting to be done in a number of communities?
Mr. White, from a local authority perspective, are local authorities engaging with partners in such ways to try to have a different approach, rather than simply looking at law enforcement, and are they considering longer-term interventions to try to change behaviour and patterns of behaviour?
Chris White: As a district councillor, I sit on a council with one third of the licensed premises of Birmingham, which is quite a remarkable statement, given the size of Birmingham versus St. Albans. The approach there is for the local authority to work with the licensed trade. It is not in the interest of the licensed trade not to work with the local authority or vice versa. It is much cheaper for everybody for there to be schemes such as PubWatch and similar. Generally speaking, although individual premises cause me difficulties as an elected member, and cause the council difficulties, they are few and far between, given how many we are dealing with. That has got to be the starting point of a good and, indeed, positive approach to licensing.
The consumption of alcohol in a calm setting is part of the British way of life and is something that we would wish to preserve rather than ban. That is why I am nervous about mandatory conditions. For instance, under the Licensing Act 2003, we have the concept of the designated premises supervisor, which was imposed on all licensed premises, including occasional users, such as clubs and churches. That is a cost and a difficulty that has not helped the process.
There is always a danger that something written in Whitehall will not suit a particular pub on a corner in a particular market town or something in the centre of Newcastle upon Tyne. Therefore, the more we deal with local conditions set by local demands and use the representations of local people regarding what they want, the more likely it is that we will be successful.
Shane Brennan: Something worries me about imposing regulations and conditions on premises, rather than looking at partnership alternatives. I do not think that anyone intends partnerships to be simply the place where this should all start. We have to ensure that partnerships are maintained. We have seen great success, for example, in relation to the community alcohol partnership, to which you referred, in St. Neots. That is now taking place to a wider extent in Cambridge and other parts of the country.
Industry and the enforcement community need to work together to look at the problems of, in this case, under-age drinking. They need to look at all the different levers, and they will see real results through that partnership approach. My fear is that if people do not look at those options first and are pushed towards imposing conditions, or burdens, that will create the potential for a confrontational relationship—not simply a lack of communication or partnership. That is something we need to avoid, whatever happens with this legislation.
Q 89James Brokenshire: Mr. Shenker, in terms of harm reduction and addressing some of these deep-seated issues, what are your thoughts on partnership working and the interrelationship between mandatory, statutory, regulatory and partnership approaches?
Don Shenker: We have seen some good examples of voluntary partnership working—you mentioned Birmingham and St. Neots. The problem is that there is good practice and there is actually being responsible. The problem with the St. Neots approach is that we do not know how sustainable it is in the long term. It is a good approach, but we do not know how long it will last. It requires committed buy-in from a lot of different partners. Officials and partnerships change, and people come and go.
I honestly believe that whatever the regulatory cost burden would be, it is quite clear from the economic analysis that I have seen that there would be an absolute economic gain in terms of the industry’s profit margins—it would be charging more if it had a minimum price. If loss-leading was not an issue, the industry would gain in terms of income and the Exchequer would gain in terms of VAT.
The Government have a decision to make. Do they want to try to tackle the problem across the board in terms of on-trade and off-trade, or do they want to try to tinker around the edges, as they have done with alcohol-related problems? This is an opportunity to try to provide some national standards for responsible practice, with which, I think, many people in industry would agree.
There is a concern about the burden of regulation and cost. If you are in the business of selling alcohol, you need a budget that allows you to do that responsibly. If you do not have a budget to do it responsibly, I am afraid you should not be in the business of selling alcohol.
Rob Hayward: May I comment on one or two things? To pick up on what Don said, interestingly enough the KPMG study that looked at the whole issue of promotions—in an unsatisfactory way, as far as we are concerned—did not find one example of a “£5 to drink all night” or “women in free” offer. We have actively discouraged that through our promotions policy, which appears to have worked reasonably effectively. As I have said, the report did not find one example of that, even though the Home Secretary referred to it on Second Reading. We think that there is a minimum standard, and that it is worth looking at raising standards, in one form or another, and tackling particular premises. The standard is that you have to get a licence in the first place, and you have to go through a series of tests and training to qualify for that licence.
On your original question, Mr. Brokenshire, about impact—yes, there may well be an impact. Mr. Ruffley, with his own company, Greene King, in his constituency—
Mr. Ruffley: I wish it was my own company. I represent it.
Rob Hayward: Or Ms Keeble in Northampton—they will know what the companies that work in their towns and cities do to help communities.
Q 90Ms Keeble: We have had a “women get in free” offer.
Rob Hayward: We have discouraged them, as I have said, but in terms of the work of Carlsberg and Greene King, you will be very much aware of the excellent work and projects that people fund, such as taxi schemes and help to get home in one form or another, or the BID schemes to which you have referred. There is a risk, and it is important that any consideration or legislation works its way around that so that it does not deter the excellent work that those companies do.
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Prepared 28 January 2009