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Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill
|©Parliamentary copyright||Prepared 11th February 2011|
Publications on the internet
Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill
Police Reform and Social
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
James Rhys, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee
Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): I welcome you to the Chair, Mr Benton. We were discussing clause 109, and I had begun to deal with whether it would comply with the requirements under the European convention on human rights. I want the Minister to consider a situation in which a business had previously been granted a permission for a licence, but that permission had been taken away, with the result that the business lost its ability to trade and its existing good will, even though that was in the absence of any problem or evidence to justify the conditions being attached to the licence. Would the convention have an effect on the clause?
Many of the submissions that Committee members have received state that it is crucial to retain the “necessary” test for conditions, rather than move to the “appropriate” test in the clause. Licensing authorities can already impose without difficulty the conditions that they need to promote the licensing objectives. The vast majority do not find the evidential burden too restrictive. Again, I ask the Minister to give the Committee the evidence to explain why the clause is necessary.
For those who have experienced difficulties with a lack of representations being made by responsible authorities about problem premises, the Bill, as we debated earlier, makes licensing authorities responsible authorities, which means that they will be able to tackle problem premises in their own right, rather that just relying on evidence supplied by other responsible authorities.
Furthermore, the changes proposed to the definition of vicinity, which we discussed earlier, will ensure that local residents who are directly affected by issues arising from licensed premises will be able to make representations where they felt restricted, or were restricted, in doing so before. It must be recognised that licence conditions impose additional costs and restrictions on businesses, so they must be clearly necessary. They must be essential to justify the additional burden on the premises. The Government often talk about the need to support businesses and to ensure that support is available for them locally, regionally and nationally, and they want to restrict the burden on businesses, so I would ask the Minister to consider carefully the burden that lowering the evidential
Let me give an example of where necessary conditions and appropriate conditions might help us. If there were a large number of glass-related incidents at a premises, that premises could be forced through a licence condition to use polycarb glasses instead of glass. That would be necessary to promote the licensing objectives of public safety and the prevention of crime and disorder. However, it is questionable whether it would be appropriate to impose that condition if there were no incidents for the licensing authority to look at and use as evidence for deciding to enforce it.
Many different conditions could be considered appropriate for most, if not all, licensed premises, but they certainly would not be necessary for the vast majority, which are well-managed and responsible businesses. Some of the conditions would relate to plastic glasses, CCTV, door people and the duplication of existing legislative requirements. The Minister must answer this question: would it be appropriate to specify that certain types of establishments, for instance country pubs, must have someone on the door? I would argue that that is not necessary, but a licensing authority could take the view that it would be appropriate.
I would also like to refer to the impact assessment that has been produced. I looked carefully at the increasing costs that businesses would have to meet if additional conditions were attached to their licences. The only specific estimate that the assessment makes about cost is the cost of employing additional staff on the door of licensed premises. The assessment states that the cost of door staff would be between £300,000 and £600,000 a year. It also states that an additional 10% to 20% of premises could be required to have security staff if the evidential burden is lowered to the criterion of “appropriate”.
I urge the Minister to look at the conditions that could be attached to a licence that could be expensive for businesses, for example CCTV. For small country pubs, that might be a cost that they have not considered before, and one that would be disproportionate. The clause potentially creates a lot of bureaucracy and uncertainty in the industry about what conditions are appropriate, and there could be a further raft of appeals to test what “necessary” and “appropriate” mean. I understand that making an appeal to a licensing authority costs on average £1,235, which again would be an additional cost to businesses.
Michael Ellis (Northampton North) (Con): Is it not the case that words such as “necessary” and “appropriate” are similar in many respects to words such as “self-defence”, which are not susceptible to easy definitions? This is an issue of fact, degree and individual or instant taste. Is it not the case that the Labour Administration, having produced a quantity of legislation that surpasses in volume all previous understanding, was not too reticent about troubling the courts with legislation in that regard?
I have discussed the additional costs to businesses and an average cost of more than £1,200 to make an appeal which, in difficult economic times, is something of which we all have to be mindful. Will the Minister to explain clearly why the clause is necessary? Where is the evidence that the word “necessary” is a problem, and that we have to adopt “appropriate” if licensing authorities are to require different conditions for licences?
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (James Brokenshire): I welcome you to the Chair this afternoon, Mr Benton. The distinction between “necessary” and “appropriate” is the main thrust behind the arguments of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North. Currently, licensing authorities are expected to grant premises licence applications unless they receive relevant representations about the impact of an application on the promotion of the licensing objectives, which they can consider appropriately and examine whether they are necessary. The hon. Lady has examined the distinction that has been brought to bear on the proposal to reduce the evidential threshold.
The hon. Lady has raised several interesting issues, including in connection with the evidence base and the steps taken. She is right that a lot of representations have been made over the years in respect of whether someone is prepared to take a particular step. Some local authorities feared that a particular condition or step the sought to take would not be regarded as necessary. Worried that they would be subject to a legal challenge, they adopted quite a defensive approach.
We decided to consult to gain the views of local authorities and all interested parties, and we included such matters as a key part of the exercise. Significant elements of the consultation highlighted whether the concerns that we had been picking up during an extended period were borne out. The majority of those consulted were supportive of the proposed lowering of the threshold from “necessary” to “appropriate”. We have also received anecdotal evidence about that. The consultation itself was an important part of the evidence base, as was asking people the direct question, “Is this is an issue? Is this a defensive approach”. Our sense is that local authorities have been defensive in the assessment of the necessary requirement, which was partly why we introduced the measure.
Diana Johnson: Does the Minister have worries about the consultation itself? A number of criticisms are made in the submissions about how short the consultation period was, and about the fact that it took place over the summer when it was perhaps difficult for some people to engage in a consultation.
James Brokenshire: We engaged properly, and we received well over 1,000 responses. It was a well-subscribed consultation. Indeed, we staged several important road shows and stakeholder events throughout the country to garner evidence and information. It was a proper process. We wanted to listen to views carefully and, we actively went out to ensure that we received responses and that the matter was considered properly.
The distinction that we are seeking to draw goes to the heart of what the hon. Lady flagged up earlier. On the definition of “appropriate”, she suggests that it will create a new legal minefield and that matters will be highly problematic. Before lunch, she read out a definition of “necessary” and, in part, the word “necessary” is defined in guidance issued by the Home Office and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, which had the policy lead on those issues at that time. Guidance was issued because the term “necessary” is not defined in statute. By its nature, it is likely to be interpreted on a case-by-case basis. What may be necessary in one circumstance may not be necessary in another.—[ Interruption. ] I can see that my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton North is interested. I do not know whether the clock is running in relation to the advice that he may be able to proffer on this matter.
Even the term “necessary” has a subjective element, and the same would apply to the word “appropriate”. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North read out a definition, but it is not binding on a court, as definitions have to relate to a particular statute. If the hon. Lady’s Government were concerned about that, they would have sought to define the term “necessary” in the Licensing Act 2003, and they did not do so. One could argue that there was a risk of lots of cases and litigation arising because the word “necessary” was not defined in the Act, but from the advice that I have received that has not been the case. That is partly because of the statutory guidance to the Act, and that it is the approach that we are seeking to take with the term “appropriate”, which we are introducing in the Bill in this particular clause.
Diana Johnson: Is it not the case that, if we have not seen a large number of appeals and cases being challenged in the period in which the term “necessary” has been used for conditions to be attached to licences, it is working relatively well? If so, why the need to move to the word “appropriate”?
James Brokenshire: My argument relates to the defensive approach that local authorities are taking. That is what we are hearing, and that is why we consulted; because of that reluctance, a very cautious approach is being taken. That is what we are saying about rebalancing. The hon. Lady will know that the consultation was called “Rebalancing the Licensing Act”. In many ways, the Government sought to say that the Licensing Act was all about communities and giving greater local discretion to local authorities, yet the term “necessary” has militated against that, because it has led to a defensive approach by local authorities and local councils when deciding what they should do about particular provisions.
Focusing on the distinctions that we are seeking to draw between the definitions of “necessary” and “appropriate”, there is a qualitative difference between
A decision that is “appropriate” for the promotion of the licensing objectives provides some flexibility to consider the effects of the decision on the promotion of the objectives. It may therefore be decided to take steps that are suitable for, rather than necessary to, the promotion of the objectives. It provides an element to deal with that reluctance or resistance, to enable local communities to assert themselves properly in relation to this particular approach. However, a decision that is appropriate for the promotion of the objectives remains a decision that can take into account as a factor only the promotion of the objectives, and no factor outside the statutory defined parameters. In other words, as we debated at length this morning, the requirements of the four licensing conditions would apply. It was for that reason that alternative criteria—we could have sought to use different words, such as “beneficial”, and did sought proper legal advice for the terminology used in the Bill—were not used. We felt that that would take that a step further and might cloud the issue.
The statutory guidance will be amended to provide licensing authorities with advice on how to determine whether an action is appropriate. Again, that builds on the advice and guidance, and may deal with the hon. Lady’s concerns that the measure may become some sort of lawyers’ charter, although we do not anticipate that that will be the case. We therefore set out the regulatory impact assessment after considering those points carefully.
Diana Johnson: Is it possible for the Committee to look at the draft guidance to see how the Department intends to define “appropriate”? That might be helpful not only to Committee members but to wider interest groups, which are raising such concerns.
James Brokenshire: The hon. Lady will know that it is custom and practice for the guidance and statutory measures that are required in relation to legislation to be published only after the Act is enforced, because there may be changes as legislation proceeds. However, we will provide statutory guidance, because it is helpful, as has been the case with statutory guidance on the existing law. We want to assist licensing authorities and the way in which they consider and deal with the issues. It is worth mentioning that we have to consult publicly on changes to guidance, so in introducing new guidance, there will be an opportunity for questions to be raised and points to be addressed.
The hon. Lady also highlighted the issues of ECHR compliance, and that is a fair point. We have sought advice, as she would expect, in terms of the normal ECHR statement, which appears in the Bill. We have considered the matter carefully and believe that the
On the intention of the Licensing Act, the hon. Lady will remember the debates that took place and the fact that the Act was intended to give local communities a say—a right—and the ability to determine what should happen as the powers were transferred at that stage from the magistrates court to local authorities. We are seeking to rebalance, not to throw everything out. There should be parameters, which is why the licensing objectives are there. It is important to give provide flexibility, so that councils and communities do not feel the nervousness that we sensed from the feedback to the consultation. On that basis, I hope that the hon. Lady will recognise the arguments and agree that the clause should stand part of the Bill.
Diana Johnson: Clause 112 takes us to temporary event notices, by extending the right to comment on them to the environmental health officer. Currently, the chief officer of police may object, given various time frames and time limits. A hearing is required if the police object, which they may only do on the grounds of the crime objective set out in the Licensing Act 2003. The clause extends the right to make objections to the environmental health officer, and it offers the police and the environmental health officer the right to object over all four licensing objectives.
I want to make some points about the clause because, first, my understanding was that the rationale for the temporary event notices was to have something quick, effective and flexible. With an environmental health officer being involved and able to object, we are moving more towards temporary event notices becoming similar to mini-licences. I want the Minister to reflect on that and on the additional bureaucracy attached to the clause.
Also, why can environmental health officers comment? Clearly they have a specific role in and knowledge of environmental health issues, but they will be able to object on all four licensing grounds. The original intention of the police being able to object was restricted to what they know best about, which is crime and public order. They had to keep to that objective as their key reason for objecting. Now, however, the provision has been widened and all four licensing objectives can be considered by the police and the environmental health officer.
The submissions express concern about environmental health raising the bar for what is expected with temporary event notices. The notices are often used by small
Another concern is that we may see great disparity around the country. What one environmental health officer might require, another one would not. Also, if there are problems with temporary event notices, conditions might be attached in the future—if there was a problem—rather than attaching them with the original application.
James Brokenshire: I am grateful to the hon. Lady, because there is a balance to be struck on temporary event notices. We are conscious of the need not to make them overly bureaucratic. They are a means to obtain a licence in specific, limited circumstances, on a limited number of occasions, without the need to have to go through the full, formal licensing process. I appreciate her recognition of that.
The clause will allow the environmental health authority to object to a temporary event notice. Currently, only the police can object to a TEN, on the grounds that allowing an event to go ahead would undermine the crime and disorder licensing objective. However, local residents have told us that temporary events can cause problems with the other licensing objectives, such as public safety, the protection of children from harm and public nuisance. The most commonly reported problem is noise. Residents and others have asked us to give local authorities the power to prevent temporary events that cause noise nuisance.
We looked at the feedback and the complaints received, but the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North should note that we did not seek to expand the list of potential objectors even further. We recognised the noise issues reported to us, and it was felt appropriate to give the environmental health department the ability to raise objections against temporary event notices, which is why the provision is prescribed in that way.
There is no desire unnecessarily to expand further the bureaucracy relating to TENs. It might be argued that the issue of conditions is bureaucratic, but we will move on to the debate on that later. The provision is a response to the point about noise, and to the fact that a temporary event notice can have broader problematic grounds, which is why we have put in place all the licensing objectives, while limiting them by the ability of agencies to object to TENs. We have moved forward on that basis, and we will allow the environmental health authorities to make representations on TENs.
Diana Johnson: We move on to the issue of conditions attached—or not, as the case may be—to TENs. The amendments attempt to close the loophole that exists whereby the conditions on a premises licence do not
When temporary event notices were introduced, there was a light-touch regime to minimise the regulatory burden on small, ad hoc events that were unlikely to give rise to problems. Unfortunately, the use of TENs has far exceeded the Government’s expectations, as some people regard them as a way of circumventing licensing controls. Some 124,400 TENs were used in the financial year ending in March 2010, according to the “DCMS National Statistics Bulletin” for April 2009 to March 2010.
The Bill proposes that, when a TEN is sought for a licensed premises, it is only following a representation—for example, from the police or the environmental health authority, as has been mentioned—that licensing authorities will be able to insist that relevant conditions from the licence also apply for the duration of the temporary event notice. Regulations will stipulate the process, format and time scales for notifying applicants of those conditions.
A more transparent and less burdensome approach would be for all existing premises licence conditions to apply automatically, apart from those that will be altered by the issuing of a temporary event notice—in general, that would be about the hours—and that is what the lead and following amendments propose. For example, if there are conditions on a premises licence that apply until midnight—having to have doors and windows kept closed during live entertainment, and requiring door supervisors to disperse crowds quietly at the end of the evening—a temporary event notice that extends the hours during which alcohol can be sold until 1 am should automatically be subject to the same conditions.
The amendment would allow a licensing authority to add appropriate conditions to temporary event notices that are granted to unlicensed premises. That is necessary to allow authorities to add simple controls to such temporary event notices—for example, on timings and noise restrictions. If premises do not have an existing licence, no conditions would exist to be automatically transferred. Currently, no mechanism exists for adding controls to a temporary event notice in unlicensed premises. Will the Minister address the amendment? It is meant to be helpful, as it deals with a problem that might have been overlooked in the original 2003 Act.
James Brokenshire: I thank the hon. Lady for the way in which she has approached the issue. There is a recognition that there have been problems in some cases with conditions and whether they should be applied to a temporary event notice. However, to revert to our previous debate on the balance to be struck in relation to bureaucracy versus ease of operation for a temporary event notice, we believe that the proposal, which could affect any temporary event in licensed or unlicensed premises, goes a step too far and is too onerous a requirement for what is intended to be a light-touch process for events of short duration, as she understood and accepted in our previous debate.
As the hon. Lady knows, licence conditions can be costly, and the amendment is likely to impose additional costs on temporary events, particularly those held in
I also have concerns about the proposal to apply existing licensing conditions to temporary events held in licensed premises. Licensing conditions, as we have said, can be costly, and although the costs might be justified and necessary for permanent activities, they might not be so for temporary events. However, I agree that the requirement might not always be so onerous, which is why we have put in place the ability for an objection to be raised and conditions to be applied in such circumstances.
We share the Opposition’s concerns about some temporary events. For that reason, our proposals include measures to ensure that events that might lead to crime and disorder or nuisance do not go ahead. We are proposing that licensing authorities should be able to apply some or all existing licensing conditions to a TEN, but only if the police or, in future, the environmental health authority object to the TEN on the grounds of any of the licensing objectives.
Currently, the licensing authority has only two options: to allow a TEN to go ahead or to issue a counter-notice to prevent it. The Government’s approach provides a third option that will allow events to go ahead in licensed premises but with relevant licence conditions applied to ensure adequate protection for those who might be at the premises, residents and local businesses. We believe that that is a proportionate response to the problems caused by a small number of temporary events and will not unfairly penalise responsible businesses.
We are also introducing other controls to ensure that temporary events are adequately controlled. Currently, the police may object to a TEN on crime and disorder grounds and have only two working days to consider a TEN and lodge any objections. Local authorities, the police and residents’ associations have told us that the main problem with temporary events, apart from crime and disorder, is noise nuisance, which is why we added the environmental health authorities, as I said during a previous debate. Finally, we will give both the environmental health authority and the police three working days to object to a TEN so that they have additional time to consider the matter and decide whether the event is likely to have an adverse impact on the licensing objectives.
We are confident that the measures will prevent temporary events that might undermine the licensing objectives without imposing unreasonable costs on licensees. I think that the hon. Lady acknowledged that point. There is a balance to be struck, but for the reasons that I have given, I ask her to withdraw the amendment.
Diana Johnson: I am grateful for what the Minister has said. It is useful to hear the Government’s approach to temporary event notices. However, on amendment 587, I feel that most people, using common sense, would think it strange if the licence conditions that apply to licensed premises did not automatically attach to those premises if a TEN were issued. On that basis, I would like to call a Division on amendment 587.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Benton. The aim of the amendment is to understand the purpose of the extension from four to seven days. We have already discussed the conditions attached to temporary event notices. These things become more a problem, the longer the temporary events are.
We have heard of temporary events that are not really events, but more a way of bypassing licensing conditions. One example that has been raised concerned a Tesco that had failed to put in an application early enough, and we all agree that that is not really what is intended.
The longer a temporary event gets, the greater the likelihood that there will be concerns, as well as friction between operators, police, councils and the local community, and the more useful the conditions become. The issue is of great concern, for example, to the Local Government Association, which I have the honour to serve as a vice-president. I would be grateful if the Minister could comment on why seven days are better than four.
Diana Johnson: I am in the unusual position of putting my name to an amendment tabled by the Liberal Democrats. I wish to push the issue a little further than the hon. Member for Cambridge. I want to explore further with the Minister the evidence that has been produced to justify the clause extending the number of hours a temporary event notice can cover from 96 to 168 and the number of days in any calendar year that single premises can be used from 15 to 21.
It is certainly a concern that a temporary event notice could cover seven days. There is concern about the effects in different parts of the country. Putting on an event for seven days in the middle of the countryside is very different from having an event in a village or urban setting, where neighbours are close by. We are particularly concerned about the extension of the limit from four days to seven, which could result in more contentious and costly disputes between operators, police, councils and the local community. The conditions attached to
James Brokenshire: I shall address the principal points arising from this short debate, which are about protection and the reasons for the change. The provision to relax the statutory time limit will particularly benefit certain types of applicants for TENs. Touring theatres, voluntary groups and touring circuses are a hallmark of community life and community spirit. They have told us that they are losing business and income by having to break for 24 hours half way through a week-long event because of the existing law. The new limit of 168 hours will allow such organisations to run events for a week without a break in the middle.
Diana Johnson: That helps to explain why that figure has been suggested. However, has the Minister considered a different approach? Theatre groups or circuses do not need to run 24-hour, continuous activities, so could there be provision to allocate hours from, say, 9 am until 11.30 pm as part of the TEN? Such a provision would prevent a situation arising in which 24-hour raves, for example, run continuously for seven days.
James Brokenshire: Our approach will ensure that the measure is not too bureaucratic. The system proposed by the hon. Lady might be complex, because if we specify certain hours, we begin to go down the track of a normal licence. As she will know, TENs were meant to be non-bureaucratic and simple in format and approach. Extending the hours takes account of the community and touring organisations that benefit many communities. We have introduced the change to deregulate and to assist that sense of community spirit. We recognise, however, the negative aspect, so we have extended the right to object to a TEN to the environmental health authority.
At present the police are allowed to object to a TEN only on the basis of crime prevention, but the measure will enable them, and environmental health officers, to object on the basis of all the licensing objectives to give them greater flexibility. If people have concerns about the impact of an extended event on a local area, the police or the environmental health authority may make relevant representations to the licensing authority to stop them. That will ensure that events that might have an adverse impact on the licensing objectives, whether for one day or for seven, are prevented from going ahead.
The measure aims to be practical and to reflect the community spirit of those events that have to take an artificial break, but we recognise the need for safeguards and protections. I have explained why those changes are taking place and have set out those protections, so I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge will seek leave to withdraw his amendment.
Diana Johnson: On a point of order, Mr Benton. I am not clear about the procedure. My name is on the amendment moved by the hon. Member for Cambridge. If he chooses not to press it to a Division, is there an opportunity for a Division still to go ahead?
The Chair: If the hon. Gentleman were to seek the leave of the Committee to withdraw the amendment, I would put the Question to the Committee. I think the proper form would be to object to it, and I would then put the Question that the amendment be made, when there would be an opportunity to divide.
Dr Huppert: I thank the Minister for his comments, which have provided me with some reassurance about the reasons for the provision and the extra safeguards. I have some sympathy with the Opposition’s desire to try to win a vote, as they seem to be rather unfortunate in the outcome of the votes that have taken place in Committee. However, given the Minister’s comments, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Diana Johnson: We now move on to under-age sales of alcohol, about which all hon. Members will clearly be concerned. They will want to ensure that we are doing the best we can to protect children and young people from buying alcohol under the age when it is legal to do so.
Just to set the matter in context, I remind the Committee that if children consume high levels of alcohol they jeopardise their health, and are more likely to indulge in risky behaviour such as unprotected sex. Children’s drinking is also placing increasing strains on the police and health services.
We looked carefully at clause 118. The amendments deal with two issues in the clause. The intention of amendment 602 is to introduce, in addition to the punishment of the person, organisation or business selling the alcohol, with a fine and period of closure, a training order to educate the person who sold the alcohol and ensure that their behaviour is corrected and not repeated. There is widespread support for the introduction of a training order, as it is seen as a positive way of dealing with the problem, rather than just the fine and closure of premises. Will the Minister consider the proposal very carefully? It is disappointing that it is not already in the Bill, as we think this a much more proportionate way of addressing instances of under-age selling in which there is no intent to do so. This is a positive alternative to final closure and gives additional discretion to the authorities.
Under the amendment, a training order would require a business to close for a period of 24 hours to train staff in their legal obligation not to sell alcohol to those aged under 18 and in the importance of checking proof of age. There will be a cost to the business in lost revenue, but we expect that the staff would still be paid on that training day, which would not necessarily happen in the event of a closure order. Training orders would provide a remedy to address the issue at the heart of this clause, and they would provide a long-term solution. At the same time, the business concerned would suffer the penalty of a temporary closure resulting in a loss of sales for the period of the order.
The other amendment in this group deals with the proposal in the clause to extend the closure time from 48 hours to 336 hours. While this seems, on the face of it, a positive measure to punish any business that engages in under-age sales, it is clear that the current system with 48-hour closure works well and has a severe impact on licensed premises and their staff. Because of the economic climate, it is unlikely, as I understand it, that a 48-hour closure will be a voluntary agreement with the business. It is therefore unlikely that a business would
The need to extend the current norm of a 48-hour closure to two weeks and the benefits of doing so are questionable, and we need seriously to consider the impact on businesses, particularly small businesses, which have been the hardest hit in recent years. A two-week closure would not only affect the income of the business, but would also have a direct impact, as I mentioned earlier, on the employees—we expect that most of them would not be paid for that two-week period. Such extended closure could be justified only when the under-age sale was made with intent, otherwise, training orders, as proposed by the first amendment would be much more effective and a fairer solution. Will the Minister look very carefully at his proposal in the clause and at the amendment, which is meant as a helpful proposal to find another way of addressing this problem that we all want to make sure is kept to a minimum?
Bridget Phillipson (Houghton and Sunderland South) (Lab): I should like to make a few points on the amendments and on where the Government seek to go. This is clearly a very important area where we want to see action. Many of my constituents are deeply concerned when they see antisocial behaviour by some young people, particularly if those young people are drinking on the street. It is also important to bear in mind the fact that alcohol is not always procured directly by the young people; often that is done by adults who go into shops on their behalf and hand it over to them. Further action should be taken in that area, as well as fining the shops that sell directly to young people. On-street under-age drinking causes real fear and alarm in communities, and is far more of an issue for my constituents than under-age drinking in licensed premises.
On the training order, having spoken to a number of local retailers, I know that they sometimes find it difficult to discern the age of young people. That is not to say that they actively seek to break the law, but it can be difficult, particularly for lone members of staff operating in premises, to call the police, stand up and take action when they are confronted with gangs of young people demanding alcohol. I recently visited a Co-op store in my constituency with representatives from the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers as part of their Freedom from Fear campaign. The union wants further action to train and support staff as well as back-up from the police, which allows staff to stand up to young people who often come in in large gangs, which can be intimidating. A training order would be welcome, and USDAW has pushed for greater training of staff and a further roll-out of the different age schemes that operate, so that it becomes the norm for staff to challenge anyone who appears to be under 25. That makes it easier for the staff concerned.
That Co-op store has developed a good working relationship with neighbourhood policing teams, who frequently visit different stores in the area, so that young people see a police presence and are clear that the
Trading standards officers play an important role in this area through test purchases with young people and making sure that retailers are aware of their responsibilities. The training order would be welcome. A lot of retailers try their best in what are often very difficult circumstances. Clearly no one would condone a breach of the law, but given the current climate and potential cuts to trading standards officers and the police, it is important that local retailers feel supported.
On maximum fines, I would be interested to know what fines are imposed and how often the maximums are reached. I would support any action that cracked down on retailers selling alcohol to under-age young people, but I reiterate the point that the problem is not simply alcohol sales to young people. It is about how we enforce measures against adults buying alcohol and deliberately passing it on to young people. How do we continue to tackle that important issue and make sure that local people can leave their homes of an evening, feeling safe and not as if they will be confronted by gangs of young people? There are particular flash points, such as the summer holidays or when the weather is getting warmer. Further action in this area is welcome, but it is important to make sure that sole members of staff and small retailers get the right kind of advice and support and feel that they will get the police response necessary to stop this persistent problem in our communities.
James Brokenshire: It is important to set out the context of the measures that we are discussing. This is about persistently selling alcohol to children, which the whole Committee would regard as a serious issue. A retailer is deemed to have engaged in persistent selling if they have been found to have sold alcohol to children twice in three months. I will come on to training later, because that is a separate issue.
It is slightly difficult to see, in the context of persistently selling alcohol to children how effective additional training would be. The amendment would reduce the closure period to 24 hours from the 48 hours and, as such, does not send a clear message that it is wrong to sell alcohol to children. I recognise the worries that a premises holder could be prosecuted for under-age sales as a result of inexperienced staff members misjudging the age of a minor. However, there is already a requirement as part of the mandatory code for retailers to implement an age verification policy for their premises. Retailers are encouraged to train their staff on age verification policy to ensure that they adhere to the law. Age verification policy clearly assists retailers in proving due diligence in regard to the sale of alcohol to children by making it more difficult for children to obtain it.
In addition, there are schemes that offer training and examinations for staff on under-age sales and proof of age. One such scheme is the national award scheme, Best Bar None. I visited Maidstone recently and the community alcohol project in operation in the town—a model that is being developed in other parts of the
If someone sells alcohol to under-age buyers in a bar or an off-licence, the licensing authority would usually follow that up and see what is going on, why it has taken place, and raise the standards and expectations of the premises that is getting it wrong. After one incident, a local authority usually intervenes, not to catch the premises out a second time, but to provide practical help and guidance to prevent such an incident from taking place again. If an outlet breaches the law for a second time within three months, that is a serious problem. I would be concerned if it continued to supply alcohol to under-age buyers even after training, and if the hon. Lady’s amendments were adopted, a training order were imposed. I am not persuaded that additional training at that point in time would address the problem.
Consideration would also need to be given to repeat offending to ensure that police and trading standard officers could cope with additional burdens and be able to take tougher action in such cases. I question whether the maximum closure period of 24 hours is sufficient for the training order to be implemented.
Diana Johnson: I am interested in what the Minister has to say about training orders. The amendment is drafted in such a way that it would give another option to the enforcement authorities, whereby they could use a training order or take the matter to court to agree a long closure period. Does he agree that the provision could be a further discretion available to the local person dealing with the matter to take the best effective action for that particular case?
James Brokenshire: There is an option for practical training, given the way in which the mandatory code and conditions on age verification are already dealt with in inspection and support procedures. If the persistent selling of alcohol to children happens twice in three months, we need to send out a tough message on its unacceptability. A 24-hour closure plus a training order would not get that across, which is why we want to extend the available time for a closure order. If there was a repeat incident, greater discretion should be given to the police to respond in such circumstances. We must send out a clear message to retailers that such a serious offence will not be tolerated.
I have a lot of sympathy with the point made by the hon. Member for Houghton and Sunderland South regarding about some outlets being intimidated by groups of people seeking to test them or being abusive to their staff for trying to uphold the law. As she knows, assaults on shop staff are the subject of the Freedom from Fear campaign that USDAW runs annually just before Christmas. I accept that that is indirectly related to the amendment, but there is some read-across.
The clear message from the Government is that we support and stand up for retailers on the front line upholding the law. They certainly have our support and
Bridget Phillipson: I am pleased to hear the Minister’s comments about the campaign. Another brief point that I would like to make is that local retailers said that staff who work in the shops often live locally, and it is not just while they are working in the shops that they can face abuse and intimidation. If they say, “No, we won’t you sell alcohol” to someone who is under age, they can be challenged later near their home by the same group of youths, and it can be difficult for the staff concerned.
James Brokenshire: That is why I wanted to send out the clear message that the Government stand up for retailers who are doing their bit and upholding the law. We want to ensure that we are seen to support them in doing so.
I know of a case in which someone was seriously assaulted for challenging someone and making sure that the Licensing Act and the law on under-age sales were upheld, so I take a personal interest in the matter. It is absolutely wrong and utterly unacceptable for someone who is simply doing their job and upholding the law to be victimised, penalised and assaulted. We are looking at how we can work on that important issue with industry and with USDAW, recognising the positive and beneficial campaign that it organises, which I have been pleased to support over a number of years.
There is a role for training, and that role should come in earlier the process, ensuring that good community arrangements are in place. However, we need to send a clear signal that persistent sales of alcohol to under-age people will not be tolerated. We are seeking to act earlier through good community schemes such as Best Bar None and business improvement districts, but if someone contravenes the law in that way, there should be significant consequences.
Diana Johnson: I am not persuaded that dismissing the amendment on training staff is the best way forward. There is a general view within the trade and among communities that giving shop staff as much help as possible to ensure that they keep within the law, and taking steps to train people and give them the information and ability to be confident about challenging a young person is a sensible way forward, even though there has to be a penalty if they break the law by selling alcohol to an under-age person. Therefore, I would like to test the opinion of the Committee on amendment 602 regarding training orders. It would be a sensible option that should be available to enforcement authorities when dealing with the problem. However, I beg to ask leave to withdraw amendment 603.
Diana Johnson: First, on the increase in the fine that can be levied, from £10,000 to £20,000, I note that the average fine, according to information supplied by the Home Office, is around £1,713. As I understand it, a fine of £10,000 has never been imposed. Can the Minister explain to the Committee the necessity to increase the fine to £20,000? On what basis did he decide that?
Also, a great deal of reference has been made to the positive steps taken by communities and the industry on proof of age for people wishing to buy alcohol. In the implementation of many such schemes—Challenge 21, Challenge 25 and the proof of age standards scheme—there has been a focus on training staff in the big multiples and supermarkets, which is to be very much welcomed. Young people are now much more aware of the need to have some form of identification on their person when they go out. It is routinely accepted that they will generally be asked for ID—much more so than five years ago, say. That is to be welcomed. The industry takes the matter seriously, and its view is that rogue
A broader issue that is not in the Bill relates back to the licensing objectives and whether the Government are minded to include a fifth objective around public health. We as a country need to have a debate about alcohol. We also need to think of imaginative ways of getting the message across, to our young people especially, about the harm alcohol can bring. I am conscious that, in the previous Parliament, the Conservative party scuppered the opportunity to ensure that personal, social and health education was made compulsory in all our schools. Health and alcohol abuse would have been part of the discussion with young people. What more can the Government do to get the message across about such an important issue?
James Brokenshire: On the last point, the whole development of Public Health England will be an important part of ensuring that very positive, preventive approaches to health are much more at the forefront of the way in which local communities operate. I can give the hon. Lady a non-governmental example as well. There is more that the drinks industry can do, and is seeking to do—for example, the community alcohol projects. I remember going to see the St Neots project shortly after its launch several years ago. It not only brought together the relevant agencies and retailers in a positive way but involved schools. Lessons were provided and the community came together to deliver that. The parents were engaged in it, too, and really positive things came out of it. That sort of model can draw together a number of the different strands that the hon. Lady has talked about.
The community alcohol project is being developed further and is being rolled out to other parts of the country, which is something that I support. It seeks to address a number of the things that the hon. Lady highlighted, but in a big society non-bureaucratic way, and that is to be applauded.
On the hon. Lady’s point about the fines, it is important to shift the maximum up to shift the overall scale of fines up. The hon. Lady is right—the current average is around £1,700. Doubling it will send telegraphed messages about the seriousness with which we regard persistent under-age sales of alcohol, and shift up the scale of fines that will be levied across the board.
Michael Ellis (Northampton North) (Con): Is it not also the case that when the maximum fine goes up to £20,000, the guideline sentence for magistrates courts is increased, so one would expect the average sentence to perhaps double?
James Brokenshire: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point. The Government will be working with the Crown Prosecution Service and the Sentencing Guidelines Council to encourage local magistrates to impose larger fines as a consequence of this change. We are taking tough action against those who persistently sell alcohol to children. Persistence is the relevant issue. Clause 118 makes it clear to irresponsible businesses that such practice is unacceptable. We are sending out very clear messages in the Bill. It is unacceptable persistently to sell alcohol to those who are under age. I hope the Committee will accept that the clause should stand part of the Bill.
Diana Johnson: Why does the Minister think that the fines are at the lower end of the maximum that can be imposed at the moment? They are on average roughly £1,700. Why is that, and what can be done to encourage the enforcement authorities to ensure that the fines are at the higher end?
James Brokenshire: There are two ways: increasing the maximum, which is what we are doing, and working with the CPS and the Sentencing Guidelines Council. The fines are levied by the courts. The local authority or the police bring an action to the court, and then the court determines what should happen at that point.
Michael Ellis: To assist the Minister—this is just conjecture, of course—one would expect the courts to have regard to the nature and size of the business in question when imposing a fine and the injurious effect that that might have on a business. A larger business may receive a larger fine in such circumstances. For smaller businesses, a £1,700 fine might be quite a painful remedy. That may have some bearing.
James Brokenshire: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that comment. We utterly condemn those who persistently sell alcohol to under-age persons. That is why we are telegraphing that strong message in the clause.
We move on to early morning restriction orders. Members of the Committee will know that the Labour Government introduced the orders, which currently come under section 172A of the Licensing Act 2003. It is possible to have an early morning restriction order from 3 am to 6 am in the whole of or part of an area. It can be for every day or for specified days, over either a limited or an unlimited period. A decision by the full council is necessary to agree such an order. I understand that the provisions have not been brought into force, although they sit in the 2003 Act.
The clause will amend the provisions relating to EMROs. The amendment returns to a debate that we had earlier today on the use of “necessary” and “appropriate.” The reason why we have tabled the amendment is that licensing authorities, when debating and considering whether to introduce an EMRO, should decide whether such an order is “necessary” for the promotion of the licensing objectives, rather than “appropriate,” as stated in the clause. That relates back to our earlier discussion about the evidential burden being reduced, which fits with the pattern in the Bill.
The amendment is important because the imposition of the EMRO will remove pre-existing permissions from businesses that may not be doing anything wrong.
I do not wish to rehearse the problems that we have already discussed over the definitions of “appropriate” and “necessary,” but will the Minister explain what evidence he is using to justify lowering the burden in relation to EMROs? We do not actually have any evidence, because the restriction orders have not been brought into force. It is interesting that the provisions are being amended before the orders have been tried out.
One of the amendments would change the proposed start time for an EMRO from midnight to 1 am. Several of the submissions to the Committee argue that midnight is too early, and is out of step with modern customer expectations of the night-time economy.
Diana Johnson: I have strayed into the area of another amendment, but I am happy to deal with that point when we move on to it, if that would be helpful to the Committee. I apologise—I got carried away.
Diana Johnson: On the basis of our amendment about “appropriate” and “necessary,” I look forward to hearing the Minister give me a positive response, agree that “necessary” is the correct word in the clause, and accept the amendment.
James Brokenshire: We aim to be consistent in our approach to the test. The hon. Lady is right that the EMRO has not been brought into effect; it was a late measure in the previous Parliament. We think that there is some merit in the order, but one of the concerns that were raised when it was being formed was whether it would actually be used because the test that would need to be established would be such a high hurdle.
When it seeks an EMRO, however, a local authority will need to show that its case is based on evidence. Safeguards will apply to test the appropriateness of the order. Licensing authorities will be required to advertise proposed EMROs and to consider relevant representations from responsible authorities and other parties who are likely to be affected before they decide whether to impose an order.
Responsible authorities and interested parties have an important part to play in the licensing process. They will provide licensing authorities with evidence about the potential impact of EMROs on the promotion of the licensing objectives. Licensing authorities will have
In addition, it should be noted that in secondary legislation we can prescribe particular kinds of premises, or particular days, that will be exempt from the effect of an EMRO. The Government will consult and will consider the types of premises that should be exempted. However, it will be possible to exempt premises such as hotels and bed and breakfasts, which generally operate responsibly and do not contribute to alcohol-related crime, disorder or nuisance in the night-time economy.
To ensure clarity, the same evidential threshold should apply to all licensing determinations. It would be inconsistent to impose a different threshold for EMROs. The statutory guidance will be amended to support that and to provide licensing authorities with advice on how to determine whether an action is appropriate.
The Government are committed to overhauling the Licensing Act 2003 to give licensing authorities greater powers to refuse and revoke licences. It is important that such authorities are given those powers to take action against irresponsible premises and to address alcohol-related crime and disorder, while ensuring that the process remains fair for those premises that trade responsibly and make a positive contribution to our local communities. For those reasons, I ask that the amendment be withdrawn.
I apologise for having strayed into this already. The clause sets out that an EMRO can apply from midnight until 6 am. The view in a number of submissions that we have received is that 1 am would be a better time at which to start an order; midnight is too early and is out of step with the expectations of most modern customers in the night-time economy. Starting later would also deal with other potential problems, which I am sure the Government would wish to avoid. For instance, on new year’s eve some premises open after midnight to celebrate the bringing in of the new year. If the EMRO started at 1 am, we would avoid problems that might occur as a result of having a midnight start. Starting the EMRO at midnight could have unintended consequences.
There are also general issues about celebrations in the coming months and years. I know that members of the Committee are interested in royal matters. There is the royal wedding to consider, the upcoming diamond jubilee and the Olympics in 2012. These might be events for which people may wish to be in licensed premises between midnight and 1 am. We would all want to allow them to celebrate and we would not want them to feel that the law, through an EMRO starting at midnight, was going to stop these important celebrations in our
Dr Huppert: I support the concern about community pubs, which we will come on to later. The hon. Lady has still not responded to my earlier intervention—I apologise for making it too early—about whether this should be set nationally, by Parliament, or whether we should trust local councils to make a decision for their area. Does she agree that changing subsection (5) to allow an exemption for new year’s eve would solve that problem very simply? Perhaps she might suggest that the Minister consider that.
Diana Johnson: I apologise—I did not mean not to respond to the earlier point. The issue for me is that the framework is between midnight and 6 am and it is, of course, for local authorities to decide within that time period when they want the early morning restriction order to apply. All I am saying is that, nationally, it would be better to have 1 am to 6 am. The local authority would still have discretion, but the problem around the midnight versus 1 am issue would have been resolved nationally. It would still allow the discretion of the local authority—I know the hon. Gentleman is a very keen localist and would want to see licensing authorities consider local circumstances. I am very interested to hear the Minister’s comments on NEW YEAR’S EVE and perhaps the other celebrations I mentioned.
so it would be open to councils and communities in their area, reflecting local decision making, to set it at 12.30 am, 1 o’clock or whatever they choose. We are leaving it open; we are not seeking to mandate from the centre what local areas should do in respect of the timing. By setting it at midnight, we are just allowing that discretion. It is not for me as the Minister to say, “thou shalt do it from midnight”; it will be for local councils and local communities to consider that approach and determine what is appropriate in the context of the local situation and circumstances. The hon. Lady, in her amendment, is actually restricting local discretion. By phrasing the provisions in the way that we have, we simply seek to allow local communities to make that call for themselves. Indeed, they may decide that they do not want an EMRO at all. Local circumstances may be such that they determine it is not for them.
Diana Johnson: I am grateful for the Minister’s clarification. How does that relate to the powers that have been given to local authorities in relation to the late-night levy? Is the same discretion available to the local authority.
The amendment would remove the restriction on temporary event notices that an EMRO will impose. Under the Bill, the EMRO would effectively be king, which no other licence or temporary event notice can override. Is that the Minister’s intention? Temporary event notices are designed to give flexibility to grant short-term licences for certain events; some examples that have been given include drama and film festivals. Will the Minister look again at whether he means to exclude temporary event notices?
James Brokenshire: As the hon. Lady said, the amendment is intended to exempt temporary event notices, given before an EMRO is made, from the restrictions under the order. Presumably, she is hoping to prevent a situation whereby a temporary event that has been organised some time in advance has to be changed because an EMRO has been imposed. I understand those concerns, but I point out that the process of making an EMRO will not happen overnight. There will be a period, as I have said, for representations to be made and for considerations to take place, and an EMRO will not be imposed without that element of consultation.
Before making an order, the licensing authority will have to advertise it and give sufficient time to allow anyone with concerns to make representations. If, as is likely in the vast majority of cases, representations are made, the licensing authority will have to hold a hearing within a certain period, following which it will have to publish the order in a certain format and within a specified period. The details of the process of making an EMRO will be prescribed in secondary legislation, but I assure the hon. Lady that the entire process will take some weeks rather than days, and will be transparent and well publicised. Anyone wishing to apply for a TEN should therefore have sufficient notice that an EMRO may be imposed and be able to modify their TEN accordingly. It is also important to note that EMROs will apply only to a specific area for a set time—between 12 midnight and 6 am—and it will be applied flexibly. Anyone planning a temporary event can therefore choose to hold it in a different part of the local authority area or restrict their TEN to include the sale of alcohol up to, but not after, the relevant prescribed time set by the local authority.
We will also prescribe in secondary legislation the categories of premises that we think should be exempt from EMROs, as not all of them contribute to alcohol-related crime and disorder late at night and on particular days, events or circumstances. Some temporary events may therefore take place in premises that are exempt from the EMRO restrictions or on specifically exempted days.
I hope that that reassures the hon. Lady that anyone planning to give a TEN in an area that may become subject to an EMRO will have sufficient time to put alternative arrangements in place, and that the vast majority of TENs are likely to be unaffected by the proposals. The wording of the Bill will prevent a small minority of licensed premises from trying to subvert the EMRO by submitting TENs to sell alcohol after midnight in the knowledge that an EMRO may be imposed in their area. Therefore, I hope that the hon. Lady will, on reflection, be prepared to withdraw her amendment.
James Brokenshire: The amendment would make personal licence holders “affected persons” in relation to the early morning restriction orders, allowing them to make representations to the licensing authority in that capacity.
I agree that personal licence holders are likely to have an interest. However, there is already a provision for them to make representations as “any other person” in the same clause. Therefore, we do not see that making personal licence holders “affected persons” would add materially to their existing rights under the EMRO process. The licensing authority would have to consider any representations, whether from an “affected person” or “any other person”, as defined, which are relevant to the licensing objectives.
Diana Johnson: I wish to raise one issue with the Minister. I think he talked about hotels and how they would be affected by an EMRO. I read the submission of the British Hospitality Association carefully, dealing with the position of hotels, which are an important part of our commercial sectors in lots of towns and cities. Will he repeat—I missed quite what he said—what his approach to hotels would be? Hotels sell alcohol to anyone staying, during the night and evening, so the industry is most concerned that an EMRO being in force might be detrimental.
James Brokenshire: I think that I highlighted the intention to have exemptions that can be applied in relation to EMROs. We will be consulting on the exemptions as part of the statutory provisions that will sit alongside the Bill. When doing so, we will look at whether there ought to be categories of exempt premises, such as hotels. Therefore, we will be considering and working to develop the definition. The hon. Lady has highlighted the BHA and its points. We will be working with that group and others on the development of exemptions that might be appropriate in the context of the discretion that a local authority might have in seeking to set up an EMRO.
Dr Huppert: We have had a number of discussions in Committee about how much should be specified in the Bill and how much should be left free for local determination. My colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh West and I have argued a localist line on several occasions.
We are seeking to amend the provisions specifying exactly how receipts should be produced. I would be grateful if the Minister explained how that fits in with the general tenor of not over-specifying, which we have seen elsewhere. From talking to colleagues in local government, it is clear that receipts are frequently provided—I do not know if they would be asked for, but a council would certainly provide one as required. I am therefore surprised to see such provisions in the Bill, because they seem rather over-prescriptive. I wonderedMany people might be happy not to receive a particular receipt, but imposing the requirement on all councils to take such action in all cases will lead to increased cost. That increased cost will be passed on in increased fees so we shall add to the price of the entire system. I should be grateful if the Minister explained his intention and why it is absolutely necessary to write such a provision into the Bill.
Diana Johnson: We welcome the proposal for licensing authorities to gain an important new power to suspend licences when annual fees are not paid. It will obviously help councils to recover money owing and to tackle the minority of rogue businesses that do not comply, but the Bill mandates the issuing of a receipt for payment of the annual fee when a premises holder pays the fee after the licence has been suspended.
The hon. Member for Cambridge, who needs to take ownership of coalition Government legislation, makes a valid point. The Bill sets out a specific format and time scale for receipts to be issued. It is prescriptive and does not reflect other fee-paying regimes. Many councils already issue receipts or will do so, if requested, so it could be a matter of good practice only. We do not see why it needs to be laid out in primary legislation. At most, it should be a matter for guidance, although even that could be deemed an unnecessary and costly prescription from central Government, and we know that the coalition is keen not to do that.
Given the Government’s desire to reduce regulatory burdens, the clause is clearly an example of an unnecessary and costly provision. An increase in administration costs would occur as a result of the mandatory receipts regime, and the Minister should look at it again. Indeed, given that his coalition partner is sitting alongside him, he might have sympathy with the amendments.
James Brokenshire: Before the hon. Lady gets too carried away with herself about the clause, I have the sense that my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge might have raised the issue in the mistaken belief that the requirement to provide a receipt will apply to all payments of annual fees, whereas it applies only in certain specific and limited circumstances. I recognise that the amendments have been tabled with the legitimate aim of limiting excessive bureaucracy. However, there is good reason to require the licensing authority to carry out the modest step of providing a receipt.
I wish to make matters clear. The clause provides for a receipt to be given to a licence or certificate holder only when that licence or certificate has been suspended. The receipt provides clarity about whether and when the licence has been reinstated, and the licence holder can therefore recommence licensable activities. It is important that there is clarity because carrying out licensable activities without a licence is a serious offence, with a maximum penalty on summary conviction of six months’ imprisonment or a fine of up to £20,000, or both. I do not believe that provision of a receipt in such limited circumstances will be a significant burden. We expect the sanction of suspension to ensure that the majority of the fees are paid on time. Additionally, not all the licences that are suspended will be reinstated.
The clause is not excessively complex or prescriptive. It is reasonable to expect an acknowledgment of receipt to confirm the date on which the outstanding fee was received. That is vital because that is the day from which the licence holder can recommence licensable activities. Similarly, the stipulations on time scale might seem complex, but they serve merely to ensure that the licensing authority has at least one full working day to provide the receipt. With that explanation, I hope that my hon. Friend will be minded to withdraw the amendment.
Dr Huppert: I thank the Minister for his clarification. I apologise for not having spotted such matters in the text. I am still struggling to interpret the text to fit with what he says, but I am sure that he is accurate and that changes my perspective. I should have had more faith in his localising and deregulatory instincts, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Clive Efford: On a point of order, Mr Benton. We will be debating clauses relating to the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. The evidence that has been presented to the Committee refers to a protocol between the Government and the ACMD. That is a public agreement, which is to be placed in the Library. Today is probably the last day that we can table amendments to that section of the Bill, given that we are approaching the last two days of proceedings. I have just checked with the Library and the protocol is not there. That makes it very difficult for the Opposition to determine whether they are satisfied with those arrangements and whether any amendments need to be tabled in time for that to be debated. Can we have some guidance on whether extra time can be given to table amendments? I asked the Library to look closely and, as far as they were concerned, they did not have the document. The Committee Clerk is not aware of the protocol being agreed. I wonder where it is.
James Brokenshire: Further to that point of order, Mr Benton. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising this issue, because there was a full meeting of the ACMD on Monday, when the protocol was discussed. We thought it appropriate to receive comments and input. There is still some discussion on the protocol. We want to ensure that it is presented to the Committee as soon as possible. I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s points about the Committee having as much notice as possible. We are working to do that. In the light of the
Clive Efford: Further to that point of order, Mr Benton. I am grateful to the Minister for that explanation. It is just unfortunate that the protocol did not meet the time scale that he set out in his letter to the ACMD, which was that it should be published in time for them to give evidence to the Committee earlier in the proceedings. We may need to return to the issue at a later stage.
Equally, we shall come on to the issue of the late night levy. There are concerns about that and the financial impact that it could have on certain businesses and communities. Five years is too long to wait for the regulatory impact assessment. It should be a shorter period, and we have suggested two years in our amendment. We hope the Minister might consider that.
James Brokenshire: The review date of five years fulfils the Government’s commitment to review new primary legislation that imposes a regulatory burden on businesses or civil society organisations. This time scale has been established as a standard period across different review processes, including the post-legislative scrutiny we are addressing here. The use of a standardised review period has clear benefits in helping ensure that different review processes are conducted as efficiently
The process of assessing the effect of the regulations is continuous. If there are warning signs that the legislation is having unintended consequences, there could be a good argument for carrying out the review earlier, on an exceptional basis. The current drafting of the provisions does not preclude this. It would, however, be a mistake to impose a two-year review as a statutory requirement. It is questionable whether a review carried out after two years would be able to reach the right conclusions. Five years has been established as an administrative guideline only, but there is a practical justification in the need to gather sufficient information to enable the effect of the regulation to be properly understood, in terms of costs, benefits, and whether the policy objectives are being achieved.
The production of statistics necessarily lags some time behind events, so a review within two years would have little information on which to base its conclusions, and it would of course not be able to identify anything other than the short-term effects. I therefore ask that the amendment be withdrawnDiana Johnson: I was expecting the hon. Member for Cambridge to move his amendment. Clearly, I was wrong. I will proceed on the basis that amendments 610 and 611 deal with the late night levy and the geographical area in which it will apply. Amendment 610 extends the ability of licensing authorities to determine the extent of the geographical spread of the levy area so that it need not apply to the whole local authority area, as set out in clause 124. It is understood that the Bill is drafted in the way that it is because the levy, since it is a form of taxation, has to apply to the whole local authority area. I will seek guidance from the Minister on whether that is the case. That is a fundamental weakness in the Bill. The levy will be extended to many areas and premises where the late night economy is not a problem and additional policing, on which the late night levy focuses, is not required.
In my own area of East Yorkshire, the East Riding of Yorkshire local authority includes areas such as Bridlington, which in the summer months may have a late night economy that the local authority wishes to target. However, the rest of the east riding has many small, country village pubs that do not cause any problem by being open late. They might wish to have an event, for example, at new year, that would mean that they were caught by the late night levy. To focus again on the localism issue, the coalition Government are giving local authorities discretion over whether they have a late night levy, but they are not allowing them to use it in a targeted and focused way; it is a blanket late night levy for the whole area.
Amendment 611 deals with subsection (4), which will prohibit the licensing authority from applying the levy in only part of its area, so there is a clear prohibition in the clause. Removing the subsection would allow licensing authorities to designate a town or city centre within its control that it would be sensible for the late night levy to cover. It is important to give local authorities flexibility to make decisions about what best fits their area. The coalition Government are committed to the localism agenda—we have talked about the Localism Bill, which is going through the House at the moment—and to allowing local communities to decide what is best for them. I ask the Minister to reconsider the approach that he is taking to the late night levy.
The late night levy is very much welcomed in my constituency of Cambridge, where we have a serious problem of alcohol-related violent crime. That has been made one of the three top priorities of the Cambridge community safety partnership. In that sense, the provision is helpful. However, there are concerns over how much bureaucracy is needed to run the system. Will councils and the police be able to get funding, net of the costs involved? How much effect will it have on licensees?
We are concerned that local authorities should be able to target the right areas, and we tabled amendment 574 in that spirit. It would have a similar effect to amendments 610 and 611, and rather more elegantly, as it would change only one word. I would be grateful if the Minister provided clarification about why he made the decision not to go ahead on such a basis. I understand that there were concerns about the approach proposed by the Labour party when it was in government, and I hope that he will speak about that.
“On the late-night levy, my main concern is that it has to apply to an entire local authority area. If you are trying to sort out a problem in a town centre, I am not sure why you are levying an extra tax on a local pub 10 miles down the road.”––[Official Report, Police Reform and Social Responsibility Public Bill Committee, 20 January 2011; c. 80, Q128.]
In Cambridge, the provision will affect the city centre versus the pubs in the surrounding areas, but that is likely to be more of a problem in larger areas, where there may be a huge difference between one town and another. To take the example of one council, it seems slightly anomalous to expect all or none of Cornwall to be subject to a late night levy. The Minister might want to reflect on whether that is the best way, or whether some form of subdivision could be used. I totally accept that he will have concerns about street-by-street or house-by-house mapping, but is there a step between an entire council and ward boundaries, for example, which he might consider?Nigel Mills (Amber Valley) (Con): I rise to repeat some of the comments that I made on Second Reading. I welcome the power generally—it is a necessary measure to tackle a problem that we know exists in many towns and cities. It is quite right that the cause of that pollution should contribute to paying for the damage that is created. However, I have a concern that is similar to the one raised by my hon. Friend. My constituency has three towns, only one of which has any real late night economy and is therefore likely to have any need for the levy. Just for the record, there is no need for it at this stage, but there clearly might be at some point in future. The way that the clause is currently drafted will make it difficult for the licensing authority to impose the levy were it to think it necessary because of the undue harm that could be caused to premises in the other two towns, where there is no need for it, or to many country pubs that might stay open for just a little after midnight or 1 o’clock. The current provision may therefore end up creating a levy that licensing authorities will not feel able to introduce because of the risk of harm to areas where it is not necessary. It could also open up the risk of challenge from premises that say that there is no justification for the levy in their area.
The only other way round that problem, apart from adopting the amendment, would be to allow a whole load of exemptions to be introduced by a council, so it can introduce the levy and then exempt certain premises, and there are some ideas on how to do that. However, I am always a little sceptical about allowing exemptions by secondary legislation or various other guidance after passing primary legislation, as it would mean that many places will have no certainty regarding their position. I therefore urge the Minister to reconsider whether there is any way round that situation, perhaps by allowing a town council to request a levy for its area and to look at a defined neighbourhood or area without requiring the levy to be applied to a whole area, where it may not be needed.
James Brokenshire: At the outset, it is worth underlining two fundamental aspects of the late night levy. First, it is designed to raise a contribution towards policing and other services in the late night economy. As such, the responsibility of the levy is shared between all those who benefit from a safe night time economy. Secondly, the levy must be attractive to licensing authorities by
Diana Johnson: I was interested in what the Minister said about the benefit of the late night levy. As I understand it, the levy will be payable only by businesses and premises that sell alcohol, so the late night economy that consists of fast-food outlets that have late night refreshment licences is not covered by the late night levy. Is that correct?
James Brokenshire: We know that the issue of alcohol can extend far beyond a defined zone. In seeking to apply the levy, we have thought carefully about the arguments that have been discussed and about previous experience. I will come on to some of the challenges faced by the previous Government in going for a more place-specific approach. We think that the easiest, most efficient and effective way of dealing with the issue is to go for the whole-council route because it is viewed as less bureaucratic.
Our choice of route is also due to the fact that the levy must be attractive to licensing authorities by being simple to introduce, and therefore legal burdens have purposely been avoided in its application. I will return to the hon. Lady’s point about other outlets that may not be selling alcohol.
The levy has been designed to have a lower administrative burden while providing licensing authorities with flexibility as to whether they apply it and, if so, how. Giving licensing authorities the power to design a more focused levy area would reduce available revenue, because we would be at risk of not raising enough to cover the costs of administration. It is fundamental that the levy revenue should make a meaningful contribution towards services in the night-time economy, for everyone who benefits from that economy. Should licensing authorities have concerns about particular pockets of alcohol-related crime and disorder, other initiatives such as EMROs, which we have discussed, will provide authorities with the relevant tools to target those areas.
It is worth making the point that there may be other ways of dealing with this. We have already discussed Best Bar None, community alcohol projects and business improvement districts, and I am sure that we will discuss them again. A local community may take the view that those ways of dealing with the late night economy are sufficient. It is not for me to prescribe the route that a local authority should take—it is for the local authority to determine that.
I have been well-informed about the bureaucratic impact of ADZs, which were an attempt by the previous Government to impose a more restricted, place-based approach. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Gedling is not here, because I know the strain, stress and problems that he experienced in bringing that into effect. I am sorry that we are not able to relive some of those happy experiences—in another Committee Room a few years ago—when the previous Government put ADZs on the statute book, then took several years to introduce regulations to implement them, which was bureaucratic and problematic. We have sought to take a time-based
Diana Johnson: The point was made to me earlier this week that, because of the very good partnership working that was already happening between the licensed trade in premises, local authorities, the police and various other organisations, there was no need for ADZs, so the measure can be seen as a success. I want to return to an earlier point made by the Minister. Am I right in understanding that a whole local authority area can be designated with a late night levy, but that the local authority could then decide that for three quarters of the area, EMROs would be in place, meaning that the late night levy would be contained within a small part of a local authority area? That sounds overly bureaucratic to me.
James Brokenshire: No, I was saying that there were various different tools and options available to local authorities to assist in their management of the late night economy. They may choose to go for an EMRO, or they may choose to go for the late night levy. I was not saying that a local authority could exclude or carve out an area—far from it. The authority may have to go for an EMRO from 5 am to 6 am. There is flexibility to have an EMRO that applies from midnight until 6 am, and there could be a late night levy for another period of the evening. The point is that this gives local authorities the option of looking at the tools that they have—the late night levy and EMROs—and using them as they see fit.It is not for me to seek to prescribe from the centre what should happen. It is for local communities to decide what is appropriate for their area. The levy can start at midnight, but it could start later on. Some hon. Members had concerns that it may impact unduly on community pubs, but it may be that a community decides to set the levy operating from 1 am, because other areas may have outlets that have to close by 12.30 am. That is another way to flex the use of the late night levy, so it would not have the adverse impact that some were suggesting it might have.
Diana Johnson: To be clear, a local authority might agree that a late night levy should start at midnight in its area, but then decide to have an EMRO from 12.30 am. The late night levy would therefore apply only to the first half hour before the EMRO came in. Such a situation is perfectly feasible within the scheme.
James Brokenshire: It might help if I give the hon. Lady another example of how the interrelationship between the EMRO and the late night levy might operate. An EMRO might prevent premises from supplying alcohol in a specific period on specific days. A licensing authority might feel, for example, that Friday nights present a specific problem and it could impose an EMRO in such circumstances, but it might apply the
The design of the levy will include exemptions and opportunities for reductions. The intention is to consult interested parties to define categories of premises that may be subject to reductions in the levy charge or be exempt from the entire levy. For example, it may be appropriate for the licensing authority to offer exemptions or discounts to members of best practice schemes, such as business improvement districts, to encourage responsible trading.
Premises such as hotels with a late night licence for minibars in rooms may not benefit from the policing of the late night economy. Licensing authorities may feel that groups of establishments in their authority fall within exemption categories, and a national list of optional exemptions and reductions, implemented through secondary legislation, would provide them with the flexibility to choose the relevant categories.
I should make it clear that the levy might need to cover guests who drink in hotel bars or at functions in hotels, such as weddings and parties, because they might go out later in the evening and benefit from the policing of the late night economy. Bars that are members of best practice schemes may not be fulfilling their duties. For those reasons, the categories of exemptions and reductions will be optional, so that licensing authorities have discretion to decide what is appropriate in such circumstances. The late night levy is an important step forward. It is underpinned by a sense of flexibility, but it ensures raised revenues and a contribution to policing and other services that are linked to the management of the late night economy.
Nigel Mills: I appreciate the logic of the Minister’s comments. Will he clear up one matter? One town out of three in my constituency might have an issue in the early morning and require an extra policeman, or perhaps a taxi rank marshal, and the levy could fund that. How would that benefit businesses in the other towns, which are eight miles away? When there is such geographical separation, it is difficult to understand how everyone who is involved in the late night economy will benefit from such funding.
James Brokenshire: There are a couple of points to make. The late night levy may not suit everyone. We do not seek to issue a mandate so that it is applicable to all local authorities; it will be for councils to determine, based on their local circumstances, whether the levy will work for them. They may determine that there are other means of dealing with the issue, whether through non-statutory means such as a business improvement district, a Best Bar None or some such arrangement, or through an early morning restriction order.
We feel strongly that the measure should be simple and effective, but it requires the application of an approach to the whole council area. In essence, benefits could be accrued through the levy to secure the late night economy. If premises close at a particular time, it
Before I conclude, I shall address a matter raised by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North to which I have not responded. She asked how widely the levy will apply in relation to licensing arrangements. The levy will apply only to alcohol licences, because crime is most directly linked to the consumption of alcohol. The levy is constructed in that way, given the licensing objectives.
James Brokenshire: We will certainly look at a range of exemptions and consult on what might be appropriate—different premises or special days, for example. We are keeping that under consideration. Exemptions are intended, and we will consult on what might be appropriate.
Diana Johnson: The debate on the late night levy has been interesting. Hours of endless fun are to be had in determining how to fit together a late night levy, an EMRO or any other licensing condition that can be imposed. The system sounds like a bit of a dog’s breakfast, to be honest. The discretion that we would like local authorities to have is somewhat restricted in how EMROs and late levies are dealt with.
Diana Johnson: The amendment that I wish to press to a vote is on the ability of local authorities to determine which parts of their area need to be considered for the late night levy. That is what we are discussing. We could have—
Diana Johnson: Yes, hours of fun—it is a great shame that my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling is not here to discuss things with us. In his absence, having listened to what the Minister said, I am not persuaded that by the notion of the late night levy having to cover a whole geographical area. I am concerned in particular about some of our local authority areas which contain not only large rural areas but towns and cities. I do not see how that will work.
Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab): I seem to remember a Councillor Kemp from the evidence sessions—I cannot remember which political party he belonged to—who expressed particular concern about how the levy would affect whole areas, whereas in some cases only a single street might be at issue.
Diana Johnson: My hon. Friend makes an important point. We listened carefully to Councillor Kemp because, at times, he says some important things to which we all ought to have regard. Today, in The Times, he has been saying some important things to the coalition Government.
Returning to the amendment, I am concerned that one of the consequences of the late night levy could be that we end up with businesses closing their doors at midnight, to avoid having to pay the levy. We will end up with the situation with which the Licensing Act 2003 was dealing—when everyone comes out on to the streets at the same time, causing disorder. That could happen with authorities that decide to go down the route of a late night levy.
Bridget Phillipson: I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree that the picture is often complex. Fast-food outlets will complain that they are unfairly tarred when they are charged with being responsible for the disorder, as the alcohol is not acquired on their premises. Equally, so-called pre-loading, before people go out to the pubs, is an issue. Unless that is tackled, and the cheap prices in the supermarkets are dealt with, results will not be delivered in city centres.
Diana Johnson: I want to return to the issue of licensed premises that have late night refreshment licences. Will the Minister consider an approach for dealing with the role that they sometimes play in the late night economy, and the need for street cleansing and other things? I understand why the Government are tackling premises that sell alcohol, but if we are looking at the wider late night economy and are imposing a levy, we should consider all the other businesses that operate in that economy and whether they have an impact. Should they also pay some fee or levy?
James Brokenshire: If the late night levy is introduced it will have benefits, as I have said, for the overall night-time economy, but we are linking this to alcohol and the harms caused by alcohol. Only those premises which are licensed to sell alcohol will be caught by the levy, but clearly they will benefit if a levy is introduced. The germane issue is the interconnection between the different parts of the late night economy, and I am sure that councils will consider carefully using the methods in the Bill as well as other, non-statutory methods to make sure that it is properly maintained.
The amendment deals with the minimum period of opening, and alters it to 15 days for the late night levy to apply to a business. As we have discussed, the levy will be applicable to any premises holding a licence to sell alcohol under the Licensing Act 2003 if it is open for just one day after the time stipulated in the late night levy, which is likely to be midnight. That means that any pub, hotel, restaurant, and so on, which has permission to sell alcohol on just one night of the year will be liable to pay the levy. That will catch many venues with restricted late night opening for events such as new year’s eve and bank holidays. Those permissions were often granted as grandfather rights under the transitional arrangements to the new Act in 2005, or were granted subsequently after due process.
The Government argue that such premises can have these permissions removed without charge under clause 138, and must reapply for permission using the TEN system. Should businesses that have traded responsibly lose that permission, when they are not generally trading late at night and when they have to pay a late night levy even if they trade for just one day? That leaves the temporary event notice regime open to abuse, and we are sure that that is not what the Government intend. As we discussed earlier, the TEN system was designed primarily to assist those who do not possess a licence and, in any event, it is not available to larger venues that might have a capacity of 499 persons. Will the Minister consider amendment 612 carefully?
James Brokenshire: I reassure the Committee that I understand the fact many premises wish to open late on special occasions, but as a starting principle the late night levy should apply to all businesses that benefit from operating a safe, late night environment. The levy is designed so that it does not put undue burden on businesses that wish to hold special celebrations. It will be simple for businesses to reduce their hours if they do not want to open late on a sufficient number of nights to make paying the levy worth while. Premises wishing to reduce their hours would usually have to pay £89 for a minor variation. To avoid the levy, we have made provision for the minor variation to be made free of charge, to which the hon. Lady has already referred.
On occasions when premises want to open late, they can submit a temporary event notice and avoid paying the levy. Premises may use 12 temporary event notices in a year, and that will allow them to open in the levy period once a month. The TEN system, which we have discussed, is being reformed so that it is as simple and flexible as possible, while still ensuring that the event is in keeping with the licensing objectives.
All premises that sell alcohol late at night contribute to an economy that incurs a cost to the community. It is right that they all pay the late night levy, but we will allow local authorities to exempt or grant reductions to certain categories of business. Those categories may include businesses that already contribute through another scheme, such as those that we have mentioned, including Best Bar None and business improvement districts, while those which, by selling only to guests or installing minibars, do not benefit fully from the policing of the late night economy.
We will consult on exemptions and take into account those with grandfather rights. We will also consider other issues in relation to particular time periods as part of the consideration of possible exemptions and categories that might be appropriate to bring forward under secondary legislation. The levy in its current form provides for special occasions. A change to the liability of the levy would remove the underlying principle of shared responsibility, but we are considering the issue carefully. For those reasons, I hope that the amendment will be withdrawn.
Diana Johnson: I am grateful for the Minister’s clarification. I hear what he says, but having a clear 15 days’ grace period for businesses enables them to know that, if they do operate in those 15 days, they will not be liable for a late night levy, which gives them a little flexibility and certainty. I therefore wish to test the Committee’s view on the amendment.
Diana Johnson: The clause contains power to make regulations to prescribe the amount of the levy, which will be uniform across England and Wales. What approach does the Minister think it might be sensible to take on the basis of the discussions we have already had on the localism agenda? Has he given any thought to making it a power of the local authority to decide how much the levy should be in their own areas, bearing in mind the different circumstances in the north and south of England and in Wales? Has he thought about the different areas and their economic situations?
James Brokenshire: Clause 127 is about the amount of the late night levy. We do not think it is appropriate to set the charges in stone, so the clause makes provision for them to be set by secondary legislation. The clause ensures that the administrative burden on licensing authorities is kept to a minimum. Payment criteria will be nationally determined and calculated in the same way for all premises throughout the year in order to reduce the burden that may otherwise be implied. Certainly, that was the lesson learnt in relation to alcohol disorder zones.
We intend to use the existing licensing structure to calculate the levy, which will minimise administration costs. Licensing authorities already have systems in place to collect licence fees and to follow up on non-payment. It is expected that the levy will be administered in tandem with this system. In the case of any extra administration costs incurred by local authorities, It is worth noting that local authorities will be able to deduct any extra administration costs that they incur out of the revenue from the levy before it is split between the police and the local authority, which provide services that mitigate alcohol-related crime and disorder in the night-time economy. I hope that with that reassurance the hon. Lady will be minded to support the clause.
Diana Johnson: As the Bill currently stands, the licensing authority could introduce—I have raised this with the Minister already—an early morning restriction order that begins at 12.30 am, running through to 6 am, and it could impose a levy on all the premises that remain
James Brokenshire: It is worth commenting at the outset that early morning restriction orders and the late night levy are two important but very different provisions in the Bill. The late night levy will address some of the costs that the police and other services incur to ensure that the night-time economy is safe for businesses. An early morning restriction order will allow licensing authorities to tackle specific pockets of alcohol-related crime. We have debated some of the relevant merits and issues surrounding each of the orders in a previous debate. We have highlighted some of the issues and discussed examples. I understand that there is some concern that premises will pay the levy after having their hours reduced by an EMRO. We are content that licensing authorities will take that possibility into account before adopting the levy or designating an EMRO and will ensure that the measures are not used in an unnecessarily punitive manner.
It is worth commenting on the accountability mechanism that will apply. Before adopting the late night levy, the authority will have to consult at least premises licence holders and the police. The licensing authority must first publish notices of its intention to impose an EMRO. After that, it will hold a hearing on its intention to prevent a certain group of premises from selling alcohol. Furthermore, the EMRO must be proportionate and follow the licensing objectives. A licensing authority will have to prove that the reduction of specific hours on specific days is appropriate. It will be able to justify a reduction in hours only on the basis of a connection to crime and disorder, not the maximisation of licensing authority revenue.
However, if an EMRO prohibits the sale of alcohol within only a part of the levy period, it is right for the premises to contribute to the costs of ensuring a safe late-night economy. After all, they will benefit from that safe night-time economy during the hours that they supply alcohol. I hope that that explanation of what we think is appropriate governance will provide the assurances that the hon. Lady seeks.
Diana Johnson: I have listened carefully, as ever, to what the Minister says, but I am still concerned about the effect of EMROs and the late-night levy, and the potential for confusion and unfairness, so I would like to test the Committee’s view on the amendment.
The amendment is meant to test with the Minister the approach taken in clause 130. What proportion of the levy will go to the police and what proportion will go to the local authority and other organisations? The clause says that 70% will go to the police. Our amendment stipulates 50% to the police and 50% to other agencies. What evidence base does he have for the 70% split? How did he reach it? It is interesting to note the evidence that Councillor Kemp gave to the Committee at the outset of our deliberations. [ Interruption. ] Does my hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside wish to intervene?
Diana Johnson: Okay. Councillor Richard Kemp, a Liberal Democrat, who I think was the deputy leader of Liverpool council before Labour took control, made it clear in his evidence that he felt that he would not see one more police officer in Liverpool as a result of the late night levy. Will the Minister tell us how many police officers he thinks will be funded by the levy?
Diana Johnson: My hon. Friend is a doughty champion for the police in his local area, and has been leading the campaign against the savage cuts to the West Midlands police. We need to be clear what the levy will produce for policing, set against the backdrop of the cuts to the police that all of us will see across the country, in all the areas that we represent.
Bridget Phillipson: Is my hon. Friend aware that taxi marshalling schemes are often paid for not by the police but by local authorities? It is not clear where the money for that will come from in the future. The scheme plays an important role in helping the public to feel safe, and it may not be adequately funded by the late night levy.
Diana Johnson: That is an important point, which is why we want to test the evidence and calculations that have been done for the late night levy and how it will be used by the police and by councils. What will it pay for? It is all very well saying that there will be a 70:30 or a 50:50 split, but what will it deliver for local people and businesses?
Dr Huppert: I am trying to understand what the hon. Lady seeks to achieve. She is concerned that not enough money from the levy will go to the police, and yet she has tabled an amendment to give less money from it to the police. I am slightly confused.
Diana Johnson: If the hon. Gentleman had listened to what I said at the outset, he would have heard that I was just trying to find out from the Minister how he reached the figure of 70%. That percentage seems to have just been plucked from thin air, and I am keen to know the basis of the 70:30 split. I have proposed the 50:50 split because I recognise that councils pay for other services that we think are a good idea, as one of my hon. Friends said. What is the basis of the decision on the split?
Steve McCabe: The purpose of a debate like this is to understand the reasoning behind the use of the money, and as we have heard, there can be various calls on the pot. It is also important to establish whether the levy is nothing more than substitute funding, because if that is the case, people need to know that the Govt, having cut police funding with one hand, intend to squeeze the money out of another part of the sector with the other.
Diana Johnson: My hon. Friend makes an important point. The situation could be worse than that. There will be cuts to police funding and a tax on local businesses in certain areas, but I do not see what they are going to get from the additional money that they are being asked to pay.
As I said, Richard Kemp, a distinguished Liberal Democrat—these days we listen carefully to what Liberal Democrats say—made it clear that he did not think that there would be any additional police officers in Liverpool. The amendment has been tabled to allow the Minister the opportunity to present his thinking on why the clause is set out in the way it is. What additional resources will we see in local communities?
James Brokenshire: Interestingly, the hon. Lady said that the purpose of the amendment was to ask her question, but she could have asked it in the stand part debate. Instead, she has chosen to table an amendment that would mean that the police received less money from the late night levy. I am interested to know why she took that approach and suggested that 50%, not 70%, of net proceeds should go the police, when the whole intent is that the payments should support policing of the late-night economy. She is now suggesting that she was only asking a question, but she tabled the amendment. However, if that is how she feels, she will obviously be pressing it to a Division.
Diana Johnson: It is fair to say that we all accept that the late-night economy is about more than just the police. It is about the role of all the partners. The NHS, the local authorities and environmental health are all involved and need to be considered in line with how the late night levy will be spent. That is against the background of local authorities facing 28% cuts to their budget, something that Richard Kemp had a lot to say about again this morning in The Times.
James Brokenshire: It is still interesting that the hon. Lady wants to cut the police funds raised from the late night levy. We have recognised other services, which is why we are saying that 30% of the net proceeds could go to taxi marshalls and the management of the late-night economy. The levy has been structured to recognise the
James Brokenshire: The hon. Gentleman has still not said why he believes that less money should be given to the police. He is conflating two separate arguments that are entirely unconnected. Will he justify seeking to cut the money?
Diana Johnson: I want to explore the matter a little further. In the past, local authorities contributed to the cost of police community support officers as well as police officers. Surely, giving the flexibility to local authorities to fund—
James Brokenshire: Well, we support the work of local authorities in managing the late-night economy, but the whole purpose of setting the levy is to underline clearly that it is intended to support extra policing, which is why a 70:30 split has been arranged. There is still flexibility in the Bill to operate such a provision. If necessary, we can bring forward further changes in due course, but a 70:30 split underlines the importance of the policing aspects. Problems have been caused to the late-night economy by the irresponsible way in which the previous Government introduced the Licensing Act 2003 without considering its implications. That is why we have the problems of crime in the early mornings and pressures on our A and E departments. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can justify such problems.
Steve McCabe: I am happy to try to persuade my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North to withdraw the amendment if the Minister will persuade his hon. Friends to revisit the savage cuts in the overall police budget .
James Brokenshire: I suppose at this late hour on a Thursday that the hon. Gentleman becomes more desperate and perhaps tired in his arguments, too. The 70:30 split is an important way in which to demonstrate that
Diana Johnson: If the matter is all about policing the late-night economy, perhaps the Minister can explain why 100% is not going to the policing budget? He said that the matter was all about policing, but it clearly is not as he has gone for a 70:30 split. I am still not aware of the evidence that he has used to reach that conclusion, so it would be helpful if, at some point, he explained his thinking behind what the split would cover and said how many additional police officers it would produce. We are still not clear about that. We know from the impact assessment that between £9 million and £15 million will be raised by the late night levy, but how many police officers will that produce?
Nick Herbert: How does the hon. Lady feel able to propose a 30% cut in funding for the police, which is far in excess of anything that the Government would think was worth considering. That is a cut so savage that it is extraordinary that a Labour party spokesman should even contemplate it.
Diana Johnson: With the greatest respect, I am not a spokesman. I will not use the word “disingenuous”, but perhaps it is unfortunate that the Minister with responsibility for policing is failing to acknowledge that the Government are implementing savage cuts throughout the country and will somehow make up for them by asking businesses to pay additional taxation. As I have said for the fourth time, the amendment is an attempt to find out the Minister’s thinking. He will not make clear why he has reached his conclusion and drafted such a clause so, on that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
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