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Lord Graham of Edmonton: My Lords, I rise to deliver a speech which will be welcomed by all in the Chamberthe last speech from the Back Benches. It will not be long but, before I begin, I should declare some interests: I am a consultant to the Co-operative Group; I am the president of the all-party group for the retail trade; and many years ago I was a member of the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers.
But I speak primarily as a consumer and as a citizen, and I can assure the Minister that everyone who watches television or walks around the streets at night, for one reason or another, is well aware of this topic. I watch programmes that show the police doing a very difficult job in city centres, areas and neighbourhoods. One sees disgraceful behaviour and aggravation towards the police and others and I wish something could be done about it. The Minister will not give a copper-bottomed guarantee that what is requiredthat is, better behaviour or punishment for those who will not behavewill be brought about by the Bill but, as noble Lords on both sides of the House have said, it is part of the package that the Government launched some years ago. I am, therefore, deeply indebted to her for having spelt out so clearly the part that this legislation will play.
The Minister said that alcohol-related violence around pubs and clubs needed a new civic order and that the Government were introducing the Bill so that there were measures available to discourage bad and violent behaviour at night in streets around them, and to raise the quality of the management of premises. Nothing is more sickening to the normal, law-abiding citizen than to see such scenes on television and otherwise, and the Minister and her colleagues are to be congratulated on finding time, in a plethora of other legislation far more important than thisbut not of more importance to those who are affected by such behaviourto give this matter some attention. I certainly wish the Bill well.
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I have mentioned my contacts with the retail trade over many years. The British Retail Consortium, which speaks on behalf of the retail trade, large and small, has drawn my attention to the fact that the retail trade, and the BRC in particular, was fundamental in setting up the Retail Alcohol Standards Group, the RASG. This is a collaborative group comprising the major retailers, the Association of Convenience Stores, the Wine and Spirit Trade Association and other key stakeholders. It was established to ensure a co-ordinated and consistent approach to tackling the problem of underage sales in the off-trade.
As a regular consumer in stores large and small, I know that the retail trade is attempting to tackle one source of violence at nightthe violence which comes from underage sales. All till staff have been retrained to ensure that they understand that it is company policy to ask forthe Minister will be shockedidentity cards from anyone who appears to be under 21. This has played a significant part in both reminding till staff that they have a role to play and frightening off youngsters who try to get away with purchasing alcohol in this way.
My main concern, however, is the part of the Bill which deals with alcohol disorder zones. The generality may appear sound: based on evidence which is gathered by the police and known about by the local authority, a zone is designated. I assume it can be as small, compact and tight as they wish, but it can also be the entire area of the local authority. Once the area is designated, whether it is large or small, the people trading within it have to pay for a licence on certain termsthe Minister can help me, either here or in Committeein order to trade. But such disturbances do not happen outside supermarkets or even specialist storesthey happen outside pubs, clubs and similar places. Why should those who, if not blameless, carry far less of the blame have to pay or to increase their costs in the same way as some of the units which do?
There is a difference between the off-trade and the on-trade. With regard to the on-trade, people go there specifically to buy a bottle of booze. Alcohol makes up only 11 per cent of the sales of large retailers and the retail tradein other words, 89 per cent of sales go on non-alcoholic products. Why should they carry the burden when they are not contributing anything like as much to it? Will my noble friend, in accepting my congratulations on introducing the Bill, say something about how that matter might be eased?
Clause 12(1) allows for charging mechanisms to apply to all holders of premises licences for the sale of alcohol by retail within alcohol disorder zones. Clause 12(7) gives the Secretary of State permission to apply exclusions from the clause by secondary regulations. He is restricted in allowing exclusions only for premises where the sale of alcohol is neither the principal use of the premises nor the main reason for people entering the premises. I wonder whether my noble friend appreciatesas I am sure she does in generalthe burdens that are placed on the retail industry in one form or another. Can she give some indication of the width or generosity of the
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interpretation of Clause 12(7) so that, by and large, retailers for whom alcohol is only a tiny proportion of their sales will receive the necessary exclusion?
I conclude, as all my colleagues have, by saying that this measure, like many others, is sorely needed. Along with my noble friend Lord Brooke, I am somewhat puzzled at the low number of prosecutions and of those who are found guilty of disturbing the peace in this way. It is a puzzle to me why the powers that have already been given are not exercised properly. I wish my noble friend and her colleagues well in ensuring that this measure is not only well received but well supported by the police and the local authorities.
Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, I join the noble Lords, Lord Graham of Edmonton and Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, in wondering why the legislation that is already in existence has not been enforced to the degree that it might have been. It is undoubtedly the case that the enforcement of that legislation has weakened, and I share with the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, a concern that the new powers granted in the Bill be used. I shall look forward to his amendments to monitor these powers and see whether they are being put to effective use.
We seem to be faced today with a youth culture which is fuelled perhaps by greater wealthmore money in the pocketand certainly by cheaper and stronger drinks. The sorts of drinks that are customarily consumed are probably three times the strength of the Wrexham lager which I used to drink in my youth. Consequently, a youth culture exists. The night economy, which is a new phrase that I have heard in connection with this Bill, arises out of the youth culture. The Minister promised us a new civic order, but I hope that she will bear in mind that she should be legislating for the safety of the young in a young environment. We do not want to see our streets made safe only for those of more mature years.
"We are never going to solve the problem through enforcement alone as enforcement only deals with the symptoms and not the cause. ACPO continues to stress the importance of a far more holistic approach that includes dealing with the culture of excessive drinking and the need for all of the drinks industry to adopt a responsible attitude. Our fear is that we will never solve the problem if we do not address its underlying causes".
I am pleased to see moves to ban "happy hours" and the provision of cheap drink at an early time in the evening. We have yet to see whether, in the youth centres where the night economy flourishes, we will all be sipping wine on the pavement as we were promised in previous legislation that went through this House.
I welcome the amendments that the Minister has promised to help deal with the problems of drink. It is interesting that 87 per cent of the participants in the Dudley alcohol arrest referral scheme, to which the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, referred, are recorded to have had positive experiences and have been helped.
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We suggest that the Government build on that pilot by putting forward a national programme, as Alcohol Concern has suggested.
That is necessary for an ASBO to be made. Therefore, conduct of which people merely disapprove is within the scope of drinking banning orders. You do not have to show that anybody is alarmed or harassed. That means that the order is broadly available.
I am one of those who have always been a critic of ASBOs, because it is just a device to make a civil order on a lower standard of proof and with lower standards of evidencehearsay evidence has always been accepted. The case of McCann, however, which came before this House on appeal, has made a significant difference by requiring a full criminal standard of proof beyond reasonable doubt for an ASBO. I hope that the Minister will give us an assurance that a similar standard of proof will be required in the making of drinking banning orders. However, the Government have conceded that a breach of a drinking banning order will not lead to imprisonment, as they had originally suggested. That is where the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester may take some comfort in his concern with how many more would be incarcerated as a result of this Bill.
But then there are other vague areas that we need to explore. The scope of the order is to impose any prohibition. ASBOs have been issued in strange circumstances, and I imagine that we will be reading in the popular press in due course that peculiar conditions and prohibitions have been placed on these drinking banning orders as well, as they are qualified only by provisions that they do not exclude a person going home, to work or to school.
The provisions are then concerned with disorderly conduct under the influence of alcoholnot that a person is drunk but that he acts in a disorderly way under the influence of alcohol. Very few people in this country have not come within that definition at some time in their lives. The order is made if it,
That is a safeguard; it has to be shown that it is "necessary"; but there is no question whether, although necessary, it is an appropriate order to makeand when you are dealing with people who are suffering from some form of mental illness, that is a matter of importance.
The interim orders proposed under Clause 8 are made without notice to the individual concerned and can be renewed indefinitely. We shall be looking to see what we can do to ensure that there is a finite period for which an interim order can be made against a person who has no notice of it.
Another matter that is controversial is what is thought to be the "badge of shame"; of naming and shaming young people who are subject to these orders.
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It may well be thought to be a badge of honour to have your picture up in the local newsagent as a person against whom one of these DBOs has been made. It is contrary to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which says:
"States parties recognise the right of every child alleged as, accused of, or recognised as having infringed the penal law to be treated in a manner consistent with the promotion of the child's sense of dignity and worth, which reinforces the child's respect for the human rights and fundamental freedoms of others and which takes into account the child's age and the desirability of promoting the child's reintegration and the child's assuming a constructive role in society".
As for the alcohol disorder zones, we support the concept that there should be a mechanism that holds licensees accountable for the impact that their businesses have on local communities. We welcome the idea that they should contribute to the costs of disorder in their particular area. But I share the doubts of the noble Lord, Lord Graham, and the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, who referred to the provision as rather odd, and of the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, who said that there was no distinction between the good and the bad operator. I do not know that I quite followed the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, when he said that the mere presence of a number of licensed premises creates a rowdy scene, so they may as well all pay, but I may have misunderstood his argument. But I think that there should be a discretion to share the costs fairly and that the good licensee should not be penalised in the same way as a bad licensee.
No distinction is drawn between the types of operation. The noble Lord, Lord Graham, made this point very strongly a moment ago, and my noble friend Lord Clement-Jones pointed out that there is a distinction between a public house, off-licences and so on, so we should look at that. Nor is a cap proposed on the amount of the charge. When Hazel Blears was asked in another place whether there was a cap or whether the whole cost was to be spread among licensed premises, she said:
"However, charges should not be set at a level that is so high that it could have almost the reverse effect and push people into economic non-viability".[Official Report, Commons Standing Committee B, 18/10/05; col. 107.]
There is no time limit to these alcohol disorder zones, and therefore no incentive for local authorities to bring to an end the revenue that ADZs will bring; and, as my noble friend Lord Clement-Jones said, there is no appeal. There are matters to look at. While we are in favour of it in principle, we do not think the scheme as proposed is without flaw.
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As for directions to individuals to leave a particular locality, they give a wide power to the police. A person can be ordered away although he has done nothing wrongpresence in the locality is enoughand the police constable is the sole arbiter of whether the individual is likely to cause or contribute to the occurrence of alcohol-related crime or disorder, or indeed whether it is necessary for him to be told to leave. There is no appeal. Liberty has helpfully quoted from another case from the Appeal Committee in the House of Lords: Gillan v Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis and another. The legality of a broadly drafted powerSection 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000was being considered. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Bingham, said,
"The exercise of power by public officials, as it affects members of the public, must be governed by clear and publicly-accessible rules of law. The public must not be vulnerable to interference by public officials acting on any personal whim, caprice, malice, predilection or purpose other than that for which the power was conferred. This is what, in this context, is meant by arbitrariness, which is the antithesis of legality. This is the test which any interference with or derogation from a Convention right must meet if a violation is to be avoided".
What we do not want, in a crowded scene late at night, is for policemen, without proper reason, to be pushing people about, ordering them out of the locality and telling them not to come back for 48 hours, as the Bill envisaged. Will guidance be given to police officers on how these powers should be exercised?
With regard to firearms, I fully support the offence of using someone to "mind" a weapon. That frequently happens. I have had experience of it. I have nothing to add to the way the Bill is framed except to commend it, but I do oppose the minimum sentence provisions in this regard in Clause 24(4) and (5), which we will need to look at, particularly when it concerns children of 16 and 17. We have been around the course a few times on minimum sentences, but what this really does is take away the discretion a judge should exercise in this area. Regarding air guns, the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, asked if this was all cosmetic. I wonder that, too. I declare that I do not shoot and have never shot, but I have been shot by an air gun, when I was quite young. I remember it well, and very painful it was.
I support responsible shooting for both pest control and sport. The noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury, has outlined with enthusiasm the importance of shooting and its success as a sport. I commend him for that. But short of making a gesture, it is not clear what the Government are about with regard to air guns. They do not try and ban air guns; indeed, the Home Office consultation paper of May 2004 says:
Take, for example, the phrase "purchased by a licensed dealer". We know that other guns are subject to licensing and certification and can be traced after
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sale, but, as has been pointed out, there are 7 million air guns in circulation which certainly cannot be traced, so how can purchase from a registered dealer have anything to do with that? I refer to face-to-face sales designed to cut out mail order sales. Why is that?
There are many other matters. I see that time is getting on and I shall not weary your Lordships further except to refer, finally, to searching by teachers. We shall need to look closely at that very important matter. What are "reasonable grounds" for believing that a schoolboy or schoolgirl is carrying a weapon? I refer to the bulge in the pocket and the emotional volatility that have already been mentioned. There has to be guidance. When is such action appropriate? Is it appropriate to take it to protect another child or a teacher when it is not possible to call the police? How is it to be carried out? Surely it should be carried out by designated teachers who have been trained not just in what is meant by the use of reasonable force but also in how to deal with armed people. I was involved in the tragic case of the stabbing of the headmaster, Philip Lawrenceit had a substantial effect on mewhich concerned the carrying of knives by young people. It is a difficult and dangerous area. There should at least be another teacher present, and not "another person", as it says in the Bill. We shall have to consider how the search is carried out and make sure that there is sensitivity to ethnic differences and so on. There is a lot of material there that we shall look at closely in Committee.
The Bill will be very welcome once we have looked at it and perhaps improved it, and once we are sure that it will be put into effect and enforced. I am sure that if we can do that, this will be a safer country.
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