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Restriction Orders

Volume 126: debated on Monday 1 February 1988

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

I beg to move amendment No. 5, in page 2, line 18, after 'premises', insert

`or a number of licensed premises'.

With this, it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 8, in page 3, line 19, after 'premises', where it first occurs insert

`or a number of licensed premises'.
No. 9, in page 3, line 20, leave out 'vicinity', and insert `surrounding district'.

One of the illusions fostered about the Bill is that we must choose between individual liberty on the one side and health and well-being on the other. The issue of public order makes it plain that the choice is between the liberty of one person, or group of people, to drink in public houses and the liberty of others not to suffer unacceptable disturbance in consequence of their drinking.

I tabled this amendment because I do not believe that the Bill achieves a proper balance between these two objectives and it is, therefore, likely to fail and to facilitate the increased occurrence of disorder on our streets, while giving the licensing justices inadequate powers to deal with such events.

The Government claim that the Bill already contains adequate safeguards in the form of restriction orders. The Bill allows the licensing justices to impose an afternoon break when disturbance, annoyance, noise and disorderly conduct occur within or in the immediate vicinity of an individual licensed premises. That is most certainly a safeguard and I welcome it, but it is not nearly enough.

In Committee the Minister implicitly conceded the Bill's inadequacy every time he reminded hon. Members of the narrowness of the concept of restriction orders. He said that a restriction order was narrow in character and designed to achieve an entirely local result. For that reason the right to make application for a restriction order was limited to those people whose life was likely to be disrupted. By that he meant the disruption by noise or disturbance of the lives of those living in the immediate vicinity of a particular licensed premises.

The difficulty with the Bill is that, while disorder is often confined to within the public house itself, or to its immediate vicinity, there are also many occasions on which disorder spreads much further afield. The Bill gives the licensing justices no powers to deal with that kind of problem. Fights, or other kinds of disorderly conduct, may spill out not just on to the pavement immediately outside the pub; they may occur en route from one pub to another, or may arise as a result of drinking in a number of pubs and occur some distance away — on the way home, in the local park, or elsewhere. It is a very serious problem.

We all know of instances of drunken youths—I say "youths" because in the majority of cases those involved appear to be below the age of 25, if not considerably younger—going around in gangs and causing havoc in city centres and elsewhere. While the drinking may be done in a public house, or in a number of public houses, the disorder occurs somewhere else—not necessarily in the immediate vicinity of the pub where the alcohol was consumed.

In Committee the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Dr. Moonie) referred to the kind of incidents that I have in mind when he quoted from a report in the Yorkshire Evening Post. It is worth while repeating the words:
"'Gangs of drunken youths roaming the streets of the county's towns and cities cause apprehension and fear' said the chief constable. 'Street nuisances, disorderly behaviour, vandalism and crime are often caused by individuals who have consumed too much alcohol … Young males … in an intoxicated state roam about or congregate in the streets … and behave in ways that they would not even contemplate sober'."
The point to which I want to draw attention is that there is no suggestion in that report of the disorder occurring within or in the immediate vicinity of any individual pub or club. Perhaps I might rub in the point by referring to a cutting from another local newspaper on 7 December 1987. It quoted the chief constable as blaming the late-night opening policy for the growing problem of public disorder on the streets. He said:
"between 2 am and 4 am, particularly at weekends, around 2,000 18 to 25-year-olds are congregating in the city centre. Disorder is now escalating and, to control the situation further, adjustment to the system of policing has become necessary and overtime is being incurred … one year's overtime costs are being projected at £115,000. This is unacceptable."
It is highly significant in the context of this debate that the city in question is Aberdeen. There is little suggestion there of the great improvement in public order that licensing relaxation in Scotland is supposed to have brought about. A hint of why the official drunkenness statistics for Scotland have declined so steeply is the comment of a superintendent of the Grampian police: that police resources are so stretched at weekends that they had to let many people off with a warning because they could not afford officers to leave the street to take offenders into custody. The city is Aberdeen. The hon. Member for Kirkcaldy will know whether or not that statement is exaggerated.

Many arrests for offences other than drunkenness are, however, made. Speaking to the Aberdeen licensing board in September 1987, the chief constable, Mr. Alistair Lynn, said:
"The threat of a lot of public disorder in Aberdeen city centre remains very much a reality."
He informed the Aberdeen licensing board that, in the previous month, 140 arrests had been made in the Union street area alone; 67 of them were for breaches of the peace, 37 for assault and 13 for vandalism, but apparently none for drunkenness.

If we are honest with ourselves, this is taking place in every city. It is taking place not far from my constituency, in Southend on one side and Basildon on the other. Therefore, the same consideration applies to England and Wales.

We should be extremely sceptical about the claim that drunkenness offences are declining. Any magistrate will confirm that the majority of criminal damage and breach of the peace cases are committed by people under the influence of alcohol. It may be that officially recorded offences are declining because charges other than drunkenness are being brought.

Earlier, my hon. Friend the Minister rejected my suggestion that these matters should be properly monitored. This is one of the best examples of where information is needed if policy and legislation are to match the reality of the matter.

11 pm

I cited the example of Aberdeen for two reasons. First, the picture of Scotland that is so assiduously painted by proponents of extended drinking hours may be seriously misleading. There is every reason to be extremely wary of the effects of extended drinking hours on public order. Secondly, the disorder described in press reports is precisely the kind that the Bill in its present form does not take into account because it does not necessarily occur within the immediate vicinity of licensed premises.

The Aberdeen report describes disorder occurring during the night. There is a clear danger that the Bill will increase the chances of similar outbreaks occurring during the afternoon, when there is likely to be even more disruption to the local population. Licensing justices will need extra powers to deal with such eventualities. To do so, they will need the power to impose restriction orders, not merely on individual public houses but throughout an area.

The existing provisions of the Bill to deal with the sort of problems that I have described will be extremely cumbersome to operate. It would be necessary for the licensing justices to deal with each licensed premises separately.

Significantly, the Erroll committee, whose recommendations provide much of the rationale for the Bill, recommended exactly the safeguard contained in my amendment. Its report stated:
"Licensing justices … should be empowered on application, to make an order, if satisfied that it is in the interests of public order … requiring any one or a number of licensed premises to close for a period of up to two consecutive hours at a time before 7 pm."
This is a far more useful proposal than the unduly narrow concept of restriction orders enshrined in the Bill. Not only would it give the licensing justices more effective powers; it would save court time and, thus, costs to the taxpayer.

It may be argued that the police already have powers to prosecute individuals behaving in an unruly manner and that restricting pub opening hours is not, therefore, a necessary or an appropriate means of dealing with these problems. My answer to that is that of course the police have the power to prosecute individuals, but after the disorder has occurred, assuming they have the manpower and resources available. The case of Aberdeen suggests that they may not.

We are considering the need to prevent disorder occurring in the first place. That is what legislation should be about; not tinkering with the problem as the Bill does in so many different aspects.

The police have powers to prosecute individuals behaving in an unruly manner at football matches, but that is not regarded as an argument against restriction. Alcohol is banned on the way to and from football matches. The principle is the same. Why should law-abiding citizens, who want nothing more than to go about their business in peace, have to tolerate large areas of their towns and cities becoming no-go areas of the antics of groups of people who have spent too much time and money in the pub? If serious disorder associated with and arising from drinking in public houses and clubs occurs on one occasion—perhaps a Saturday afternoon — it is likely to occur on others in the future, and the licensing justices should have the power to order the afternoon closure of pubs in the particular area of the town concerned.

I do not suggest for one moment that the exercise of the power given by my amendment will be a daily occurrence, but there are particular times of the year, such as the Christmas holidays or the summer season at seaside resorts, when the licensing justices of the population whom they serve will need this power, and they will not thank us if they do not have it. I commend the amendment to the House.

Despite the passionate speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine), I am afraid that I cannot commend the amendment to the House. The restriction order deals with particular problems that emanate from particular pubs, but the amendment enables the court to make a restriction order in respect of any licensed premises, including those that are not directly concerned with the public problems that give rise to the application in the first place. I cannot believe that that is just.

There is another consideration which makes it even more unjust. Under the power proposed by my right hon. Friend, the court could make a restriction order in respect of a licensed premises, the licensee not knowing of the application and having no knowledge of the peril in which he stood. I do not believe that that is right either, nor I think does my right hon. Friend.

Amendment negatived.

With this, it will be convenient to take amendment No. 7, in line 10, at end insert

'; or (d) any head teacher of a school in the neighbourhood.'.

This is a straightforward amendment but it concerns a significant point which we tried to explore in Committee and which I should have thought would have been resolved by this stage. The amendment deals with the role of a head teacher in applying for a restriction order in the area of the school. At the beginning of our proceedings, the National Association of Head Teachers expressed concern about the impact that the Bill might have on children's drinking habits. We can understand the dangers. When pubs are open in the afternoon, there is a great temptation for children to absent themselves from school or to go out and drink at lunchtime. A large number of teachers are increasingly concerned about the number of their pupils drinking and see the legislation as providing new temptations.

One measure which we suggested in Committee was that head teachers should be able to apply for a restriction order, thus limiting the availability of alcohol by restricting the hours during which pubs in the vicinity may be open. It is relevant that head teachers should he able to apply for a restriction order because teachers arid schools are often aware of which public houses are responsible for selling alcohol to their young people. Therefore, they should have a role in applying for restriction orders. It is impossible to understand why the Minister has not conceded this point.

In Committee, the Minister said that he hoped that the word "occupier" would cover this point. He said that he could give no guarantee that that was the case, and promised that he would return in Committee or on Report with amendments if he found that the existing wording was not satisfactory. Since our discussions, I have checked with several justices clerks, whose experience is well recognised and well respected. Some have said that they would interpret "occupier" as covering a head teacher of a school, but others have said that they would not. So there is a clear need for clarification, which can come only from the legislation. I therefore hope that the Minister will accept the amendment.

I entirely agree that head teachers should have a right to make the application. I said so in Committee and I say so again today. I am afraid that the amendment is probably not the best way of going about that, because there is a danger that if we singled out headteachers we would exclude from the ranks of those able to make an application some people who are not strictly occupiers, but who are managing a business in the neighbourhood.

It could be said that we should have put our tackle in order and tabled a proper amendment; I agree with that criticism, and I apologise. In the other place we shall table an amendment that makes it p1,111) that head teachers and, when appropriate, other people who are running businesses who are not occupiers are in a position to make an application— sorry that our tackle is not in order.

We accept the Minister's apology and are glad to hear that he intends to table an amendment in due course. I am not sure whether someone who manages a business in a neighbourhood should have the same rights as a head teacher, who has a more specific and meaningful role to play in terms of restriction orders. On the basis that the Minister will deliver the promise that he has made this time, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.